Let’s Get ‘Smart’ About the Summer Heat …
July 17, 2022
As the dog days of summer set in and you’re spending more time indoors to beat the heat, many of you may be like me — dreading that electric bill that’s coming. Staying cool during the heat of summer can get expensive, just like staying warm in the dead of winter, depending on your preferred level of comfort. But what if there was a way to live your best life and not break the bank?
Installing a smart thermostat or upgrading the one you already have, can have a huge impact not only on how comfortable you are in your home, but also on your household budget. Heating and cooling your home accounts for nearly half of the average home’s utility bills, according to the US Department of Energy.
According to research done in 2019 by Sense (the manufacturer of the Sense Energy Monitor), a 2,500 sq ft home in Arizona would cost $477 per month to keep cool. Other states where residents have to pay a high cost for cooling their home are New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut and New York. Homes larger than 2,500 square-feet will cost even more to keep cool. With this in mind, anything that can be done to lower the cost of cooling a home can save a homeowner a significant amount of money.
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends that to balance energy savings and comfort a thermostat should be set to 78 degrees Fahrenheit for air conditioning. Additionally, each degree the set point on a thermostat is raised can result in a 3% increase in energy savings.
A programmable thermostat can help reduce those costs by turning your HVAC system on when you anticipate home, and off when you don’t think you’ll need indoor climate control. But a smart thermostat goes far beyond simple scheduling. It will enable you to create more sophisticated schedules for every day of the week but can also react to special ‘events,’ giving you complete control over your HVAC system, even when you’re away from home.
And one of the best parts is any homeowner with a little DIY experience can install them. No need for an expensive electrician or HVAC technician. The manufacturers generally provide comprehensive, yet easy-to-understand instructions with plenty of photographs or illustrations to guide you through the process. The thermostats also pretty clearly indicate which wires go where, and most companies provide labels that you can attach to the wires coming out of the wall as you disconnect and remove your old model. The wires themselves should be color coded, but a good practice is to photograph your old thermostat for reference before you take it down.
Smart thermostats typically require more electrical power than a set of batteries can provide. They rely on low-voltage power provided by your HVAC system. Many smart thermostats require the presence of a dedicated C (common) wire for this purpose, while others can tap into electricity from another source, typically the R (power) wire. But the latter practice can be problematic with some HVAC systems, including permanent damage. So take your time and follow the instructions. But if you have issues or aren’t sure, most manufacturers offer online help or a hotline to call for assistance.
If you pull out your existing thermostat to install a smart model and find no C wire connected to it, there may be one inside the wall that hasn’t been connected. If there’s no C wire at all, my advice is to have one installed. Some smart thermostats come with power adapter kits that can be installed if you don’t have a C wire so you don’t want to pay to have one installed. I’ve gone through this process myself and it’s fairly painless.
One of the best parts about smart thermostats is their ability to integrate into your smart home ecosystem. Every smart thermostat comes with an app so you can control it with your smartphone or tablet, but the best models can also be integrated with other smart-home devices and broader smart-home systems. This can range from being able to adjust the temperature with a voice command to your Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri smart speaker to linking the thermostat to your smoke detectors. The integration with your smoke detectors will automatically turn off the system’s fan if smoke or fire are detected, which will prevent smoke from being circulated throughout your home. Other options to consider include IFTTT support, smart-vent connectivity, and integrations with home security systems.
There are a lot of options when it comes to smart thermostats but I have to admit I’m a little partial to Ecobee. I wrote about the Ecobee I installed in an early post in ‘Our first “Smart Home” …’ As our home then had multiple levels I really liked the sensor integration to help better balance the heating and cooling. As Canyon, TX can experience extreme conditions of weather — today it’ll be over 100 degrees, the third day in a stretch that will run into late next week — I want the same benefits. It surprises most people when they learn that we also average 13 inches of snow annually. So it can get pretty cold here too. The Ecobee can help prevent burst pipes with freeze detection warnings.
