Just as teenagers today think it's so weird that old folks used to go to Blockbuster to rent movies and had to make do with something historians call "dial-up internet," in just a few years kids will think it's strange that people once had to leave the couch to turn the air conditioning up.
Laziness is a big selling point for smart thermostats, which allow you to use your smartphone to control your home's temperature. Why sit up if you don't have to, right?
But beyond the uninterrupted couch time, smart thermostats are good for both your wallet and the environment. They make it very easy to heat or cool your home only when you need it, which cuts down on energy usage and saves you money. You can use your phone to track your energy usage over time, which will allow you to schedule exactly when you want your heater or fan to turn on or off. Or you can even tap your phone to adjust the temperature as you are walking home. Many brands allow you to link up and control smart humidifiers and air purifiers too, so you can control everything from one application.
What's more, many smart thermostats are learning devices. They'll keep track of your preferences and habits, figure out what temperature it should be in the house throughout the day, and make adjustments accordingly. You can always override the automatic settings if you like.
When you upgrade to a smart thermostat, you'll have to spend some money upfront for a new device, and perhaps pay to have it installed by a pro, if you're uncomfortable handling such tasks. But this is an investment that can pay for itself. The exact amount you will save depends on factors ranging from the device you buy, to your home size and energy needs, to how efficiently (or not) your heating and air-conditioning was scheduled beforehand.
If this sounds like a worthwhile investment to you, here are the best smart thermostats, as recommended by technology experts.
Best Smart Thermostats: Updated 2021
Not all heaters are made the same, and sometimes your home's heating system can point you in a direction for buying a certain thermostat. Rhea Henry, an employee at the Canada-based energy rate comparison website EnergyRates.ca, says that people who use baseboard heaters might find it frustrating to update to the smart thermostat, as "there aren't many good options."
Fortunately, the Ecobee Smart Thermostat gets the job done, both for baseboard users and homeowners with other heating systems. "The Ecobee Smart Thermostat with Voice control is one that I always recommend to those looking to get a smart thermostat," she says. "It's Energy STAR certified, meaning it has undergone testing to make sure it is in the top tier of energy efficiency. This helps you save on your energy bills over time, which is always our priority in recommending thermostats."
A subsidiary of Google, Nest is one of the most well-known smart thermostat devices. According to Stephany Smith, part of the heating installation crew at Fantastic Services, a “one-stop-shop” for all home improvement needs in the UK, USA, and Australia, it lives up to the hype.
"Having a programmable thermostat like this one is a milestone that improves your comfort. The Nest Learning thermostat will never leave you out in the cold. That’s because you rely on its self-programming ability to learn from your habits and temperature preferences," she says. "Best of all, you save zillions of kWh of energy without doing anything shady. Your Nest smart thermostat learns and remembers when you raise and lower the temperature, when you are at home or when the house is empty, and it changes the temperature setting to save you the biggest bucks."
That said, the upfront costs are fairly high — usually in the range of $220 to $250, depending on sales and promotions. "Down the road, the smart thermostat is an investment in the long run. Its auto-schedule and auto-away features can save you from $131 to $145 a year, meaning that you start saving from the moment you get it,” she says. “You can also be eligible for a rebate if your local administration offers this. Be patient though, your new smart gadget needs some time to learn what's the best temperature for you."
If you live in an area where the temperature suddenly drops, then Smith says the HIVE Active Heating will help prevent cold weather headaches.
"The HIVE Active Heating gadget won’t leave you endangered. It acts like a mini-helper-sentinel because it will notify you if the temperature is tuned up when nobody’s home, preventing you from cost-accumulation and overheating," says Smith. "Feeling unprepared about the cold snap? No stress! The interface helps you to prevent pipe freezing, burst pipes, and costly heating system repairs. With its remote control, it’s also handy if you are going to be delayed getting home."
According to Issabel Williams, a heating engineer at the UK-based property maintenance company My Plumber, one of the selling points of Honeywell is that, like NEST, it will get to know your needs over time.
"Not only does the smart heating system know when you are leaving the house, but it switches from bright/active to idle (or vice versa) when you are near the gadget," she says. "Temperature adjusts depending on how close you are. Once you get out of the radius pre-set on your app, your heating turns to energy-saving mode automatically."
Another selling point, she says, is that it's designed for ease of use. "Because of its wireless functionality and compatibility with smart technology — including Apple HomeKit and Amazon Echo — you can activate most of your smart home networks with a simple voice command," she says. "Installation is a breeze — no more than 40 minutes, to be exact. Though, you might need to resort this task to a heating engineer, as you need to connect the supplied box with your boiler and the mains."
There are budget-friendly options in the smart thermostat game, such as the Sensibo Sky. According to Yaniv Masjedi, the CEO of the Scottsdale-based telecommunications company Nextiva, you don't have to worry about sacrificing quality for savings.
"This model can work with most voice-assisted smart home devices like Alexa, Google Assistant, Amazon Echo, or IFTT, making it a versatile addition to any intelligent home," he says. "Sensibo Sky features an intelligent climate management system that records the room’s environment, temperature, and humidity conditions to automatically adjust the settings to the most optimal and economic levels, making it cost-effective for your energy bills."
If you're still on the fence about smart thermostats, the Eve Room is an inexpensive way to see if the whole experience is for you. David Mead, the Australia-based founder of Linkdhome.com, a technology and security blog specializing in smart homes, likes the Eve Room because "while this is only suitable for iPhones, it has high quality sensors for temperature, humidity, and volatile organic compounds, and a convenient e-ink display of the current values for quick monitoring. Controls are on the face of the device to switch display modes to focus on each of the values, or an overview screen," he says. "Beyond just reporting the current values, the device acts as a data logger for all three, and can download those records into the Eve app to provide very nice graphical reporting over time."