A Smart Thermostat is one of the better and “smarter” (pardon the pun) home automation additions for your home. Many smart home owners start with the thermostat and build out from there. If you haven’t committed to one yet, it’s a good idea to understand your needs and do a bit of research before committing to one. Over the years, thermostats have become pretty cooperative with other home automation partner systems after many stood alone in the early days. Here’s a roundup of a few smart thermostats that I’d recommend taking a look at before making the leap.
What to know before buying a smart thermostat
There are a couple major, dealbreaking things you need to know before buying a smart thermostat. Not all smart thermostats will work with every heating/cooling system out there. Unless specified, many smart thermostats specialize in working with gas or electric forced air furnaces. If you’re looking for thermostats for electric baseboard heating, your options are limited, but I will specifically mention one by name later in this blog.
You’ll also have to figure out voltage of your heating system. If you have a 24 volt, 3 wire system (consistent with dual heating/air conditioning units,) then you’re pretty set overall. If you have a 2 wire heat-only system and no common wire (also known as the C wire,) you need a thermostat that can either power itself through that 2 wire system, or one that works on lithium batteries. The latter option usually costs you around $20 a year or so, but you’ll probably make that up in heating cost savings. The C wire is what provides consistent power to the thermostat, which is why it’s a necessity for non-battery operated systems.
You could also call an expert to see if your 2-wire furnace can support the installation of a third wire to give you the flexibility to run with whichever thermostat you want.
The Nest Learning Thermostat and Nest E
The Nest family of smart home products has become a large (and growing) force to be reckoned with, and indeed has been at the forefront of most partner innovations in home automation.
Nest has long been the industry frontrunner and measuring stick by which all smart thermostats are compared. Nest was one of the first smart thermostat manufacturers that was able to support a 2 wire system without a battery (though the technique they used to draw power through pulse signals could be cumbersome for older furnaces, and often left owners thinking that the furnace was starting when it wasn’t). Nest has built up a massive sized partner program through “Works with Nest.” Using the thermostat as a starting point, Works with Nest gives you the capabilities to partner with just about any of their products as well as limited support for tons of other smart home products.
Nest does just about everything you’d want a thermostat to do at this point. You can have it learn when you come and go from the house, send you notifications when something is wrong with your furnace, and even have it monitor the outside atmosphere to figure out how and when your home needs to be heated. At the end of the month, Nest sends you a report of heat usage in your home as it learns your heating preferences. This is especially helpful with Nest’s claim that they will save you the purchase price of your thermostat in 24 months.
While the original Nest and Nest E have a lot of the same features, the latter is more of an economic brand that loses its FarSight proximity sensor and works with a few less brands. Nest E can theoretically function without the C Wire, but older furnaces will likely encounter difficulties with this, so you may have to go toward a traditional Nest, or have one installed.
For Apple owners, the one small setback with Nest right now is that they’re owned by Google and don’t play nice with HomeKit. I do find this a bit funny considering the thermostat was invented in part by Tony Fadell, one of the big names behind the original iPod. However, Alexa and Google Assistant are no problem. The Works with Nest partnership network is so big at this point that in all honesty, HomeKit shouldn’t be a make or break in your eyes because you’d be missing out on everything else that works with it.
The ecobee 3 Lite Wi-Fi Thermostat
The ecobee company and its ecobee3 Lite Wi-Fi Thermostat has a bit of a soft spot in my heart for being one of the frontrunning Canadian smart home companies out there. Ecobee can be largely forgotten among some of the home automation juggernauts, but they’ve never shied away from a challenge. Ecobee was one of the first (if not the first) smart thermostat manufacturers to support Apple HomeKit and has since moved to also support Amazon Echo, Samsung SmartThings, and IFTTT. Ecobee’s thermostats also have smart sensors built in to understand heat usage in certain rooms and make recommendations based on how often and how much you should be heating those rooms. It will also tell you if there’s something that’s keeping your home from being heated or cooled and notify you to address it ASAP. Lastly, ecobee is one of the most flexible thermostats out there and comfortably supports a lot of different and unusual heating types that some of its competitors don’t, including dual fuel and heat pumps.
