Smart thermostats

What are smart thermostats and how do they facilitate energy management?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

As we accelerate home electrification across the United States, the energy management industry continues to grow. More and more homeowners are looking for actionable insight into their energy usage so they can reduce their consumption – and save money! According to Energy Star, the average American household spends over $900 on heating and cooling each year. So, it’s no surprise that one of the first products to gain major traction in this space was the smart thermostat.

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Key takeaways


  • Smart thermostats are energy management devices that allow you to remotely control and monitor the temperature of your home
  • With a smart thermostat, you can expect to save about 10 to 12 percent on heating and up to 15 percent on cooling costs
  • Different smart thermostats come with different features, so it’s important to compare your options; check out our reviews on our Smart Thermostat Buyer’s Guide
  • The best way to save on energy costs is to install a solar-plus-storage system – visit the EnergySage Marketplace today to start receiving custom quotes!  

What is a smart thermostat?

Depending on where you live, maintaining a comfortable temperature in your home can be a struggle! Smart thermostats make temperature control considerably easier by connecting to your heating and cooling and system. They allow you to remotely adjust your thermostat, so you can control your home’s temperature 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Plus, some smart thermostats have adaptive technology – or, advanced learning – which allows them to remember your behavior and adjust the temperature accordingly. For example, let’s say it’s wintertime and you typically leave your home at 8 AM and return by 6 PM: your thermostat can lower the temperature while you’re away and raise it in time for you to get home. You’re able to cut energy costs without inconvenience or sacrificing any comfort in your home!

How do smart thermostats work?

Similar to normal thermostats, smart thermostats connect your home’s furnace and air conditioner. Typically, your smart thermostat will be installed in the same location as your normal thermostat and will be wired similarly – generally, you’ll want an electrician to complete the installation. However, while you can control your smart thermostat manually, you’re also able to control it remotely via a mobile app (as long as your thermostat has a WiFi connection). 

Why would you want a smart thermostat?

Smart thermostats come with a number of advantages over traditional systems. First and foremost, they make it easy to wirelessly control your home’s climate. Many will integrate with other smart devices, allowing for additional functionality like voice control. With some smart thermostats, you can program different temperatures for different days of the week – they may even learn your behavior and make adjustments automatically! 

Most smart thermostats are compatible with mobile and/or web applications, providing you with insight into your energy usage and home’s temperature in real time and on the go. Away for the weekend and afraid your pipes might freeze? Turn your home’s temperature up, straight from your phone! With a smart thermostat, you’ll typically get better savings, comfort, and peace of mind than with a typical thermostat. In fact, most smart thermostat companies estimate that you’ll save between 10 and 12 percent on heating and up to 15 percent on cooling each year!

Should you get a smart thermostat?

While smart thermostats are generally a great investment, they aren’t for everyone! For example, if you live in a home without central air conditioning, a smart thermostat likely isn’t worth the investment. You’ll also need to ensure that you have a strong WiFi connection to get the most out of your smart thermostat. 

Smart thermostats can also be more difficult to install in older homes, especially if you don’t have a common wire, or C-Wire, which connects your smart thermostat to your heating and cooling system. Some companies do make smart thermostats that don’t require C-Wires, but you’ll want to make sure that your heating and cooling system is compatible with whatever smart thermostat you choose. 

Considerations when comparing your options

Every smart thermostat includes added functionality over traditional thermostats, but they’re not all created equal! We’ll explain some of the key factors to consider when deciding between smart thermostat products. 

Wireless features/mobile app

If you want remote control of your thermostat system, a smart thermostat that can connect to your home WiFi and transmit data is your best bet. This feature allows you to control the temperature of your home and understand your energy use in real-time, all from your smartphone, tablet, or computer. However, these apps will vary by product in their functionality and in their usability, so it’s best to check out some online demos or reviews before making your final decision. 

Physical appearance/features

Some thermostats come with a full touchscreen and a large, colorful display, while others are less bold but still provide similar functionality. Touchscreens can make using your smart thermostat simple –  some thermostats even come with unique physical features to make climate control intuitive and easy.

Smart hub integration

If you’re asking Alexa to play music for you, why not ask her to change the temperature too? Depending on the smart home software you use, your smart thermostat may be able to access features such as voice control and alerts that are built into your smart home setup.

For example, the Google Nest Learning Thermostat and the ecobee SmartThermostat both integrate with voice control, but have different levels of compatibility with smart home software. Nest’s product can communicate directly with Google Assistant through a Google Home speaker, while the ecobee’s SmartThermostat can link with Siri and Apple HomeKit. