A woman in a green shirt controls a smart thermostat on the wall, allowing it to save her money on her energy bill.
Photo Credit:
Adobe Stock
Make saving easier

What To Know Before Buying A Smart Thermostat: A Beginner's Guide

Kimberly Hutchings
/
October 25, 2023

As utility costs continue to rise, many homeowners are looking for ways to save, and when it comes to energy consumption, our home's heating and cooling systems are perhaps the biggest culprits of them all.

Accounting for nearly 50 percent of our annual energy consumption, the devices we use to keep our homes comfortable can also be a major drain on our bank accounts. The good news is that recent innovations, like the smart thermostat, are making it easier to monitor our home energy consumption, making it possible for us to maximize efficiency and save on our monthly electrical spending — no tech skills required!

But what is a smart thermostat, and what do you need to know before investing in one? Well, there are a few things to consider, and fortunately, that's exactly what this blog post is all about.

Keep reading for everything you need to know.

What Is A Smart Thermostat?

First things first, it's essential to understand the basics — like what is a smart thermostat anyway?

Simply put, a smart thermostat is a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat device that allows you to control your home's temperature through the internet using a smart device like a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Smart thermostats are typically equipped with sensors that allow them to learn about our daily habits, helping them create heating and cooling schedules unique to our lifestyles without the need for manual programming.

For instance, they're able to compile various data on factors like the outdoor temperature and humidity, what times of day you go to bed, when you wake up, and which hours you're at work so that they can adjust temperatures automatically and make your home as comfortable and efficient as possible.

When used well, they're capable of making your life a whole lot easier and saving you a ton of energy (and money) in the process! In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, adjusting your thermostat to be 7-10° F closer to the temperature outdoors while away from home or sleeping can save you nearly 10 percent on annual heating costs — and smart thermostats make it easy to set it, forget it and save.

So, ready to get started? Awesome! You're one step closer to leveling up your home's IQ.

Let's figure out which smart thermostat model is right for you.

How To Choose The Right Smart Thermostat

You'll want to consider a few factors before investing in a smart thermostat. Different models offer varied features, and understanding what's available and compatible with your existing HVAC system is vital to finding the model that works best for you and your family.

Keep the following criteria in mind when exploring your options.

Look For The ENERGY STAR Stamp of Approval

When it comes to energy efficiency, the first thing you'll want to look for with any smart thermostat device is the ENERGY STAR stamp of approval.

ENERGY STAR products are required to meet a set of strict guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They're recognized for using less energy than their standard counterparts, resulting in electrical bill savings and fewer harmful emissions for our planet, all without compromising on function.

Today, there are many ENERGY STAR-qualifying smart thermostats on the market, and you can start your search by seeing which models make the cut on the ENERGY STAR website here.

Decide On A Budget

Another essential consideration to make before purchasing a smart thermostat is budget.

Smart thermostat devices can range in price significantly, with the most affordable options costing around $50 and some of the more expensive options coming in at around $300.

Deciding how much you are willing to spend on upgrading your home thermostat system can help narrow your search significantly, allowing you to better investigate the options that best meet your needs and spending requirements.

PRO TIP! Many states and utility providers offer rebate opportunities for homeowners looking to invest in smart thermostat devices, and the ENERGY STAR website makes it easy to find rebates near you. Simply enter your zip code in the ENERGY STAR Rebate Finder, and their system will populate a list of available savings opportunities in your area — easy!

Investigate Compatibility

Compatibility is perhaps the most critical consideration of all to keep in mind when buying a smart thermostat, and requirements can be broken down into two categories.

Firstly, it's important to determine whether or not your new smart thermostat will be compatible with your existing HVAC system.

For the most part, the majority of smart thermostat devices will be compatible with any forced-air system installed after 1975. However, homes with oil burners or furnaces may require an adaptor. Make note of the type of system you have before investing, as it may affect your purchasing decision.

