Upgrading to a smart thermostat is great, but if you’re not using all the features, you’re leaving a ton of benefits on the table. Make sure you take full advantage of these smart thermostats.
Your thermostat can’t do everything automatically
Many people get a smart thermostat because it was offered to them as part of an energy rebate from their utility company or, in newer homes with more advanced HVAC systems, it just came with the house or apartment.
If you haven’t bothered to research everything there is to know about smart thermostats and your particular model, you’ve probably overlooked a feature or three. (And frankly, there are so many features on smart thermostats, even if you’ve done your homework, you’ve probably missed a few!)
In addition to reading our list of features here, now is the perfect time to check which smart thermostat you have and read the manual or online help files. This will help you recognize all the features and learn how to use them.
Increasingly, many of these great features just happen automatically in the background after you install the thermostat, but many of them require you to either turn on, change a setting, or otherwise enable the feature to take full advantage. Don’t assume that a feature is on by default just because it’s advertised as available on your particular smart thermostat.
Use smart scheduling
There are two big ways that smart thermostats make scheduling easier. First and foremost, if you want to manually set a schedule (or multiple schedules!), it’s much easier to do so with an app or web interface than it was with the clunky old programmable thermostats.
I have more than a few unpleasant memories of hunching over an old-fashioned programmable thermostat and clicking little buttons to set the program. With the app, it’s trivial to set a schedule and trivial to change the schedule if the need arises.
Even better, many smart thermostats have smart scheduling features where they adapt to your household patterns over time. Without lifting a finger, your thermostat can learn your work and recreation schedule, adjusting accordingly.
Keep reading, though, because there are a variety of ways you can make your smart thermostat smarter and, in the process, the Smart Scheduling feature better.
Enable smart home integration
We are slowly moving towards a future where all the different smart devices and sensors in our homes work together in a useful way. In order to take advantage of the best aspects of your smart thermostat, you need to install the app, set up all the necessary accounts and connect the thermostat to your smart home.
This opens up a world of possibilities from the simple – like controlling your thermostat from a smart screen in your kitchen – to the more advanced – like integrating your smart thermostat into more complex routines with IFTTT routines.
And, with the introduction of the Matter smart home standard just around the corner, the smart thermostat will play an even bigger role in the emerging smart home ecosystem of sensors.
Take advantage of away mode
The away mode is closely related to the smart scheduling function. One of the downsides of set schedules and old-fashioned programmable thermostats is that while they were an improvement over never having to adjust a thermostat, they weren’t customizable.
Smart thermostats offer a customizable system where the home is heated and cooled not based on a schedule or manual setting, but based on physical presence in the home.
It may not seem like a big deal, but let’s take a simple example. Let’s say, with an old programmable thermostat, you set the temperatures for Saturday and Sunday to be very comfortable in the middle of the day because you expect to be home on the weekend.
Would you remember to fiddle with the thermostat every time you finish somewhere on a Saturday afternoon? Probably not. But with an occupancy sensor, your smart thermostat can automatically adjust the system when it detects that the home is empty. No input is required on your behalf.
Thermostats that support this feature usually have a motion sensor built into the front of the thermostat. Others will have that, plus smart sensors for better home coverage (more on that in a moment). There’s also usually an option to use geofencing with your smartphone—the smart thermostat will use your phone’s presence to determine whether or not the home is occupied.
Use smart fan circulation and humidity settings
What the features are called varies from brand to brand, but most smart thermostats have a bunch of efficiency and comfort features related to optimizing airflow and humidifying (or dehumidifying) your living space.
Review the settings for options that run the fan for a specified period of time after each heating or cooling cycle to help circulate air and even out the temperature in your home.
There are also usually options to achieve targeted dehumidification goals in the summer and humidification goals in the winter to keep your living space comfortable.
Don’t forget smart sensors
Smart sensors aren’t a replacement for an actual multi-zone HVAC system, but they offer enough benefits that it’s worth looking into smart sensor options for your particular thermostat.
Some sensors function as (and are sold directly as) temperature and humidity sensors that you add to extend the reach of your thermostat. Several Ecobee smart thermostats come with an additional sensor, and you can also pick up accessories to expand the system.
