Is a smart thermostat worth it?

Can you think of anyone who wants to pay more money for their utility bills? I can’t think of a single soul who wants to spend more cash on gas and electricity. Instead, everyone wants to save money. New gadgets on the market could help you. Smart thermostats look cool and make huge savings promises. They could even work. Is a smart thermostat worth your investment?

What is a smart thermostat?

A smart thermostat is a modern replacement for the old thermostat on your wall. Thermostats control your heating and air conditioning systems. When the stat’s temperature sensor decides the room is too cold, the heating comes on. When the stat feels the room is too warm, the air conditioning comes kicks into gear. 

Older thermostats only did these two things. The user turned the heating and air conditioning on and off. Programmable thermostats changed this and allowed consumers to set heating and cooling programs. Automatic switching could save many people money because their HVAC systems went on and off as needed without intervention.

You can learn much more about your HVAC system and smart meters. Wikipedia’s smart meter page is a great place to begin.

Smart thermostat features

Recently, the Internet of Things has brought us the smart thermostat. These units connect to your system and allow for all the best features of a programmable thermostat plus a few extras. Here is a simple list of common functions:

  • Heating and cooling programs can be set to save power by turning the system off and on automatically.
  • Adjustment and precision are easily accomplished using accurate digital interfaces.
  • Remote access allows apps on smartphones and tablets to change the system’s settings from the sofa, the next room, or even from outside the home.
  • Some smart thermostats learn the user’s schedule and adjust the heating and cooling accordingly.

These are all great options. The choice to install one of these seems clear. Yet, some people resist. I’m going to show you why you should consider replacing your old thermostat with a smart thermostat.

Three reasons to get a smart thermostat

Before we let the negative voices in, we should consider the great reasons to embrace this little bit of technology. The goal of anyone’s home environment control system is to produce the maximum comfort at the smallest cost. Smart thermostats can help achieve bot aspects of this goal.

Easier programming makes life simpler

Heating an empty home is burning cash and cooling air no one is using is blowing money out the window. The solution to both of these problems is the programmable thermostat. 

You can program your heating to come on half an hour before you get home. Your house will be cozy when you walk through the door. Likewise, the air conditioning can cool your home prior to you getting in from the office. The hours when your system is not operating are hours of saving money.

Smart thermostats make programming simple. Their digital displays are easy to read. The process of programming is clearer. The result is a simpler programming experience. This leads to more programming, which is when the savings start. Studies show that most people with programmable thermostats don’t program them. Easy programming means people can set their thermostats properly and save money.

Remote control creates comfort and savings

Feeling too cold in the living room? You can bump up the heating without leaving the couch. Forget to turn off the heating? You can cut the system from your car or office. Did the weather change from what was forecast? You can adjust your house’s temperature on the way home.

All these scenarios and hundreds more are examples of how remote access can create comfort for users of smart thermostats. The comfort is not just measured in temperature. Less effort is required from you if all you need to do is swipe a few times on your phone.

Laziness is definitely something to avoid. However, no one ever lost weight walking to the thermostat forty times a day. Instead, you can embrace the possibilities of better control of your heating and cooling infrastructure.

Machine learning could improve your energy efficiency

The Google Nest Learning Thermostat will learn your behavior and alter your heating and cooling to save money without sacrificing comfort. It uses geofencing to accomplish this feat. Geofencing is when your location is tracked by your device and then broadcast to the Internet of Things. Smart devices, such as thermostats, can be set to come on when you enter or leave your home.

After a few weeks and months, the Nest – and others like it – will learn your schedule and adjust accordingly. It will also track your responses to the temperature in your home. If you consistently bump up the heating in the morning, it will learn this little habit and make the house warmer. Similarly, if you turn the air conditioning down in the evening, the Nest will recognize this and change it for you.

These changes in the system’s behavior can occur automatically. The benefit to you is the reduction of human error. Since the system monitors itself, you can’t forget to turn it off.

Three reasons to avoid smart thermostats

Smart thermostats might not be the panacea some people claim. Rather, they could be costly trinkets that don’t actually create any savings. Here are some problems with smart thermostats.

The initial cost is high

This is simple. A new smart thermostat will cost between $200 and $400 to buy and install. A simple programmable thermostat can be purchased for less than $100. Simple non-programmable thermostats are way cheaper. A smart thermostat is only going to save you money if it lowers your costs more than its purchase price.

Smart thermostats don’t actually save money

Plainly, a smart thermostat does not save you any money by itself. A smart thermostat creates savings by turning your heating and cooling on and off or up and down. You could do the same thing without the need for an expensive device.

All the bells and whistles cover up a simple truth: the smart thermostat won’t do anything drastic you can’t do with a cheaper alternative. If you are already savvy about your energy usage, then any savings might be too small to justify the initial cost.

Extra costs could kill your savings

Smart thermostats can break and malfunction. They rely on Wi-Fi, which could also stop working. The installation could be extensive if the other parts of your system aren’t quite as modern. There are a number of extra costs associated with smart thermostats.

The most common cost is installation. Many Wi-Fi enabled smart thermostats, including Google’s Nest, require a C-wire (or common wire). Older houses built for older systems do not usually have a c-wire present for the thermostat. Retrofitting one will cost you an electrician’s services. 

Some users, such as this writer for businessinsider.com, have had episodes of their thermostat going haywire due to power issues. These small problems can add up to a big loss of savings.

The Final Word

I’ve given you several good reasons to purchase a smart thermostat and a few issues to consider. What is the conclusion? On balance, you should install a smart thermostat if you have the budget for it. This shouldn’t be the first step you take to save money. As part of a modernization process, though, a smart thermostat can bring great value to a home.

 

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