Nest usually gets most of the smart thermostat attention, and deservedly so. But I believe Ecobee’s latest smart thermostat is the best you can buy today. The Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium is beyond best in class, it’s everything a modern smart home device should be. It’s incredibly useful on its own but also capable of working with all the other important smart home platforms on the market today. I’m familiar with the integrations with SmartThings and Amazon Alexa and am leaning that way for our new place. If you’re an Apple Homeod or HomePod Mini fan you’re in luck as you’ll need one of those in order to use it as a Siri smart speaker.
Another thing I really like is that Ecobee included an air quality sensor but I’m curious they didn’t enable it to cycle your HVAC system’s ventilation fan to turn on and off. The Texas panhandle has a tendency to be dry due to the altitude but it can also tend to be dusty due the frequent winds. The air quality monitor alerts you when air quality is poor and offer tips on how to improve it. It also offers air filter change reminders and optional home delivery to simplify keeping your air cleaner.
The Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium can save you up to 26% on heating and cooling costs by changing your home’s temperature based on your routine and who’s home. One of the things that Debbie really likes about this thermostat is that it manages hot and cold spots in the most important rooms with the included SmartSensors. It manages all this in a number of ways:
- Automatically turns down your temperature when nobody is home.
- Learns your routine and recommends changes to your thermostat schedule for optimal energy savings.
- Automatically heats or cools your home when electricity more affordable and cleaner.
- Reduces strain on the electricity grid and provides you with incentives from your energy provider.
That last point is of particular interest as there were issues last winter with extreme cold in Texas and how it negatively impacted the power grid in our state. And there are current concerns due to the extreme heat.
It also detects the sound of your smoke alarm and will notify you, so you can feel safer while away. Advanced sensor technology keeps your home safe from intruders.
- Beautiful industrial design
- Broad compatibility with other smart home ecosystems
- Outstanding user interface, both in the app and on the device itself
- Radar-based motion detection, plus support for remote temperature/motion sensors
- Extremely easy to install and configure
- Siri support requires the presence of an Apple HomePod or HomePod mini
- Air quality sensor won’t trigger your HVAC system’s fan to circulate air
- One of the more pricey smart thermostat options
Nest thermostats are still the best for users who don’t want to think about their thermostat. They learn the temperatures you like and program themselves. But you can also connect the Nest Thermostat to Wi-Fi to change the temperature from your phone, tablet or laptop. The recent addition of the Nest Temperature Sensor makes the Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd generation) even smarter. You’ll see the Nest Leaf when you choose a temperature that saves energy.
Nest learns how your home warms up and keeps an eye on the weather to get you the temperature you want when you want it. It automatically turns itself down when you’re away to avoid heating or cooling an empty home. With Energy History, you can check your phone to see how much energy you used and why. And it’s compatible with 95% of heating and cooling systems
It has a bigger, sharper display than previous models making the 3rd generation Nest Learning Thermostat is elegant than ever. With far sight, it lights up when it sees you coming and shows you the time or temperature from across the room. And the Nest thermostat is proven to save energy. And it works with Amazon Alexa.
The Included Google Nest Temperature Sensor tells the thermostat what the temperature is in the room where it’s placed. The thermostat uses that reading to control when the system turns on or off to keep that room the temperature you like. You can also add up to 6 different temperature sensors in different rooms and control them in the Nest app.
- The best algorithms on the market
- Excellent interface and easy set-up
- Outstanding industrial design
- Overly reliant on its built-in motion sensor (or your buying other Nest products)
- Nest doesn’t like geofencing, so it thinks you shouldn’t either
- Incompatible with the Apple HomeKit ecosystem
If you’re looking for an inexpensive smart thermostat then Amazon wins with the Amazon Smart Thermostat. In the least expensive category though, it’s the most sophisticated smart thermostat and obviously has strong compatibility with Amazon Alexa. Alexa can do the programming for you, updating the temperature to keep you comfortable. Conversely, it’s not compatible with Google Assistant or Apple HomeKit.
It does support a broad array of HVAC systems and it will learn your comings and goings over time to save energy by not heating and cooling an empty home. It’s made with Honeywell Home Thermostat Technology and backed by 130 years of experience. After purchase, Amazon will send you an email with details about rebates that may be available from energy providers in your area.
