Tech in HVAC: Smart Thermostats

Tech in HVAC: Smart Thermostats


Spring is here, which means that summer is not far behind. Clients often ask, “What is the best way to save money on cooling costs?” and the truth is that there are a lot of steps to take to ensure that your HVAC is operating at peak performance. One of the things you can do to make your home more energy efficient is to install a programmable thermostat, which allows you to program times when you are in the home and away so that your HVAC system isn’t continuously cooling an empty house.

Now, with advances in HVAC technology and the ease of which everyday household items can connect to the internet via Wi-Fi, the programmable thermostat has evolved one step further. Enter the smart thermostat – these devices allow homeowners to have maximum control over their environment while making sure that the home HVAC system is operating in a way that is as efficient as possible.

But is a smart thermostat right for you? They are amazing devices, but the truth is they’re not always ideal for every household.


What Exactly Is a Smart Thermostat?

In the most basic sense, a smart thermostat operates by connecting to your home’s air conditioning and heating systems via Wi-Fi connected sensors. These sensors allow the thermostat to send messages to the heating and cooling systems about when it is time to turn on and off.

With access to the internet, the thermostat is then able to relay information about your home heating and cooling to your smartphone or computer. From the thermostat-specific app, you are not only able to control temperatures, but also able to program schedules and learn more about when you are using the most energy.

Depending on the individual model, some smart thermostats can also provide information on the health of your air conditioner and heater, including alerts on when it is time to change your filter. They can also provide tips on how to reduce your energy usage and save money.


Programmable vs. Smart Thermostats

The main difference between programmable and smart thermostats is the degree of control and ease by which homeowners can make changes to their daily cooling or heating routine. Think of it this way – if a programmable thermostat is a VCR from back in the day, a smart thermostat is a DVR. Both allow you to record TV shows and get the job done, but one is a little difficult to use and awkward, while the other is easy to use and gives you more control.

Programmable thermostats work on a fixed schedule. Depending on the model you buy, you may be able to program for weekdays and weekends, or for weekdays, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s rare to find a device that will allow you to set daily schedules. Smart thermostats offer the flexibility to vary schedules with ease – some even learn your daily routine without the need for programming. And unlike programmable thermostats, smart thermostats give you the ability to make changes right from your smartphone or computer. No more pressing tiny buttons and hoping that you programmed the thermostat correctly!

Beyond being more intuitive to use, smart thermostats also tend to provide more information about your heating and cooling usage. By gathering and recording this information, the smart thermostat is better able to make real-time decisions on how to respond to HVAC needs in the most efficient way possible.


Why Is a Smart Thermostat Useful?

As neat as smart thermostats are, they’re not for everyone. If you are someone who has a very routine schedule with only one or two people in the household, this type of device may not be worth the extra cost. The same goes for homeowners who aren’t technologically inclined. If the idea of controlling your thermostat via a smartphone fills you with dread, you might want to pass on this upgrade.

For some households, however, smart thermostats can be extremely useful. For example, homes with a lot of family members who have complicated schedules. In this case, a thermostat that can learn your schedule rather than rely on a set program would be ideal. Families that travel a lot can also benefit from the added control a smart thermostat brings, especially any alerts that indicate a major HVAC failure. No more coming home to an air conditioner that doesn’t work!

Depending on the device, some smart thermostats are also an excellent choice for larger homes, due to the ability to add additional temperature sensors throughout the space. More sensors allow a smart thermostat gather more information about the entire home and make choices that will keep every room comfortable.


Can It Be Hacked?

The short answer is: Yes, but the chances of it happening are relatively small. There are steps you can take to ensure that your connected devices are as secure as possible.

Any device connected to the internet can be hacked, although most of the companies producing smart thermostats do their very best to prevent this from happening. A few months ago, we wrote a post offering tips on how to prevent your smart thermostat from being compromised. It provides information on making the best choices when purchasing a connected device, and what you can do to keep the thermostat secure.