Updating your abode with a smart thermostat is one of the easiest connected home upgrades you can make. Not only that, but a smart thermostat can also save you money in the long run. For less than $200, you can end up saving more than $100 on your energy bills each year.
However, there are a variety of different models available. Some come packed with advanced features, while others are more of just a modern-looking take on the thermostat. Here’s what you need to know to decide what’s best for your home.
What is a smart thermostat?
A smart thermostat is a Wi-Fi-connected home thermostat, usually with a digital or touchscreen face. There are three main benefits to these so-called smart thermostats. The first is that they typically have the ability to learn your home temperature preferences. (Eventually, they can adjust themselves in the morning or evening so you don’t have to.) From there, they help with energy savings. By knowing when you’re not home, for example, it can keep your abode at a more energy efficient temperature to save you a few bucks each month. Third, smart thermostats can work with other connected home products and systems. Many work with Amazon Alexa, for instance, so when you do need to make manual changes to the thermostat, you can do so using just your voice.
The biggest potential negative of a connected thermostat is that its internet connectivity can leave information about your home (such as your home location or whether you’re home or not) vulnerable to hackers.
The best smart thermostats
Your budget, home size, and heating or cooling needs will likely be the biggest determining factors in what smart thermostat makes the most sense for you.
1. Nest Learning Thermostat
The third generation Nest Learning Thermostat installs easily where your old thermostat was placed. Over a week or two of use, it starts to learn your temperature preferences. On its screen, it will show you (via a green leaf symbol) what temperature ranges will help you save energy. And then through its companion smartphone app, you can track your energy usage and savings. This app can also alert you if it detects something’s amiss—say you’re out of town for the holidays and the temperature drops low enough in your home that pipes could burst.
It comes in four different colors (copper, black, stainless tee, and white) and has a bright, colorful digital face that can show you the temperature, weather, or time. The Nest Learning Thermostat costs $249.
2. Nest E
Nest just announced its latest thermostat model: the Nest Thermostat E. Unlike the original glowing puck that you plug into your wall, the Thermostat E is designed to blend into your home. It has a frosted front display that fades to a gray when it’s not illuminated. The ceramic-like ring around its edge is made of polycarbonate.
Other than its looks, the Thermostat E works about the same as previous Nest thermostats, albeit with a simpler interface. (It doesn’t work with some of the more complicated HVAC systems, however, so you may want to double check compatibility before purchasing). Nest estimates you’ll save between $131 to $145 in energy costs (10-12 percent on heating and 15 percent on cooling) using the Thermostat E. It costs $169.
3. Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat
Honeywell’s Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat doesn’t score too many points in the looks department, but at $179, it’s certainly competitively priced. You can control the thermostat on its touchscreen (whose background color you can customize), or by using the Honeywell Total Connect Comfort app. Using this app, you can remotely monitor or adjust your home’s conditions. You can also use it for outdoor weather and forecast information.
Its “smart” features include seven-day programming, an energy-saving mode, and the ability to learn your home temperature cycles and then adjust to those automatically.
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4. Honeywell Lyric T5 Wi-Fi Thermostat
At $149.99 (or even cheaper on Amazon), Honeywell’s Lyric T5 is a great price for a thermostat that’s compatibile with both Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa. With a metallic silver casing and a light-on-dark interface, it’s a sleek and modern alternative to a traditional thermostat. You can either program it yourself or let it adapt to your schedule. Like the Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat, you can also control it remotely via Honeywell’s app. It also uses geofencing to know when you’re home and when you’re not—based on your smartphone’s location.
5. Ecobee 4
The Ecobee 4 Smart Thermostat is one of the most fully featured and highest-rated smart thermostats out there. That performance comes at a price—$249, to be exact. However, it actually comes with not just the thermostat itself, but also a room sensor, so you can better manage hot and cold spots in your home. This sensor detects temperature and occupancy. (If you don’t want that extra sensor, however, you can grab the $169 Ecobee 3 Lite instead.)
The Ecobee 4 also comes with Amazon Alexa’s voice services built-in. If you don’t already have an Echo product, you don’t need to buy one—you can just talk to this thermostat and get a similar experience. It has embedded microphones for recognizing your voice all the way across a room, as well as a speaker. That’s pretty cool and certainly helps justify that higher price tag.
Like other smart thermostats, it works with a mobile app so you can control or check on things while you’re out. Ecobee estimates you’ll save 23 percent on your heating and cooling costs annually with this thermostat.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.