4 best smart thermostats: a cozy revolution

Matthew Grocoff

February 10, 2014

By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert

In: Heating and CoolingGreen Living

A quiet revolution has occurred in America. And millions are cozier as a result.

Years ago we were told that if we wanted to save energy we should run out and buy a programmable thermostat. The Energy Star program jumped on board and began granting the coveted Energy Star label to many thermostats that could be programmed to set back the temperature of your heater or air conditioner (HVAC) while you were sleeping or away from home.

By the time we began chucking the last of the VCRs into the dumpster, we awakened to the realization that programmable thermostats were useless. In 2009, the EPA stopped certifying programmable thermostats. They calculated that fewer than 10% of users were able to correctly program their thermostats (a tad higher than those able to program the blinking clock on their VCR). Few were actually saving energy or money.

A few years ago a small group of designers left a little company named after a tree fruit (this team created a couple gadgets called the iPod and the iPhone) with a mission to change people's relationship to the energy they use. They created the Nest learning thermostat. It was the first well-marketed breakthrough smart thermostat.

Now, there are dozens of smart thermostats on the market to choose from. They work. They will genuinely make your HVAC more energy efficient. They can save you a lot of money (most will pay for themselves in a couple of seasons). You need one. Now.

The difference between a programmable thermostat and a smart thermostat is that they 1) are easier to use, and 2) they have complex algorithms to help deliver energy and comfort exactly when you need it and no more.

By knowing the outdoor temperature and humidity and learning how quickly your home loses heat, it can tell the HVAC exactly when to turn on to get to the desired temperature. It will turn on earlier on colder mornings or later on warmer mornings. So, it gives you maximum coziness with the lowest possible energy use.

There is no single product that I recommend more highly than a smart thermostat. My favorites are the Ecobee and the Nest. Go get one before your fingers freeze to your utility bill.

Here's four of the best to choose from:

Ecobee smart thermostat
Photo credit to Ecobee

Ecobee EB-STAT-02

Ecobee is the unit we have in our net zero energy home. It can be accessed from your iPhone or Android phone and has a very smart algorithm with smart recovery that gets you to your set temperature exactly at the minute you desire. It also works very well with all types of heating systems including geothermal ground source heat pumps.


Photo credit to Nest

Nest Learning Thermostat

The Nest wins hands down for cool factor. When it came on the market I said it "was so beautiful it made Tyra Banks jealous." Consumer Reports gave it a slightly lower rating for ease of use, but if you love Apple products, then this is the thermostat for you.

Venstar thermostat

VenstarColorTouch Series T5800

Venstar was the highest rated by Consumer Reports. But CR doesn't rate the devices on energy efficiency. For maximum energy savings, I still like the Ecobee. The Venstar does allow you to turn your thermostat into a digital picture frame. It's not clear to me how this will make you more comfortable or save you energy. Still, this is solid choice for programmable thermostats.

Honeywell smart thermostat

HoneywellPrestige HD YTHX9321R

When you think of thermostats, Honeywell is the first that comes to mind. They are the granddaddy of stat makers. It offers an "Interview-Based Programming" which walks you through a setup process to program your heating and cooling equipment run time.

For more info on these and other thermostats, check out:

Consumer Reports' list of recommended thermostats. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/heating-cooling-and-air/thermostats/thermostat-recommendations/thermostat.htm


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