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Smart Thermostat Guide

By Maria Saxton Rise Writer
Mar 28, 2020

When shopping for a thermostat upgrade, you'll find many innovations in the thermostat industry. If you would like a thermostat that will ensure energy efficiency, cost savings, and comfort in your home, you might want to take a look at smart thermostats.

Table of Contents

  1. What Is a Smart Thermostat?
  2. How Do Smart Thermostats Differ From Standard Thermostats?
  3. How Much Can Smart Thermostats Save You?
  4. How Do You Install a Smart Thermostat?
  5. How Do You Set up a Smart Thermostat?
  6. Do I Need More Than One Smart Thermostat?
  7. Smart Thermostats With Wireless Capability
  8. What Are the Benefits of a Wifi Smart Thermostats?
  9. What Are the Benefits of a Zigbee Smart Thermostat?
  10. What Are the Benefits of a Z-Wave Smart Thermostat?
  11. Top Picks Smart Thermostats in 2021

What Is a Smart Thermostat?

Smart thermostats are thermostats that can control a home's heating and air conditioning by using home automation. A homeowner can adjust the home's temperature using a schedule or make adjustments remotely with a smart device. Leaving work early and want your home warmed up by the time you arrive? A smart thermostat can do just that.

How Do Smart Thermostats Differ From Standard Thermostats?

What sets a smart thermostat apart from a traditional programmable thermostat is that a smart thermostat uses sensors and WiFi to adjust settings. With any wifi-connected device like a smartphone or tablet, you can adjust the system's setting from afar. Smart thermostats can even record temperatures, provide energy reports, and notify you of maintenance requirements such as needed filter replacements.

A smart thermostat is one part of a home's automation system. A full home automation system can also control lighting, technology, and even appliances. In recent years, manufacturers have developed a range of smart devices for homeowners who wish for more convenience.

Old Thermostat

How Much Can Smart Thermostats Save You?

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) are responsible for about 40% of your home's energy consumption. A traditional thermostat will maintain a specific temperature based on its settings that can be adjusted manually. Smart home companies like Nest estimate that smart thermostats can reduce heating and cooling costs by 10 and 15%, respectively. In a general sense, a smart thermostat can save you money in two ways:

  1. On a day-to-day basis, you will spend fewer dollars to heat and cool your home since your home only needs to be conditioned when you are home.
  2. You will spend less on repairs because your A/C unit will not work as hard. You can set up your thermostat to notify you of any required maintenance so that you do not fall behind.

A smart thermostat will allow you to set a schedule and modify settings remotely. The heating and cooling schedule can vary based on the time of day, day of the week, and even season. You can set a specific temperature when you are coming home and another when you leave your home. This ensures that energy usage is minimal during hours when you will not benefit from heating or cooling.

Smart thermostats will also rely on sensors to adjust your home's temperature to save energy. This reduces human error with traditional programmable thermostats that sometimes consume more power than manual thermostats. If the smart thermostat senses that no occupants are in the home, it will lower the home's temperature and readjust when residents return home. Passive infrared (PIR) motion sensors and cell phone location data are typically used to determine occupancy within a home.

Google Nest Installation
Google Nest Installation. Photo Credit: Google

How Do You Install a Smart Thermostat?

Fortunately, the process of actually setting up a smart thermostat is quite easy. However, before purchasing a smart thermostat, you will want to ensure that it is compatible with your A/C unit. Most smart thermostat manufacturers, such as Nest, offer compatibility checklists online. These are intuitive and easy to follow. Keep in mind that not all smart thermostats work with every home's existing HVAC system. 

Each manufacturer should also provide installation instructions specific to their product, but we will walk through the basics here. Before installation, make sure you are switching thermostats on a mild day where your home will be comfortable without air conditioning or heat for a little while. 

  1. Turn off your HVAC system by using your home's breaker box. This critical step will ensure that you do not accidentally short your system while working with the thermostat's wires. 
  2. Remove the faceplate of your old thermostat. This step usually is straightforward - pull slightly, and it should pop off the wall. If not, it may be attached with a few small screws. Once removed, take note of how the wires are connected.  
  3. Carefully remove the wires from the backplate. Next, remove the backplate from the wall. If you have your original thermostat's manual, it should provide directions on how to do this. 
  4. If there is no C-wire already, add one. Here is an in-depth tutorial on how to do this. 
  5. Connect the new thermostat's backplate to the wall with a screwdriver or drill. 
  6. Once the new backplate is securely attached to the wall, reconnect the wires to the backplate's corresponding terminals. 
  7. Install the new thermostat's faceplate. Snap the faceplate to the backplate, and use the thermostat's instruction manual for any additional steps. 
  8. Turn on your HVAC system by using your home's breaker box. This should automatically turn on the smart thermostat.
Honeywell Setup
Honeywell Lyric Setup. Photo Credit: Honeywell Home

How Do You Set up a Smart Thermostat?

Smart thermostats are ideal for tech-savvy homeowners. If you do not consider yourself a technologically competent individual, please read through the following steps. These steps should help with the setup of your new smart thermostat, in addition to consulting your device's manual.

  1. Following the installation of the thermostat, ensure that your home's WiFi network is running successfully and has a strong signal. 
  2. Once your thermostat turns on, the display screen should walk you through connecting it to your WiFi network. 
  3. Choose a smart device (smartphone, tablet, computer, etc.) to connect with your smart thermostat.
  4. Download the appropriate application onto your smart device. Your new thermostat's manual or guide should identify which app to download.
  5. Congratulations, you have successfully set up your new thermostat! Now, become familiar with the application and learn the capabilities of this new smart device.
Saving Money

Do I Need More Than One Smart Thermostat?

