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What is a smart thermostat?

With utility bills still rising, many homeowners have turned to smart thermostats as a way to reduce their expenses. Not only do they look sleeker and more advanced than a standard thermostat, but they come with a variety of powerful features that can help optimize your heating and cooling schedules—and save you a bunch of money in the process. But what exactly is a smart thermostat, and why should you consider adding one to your home? Here’s a closer look at these versatile tools and how they stack up against the competition.

What exactly is a smart thermostat?

A smart thermostat is a thermostat that can be controlled using a phone, tablet, smart speaker, or other internet-connected device. Smart thermostats typically allow you to schedule your desired temperature settings, and you can also integrate them into your home automation systems. They also lean toward sleek, modern designs—which are a huge improvement over the clunky rectangles offered by traditional thermostats.

What else can a smart thermostat do?

Depending on the specific model, smart thermostats can offer a slew of cool features. Some thermostats, like the Nest Learning Thermostat, can learn about your heating and cooling preferences and automatically adjust them based on said learning. Many of the best smart thermostats have diagnostic features, which can detect if there is a problem with your ductwork or HVAC system. A smart thermostat may also be able to remind you when to perform system maintenance, such as when to change the air filter. Your thermostat may also be able to provide you with details regarding your energy consumption or even give you a readout on the humidity levels in your home.

Some thermostats also include room sensors that can measure the temperature in a specific room or area of ​​the home and specifically heat or cool that room based on the temperature in that local area, reducing hot or cold spots in the home. If your thermostat has geofences, it can recognize your entry into the home and save on heating and cooling costs when you’re away from home.

How does a smart thermostat work?

Terry Walsh / Digital Trends

To understand how a smart thermostat works, you’ll first need to understand how a regular thermostat works. The thermostat uses the temperature to determine when it needs to turn the fan and air conditioning or heat on and off. It actually works kind of like a light switch, except it incorporates temperature into the equation. A typical thermostat has a hot wire, a common wire, a wire that connects to the fan blower, and wires that connect to your HVAC system for heating and cooling. They may also have auxiliary wiring for things like auxiliary heat, emergency heat, two-phase heating or cooling, or wiring for systems that have separate or stand-alone air conditioning or heating. When you set a certain temperature on your thermostat, it turns off the fan and heating or cooling once the internal thermometer reaches the desired temperature. Here’s how to test the thermostat.

Smart thermostats work similarly, except they also connect to Wi-Fi in the home. This allows you to change thermostat settings remotely using a companion app. When you enter a temperature setting into the app, it transmits that setting over Wi-Fi to the thermostat, and then the thermostat sends that signal to the blowing and HVAC system. When you use a smart speaker like Google Home and say, “OK Google, set the temperature to 70 degrees,” the Google Home app transmits the command to the thermostat’s companion app, which transmits over Wi-Fi to the thermostat. It all happens so quickly that you’ll probably never notice all of the components that go into setting the temperature in your home simply.

How does a smart thermostat save you money?

Smart thermostats save you money by simply cooling and heating your home as much as you need. With features like learning, scheduling, and geolocation, plus the ability to diagnose problems with the system and remind you when it’s time to perform maintenance, your HVAC system runs more efficiently and uses less energy. Room sensors can also reduce energy consumption by heating and cooling specific areas more accurately.

What is the difference between a smart thermostat and a programmable thermostat?

Programmable thermostat allows user to enter schedule and program settings. A smart thermostat is a step up from a programmable thermostat, as it typically allows the user to program desired settings and connects to Wi-Fi for more advanced features and functionality. In other words, smart thermostats make it easy to program schedules or set the temperature, since you can access the thermostat remotely from a smartphone app or other device.

What are the requirements for installing a smart thermostat?

Most homes with modern HVAC systems can upgrade to a smart thermostat, provided there is a Wi-Fi connection. However, since there are a variety of different types of heating and cooling setups, it’s wise to confirm your system’s compatibility before purchasing a smart thermostat. You may also need a C wire (or common wire) in your thermostat’s existing wiring setup. If you don’t have a C wire, you can purchase a smart thermostat that includes an adapter kit.

Anyone can install the adapter kits, though it does require a bit of rewiring. If you’re uncomfortable opening your furnace and fiddling with cables, consider calling a professional for help or opting for a smart thermostat that doesn’t need a C-wire.

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