The Best Smart Thermostats: Should You Upgrade?

Nest Smart Thermostat

Our most recent post here on the blog took a look at how programmable thermostats help your home’s heating and cooling equipment perform more efficiently to save you money versus old-fashioned manual controls. We shared that if you still haven’t jumped on the programmable thermostat bandwagon, you truly are missing out in terms of convenience, better accuracy in keeping your home comfortable, and more. In short, you need a programmable thermostat.

But, did you know that programmable thermostats are not necessarily the same as “smart” thermostats? It’s true, and today’s post will show what sets them apart to help you better understand if a smart thermostat is right for you, your HVAC system, and your lifestyle. We’ll also highlight a few of the most popular and highly-rated smart thermostats on the market now to illustrate the features people are looking for.

What is a smart thermostat?

Programmable... but nor "smart"Smart thermostats are a type of programmable thermostat that are Wi-Fi enabled and can connect to your smartphone for remote access and to other home automation devices, as well.

These small wonders of the internet age can independently “learn” your family’s routines and also utilize outdoor temperature data to automatically optimize home comfort instead of simply relying on a preset program that you have to establish, as with older, non-smart programmable thermostats. Remember: all smart thermostats are programmable, but not all programmable thermostats are smart!

One of the biggest things that people appreciate about smart thermostats is the fact that they provide equipment usage and temperature data you can track and manage. This helps homeowners gain insight on their heating and cooling spending cycles over time and potentially discover new ways to save in the future. This data may also help HVAC technicians diagnose system trouble, as otherwise unexplained changes in usage patterns may indicate something is wrong with your equipment.

What to Look for in a Smart Thermostat

If a smart thermostat sounds appealing to you, researching individual makes and models is your next step. These are some features you’ll want to consider.

  1. Compatibility – You need to be sure that the thermostats you’re considering will work with your particular system. Know the maker of your HVAC equipment before you shop. Here at Comfort Aire, we proudly install Rheem heating and cooling systems, but there are many, many other manufacturers.
  2. Smartphone Remote Control – While most smart thermostats have this (via custom-designed apps), you’ll want to make sure that you can use your phone to adjust the temperature in your home, even if you’re not at home.
  3. Geofencing – This term refers to the technology that allows the thermostat to know where you are by communicating with your phone (as long as you have it with you). When you leave the house, it can trigger a temperature change that saves energy. When you’re en route home from elsewhere, it will know to raise or lower the temperature to your preferred comfort level before you arrive.
  4. Learning Capabilities – Thanks to geofencing and other tech, some ENERGY STAR-certified smart thermostats can learn your preferences automatically and establish a schedule that adjusts to energy-saving temperatures while you’re sleeping or away from home.
  5. Automatic Updates – Make sure that your thermostat can periodically update its software without you having to do anything. This ensures it can use the latest algorithms and energy-saving features available.

Note that while you can purchase many of these devices online or even in the big box home improvement stores, the key to finding one that best suits your system and your preferences is to work with a professional HVAC contractor like Comfort Aire. (We even have exclusive access to additional smart thermostats you can’t find in stores.)

Popular Smart Thermostat Models in 2019

So, what are the most highly rated mass market smart thermostats? We checked in with several trustworthy third-party rating agencies like the Wirecutter and Consumer Reports to see which smart thermostats performed best in their testing. Of among about 30 individual non-manufacturer-specific models tested across the board, these were the standouts:

  • Thermostat E and Learning Thermostat models by Nest
  • ecobee4 Smart Thermostat with Built-In Amazon Alexa assistant by ecobee
  • Lyric T5 Smart Thermostat by Honeywell

Do I really need a Smart Thermostat?

Only you can decide if you want to invest in a smart thermostat if you do not currently have one. While they have many benefits, as we’ve shown, if you don’t have a lot of other home automation devices installed today or don’t tend to care about the newest cool gadgets, a smart thermostat may not be right for you.

While it can be convenient for your thermostat to be able to give you a weather report or even read you the news like the voice assistant-enabled models, you need to decide whether you really want another screen or internet-connected device in your home. Additionally, the energy savings they provide over regular, non-connected programmable thermostats may be negligible depending on your overall HVAC system configuration.

If you recently had a new system installed, you may already have a smart thermostat – before you consider mass market tech, you’ll want to be sure your thermostat doesn’t already have capabilities you don’t know about. For instance, our friends at Rheem offer two excellent smart thermostat models today that you won’t find in stores. After all, equipment manufacturers know what customers want and produce their own smart thermostats to satisfy demand and compete with the third-party makers. Take a look at your current thermostat – you may be surprised at what it can do!

Ready to upgrade? Comfort Aire can help!

Whether you still have questions about your thermostat options, or you’re ready to have your new smart thermostat professionally installed, Comfort Aire is here for you! Contact us today to schedule a service appointment in your home.

And don’t forget—air conditioning season is coming soon! It’s time to make sure your AC system is ready to beat the heat, all summer long. Call us today at 717-464-6460 to learn more and schedule your tune-up.

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