Wiring is another component of compatibility that you'll want to look into before buying a smart thermostat for your home. Smart thermostats require C-Wires, also known as Common Wires, which are thin, low-voltage wires that deliver a constant source of power to your device. Many older, programmable thermostat systems are not equipped with C-Wires, meaning you’ll require an adaptor in order to complete your installation.

Fortunately, checking for compatible wiring is easy to do yourself! To conduct a quick at-home investigation, all you have to do is remove the cover on your current thermostat model and visually check the wiring. If the wires appear thick and bulky, you may need a C-Wire adaptor — although some higher-end smart thermostat models will allow you to go completely wireless, no adaptor needed!

Consider Your Wishlist of Features

Beyond smart learning features and the ability to control your home's temperature on the go, smart thermostats also come with many other fun and functional features worth noting. Here are a few of our favorites to keep in mind.

Geofencing

Think of geofencing as an invisible border that surrounds your property. It's something you can customize and typically relies on the GPS located in your smartphone to work. When enabled, it can detect factors like when you're arriving home or when you might have left for the day and automatically adjust your home's temperature accordingly.

Smart Home Assistant Compatibility

Many smart thermostats are compatible with smart home assistants like Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant, allowing you to ask for temperature updates or adjust settings simply by speaking your requests aloud.

If you already have an existing smart home ecosystem, ensuring your new smart thermostat is compatible with your preferred digital assistant is key!

Vacation/Away Mode

Vacation or Away mode is another handy feature to look for when investing in a smart thermostat. This setting is designed to notify your system when you'll be absent from your home for extended periods of time.

It allows your device to maximize efficiency by adjusting your home’s temperature up or down by a few degrees so you’re not wasting money on unnecessary temperature control while absent.

Temperature and Occupancy Sensors

If you live in a single-zone home where one HVAC system controls your entire space, temperature sensors can help to monitor different rooms and ensure the whole home is kept at a comfortable temperature.

For example, you may have a drafty dining room or a living room with many windows that heat up the room in the midday sun. Introducing temperature sensors to various areas within your home allows your smart thermostat to locate warmer or cooler areas and adjust the overall temperature accordingly to accommodate these differences.

Similarly, occupancy sensors can detect which rooms receive the most traffic, prioritizing temperature control in these spaces before others to maximize comfort.

Motion and Proximity Sensors

And finally, there are motion and proximity sensors — think of them as the eyes and ears of your smart thermostat.

Motion sensors monitor your spaces, noting times of the day when there is inactivity (such as when you go to work or go to bed) as well as times of day when you and your family are most active in the home (like wakeup times and evening hours). These sensors help your smart thermostat learn your routines and lifestyle habits and develop better automatic temperature schedules to suit your needs.

Proximity sensors are similar to motion sensors, except they have a shorter range. Smart thermostats equipped with this type of sensor can register when someone approaches the device, triggering the digital screen to light up or save power by dimming when they've walked away.

OhmConnect Compatibility

We might be biased, but we couldn't finish off our list of smart thermostat features without mentioning ourselves because who doesn't want to help the planet *and* get rewarded along the way?

Certain smart thermostat models can be connected directly to your  OhmConnect account, automatically triggering your home to go into a power-saving mode during OhmHours so that you can save money, earn rewards, and help your community conserve power all without lifting a finger — win!

Installing Your Smart Thermostat

Once you've decided on the right model for you, the next step is installation, and fortunately, it's pretty easy. In fact, most smart thermostats are straightforward enough that you should be able to do it yourself in as little as thirty minutes!

If you'd rather leave it to the professionals, though, that's okay too, and any licensed electrician or HVAC specialist should be able to help you get the job done in no time.

OhmConnect's Smart Thermostat Picks For 2023

We've rounded up some of our favorite makes and models for 2023 to kick-start your smart thermostat search. Find out all the details by scrolling below.

Google Nest Learning Thermostat

ENERGY STAR Certified: Yes

OhmConnect Compatible: Yes for people in Texas, California, and New York.

