These days, nearly every household has a programmable thermostat. The cheapest versions of these convenient contraptions only cost around $20, and they can save you hundreds in home heating and cooling costs every year. 

Now, enter the smart thermostat—the programmable thermostat 2.0. This increasingly popular smart home device is widely considered the “gateway” gadget into the world of smart home technology. But what’s the hype behind these costly devices? Are they significantly more effective at slashing energy costs compared to the humble programmable version? Or, are they just a shiny new toy that looks cool on your wall? 

Let’s look at how these devices generally work (as each one operates a bit differently), what to look for in a device if you want to get one, and finally whether it’s worth the investment. 

How Do Smart Thermostats Work?

It goes like this: If you think of your energy bill as a game, a programmable thermostat then becomes your greatest weapon in the fight off the biggest opponent in your home: your HVAC system. Ultimately, you can never defeat your HVAC, but you can combat it by adjusting your thermostat to the most energy-efficient temperature settings. 

Smart thermostats take it a step further. In addition to programmable capabilities, Wi-Fi enabled smart thermostats will learn from your lifestyle over time and recommend temperature settings for you. For example, Google Nest recognizes your location by connecting to your smartphone to determine when you’ll come home and then adjusts to your desired temperature. By the time you get home, your house will be at a more comfortable evening temperature. 

You can also control your thermostat from anywhere. For example, in the case you don’t have a schedule set and forgot to turn your thermostat up during the summer, no worries. You can simply go on your phone and control it from afar. 

Is a Smart Thermostat Worth It? 

Smart thermostats don’t come cheap. The two most popular thermostats — Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat and Ecobee’s SmartThermostat — can easily run you a couple hundred dollars and up to $300, depending on the model. However, in our opinion, they’re worth it!

If used properly, a smart thermostat can provide significant savings. 50% of your energy bill consists of heating and cooling costs, so having a top-flight device that can learn from your habits and show you how to save money is worth the upfront financial investment. 

But that’s the thing: the potential savings truly depend on you. You have to locate the temperature settings that feel right to your family, whether you use a bare-bones programmable version or the fully loaded Google Nest. You will never save money if you program temperatures that keep your HVAC running too hard in both winter and summer. There isn’t a device in the world that will lower your energy bills if your AC is set to 70 in the summer and your heater is at 73 in the winter.

If you’re the type who loves gadgets and gizmos, then go for the Nest! You might enjoy manipulating the space-age controls in the neverending contest between lowering your energy bill and keeping your home comfortable. You might even go for the Nest just because it’s convenient. What matter is what works for you and your family 

But if you’re not that into fancy devices or spending money with the mere promise of saving money, then a smart thermostat might not be a worthwhile investment for you. Ultimately, choose something that you’d enjoy, not something that seems like a chore or you wouldn’t utilize. 

What to Look for in a Smart Thermostat

If you are thinking about pulling the trigger and getting a smart thermostat, here are a couple key attributes to look for:

  • If you have a “hub” like an Amazon Echo Dot or a Google Nest, make sure your new device is compatible. You don’t want to purchase and install a thermostat that won’t connect to your other devices. 
  • Check to see if your smart thermostat is an ENERGY STAR-certified device. Most household brands like Honeywell, Google, and Ecobee are approved, but it’s always good to double-check. These will provide the most savings on your energy bill. 
  • Most devices should not cost more than $250 or $300. Any more, then you’re probably paying for the “coolness” factor of the device rather than its energy savings or convenience. 
Someone controlling a smart bulb with their phone

Smart Thermostats Merely Scratch the Surface of Smart Home Tech

Smart thermostats are very useful on their own, but in combination with other connected home technology, it becomes even more convenient and connected. Devices such as smart sprinklers, smart light bulbs, smart speakers, and smart plugs are all core members of the smart home technology suite. 

For more information on which devices might benefit you and your home experience, check out our guide to the best smart home devices. Eco-conscious consumers should read our other article on smart home tech for the eco-friendly

If you’re still not seeing the energy savings you want, then the problem likely isn’t your thermostat. For more information on how to save energy at home, check out our energy savings hub here

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