Want a Smart Thermostat? 4 Questions to Ask

Written by Cory Contreras of Lex Air Conditioning and Heating
Updated May 31, 2016
tablet controlling TV and thermostat
Thermostats have come a long way. There are many now that you can manage remotely, allowing you to adjust your smart thermostat from your tablet or smartphone
Photo by Eric Priddy

Mulling a thermostat upgrade? These questions can help you decide if high-tech is right for you.

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nest thermostat
A smart thermostat will cost you a few hundred bucks plus installation, says Contreras. (Photo courtesy of Lex Air Conditioning and Heating)

Thermostats used to be simple; they had a dial that you turned manually when you wanted to make your house hotter or cooler. Then they went digital, with the programmable thermostat offering options to preset different temperatures for different times of day.

Wondering if your next high-tech purchase should be a smart thermostat? Some of these models can learn; they observe your behavior, look for patterns and then program themselves accordingly. Many can be remotely managed online, allowing you to adjust your HVAC thermostat away from home.

Should you spend $250 to $350 for one of these cutting-edge thermostats? Ask yourself these four questions to help decide.

1. Am I a techie who wants to move beyond a programmable thermostat?

Imagine this scenario: You’re sitting in Starbucks and checking your phone to see exactly what your home furnace is doing. Does this give you goose bumps? Or is your glance drifting to the pastry case?

Or how about this: Your Nest thermostat emails you a report about your energy usage patterns and suggests improvements. Do you read it avidly or press “delete” as your eyes glaze over?

Some people love gadgets, apps and the idea of constantly tweaking systems to improve energy use and maximize cost savings. Others don’t.

2. Am I forgetful? Could a smart thermostat help?

Is adjusting the thermostat a standard part of your routine when leaving the house or heading for bed at night? If so, a programmable thermostat — or even a manual one — probably will be just as economical as a smart thermostat. But if you constantly forget to adjust your thermostat for nighttime, work time or vacation, a smart thermostat could save you money. When you’re home, your high-tech thermostat will set the climate at a comfortable level. And when you’re away, it will adhere to its thrifty nature.

3. Saving energy: Do I own or rent?

Looking for ways to save energy? A smart thermostat will cost you a few hundred bucks plus installation. So if you rent, you better forego the smart thermostat or learn to install and uninstall it yourself. Homeowners can check energy usage, estimate possible energy savings, then calculate how long it will take for a smart thermostat to pay for itself.

4. Am I a landlord who could benefit from a smart thermostat?

Landlords who rent apartments with utilities included know the pain of tenants who like to set the thermostat at 80 degrees in the winter and 55 in the summer. Installing smart thermostats and then controlling them with your phone keeps things under control. You’ll need an on-site wireless connection. Of course, one Wi-Fi connection can serve multiple units.

Choose your smart thermostat model

If you decide you need a smart thermostat, several companies manufacture them. Compare models offered by ecobee, Honeywell and Nest. Unlike the thermostats that “learn” your daily schedule, the Honeywell Lyric uses geofencing, a technology that senses whether you’re inside or outside a certain range, and makes your home comfortable accordingly. The Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat with Voice Control has voice command capabilities. So you can set the temperature hands-free without getting out of bed. Surely both techies and non-techies can appreciate that.

Install your smart thermostat

If you rate yourself as an average handyman, installation should be a snap. You also can look at what the cost of installation runs for your ZIP code before deciding to tackle the project. Having a contractor handle the installation when repairing or installing your heating and cooling system is a no-brainer.

Most HVAC contractors know about the Honeywell smart thermostat. Your regular HVAC service provider should be able to install the system. (You can also find a Honeywell dealer online.)

Nest, on the other hand, was an outlier in the HVAC industry when it was acquired by Google in 2014. Not all HVAC contractors are experienced with Nest products. Find a Nest-certified contractor online.

About this Experts Contributor: Cory Contreras is co-owner of Lex Air Conditioning and Heating. Together with his brother, Anthony, the Contreras brothers took over their father’s HVAC business and have continued a family legacy in Texas, providing heating and cooling service and repairs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Follow this contributor on Twitter and Google+.

As of May 31, 2016, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

Editor's note: This is an updated version of a story published on December 2, 2014.

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