- Automatically learns your heating and cooling needs
- Can be controlled with Alexa voice commands
- Broadly compatible with 24V HVAC systems
- Not compatible with Google Assistant
- Not compatible with Apple HomeKit
- Power adapter kit costs extra if your HVAC system doesn’t have a C-wire
The Nest Thermostat is another budget-priced smart thermostat option. Unfortunately, one of the compromises on cost is it doesn’t support remote sensors that can eliminate hot and cold spots in your home.
It’s an elegant device if you don’t need to support one of the more sophisticated HVAC systems. The Nest Thermostat is designed to work without a C wire in most homes, but for some systems, including heating only, cooling only, zone controlled, and heat pump systems, you’ll need a C wire or other compatible power accessory. The HVAC monitoring feature looks out for your heating and cooling systems, sending an alert if something doesn’t seem right, along with helpful reminders to make maintenance easier.
The thermostat turns itself down when you leave, so you don’t waste energy heating or cooling an empty home. Its programmability lets you create an energy efficient schedule in the Google Home app on your Android or iPhone. Remote control lets family members change the thermostat temperature from anywhere on a phone, laptop, or tablet. Savings Finder looks for more ways your thermostat can help you save, and suggests tweaks to your schedule in the app.
- Attractive industrial design, available in four colors
- Very easy to install, program, and use
- Monitors your HVAC system for potential problems
- Energy Star certified
- No support for remote room sensors
- Not suited to more complex HVAC systems
- Backplate for covering holes from previous installations is a $15 option
A couple other options I want to mention that have some specific use cases …
The Mysa Smart Thermostat is a stylish and high-tech choice for making dumb high-voltage heaters a whole lot smarter. These types of thermostats are designed for baseboard, radiant, fan-forced convector, and similar types of heaters, as opposed to the more common central HVAC systems. Understandably, there are few smart thermostat choices for these type of systems.
I included the Wyze Thermostat as I really like the company and their technology in general. This is one of a variety of Wyze products that range from cameras to robot vacuums to smart sprinkler systems. And being the cheapest smart thermostat you’re going to find on the market, they’re practically disposable. I’ve installed a couple of these for friends as gifts who aren’t big into smart home (yet).
Like the other full featured thermostats here, no matter where you are, you’re always just a few taps away from dialing in the perfect temperature and saving energy.
It currently works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant development is on its way. The Wyze Thermostat also features simple, daily scheduling. But can also be managed manually, via voice or app for unscheduled needs. Your schedule will resume upon its next start time. The Wyze app will also recommend actionable insights based on your usage to help reduce energy usage.
Like the Ecobee and Nest, it has a remote sensor. Actually a 3-in-1 remote — temperature, humidity and motion sensor. Larger homes can have cold or hot spots depending on the floor plan. It may be overkill but placing a remote sensor in each room of your home will enable the Wyze Thermostat to balance the temperature throughout the house. A benefit to the “remote in every room” plan is that some rooms should be hotter or cooler than others during different times of the day. You can place a remote sensor in any (or all) of your rooms to dial in the exact temperature you’d like for that room. This is a capability I have found in few other smart thermostats and I really like it. Imagine Debbie warm and cozy in the family room or kitchen while I stay cooler in the office.
And like other more expensive smart thermostats, the Wyze Thermostat has learning algorithms to automate your temperature. It will learn what you like, when you like it, and creates schedules for you based on a balance of savings and comfort. It will also have a filter reminder, based on actual usage, to replace your filters in order to prevent pollen and dust from entering your home and keeping your system running smoothly.
Hopefully considering these options has gotten you thinking more about your thermostat. It doesn’t seem like an obvious smart home choice but it makes a lot of sense. The energy savings, automations and integrations make it a natural for smart home. That may be the best part of smart home technology in general — so many options around so many solutions. It’s only limited by your imagination.
I’m curious how many of you already have smart thermostats and how you’re using them. Are you keeping it simple or integrating with other platforms? Do you use vice commands to manage your comfort level? If you’re using one of these above, what has your experience been with it? If you’re using a different model, which is it and how do you like it? Are you using sensors? Where have you or would you place them?
Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails as we really enjoy hearing from you. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’ Until next week …
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