It’s been a little over a decade since smart phones took over our life and smart functions have been included in high-end cars for years, but smart voice assistants have finally created an environment where even those least technologically-inclined people can bring smart technology into everybody’s homes. While the lowest barrier entry into the smart home market may currently be smart light bulbs, smart thermostats are the advanced technology that have really elevated the ability of the smart home to bring about energy savings and automated, remote home energy management.
Smart thermostats may not have pervaded as many homes as smart lights just yet due to concerns about higher installation burdens or upfront costs, but the future is undeniable for these automated and intelligent controls to a household’s heating and cooling system. If you’re still uncertain, though, here’s a cheat sheet of what you most need to know before taking the plunge into smart thermostats:
What’s a smart thermostat?
Thermostats, the standard devices for managing the interior climate of a home, had already undergone a notable evolution before smart technology ever came along. Where temperature settings used to be set manually at a fixed temperature on a dial, the standard modern thermostat now includes temperature sensors to read the room and automatically adjust to a fixed, pre-programmed setting in a digital format. The thermostats of tomorrow, though, are smart thermostats which take such programming a step further.
Smart thermostats take control a step further, first by opening up how and when a homeowner can control them. In order to be smart, by definition a thermostat is able to be controlled remotely. Typically, this remote automation is managed through an app on a consumer’s smart phone or tablet, though many smart thermostats also have web portals to be accessed via computer or can connect to a greater smart home system’s dashboard display. This type of control opens up the doors for the functions a smart thermostat can perform:
- By tracking the patterns of heating and cooling set in a home, some smart thermostats can automatically engage heating/cooling needs only when it anticipates that people are soon to be home
- By allowing remote access to temperature readings and controls, smart thermostats enable customers to control the heating settings in the house while they are away, for example to turn heat on to prevent pipes from freezing or to turn the air conditioning on for the comfort of a pet while the homeowner is away on vacation
- Technologically adept users can even program their smart thermostat to anticipate heating and cooling needs based on outside information fed to it, such as expected weather.
How can smart thermostats help a home save energy?
These various uses for smart thermostats are useful and convenient for customers, but the real story is how this expanded control over your thermostat can save energy and money. By using automation, sensors, remote control, and more, smart thermostats can reduce the overall energy use required by a home’s heating and cooling systems, which in aggregate account for almost half the use of a home’s power bills:
How exactly do smart thermostats help mitigate this energy demand? The main advantage is that smart thermostats in almost all use cases will allow the homeowner to minimize the amount of time that these energy-intensive heating and cooling systems are expending power to maintain the temperature in an empty home. Many people will leave their air conditioning on during the day just so they can return home to a comfortable temperature, others will forget to adjust the thermostat before they leave for work, and others still simply don’t know how to optimally control their heating and cooling systems. Smart thermostats take these possibilities for error out of the hands of the homeowner and automate for them. If you want your home to be at a given temperature when you get home, the smart thermostat can be preprogrammed to start adjusting the temperature 20 minutes before you walk in the door, or it can even learn to do this process on its own. Smart thermostats can also react to sensors placed in different rooms of the house so there’s no need to heat up the entire house just to get one room at a designated temperature. These possibilities are significant, with some studies finding smart thermostats able to save 10-12% on heating and 15% on cooling, totaling an average of over $130 per year (enough to make up for the upfront cost of buying the smart thermostat in just a year or two).
However, those energy savings are just the beginning of the positive impact of smart thermostats. Many utilities and energy providers see smart thermostats as an important tool when it comes to the future of demand response management. The idea behind demand response is that when the resources feeding the electric grid are particularly strained, because for example a power plant unexpectedly shut down or there’s an unexpectedly high amount of demand by customers, utilities would be able to send a signal to customers that indicates the stress and adjust electricity prices higher. This price signal would let people turn off unneeded electronics and reduce the amount of energy they are using, allowing the utility to meet its demand without needing to build up new power plants. This process also benefits customers in the long run because pricing based on demand is more accurate and tends to reduce most consumers’ power bills in the end. Smart thermostats could be plugged into these demand response signals, with the homeowners allowing for the thermostat to adjust by a few degrees in the event that the utility sends a signal that prices are going up. This type of automated demand response is found to be much more effective than any method that would require user intervention, either because people are lazy, don’t pay attention, or forget, but smart thermostats could react instantly.
Which smart thermostat should you choose?
If you’re sold on the convenience and energy savings possible with smart thermostats, the next question to ask is which thermostat to buy. This market has grown immensely in recent years and there are more product options than ever before.
When assessing the options, customers can take a number of features into consideration. The most important will be to determine which smart thermostats are compatible with the existing electrical systems in a home. Some older homes won’t have a “common wire,” or C-wire, that’s required to connect with many newer models of smart thermostat. Many smart thermostats manufacturers will provide guides online to help you figure out if your home will work for their product, such as this one from Honeywell, so be sure to do your homework before heading to the store. Regarding compatibility, you’ll also want to be sure the smart thermostat fits into your existing ‘ecosystem’ of technology products.
If you already have other smart home products, finding a thermostat that fits in with that system will allow for ease of use. If you intend to use your phone, tablet, or smart speaker to control the smart thermostat, figure out which products are compatible with those communication methods you intend to use (questions that again will be answered by the manufacturers of the products or even by the packaging of smart thermostats in question).
Lastly, because of the benefit utilities see in smart thermostats, many power providers will actually offer rebates or incentives to offset the cost of buying certain smart thermostats. Be sure to check with your utility company if you can qualify and which smart thermostats are a part of that program, as that can surely make your decision easier to make.
Once the smart thermostat for you is chosen, you can get excited about turning your house into a full-fledged smart home. For additional smart home products, be sure to note that Atlantic Energy offers smart light bulbs, plugs, cameras, and speakers as a part of its Smart Home Bundle.