The thermostat seems like a device that’s already pretty smart. But a typical thermostat can’t quite compare with a smart home thermostat. It’s like comparing a modern iPhone with the brick mobile phones they used back in the 1980s.

Features of a Smart Thermostat

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice in a smart thermostat is that it can be connected to a Wi-Fi network. What that means is that you can go online using any PC, laptop, or smartphone and monitor the thermostat’s status no matter where you are. What’s more, you can remotely change the settings online.

Another bonus is that setting up a schedule for your thermostat becomes so much easier than ever before. Now with the app installed in your smartphone, it won’t take you more than a few minutes to specify that you want it very cool on Saturday mornings when you wake up late, or that you want the power turned off during the early evenings because that’s the time you usually go around your neighborhood for a long run.

But perhaps the coolest feature of them all is the ability of the automated thermostat to learn to make adjustments according to your needs and preferences. It will learn your habits and mimic them. It can sense when you’re away or not, and go into an energy-saving mode when the house is empty. It can even sense where you are and prepare the house accordingly, so that when you get home it’s already in the temperature you want.

Should You Get a Smart Thermostat?

At first glance, it might seem like you don’t really need an automated thermostat control. It’s an additional expense, and if your current thermostat is working fine for you then why bother changing it? Besides, it’s going to be another thing you have to learn. For some older folks, that’s another complication they can do without.

But if you take time to think it through you’ll realize these objections don’t make much sense. For one, it’s not so much an expense as it is an investment. You’re not spending money just so you can enjoy more convenient features, which is true in any case. But you’re also spending money that you can recoup easily. Just one feature alone—its ability to sense your absence and to adjust the temperature accordingly—can lead to substantial cuts in your energy bill. Various smart home temperature control manufacturers have estimated that you can reduce you energy bills by 10 to 40 percent!

Of course, these estimates may be somewhat exaggerated, especially when you were already employing some common sense when you were using a traditional thermostat. Still, the prospect of cutting even more from your bills is an attractive prospect.

As for complicated usage, that’s hardly a factor. Though you do have more controls to deal with, these aps are hardly more complicated in comparison to ordinary thermostats. And you also get a bonus benefit: these things look great. They look futuristic with their glass and metal finish and huge digital display. You won’t have to hide them away beneath the stairs like traditional thermostats.

How Do You Get One?

For the most part, it’s not really a good idea for you to buy and install a smart thermostat yourself. These things connect to your plumbing and electrical system, and you don’t want to muck around those unless you’re an actual electrician or plumber. The installation can be very complicated, and it will also depend on the type of boiler you use.

So basically, your option is to get a smart thermostat and have a pro install it in your home. Since many of these devices sense movement or the presence of people, you’ll need to mount it on a prominent wall. If possible, try to have it wired for power so you don’t have to worry about the batteries. But if that’s not possible, many smart thermostats are wireless and use batteries.

Which One Should You Pick?

Despite the fact that this technology is only a few years old, the good news is that you have plenty of choices to pick from.

1. Nest Learning Thermostat. In any list of smart thermostats it’s always reasonable to have Nest at the very top. This company was founded by former Apple employees, and soon after developing the Nest technologies the company was bought by Google for a cool $3.2 billion.

The Nest thermostat was among the first on the scene, so the makers have had a bit of a head start ironing out the kinks in the system. Now it’s on its 3rd version, and Nest 3.0 boasts of several important features.

It can be controlled by an app that extremely easy to use and it comes with 5 GHz Wi-Fi compatibility. Its sensing technology is much improved, and it can track your smartphone for Auto-Away control. In fact, it can track the smartphones of up to 10 different family members! It uses motion detectors as well as your smartphone GPS to sense when you’re in the house or not.

And it looks good too, with a bigger screen and a slimmer body. It can be mounted on a wall or set up on a stand. Setting it up will need a professional, but it doesn’t take a lot of time. You only need to make sure that you have open access to your boiler.

For now, Nest is only compatible with iOS and Android phones. But if the Wi-Fi goes down for any reason, you still have a physical button to use to adjust the temperature.

It has sensors to monitor the temperature and the humidity, and the display turns to an orange color when heating is happening. You also get a Time to Temp estimate, which is the time it will take to reach the temperature setting you want.

