The best smart thermostat monitors your home’s activity level and adjusts the temperatures accordingly. After interviewing HVAC experts and evaluating 23,000 customer reviews for models that were easy to install, we landed on two smart thermostats that enable efficient energy consumption with minimal effort.
How We Chose the Best Smart Thermostats
We looked at all the features that constituted a smart thermostat. While there’s no agreed-upon definition of what makes a thermostat “smart” we were able to compare various models and their features to come up with our own criteria. Chief among these was the unit’s ability to auto-adjust the temperature. We focused on the thermostats that utilized motion sensors and machine learning — two important features that help the thermostat gain more insight into your day-to-day in order to efficiently heat and cool your home without wasting power.
We looked for smart thermostats that let us remotely alter the temperature without even being there. Eliminating the need to get off the couch to turn up the heat is one draw, but an app also allows you to remotely adjust the temperature if, say, you realize you forgot to turn the heat down en-route to the airport.
Take the popular Nest alternative, the ecobee4, which allows you to turn off your thermostat while you’re away and even schedule times for the heating or air-conditioning to come on. This is all handled through an app and most of the smart thermostats we covered came with this ability to remotely control the HVAC system.
Typically, if there’s something wrong with your thermostat it can impact how your HVAC system functions. Unfortunately, most thermostats aren’t going to be able to tell you what’s wrong. However, devices like the Nest Learning Thermostat come equipped with system feedback mechanisms that will notify you when parts need replacing or certain capabilities aren’t functioning correctly to prevent any unexpected HVAC emergencies. This can save you a headache when trying to pinpoint a problem with your system.
No matter which smart thermostat you choose you will have to install the unit yourself. This can get a little tricky if your home doesn’t have a C wire or a common wire often necessary to prevent issues like power stealing. We preferred manufacturers that worked to make setup as pleasant and painless as possible. Most of our contenders received positive customer reviews, with Nest and ecobee standing out as the brands most frequently praised.
- Ecobee4 – Stylish, and a bit more high-maintenance. May need professional installation.
- Near-universal compatibility
Power extender kit (PEK) included
Geofencing and motion-sensing
- Minor conflicts with other devices
Not as sleek as the Nest
Why we chose it
The ecobee4 is compatible with Amazon Echo, Apple HomeKit, IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings, and Wink. As a result, you shouldn’t have too much trouble integrating this Nest alternative into your existing suite of smart devices. That means that if you’re a real techy and you have a specific system or software you’re comfortable with, ecobee4 will likely be compatible.
A power extender kit (PEK) is included with the ecobee4 in the event that you don’t have a C wire. This makes installation a whole lot easier, especially if your house is like most and does not come equipped with a C wire. It could also save you over $100, which is what some professionals charge to have one installed.
Geofencing and motion-sensing
The ecobee4 uses geofencing to automate home energy savings: When you’re away, the device knows to bring down your home’s temperature, raising it again by the time you return. But to further improve accuracy — or if you just don’t like the idea of having your phone tracked — the ecobee4 can also use any of its motion sensors to gauge whether you’re home. It truly is a learning thermostat, as it adjusts and adapts to your day-to-day activities.
Points to consider
History of conflicts with other devices
While we mentioned the ecobee4’s near-universal compatibility, it’s been known to struggle with other Alexa-enabled devices. This is especially true when it comes to answering voice commands. However, these occurrences are rare and made even more so by the late 2017 release of an Echo Spatial Perception software update.
Not as sleek as the Nest
Appearances aren’t everything, but we have to admit that the ecobee4 isn’t quite as sleek and stylish as the Nest Learning Thermostat. In fact, we would even go so far as to say that it’s bulkier with a shiny, black-and-white plastic outside that may stick out against the wall it’s mounted upon.
- Machine learning tech
- PEK not included
No Apple HomeKit
Why we chose it
Machine learning tech
Through machine learning, the Nest Learning Thermostat is able to create a home heating and cooling schedule based off of your existing habits. If you like your home to be warmer when you wake up than when you go to bed, this learning thermostat will actually adapt to your preferences and automatically bring your morning temperature up a few degrees compared to the evening setting.
While user cited compatibility challenges as their biggest complaint, they also noted that Nest’s customer support was exceedingly helpful for any non-compatibility issues. If you’re having trouble during or after installation, help is available by phone, chat, email, and even Twitter.
The Nest Learning Thermostat is a beautiful device that was reminiscent of an iPhone — unsurprising, given that Nest’s founder previously worked as a designer for Apple. The device’s design is sleek and intuitive, and we found rotating and clicking the dial satisfying in a way that interacting with a touchscreen never will be.
