Smart thermostats are lauded as the be-all-end-all solution to every heating and cooling need. But for most people, they’re an unnecessary expense. Unless you have a very specific set of needs, you may as well stick with your current “dumb” thermostat.
Do You Hate Your Current Thermostat?
On paper, smart thermostats seem like the ultimate investment for any home. They’re the only thermostats that can be programmed through a phone or voice assistant, and they offer robust automation and learning features that can save you from micro-managing your A/C unit (or increase your micro-managing reach, if that’s what you’re into).
But for most people, smart thermostats are an unnecessary purchase. Any $20 programmable thermostat can adjust your home’s temperature throughout the day, so long as you take the time to punch in a schedule. And in homes where temperature adjustments are done manually, most smart thermostat features will go unused. Sure, you’ll be able to adjust your temperature from your phone, but is that worth $200? (
I’m trying to say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Flashy tech can be intoxicating, but it’s best to spend the big bucks on gadgets that make a serious difference in your life (or on electronics that are fun to use). If you don’t really need a smart thermostat, then you could always spend your $200 on smart bulbs, plugs, speakers, or even a video game console.
But what if you’re one of the many people who absolutely hate their thermostat? Reprogramming a dumb thermostat is arguably a giant pain in the ass, and some thermostats just seem to have a mind of their own. Plus, if you have an odd schedule, it may be impossible to program your thermostat in a way that saves money on your electric bill.
In these (and other) situations, an expensive new ecobee or Google Nest Learning Thermostat may be a solution to all of your problems. Maybe. Before you come to any conclusions, I think that it’s important to look at the big picture, as some of your problems may have nothing to do with your thermostat.
Honeywell Home RTH7560E 7-Day Flexible Programmable Thermostat-Extra-Large Backlit Display, White
It ain't the cheapest programmable thermostat, but the Honeywell RTH7560E's large buttons and display make it easier to program than some cheaper models.
Expensive Gadgets Aren’t Always the Solution
People like to hear simple solutions for difficult problems. This is a fact that businesses, and especially smart home manufacturers, love to take advantage of. Live in an unsafe neighborhood? Just buy a smart doorbell! Want to spend more time with your grandkids? Then buy a pair of camera-equipped smart displays! Hate your thermostat? Buy a more expensive thermostat!
Let me be clear, I think that smart home devices can make life a lot more comfortable. But I’m writing an article titled Do You Really Need a Smart Thermostat?, so I have to call things as I see ’em. Before you turn your current thermostat into a scapegoat, you may want to look at the big picture.
First, take a peek at your HVAC system! In large homes, and especially two-story homes, you may need to adjust your HVAC dampers to ensure that every room is heated or cooled evenly. Make sure that your vents are clean, and change your filters when they get dirty (all that grime puts extra strain on the HVAC system).
You may also want to check your thermostat’s location. If it’s subject to direct sunlight, vented air, or the heat from a TV, then it may read the wrong temperature. This isn’t always the easiest problem to fix, but it’s something that’s worth checking before you invest in a new thermostat.
There are a mess of other common thermostat issues, many of which we’ve covered on our sister site, Lifesavvy. Once you’ve ruled out these problems, you can safely assume that your current thermostat needs to be replaced by something with a little more brains.
Google Nest Learning Thermostat - Programmable Smart Thermostat for Home - 3rd Generation Nest Thermostat - Works with Alexa - Stainless Steel
The Google Nest Learning Thermostat automatically "learns" your temperature preferences and schedule, which saves you from ever having to fiddle with a thermostat.
I Think I Need a Smart Thermostat. What Are My Options?
If you still think that a smart or “learning” thermostat could improve your home, then it’s probably a worthwhile investment! Just keep in mind that every smart thermostat has its quirks, so you’ll want to do a bit of research before you pull the trigger.
This is something that I covered in our Best Smart Thermostats roundup. You need to ensure that a smart thermostat is compatible with your HVAC system, your home’s wiring, and your favorite smart assistant (Alexa, Google Assistant, etc) before you buy it. You also need to look into things like remote temperature or motion sensors, which can make smart routines and automation more effective.
As a quick side note, some large homes require multiple thermostats. Buying two or three smart thermostats is a steep investment, but they will work together in a way that regular thermostats don’t.
Anyway, let’s do a quick run-down of the best smart thermostats that are on the market right now:
- The Hands-Free Option: The Google Nest Learning Thermostat is the only thermostat that uses AI to “learn” your routine. After a few weeks of use, the Google Nest Thermostat figures out your temperature preferences and adjusts itself automatically. It’s the perfect option for anyone who hates to fiddle with their thermostat, or anyone who wants to save on their electric bill without programming a schedule manually. (Google also sells a cheaper Google Nest Thermostat E, which contains the same “learning” software as its more expensive Learning Thermostat.)
- Deep, Robust Controls: The ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control is packed with robust scheduling and automation programs that should appeal to even the most intense micro-managers. It acts as an Alexa smart speaker, it supports Spotify Connect, and it’s sold with a remote sensor to help maintain an even temperature across your home.
- Hey, I Can Control It From My Phone!: The Honeywell Lyric T5 is our favorite budget smart thermostat. It’s pretty bare-bones, but it lets you adjust your temperature or program a schedule through your phone or voice assistant.
If you want to know more about these thermostats, then check out our Best Smart Thermostats roundup. There, I go in-depth to explain how each thermostat works, and how they may (or may not) fit your needs.
And if this all seems like overkill to you, then you can always stick to a regular programmable thermostat. A $50 solution like the Honeywell RTH7560E’s might be better than what you’re using now, as it has a large screen and buttons for easy programming.
Honeywell Home RCHT8612WF T5 Plus Wi-Fi Touchscreen Smart Thermostat with 7 Day flexible programming and Geofencing Technology Black
The Honeywell Lyric T5 is affordable and allows you to adjust your temperature or set a schedule through your phone. It isn't the most robust smart thermostat, but it's more than enough for most people.