There are a lot of really great smarthome devices that are truly useful, but a smart thermostat isn’t one of them.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m someone who loves having all sorts of technology around the house, even if it isn’t necessarily needed or useful. I have smart lights, a video doorbell, security cameras, door sensors, and yes, a smart thermostat. But out of all that, my smart thermostat is perhaps the one smarthome device that doesn’t really need to be “smart.”
When’s the Last Time You Touched Your Thermostat Anyway?
Thermostats are pretty simple devices, and they’re made so that you don’t have to constantly fiddle with them. Most “dumb” thermostats these days are programmable, meaning that you can literally set it and forget it—there’s no need for anything more than that.
Of course, it really depends on how you use your thermostat. If you prefer total manual control, you’re likely adjusting the thermostat a couple times per day. And sure, the ability to control it from your phone could be useful and convenient, but it’s also not a real challenge in most homes to just get up and use the manual controls.
However, if you set up a schedule on a programmable thermostat where the temperature automatically adjusts at a certain time every day, you likely barely even look at your thermostat, if at all.
This is especially true for homes where there’s somebody around for most of the day. In those case, the thermostat typically stays at the same setting most of the time, with maybe minor adjustments now and then. And you might think that this example is a tiny one, but the number of work-from-home employees is rising, and same thing is true with stay-at-home parents.
Most Features Seem Novel & Useful, but They’re Really Not
On the surface, smart thermostats seem to have some really nice features. Geofencing, for example, adjusts the temperature based on whether you’re home or not, possibly saving you a lot of money on your utility bill without you even having to really think about it.
But here’s the thing: People are creatures of habit. We tend get up at the same time every morning, leave for work at the same time, come home from work at the same time, go to bed at the same time. Rinse and repeat. At that point, geofencing really isn’t any different than just setting a simple time-based schedule on a traditional programmable thermostat.
Furthermore, those remote sensors that you can place in different rooms around your house seem nice at first. You can average out the temperatures so that no room is way too cold or hot. And, in more sophisticated setups, you can even control the temperature in different rooms independently.
But, here’s the thing. Even after using a manual thermostat for a while, you start to get your own feel for where you need to set the thermostat to in order to properly heat or cool different areas of your home.
For example, the entire upstairs in my house is always around five degrees warmer than the downstairs. While I could use remote sensors to tell my smart thermostat to heat or cool based on the upstairs temperature, I could really just set it to 70 degrees if I wanted the upstairs to be cooled to 75 degrees—no need for remote sensors at that point.
Get a Cheap, Programmable Thermostat and Be Done
You can get a lot of thermostat for very little cash, especially compared to the price of a smart thermostat.
This one from Honeywell is priced under $40 and can be programmed to different temperature settings. Plus, it even has the ability to automatically switch between heating and cooling—you just set a low and high temperature, and your thermostat keeps your home in that range.
You can go even cheaper and get a similar model that doesn’t come with the auto switching, but it can still be programmed. Granted, the interface on these cheaper thermostats are pretty cumbersome compared to the UIs on smart thermostats, but as mentioned earlier, you just set it once and eventually forget about it.
If you really want a smart thermostat, though, you can usually get one for relatively cheap. The Honeywell Lyric T5 costs $100, but comes with all the smarts you’d want in a product like this. It may not be as sleek and fancy as the Nest Thermostat, but you can’t beat that price.
You can also try going through your utility company and seeing if they offer any rebates on smart thermostats, which we’ve discussed before. Usually, your local utility company has some sort of rebate they’ll offer you, which can save you some cash if you’re not willing to pay full price. In fact, a fellow How-To Geek writer was recently able to snag an Ecobee4 for just a tad over $100—not too shabby.
I mean, hey, sure, if you have some extra cash that you don’t know what to do with, by all means buy a smart thermostat if you’ve been wanting one—the remote control capabilities and other neat features are definitely nice to have, and they’re not hurting anything. But obviously, those are luxuries that not everyone will take advantage of.
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