Features we love:

  • Works with 95 percent of existing home HVAC systems.
  • Equipped with advanced learning features and auto-scheduling capabilities.
  • Energy History data lets you see where you're using energy at home the most and better understand your usage.
  • The Home/Away Assist feature allows you to save energy when you're away for extended periods.
  • Alexa-, and Google Assistant-compatible.
  • A Nest Leaf visual on your device's screen shows you when you've chosen an energy-saving temperature.

Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium

ENERGY STAR Certified: Yes

OhmConnect Compatible: Yes

Features we love:

  • Compatible with most 24VAC HVAC systems and includes a Power Extender Kit for homes that don't currently have C-Wires.
  • Occupancy and temperature sensors automatically learn and adjust to reduce hot and cold spots throughout your home, saving up to 26 percent in annual heating and cooling costs.
  • Equipped with a built-in smoke detector and air quality monitor, providing alerts when your air quality is poor as well as tips for improvement.
  • Alexa-, Siri- and Google Assistant-compatible.
  • Equipped with a smart speaker so you can stream music or podcasts directly through your device's speaker.
  • Compatible with an Ecobee Smart Security plan for home monitoring related to break-ins.

Amazon Smart Thermostat

ENERGY STAR Certified: Yes

OhmConnect Compatible: No

Features we love:

  • Bundled with a C-Wire Power Adaptor for easy installation in homes that aren't C-Wire equipped.
  • Smart learning capabilities and auto-scheduling features that let your device set the temperature for you.
  • Step-by-step instructions are provided through the Alexa app to make do-it-yourself home installation a breeze.
  • Alexa-compatible.
  • Access your Energy Dashboard to review and better understand your consumption habits.
  • Thirty-four percent of the device comes from post-consumer recycled plastics.

Sensi Touch 2 Smart Thermostat

ENERGY STAR Certified: Yes

OhmConnect Compatible: Yes

Features we love:

  • Compatible with most home HVAC systems that are C-Wire equipped.
  • Includes a top-rated app that guides you through each step of the do-it-yourself installation process.
  • Compatible with Sensi Room Sensors to automatically balance temperatures throughout your home.
  • Flexible scheduling capabilities and remote access allow you to adjust your home's temperatures to suit your needs and maximize efficiency with ease.
  • The app delivers usage reports, equipment alerts, and maintenance reminders (like filter replacements) to help keep your HVAC system running efficiently.
  • Alexa- and Google Assistant-compatible.

Honeywell Home T9 Smart Thermostat

ENERGY STAR Certified: Yes

OhmConnect Compatible: No

Features we love:

  • Compatible with most home HVAC systems that are C-Wire equipped.
  • Auto Home and Away Mode allows you to adjust your home's temperature automatically through a mobile device or geofencing.
  • View your energy use in the Monthly Energy Report to better understand and adapt your energy habits.
  • Alexa-, Google Assistant- and Siri-compatible.
  • Separately sold Smart Room Sensors allow you to take a multi-room approach to temperature control.
  • Build your own heating and cooling schedules to suit your lifestyle needs, or have sensors automatically respond and adjust to your routines.

Editor’s note: If you make a purchase through our affiliate partner links, we may receive a commission. This does not impact the recommendations we make.

Most recent posts
Save money. save energy.

Related Articles

See all >
Two men shake hands over solar panels, they are being installed in conjunction with batteries to help with Net Metering.
Solar energy’s next phase

NEM 3.0 - What You Need to Know About California’s New Net Energy Metering

Explore the economics of solar panel installation: is it right for you? What to know about net metering and the benefits of home batteries under NEM 3.0 in California.

Some streetlights are turning purple. This is a photo of an underpass with purple lights.
Eerie purple lighting

Some Streetlights Are Turning Purple — Here's What You Need To Know About It

Streetlights are turning purple or blue, learn more about this mysterious occurrence happening all over the country. Hint: there is an interesting scientific reason for it.

Woman charges her EV, as EV sales are actually up
An EV traffic check

Are EV Sales Skidding to a Halt? Despite Warnings, There’s Reason for Optimism

Are EV sales really slowing? Despite automakers dire predictions for the EV industry, the market is growing fast, hitting multiple milestones in 2023.