The only setback with ecobee right now is that I don’t believe they can go battery operated. Thankfully, ecobee has a power extender kit that can essentially mimic a third wire. It requires a little bit of modification work at your HVAC board though, so you may want to call an expert in, or familiarize yourself with the process by watching this video on what you need to do.
Honeywell Lyric T-5
The ambitious first gen Honeywell Lyric hit a couple of rough patches when it was first released about 3 years ago, but it has since evolved into one of the most reliable options out there. Lyric was the first smart thermostat in Canada to introduce the idea of geofencing, whereby it could start (or stop) heating your home based on your geographic proximity to the house. Your phone would automatically communicate with your network back home and tell it when you were within a pre-determined distance. The Lyric would then start heating the house before you got there.
In the years since I first installed a Lyric in my home, the product itself has also undergone a huge facelift and now looks much more stylish and modern than the first couple of generations. Now, in its current form as the Lyric T-5, it has also partnered up with Samsung SmartThings, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, and IFTTT to be a much more cooperative thermostat. It’s also now just half the price of what past generations cost. In fact, it’s one of the best smart thermostat bargains out there. One of the really interesting features that Honeywell also includes in its app is a notification reminder of when you should be changing furnace filters, which is definitely nice to have.
If the Lyric itself doesn’t grab you, Honeywell does offer a range of more traditional looking digital Wi-Fi thermostats.
Another Canadian innovation, Sinope technologies has a smart thermostat system that works with electric baseboards. You can also connect up to their website to find out how much you’re actually saving on your heating bills with this thermostat hooked up. Sinope takes the average cost of heating in your area and uses that data to push you an actual dollar amount. If all you have are electric baseboards, this is one of the very few options out there, as these aren’t a heating medium that many manufacturers have focused on.
While handy, Sinope has one drawback that you’ll have to bear in mind. It doesn’t partner with anything outside of neviweb, which I believe is their own proprietary system. I’m not sure any further partnerships are on the horizon, but because of the limited scope of baseboard-supported systems out there, this might have to be your default go-to.
What can a smart thermostat do in general that a regular one can’t?
Ok, let’s be honest. I’m sure most of you know the basics of regular thermostat use. It’s pretty easy to manually dial the heat in your home up and down. However, there are some very distinct advantages to having a smart thermostat in your home over and above what you have right now.
One of the first major advantages is heating management. Just about every single smart thermostat out there has some form of in-app timing system that you can use to have your home’s heating controlled automatically. For example, my Honeywell Lyric has active/away settings that heat the home based on when we’re awake. If I ever forget to set the heat down at night, it’ll just automatically shut things down for me at the pre-determined hour. The settings also manage themselves every morning so that the home is heated when we wake up and head downstairs for breakfast. Lyric then has an automatic command set to stop heating around the time we head to work. You can usually set these away settings based on either the time of day or a minimum temperature. If you live in a particularly cold area of the country or tend to be away for parts of the winter, the latter might be the way to go to ensure that your home stays at a minimum temperature at all times of the day and can self-manage to keep your pipes from freezing.
These in-app timing systems usually take about 5-10 minutes in total to set up, and you can set them to run 7 days a week if you need to. They’re pretty simple to set up and manage, and you can typically do it from anywhere you are if your thermostat is Wi-Fi based, not just at home.
In addition to convenience, you’ll probably save a bunch on your heating bills too. By running lower temperature settings or complete shut downs at certain times of day, you’ll see those heating bills drop (especially if you’re a forgetful homeowner that doesn’t always remember to shut the heat off before going to bed.) On average, you should probably make back the cost of your smart thermostat in heating savings within 18 months to 2 years.
Now that you’ve learned about a lot of the smart thermostats out there, which one is your favourite? If you are a smart thermostat owner, which did you go with? Please let us know in the comments below!
Check out the full range of smart thermostats available now at Best Buy or online at BestBuy.ca