Fall Foliage, Ovando, Montana

Smart Thermostats

Posted: June 1, 2020

Heating and cooling costs account for around half of a user’s energy bill according to the U.S. Department of Energy. One of the best ways to reduce home energy costs is by using a programmable thermostat. The right thermostat settings could yield energy savings of 8-15%, and new smart thermostat technology makes it easier than ever to achieve those savings.

Smart thermostats are Wi-Fi enabled and may be controlled remotely through a tablet, smartphone or voice control. Some models use multiple sensors to monitor temperatures in various parts of the home for more balanced heating or cooling, track user temperature preferences and use the data to optimize your heating and cooling schedule. And some are designed for complex multi-stage systems that will control heating, cooling, dehumidifier and ventilation systems.

This new breed of thermostat allows users to control heating and cooling settings via the use of an app, or even through voice recognition. Users who want to remain hands-off can simply allow these units to learn their habits and tailor custom settings to fit their lifestyle. With a wide variety of models on the market, buyers need to evaluate each model’s features and make sure the chosen unit is compatible with the heating system it will control.

The Nest 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat and Ecobee4 are the most popular and sophisticated devices in this category. Both devices retail for around $250 and members who heat with electricity can expect to save from $50 to $90 per year depending on their heating system. In addition, qualifying installations are eligible for $100 rebate from MEC.

Both thermostats offer similar features and can be adjusted via computer, tablet, smartphone, Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. In addition, both thermostats can interact with other smart devices on your home’s network or even connect to your phone to determine whether you are at home or away and adjust the temperature accordingly.

The Nest and Ecobee thermostats offer for purchase, remote sensors that allow the thermostat to take readings from any room throughout your home and adjust the temperature accordingly. This can be an advantage if your thermostat is located near a draft or in direct sunlight. The Ecobee sensors go one step further with occupancy sensing, which notices if there is movement in the house in order to override a switch to “away” temperature settings when the primary phone user leaves the house and someone is still there.

While many of the features are similar, there a few that are notably different and can help you determine which is right for you.

Nest, powered by a rechargeable battery, is a learning thermostat that automatically learns your schedule and preferences. When you begin using Nest, it makes a few assumptions and creates a baseline for its schedule. As you adjust the temperature up or down, Nest records it, and after a week, learns your schedule and the temperature settings you prefer. From then, it continues to learn and respond to your adjustments. Nest also records 10 days of energy use data that shows you a visual of the times your system turned on and off during those 10 days. Nest also sends a monthly email report that includes a summary of your energy use compared to previous months and other Nest users.

Ecobee, which must be hardwired, utilizes a touchscreen and can analyze HVAC data for 18 months. All temperature and motion data from the thermostat and sensors are recorded, and can be accessed online by the owner to help monitor total energy use, how the weather influences the home’s use, and how your home efficiency compares to other users in your area.

The two thermostats can also connect with various energy devices in your home. Ecobee recognizes dehumidifiers and ventilators, and Nest recognizes heat pumps and auxiliary heat.

Whichever fits your lifestyle and preferences, a smart thermostat is a good investment that can help you save energy and money in a more convenient way than ever before.