Ecobee SmartSensors not only monitor room conditions – which is handy if you want to make sure a specific room, such as a child’s room, is comfortable – but also home occupancy for smart home and away modes.
In other cases, the sensors are more limited but still useful. If you have a Nest thermostat, for example, every Nest smoke detector in your home also does double duty as an occupancy sensor. If your thermostat is in a room that gets less use, it’s incredibly useful to have a sensor somewhere else that gives a more accurate sense of whether or not someone is home.
In my home, for example, the thermostat is on the living room wall, and the living room is simply not part of the regular traffic flow. But there is a sensor near the stairs, a high-traffic area, that ensures the thermostat is far more accurate.
Turn on “Feels Like” temperature optimization.
You may have noticed that your favorite weather app or local news station uses terms like “Feels Like” or “Feels Like” when describing weather conditions. Those “Feels Like” temperature readings use variables such as actual temperature, humidity, wind speed, and dew point to give you an approximate picture of the weather outside, rather than just a raw temperature reading.
Some smart thermostats have a similar function, but it works, more or less, in reverse. With the thermostat function, you tell it how you want it to “Feels Like” and it works to adjust the internal temperature and humidity of your home to match your expectations. That way you’ll get the 72 feel°F on a pleasant autumn day instead of 72°F on a humid summer day.
Enable energy saving during usage time
There are several different approaches to energy-saving “time-of-use” models available with smart thermostats.
Some thermostats, like those in the Ecobee line, offer user-controlled time-saving plans. You can enable a setting that will instruct your smart thermostat to bypass peak energy needs in your location.
For example, your thermostat may supercool your home at night to avoid running the AC when energy costs peak in the middle of the day.
Other thermostats, including Ecobee models, can connect to your local utility company to automatically adjust usage times and even save some money. Many utilities offer discounted rates or even cash rewards for these programs, so it’s worth considering.
View energy and usage reports
Historically, it has been really difficult to track data and statistics about your HVAC system and energy usage. The old thermostats either lacked any tracking metrics or, if they did, you had to walk up to the thermostat and peer through the menus on the tiny LCD screen to get some basic information of limited usefulness.
Smart thermostats, however, offer much more sophisticated feedback. Not only do they learn and adjust silently in the background – you can also view reports to see if your usage is increasing or decreasing. You can also more easily link that data to any changes you’ve made to your home.
For example, if you install insulated blackout curtains or buy new windows, you can easily compare energy consumption between two periods of the same season or even last season with the current one.
And the reports usually do some basic analysis for you, such as plotting the outside temperature and conditions against your energy usage to help you determine if the reason you ran the AC so hard that week was because it was unusually hot or because you need some problem to investigate.
Use reminders and alerts
Speaking of problems to investigate, smart thermostats are much better at identifying problems than older models ever were.
For example, if you have a Nest thermostat or a thermostat with similar functionality, it will monitor the results and alert you if unexpected things happen. If the thermostat calls the AC and runs it for X hours a day, for example, and the temperature in the house doesn’t change as expected, you’ll get a notification that something is wrong.
Maybe the problem is easy to fix (like your kids left a bunch of windows open) or maybe it’s more serious (like a leaking coolant line).
You can also set high and low temperature alerts, humidity alerts, and even maintenance alerts and reminders. You can really rely on the whole “living better through technology” aspect of having a smart thermostat and use these features.
Enable dealer service alerts
While the general alerts and warnings are great (and will work no matter what kind of furnace or AC you have), there’s an even more advanced feature you can take advantage of if your smart thermostat supports it.
Some thermostats support dealer integration, where you can connect your thermostat to the company that services your HVAC system. In this case, in addition to notifying you that something is wrong with your HVAC system, the system can also automatically forward an error report or alert to your dealer.
Instead of having to figure out what the error means or schedule a call to have a technician look at it in person, they can check things remotely and come better prepared to fix the problem. Even better, they can proactively alert you if a series of errors or problems seem to be foreshadowing a much bigger problem. A small repair or replacement now sure beats $1500 on a much larger repair later.