Smart thermostats are convenient, and claim they can save you a lot of money on your energy bills. But is a smart thermostat actually worth the price and effort?

RELATED: Nest vs. Ecobee3 vs. Honeywell Lyric: Which Smart Thermostat Should You Buy?

What Smart Thermostats Do

If you don’t know much about smart thermostats, you might think they’re magical devices that can completely change the way you heat and cool your house. That’s….slightly true, we suppose.

Smart thermostats allow you to change various thermostat settings from your smartphone–and, in some cases, a web browser, computer, or with your voice using a device like the Amazon Echo. This adds a new level of convenience, as you can turn up the A/C when you’re on your way home from vacation, so it’s nice and cool by the time you walk through the front door. Or, you can crank up the heat while you’re curled up on the couch, without having to walk across the house.

Most smart thermostats also allow you to view your usage history and see when the heating or cooling kicked on and at what time that occurred, giving you a better idea of just how often your system is running.

Perhaps the biggest feature of smart thermostats, at least in some cases, is the ability to learn your adjustment habits. The Nest Thermostat, for instance, can learn over time when you’re home or away, and how warm or cool you like your house to be at different times throughout the day, without you needing to program it manually. You just adjust the thermostat whenever you want, and it’ll learn those habits.

So How Does That “Save Money”?

All this sounds great, and if you’re in the market for a new thermostat–or just want to make your life a little easier–a smart thermostat seems like a no-brainer. But there are a few other things to consider.

Cost is probably the biggest downside, seeing that most smart thermostats are priced at around $250, whereas a traditional, basic programmable thermostat can be had for as little as $25.

That means that those extra capabilities–smartphone access, usage history, the ability to have your thermostat adjust temperature settings for you, and other bells and whistles–cost an extra $225 or so.

RELATED: How to Make Your Nest Automatically Detect When You're Away

Of course, the extra cash you spend on a smart thermostat will save you more money in the long run, right? Smart thermostats are marketed as having the ability to easily save you money on your energy costs, and they certainly can.

However, that’s really only because the thermostat can learn your adjustment habits and optimize the heating and cooling, turning down the A/C during the day when you’re at work and turning it back up when you get home. A basic programmable thermostat can do the exact same thing, but it’s much more of a hassle to program using those clunky buttons. Smart thermostats are much quicker and easier to program, and some (like the Nest) can do it all automatically, making it even easier.

So on their own, smart thermostats probably won’t save you any more money than a basic, programmable thermostat. And, if your house isn’t optimized for airflow and ventilation, then you have much bigger problems than just the thermostat.

RELATED: How to Optimize Your Home's Airflow to Save Money on Your A/C

But if you aren’t going to take the time to program the thermostat you already have–because it’s just too much of a pain–a smart thermostat could be a wise investment, since it can program itself for you (or at least make it a lot easier than a traditional thermostat). The remote access capabilities alone could be worth the extra money, too. Many people, including myself, prefer to have full (or at least most) manual control over the thermostat, and the remote access is handy–I can simply open up the smartphone app and change the temperature on the thermostat, no matter where I’m at in the world.

In the end, you probably don’t need a smart thermostat, and they won’t necessarily save you more money on your energy bills on their own (unless your current thermostat is so obtuse that you aren’t programming it optimally). But they’re certainly more convenient, and if you aren’t taking the time to use your thermostat the way it was designed, a smart thermostat could save you a few bucks while making your life easier.

Profile Photo for Craig Lloyd Craig Lloyd
Craig Lloyd is a smarthome expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, Slashgear, and GottaBeMobile.
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