Points to consider
PEK not included
Yes, the Nest Learning Thermostat can allegedly work without a C wire. However, this can be a little misleading. Upon further investigation, we found that the company’s smart thermostats require power stealing in order to do so. Power stealing is generally something you want to avoid since it can lead to temperature fluctuations and short circuits in the HVAC system. You would either need to have a C wire installed (unless you wanted to risk damaging your HVAC system) or you’d need a PEK (which does not come with a Nest). If you’re concerned about compatibility, go with our ecobee pick.
No Apple HomeKit
Notably absent is Apple HomeKit — software developed by Apple that gives you the ease of setting up your iOS device so you can use it to interact with smart home appliances. The reason you won’t find it with this smart thermostat is because Nest was acquired by Google in 2014, effectively turning the product into a direct Apple competitor. But unless you’re a brand loyal to Apple, this isn’t a dealbreaker.
How to Find the Right Thermostat for You
Make sure you have a C wire
If you have a C wire, you should be able to install any smart thermostat on the market in just a few minutes. To find out if you have one, look at the wiring diagram on the access cover of your HVAC system, or remove your current thermostat from its baseplate and check for a terminal labeled with the letter “C.” This wire may be in use already, or it may simply be tucked to the side. If you don’t have a C wire and don’t want to pay to have one installed, you might do better with a learning thermostat that comes with a PEK such as the ecobee4.
Consider how this will affect your warranty
Most of the smart thermostats we looked at come with two warranty options: a standard warranty ranging from one to three years and an extended warranty of an additional two to three years — if the device is installed by a professional contractor. Most manufacturer-approved services run between $100-$150 on top of the price of the thermostat itself. Factor in the value of a warranty and the added cost of having the thermostat installed in order to help you make a decision.
Think about data collection
Whichever smart thermostat you decide to go with, you will have to deal with data collection. In most cases, the manufacturer will have access to a significant amount of data about your personal behavior patterns. This can be off-putting to some so make sure you’re okay with your learning thermostat subtly learning more about you than just your temperature preferences.
Do your homework
We sifted through thousands of reviews to bring you the best smart thermostat we could find. Of course, your experience will vary and, luckily, you have thousands of customer reviews (discussing thousands of living situations). By spending some time looking at the reviews, you’ll be well on your way to finding the right smart thermostat for you.
- Human error eliminated – smart thermostats are accurate, using the scheduling feature will help the unit learn your routine, so it knows when, where, and how to adjust the temperature to your liking.
- Added security – motion sensors that trigger the unit could help detect unwanted visitors
- Remote access – control the thermostat from anywhere using their smartphone app
- Saves energy – by limiting the amount of time and the area of which is heated/cooled when you are not in the house.
- Easy to setup and program – usually can install by yourself
- Useful features – like scheduling, tracking, and movement sensors
- Data reports allow you to better analyze your energy usage
A smart thermostat can help save money – especially with energy costs. They are known to heat and cool a home more efficiently than a standard thermostat. However, most learning thermostats come with a bit of a learning curve which means you could spend a decent amount of time manually setting things the way you want them before the system takes over. Machine learning and geofencing can help prevent energy waste by not activating your HVAC system when you are away.
C wire stands for “common wire.” The C wire supplies electricity (24v) to your thermostat. Using a smart thermostat will require more power than most basic thermostats, so a C wire is usually required for installation.
Expect to spend $100-$300 if you decide to have a smart thermostat professionally installed. In the case of the Nest Learning Thermostat, a basic installation can range from $99-$250. Smart thermostats like the ecobee4 are pretty easy to install so you might want to spend some time with the instruction manual and save that couple hundred for yourself. Of course, there are perks to having a smart thermostat installed professionally as it can impact the warranty on the unit.
Unfortunately, you will not be able to prevent your learning thermostat from learning about you. Manufacturers collect all kinds of data including your address, weekend routine, and even your commute. You can, however, protect your data by utilizing a dedicated email address, keeping your smart thermostat’s firmware up-to-date, and using a dedicated Wi-Fi network.
The responsiveness of your thermostat is the first sign that your thermostat is damaged or needs replacement. If the temperature doesn’t change when adjusted on the unit or the heater or A/C won’t turn on or off when it’s signaled to, you may need to look into repairs. The room temperature and thermostat settings not aligning could also be a signal a broken thermostat, as well as the presence of differing temperatures throughout your home.
We reviewed over a dozen smart thermostats including the Honeywell Lyric T5 and the Emerson Sensi Touch Wi-Fi Thermostat. However, when it came to prioritizing ease-of-use and overall customer satisfaction, we were left with the ecobee4 and the Nest Learning Thermostat.