It can also learn about your heating habits and adjust itself accordingly. Of course, that means mistakes made at first. But as you correct its adjustments it begins to get a sense of what you want. While you can make your own schedules, Nest can set the schedule too, and that way you can make corrections that teach it to recognize your preferences.

So all in all, Nest is regarded by many as the best of the lot. It’s easy to install and manage, the savings you get are considerable, and its various kinks regarding sensors and hot water controls have all been corrected. You continuously get updates as time passes, and that means it will only get better in the future.

2. Hive. If you’re in the UK and you’re a customer of British Gas, then this is the most likely smart thermostat that they’ll fob on you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to settle for an inferior model. In fact, the Hive Active Heating 2 is actually superb. And it even looks great.

Like most smart thermostats you’ll need a professional to have this installed right. But because it is wireless, you can pretty much put it anywhere that best suits its sensors (and your sense of interior design). The installation is already part of its price. It can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on your boiler type.

Unlike the Nest, it can’t learn your schedule on its own, but then again that comes with its own advantages. You can just create a detailed schedule which it can follow faultlessly. The heat can come on later in the evening on Fridays because you’re always out in the evening on that day. Then it can also warm the house later in the morning on weekends, since you’re having a bit of a lie-in on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

But you’re not dependent on the schedule if you just want a quick boost of hot air or hot water whenever you feel like it. It also won’t turn off the heating automatically (which is something that Nest learns to do) but then it will send you a message showing that your heating is still on when you’re out the door and on the way to work. And fortunately, you can turn off the heating remotely.

It also comes with a handy “Holiday” mode. Just enter the dates when you’ll be gone, and it will turn everything off to save power. What’s more, it will also maintain a steady temperature of 7°C so your pipes won’t freeze while you’re away. When you come back, it can even sense your approach with your phone’s GPS and get the house warm and toasty for you once you finally arrive at your doorstep.

With its appealing design and its easy-to-use app, the Hive is a worthy alternative to the Nest. It can even let you control two zones, such as two different rooms or the upstairs and downstairs, which should lead to more energy savings along the way. You won’t have to heat the living room if everyone is upstairs in their own bedrooms.

3. Honeywell Evohome. Now if the Hive’s ability to control 2 different zones excites you, then the Honeywell Evohome can cause you to go into a paroxysm of delight. That’s because you can connect to the boiler and to each radiator, so you can adjust up to 12 different zones with different settings! Of course, that can be a costly undertaking, because each zone will require a separate unit. But at least the possibility is there.

Of course, you’re still able to control the temperature for the whole house at a touch of a button on your smartphone app. There’s no need to do each zone separately when you want to do the same things to each.

Honeywell doesn’t learn and adapt, but then again it does offer IFTTT compatibility. That gives you a new set of triggers to activate and adjust the thermostat. For example, it can turn the heat off when the sun is hot and bright outside.

So with all things factored on, it’s easy to see why some call this the Rolls Royce of smart home temperature control systems. Its breadth and performance is superb, but it comes at a steep price. And though it may not have the ability to learn, the ability to control specific zones can really make a difference in customizing your home heating environment.

4. Tado 2.0. Tado offers what it calls the Model Predictive Control, which is essentially its learning program. It tracks several factors to make sure you always get the temperature you want right when you enter your home. Its sensors track the weather, it notes the time you need to get home from wherever you are, and then it factors in how long it will take to reach the temperature you want.

The second version of Tado also offers controls for a second zone. Again, this can be very useful for houses which have two floors. The new version also cuts down from 3 components to 2 (the bridge and the thermostat), but it retains its elegant minimalist white look.

Tado also uses both motion sensors and GPS. It also uses the Internet connection to monitor the weather forecast for the day. And it even has smart control for your hot water, which Hive and Honeywell offer but Nest doesn’t.

Controls include a smartphone app and a website browser, so you can use a PC from the office to monitor the thermostat. Your controls include different temperatures for sleep time and you can use a sliding scale that adjusts between your comfort level and your energy savings.

All in all, with smart thermostats any of these 4 options are excellent. They’re all reliable, and you can find one that suits your needs and preferences. And don’t worry about the cost—within a year or two your energy savings will offset your expenses!