Heating and cooling your apartment is for most, a necessity of life you rarely think about. And aesthetics are merely an afterthought. Let’s be real —thermostats have always been just ugly, nondescript beige boxes that stick on the wall and are generally ignored. They are not sexy. But in 2017, this isn’t the case.
Thanks to smart home technology, the new era of thermostats are connected, high tech and far more stylish. And yeah, stylish enough that you should actually begin to think about them as design elements in your space. These new devices are capable of learning your preferences and schedule, while saving money in the process.
What makes a thermostat “smart” varies. All these devices connect to your Wi-Fi and wireless devices. You interact with them mainly through a smartphone app and they can link with popular smart home hubs like the Apple Home Kit, Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa-based Echo. That means you can just tell your hub to adjust the temperature and it does, which is a neat trick.
Most of these thermostats track you based on something called “geofencing”. It sound scary, but it’s not that creepy we promise. The app on your phone uses the phone’s GPS to let the thermostat know when you are away. When the thermostat sees you have left, it will go into an energy saving mode and then return to your preferred settings once you are within a certain pre-defined radius (say, on the drive home from work). A couple use built in motion sensors to tell if anyone is around as well. Pretty amazing.
So what type of smart thermostats are available, and what are the best ones to invest in?
THE HIGH END
The Nest ($249) has been the smart thermostat of choice since it arrived on the scene in 2011, but hasn’t changed much over the years. The Nest is the ideal smart thermostat for those who want to put minimal effort into controlling their heating and cooling system. It learns what you want based on your behavior during a brief learning period and then just works. The reliance on its motion sensor could potentially be problematic if your thermostat is installed in a low-traffic area of the house, but the Nest is easy to use, beautifully styled in round aluminum and plastic, and the smartest thermostat on the market.
Just the same, the Nest isn’t the only high end game in town. Schneider’s Wiser Air $230 also uses a prediction algorithm that works very well and offers a gorgeous touch screen interface and the best weather monitoring of any we’ve tried. Honeywell has long been a leader in the HVAC game and their Lyric Round ($199) is another stylish alternative that sets up quickly, uses geofencing, and works well around.
Finally, the Ecobee 3 ($249) offers something no one else has—a tiny remote sensor that sits in another room of your house. The idea is the thermostat can then accommodate for differences in temperature throughout the house based on feedback from the sensor. It only comes with one sensor, but more can be added ($70 for a two-pack). So, if your house suffers from cold spots, this is the thermostat to get.
WHEN MONEY IS AN OBJECT
There are still some excellent, if not quite as smart options. Emerson’s Sensi ($129.99), for instance, is about as boring as a thermostat can be. It’s boxy, has a black and white display, and doesn’t do smart. But you’ll still get remote connectivity and the most detailed scheduling options of any thermostat out there, along with battery back-up.
For something more upscale yet still reasonably priced, the somewhat less boxy LUX/GEO ($150) supports geofencing, but relies on you to set its schedule instead of learning algorithms. While it lacks a motion sensor, it does let you schedule up to four temperature periods per day. On the other hand, you can simply change modes between home and away, or just let the geofencing detect when you’re out. The GEO also tracks more usage data about your HVAC system than anything else, which is an oddly nerdy, yet appealing plus.
Finally, Honeywell offers an appealing alternative to their Lyric Round in the square form of the cheaper Lyric T5 ($149). Not quite as feature laden as the Round, the T5 still offers remote connectivity, intelligent scheduling options, alerts, and other bells and whistles, although we still prefer the styling, more powerful sensors and greater smart device compatibility of the Lyric Round.