Saving Some Green with Smart Thermostats

The idea of a “smart home” is no longer just a futuristic concept from the movies; thanks to some of the latest technology, it’s actually within reach. In fact, there are dozens of high-tech gadgets that can help your home run more efficiently. They can be controlled remotely when you’re on the go and some can even customize to your schedule all on their own.From smart sprinklers, to smart lighting systems and even smart appliances (have you heard of the smart coffee machines that let you “order” your perfect cup from an app on your phone?), there are many directions you can take when considering the world of home automation. However, if you think you’re ready to give it a try, a smart thermostat is a good place to start. Adding one means taking a step toward more “green,” in more ways than one. It’ll help you save energy and money, and who doesn’t like that?

What is a smart thermostat?

We all know that the thermostat is the control panel for your heating and cooling system. Programmable thermostats have been around for awhile; allowing you to set the air to come on and turn off at certain times of day or when the house reaches a certain temperature. But smart thermostats can do even more than that. Some “learn” from your behavior, sensing when everyone has left the house, if you’re cooking in the kitchen, etc. and adjusts the temperature accordingly. Plus, most smart thermostats can also be controlled and managed from your phone or online. The remote interface will show you how much energy you’re using (and money you’re spending) and how efficient your system is, so you can make adjustments.

What kinds are available?

There are tons of smart thermostats on the market, too many to highlight all of them here, but generally speaking, most of them fit into two categories: learning thermostats and ones that you can control remotely. And some even fall under both categories. Here are a few of the most popular ones:

The Nest Learning Thermostat was one of the first smart thermostats on the market and continues to be a popular choice for consumers. It adapts to your schedule and senses when you’re away. Users answer some questions during the initial setup regarding their routine and their home and then after that, Nest makes adjustments on its own. It’ll turn down the heat as you’re heading to bed or kick on the AC on a hot summer day right before you usually arrive home from work. It takes about a week for the device to get to know users and their routine, but most people like it because Nest keeps working without them having to do a thing. It also tracks local weather and can send messages to your phone if it senses something is wrong with your heating and cooling system. It retails for about $250 on Amazon.

The Ecobee3 is another popular learning thermostat. Like Nest, you can control it from your phone, it knows when you are home or away, and you can set a heating and cooling schedule. However, some users say the EcoBee3 works better for bigger homes because it has a wireless remote sensor that you can place anywhere to help cool your whole house. If you have a two-story, you’d want to place the sensor upstairs and have the thermostat use that sensor to adjust the temperature upstairs (rather than just use the sensor on the unit itself). You can get additional remote sensors to put up as well. It also has a bigger touchscreen than the Nest, and some users say it’s more customizable. You can buy the EcoBee3 with one remote sensor for around $250 on Amazon. Additional sensors run about $80 for a two-pack.

The Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat with Voice Control shares many of the same main features of the Nest and EcoBee3. Visually, it’s not as sleek and modern looking as the first two and has a bigger screen, but it’s a little bit cheaper (runs just over $200 on Amazon) and users like being able to control it with voice commands.

When picking the best smart thermostat for you, you’ll want to consider which popular features are most important: touchscreen, unit size, Wi-Fi enabled, motion sensors, etc. If you’re really looking to save some money, make sure the one you choose shows your energy usage in some form so you can change your heating and cooling settings to maximize your savings. And if you’re looking to purchase other smart devices, make sure your thermostat is smart home compatible so you can tie all your devices together.

How will it save me money?

Smart thermostats help make it easier to manage your cooling and heating system, so that you’re not running it unnecessarily (like when you’re not home). And if you live here in the Las Vegas valley like I do, you know that any time you can save on energy costs (especially in the summer) you want to take advantage. Electric bills in June, July and August can sometimes reach over $300/month depending on how high the temperatures climb outside. NVEnergy estimates “that the average home can save up to 10-15% on monthly cooling costs” with the help of a smart thermostat.

If the cost of purchasing and setting one up is what’s holding you back, talk to your energy provider. A lot of energy companies across the country are paying for part or all of the smart thermostat cost for customers. Here in Nevada, NVEnergy customers can sign up to receive a free smart thermostat along with free installation. To be eligible, you just need to live in a single family home or semi-detached townhome, have broadband Internet access and central AC. If you’re interested in signing up, sign in online to MyAccount, click on Primary Account Holder and then click on mPowered.

Once it’s installed, you can access the settings from your computer or smart-phone as well as view energy usage reports. On peak usage days during the summer, NVEnergy will issue what they call an “Energy Event”. They will send a signal to your thermostat that will turn the temperature up several degrees. You don’t have to participate, but if you do, you can earn rebate credits that you can apply to your bill at the end of the year – that equals even more savings for you!

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