The average home consists of multiple rooms or, in this case, zones. While these zones require heating and cooling, they may not require it at the same time. By adding additional sensors in different parts of your space, smart thermostats allow you to treat each zone independently instead of applying the heating and cooling needs of your entire home. You may want your bathroom to be at a specific temperature in the morning, but you may not require the same level of comfort while you sleep or are at work. The flexibility of smart thermostats provides calculated comfort and introduces energy savings when programming when zones should be heating and cooling a space or turned off.

Keep in mind that you will need various temperature sensors installed around the house to set up your home using multiple zones. Nest, for instance, sells temperature sensors for about $40 each that you can place in each zone of your home.

Nest Sensor
Nest Sensor. Photo Credit: Google

Smart Thermostats With Wireless Capability

Many electronic devices are leveraging wireless technologies such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and Z-Wave. So, it's no surprise that many smart thermostat manufacturers include wireless technologies to increase accessibility and control. Let's take a look at a few.

What Are the Benefits of a Wifi Smart Thermostats?

Smart thermostats with WiFi enable owners to remotely access and control thermostats through internet protocol (IP). An internet protocol is the method of one device sending information to another on the internet. Remote access can be set up on a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The primary benefit of WiFi accessibility is real-time control of your home's heating and cooling system from any location.

what is zigbee

What Are the Benefits of a Zigbee Smart Thermostat?

Unlike power-intensive WiFi operations, Zigbee uses low-power wireless protocols in a mesh network setting. A mesh network enables devices on a local network to connect and dynamically cooperate to share data as efficiently as possible. This type of networking allows Zigbee devices to "hop" data from one Zigbee device to another quickly and efficiently while using less power than WiFi. Powered Zigbee devices can also act as signal repeaters between devices and the hub. This makes Zibgee a versatile solution with unlimited device hops, a range of 50-100 feet between devices, and operates on the 2.4 GHz frequency in the United States and Canada. Since Zigbee devices do not connect via WiFi, a central Zigbee compatible hub is required.

Z-Wave Logo

What Are the Benefits of a Z-Wave Smart Thermostat?

Z-Wave operates similarly to Zigbee, but with a few differences. Z-Wave operates on the 908.42 MHz frequency and has a maximum of 4 hops. Z-Wave and Zigbee may be somewhat similar in operation; however, they cannot communicate with one another as they are different languages. Z-Wave Plus introduces increased battery life, improved range and compatibility, and better pairing.

Nest Thermostat

Top Picks Smart Thermostats in 2021


Nest smart thermostats are arguably the most popular products in the industry. Nest sells multiple smart home automation devices available from many retailers, including cameras, alarm systems, and doorbells.

Nest sells two thermostats: the Nest Learning Thermostat for $249 and the Nest Thermostat E for $169. One significant benefit of these thermostats is that they are compatible with 85% - 95% of 24-volt HVAC systems. Here is an in-depth guide to help you determine if you have a 24-volt system. Nest also claims that their thermostats can pay for themselves within two years, but this is partly dependent on the homeowner's behaviors.

One drawback to both Nest thermostats, based on reviews, is that the temperatures are not very precise. Nest thermostats have a 3-degree temperature swing. So if you set your thermostat to 75 degrees, the actual temperature could be between 72 and 78 degrees. If you are particular about what temperature you like your home to be, this may not be the best option for your needs.

ecobee3 lite

Ecobee3 Lite

Ecobee is a fast-growing smart thermostat company based in Canada. Their most cost-effective thermostat, the Ecobee3 Lite, sells for $169. This device claims to save you 23% of your annual energy costs. It will even provide you with a monthly savings report for no additional charge. By purchasing additional smart sensors, you can set up multiple zones in your home to save more.

The Energy Star-approved Ecobee3 Lite is compatible with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant. It also provides a "Compatibility Checker" to ensure that your existing HVAC system is compatible with the Ecobee3 Lite.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Ecobee3 Lite does not have the ability to control advanced HCAV components like dehumidifiers, humidifiers, or ventilators. More expensive models can control these.

Honeywell Lyric

Honeywell Lyric

Honeywell is a common thermostat brand for manual, programmable, and smart thermostats. Honeywell's second-generation Lyric Thermostat works with Alexa and Google Assistant to save energy while maintaining your home's comfort. However, it is one of the more expensive smart thermostat models at $249.

Honeywell also sells other home automation devices, all of which you can control from the Honeywell application. The Lyric Thermostat also provides homeowners with an in-depth installation guide to walk them through the installation process.

This smart thermostat may be an option for particularly tech-savvy homeowners because, based on reviews, the Honeywell application is not very intuitive.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-10-22T14:56:52+0000
Maria Saxton

Article by:

Maria Saxton

Located in Roanoke, Virginia, Maria Saxton holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Design and Planning from Virginia Tech. She works as an Environmental Planner and Housing Researcher for a local firm specializing in Community Planning, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Historic Preservation. Her dissertation explored the environmental impacts of small-scale homes. She serves as a volunteer board member for the Tiny Home Industry Association.

Google Nest Learning Thermostat
Google Nest Learning Thermostat
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Google Nest Thermostat
Google Nest Thermostat
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