What Makes a Thermostat Smart?
Back in 2011, the original Nest Learning Thermostat took the world by storm, offering Wi-Fi connectivity in a stylish puck-shaped device that could learn your daily routine and create heating and cooling schedules accordingly. While the Nest wasn’t the first connected thermostat to hit the market (Canadian-based Ecobee beat it by two years), it was nonetheless a game changer that helped spawn a new market. Both Ecobee and Nest are still at it, but now face stiff competition from HVAC industry mainstays such as Carrier, Honeywell, Trane, and others.
If you’re looking to smarten up your home, your thermostat is a good place to start and can help you save a considerable chunk of money by reducing your heating and cooling costs. However, not all smart thermostats are created equal; some are designed for simple heating and cooling systems and offer basic scheduling and programming options, while others are designed for complex multi-stage systems and will control heating, cooling, dehumidifier, and ventilation systems. As is the case with most smart home devices, prices vary depending on features and capabilities. Read on to find out what to look for when shopping for your smart thermostat, and our favorite models we’ve tested.
What to Look for in a Smart Thermostat
Smart thermostats offer a variety of features that will not only help keep your home comfortable, but can reduce heating and cooling costs. The most basic models are relatively inexpensive, but are still equipped with Wi-Fi circuitry that allows you to connect the device to your home network and the internet. They can be controlled from a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet using a free mobile app, and some models also let you control things from a web browser.
Nest Indoor and Outdoor cameras, as well as numerous third-party devices including smart switches, fans, and lighting systems. IFTTT (If This Then That) support is a popular feature that allows you to have the thermostat trigger, or be triggered, by other IFTTT-enabled devices or services. For example, you can create an applet that turns on a smart air conditioner when your thermostat reaches a certain temperature.
Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant voice commands are supported by many of the latest smart thermostats and allow you to do things like change temperature settings and find out the current temperature using your voice. Some of the most feature-rich smart thermostats out there, the Ecobee 4 and Ecobee Smart, have built-in Alexa voice control and can do just about everything that an Echo speaker does; you can ask them to play music from your Amazon library, get the latest news and sports scores, find out the weather forecast, change temperature settings, and much more.
As a Contributing Editor for PC Magazine, John Delaney has been testing and reviewing monitors, HDTVs, PCs, servers, and other assorted hardware and peripherals for more than 14 years. A 13-year veteran of PC Magazine’s Labs (most recently as Director of Operations), John was responsible for the recruitment, training and management of the Labs technical staff, as well as evaluating and maintaining the integrity of the Labs testing machines and procedures.
Prior to joining Ziff Davis Publishing, John spent six years in retail operations for Federated Stores, Inc. before accepting a purchasing position with Morris Decision Systems, one of New York’s first value-added resellers of the original IBM PC. For …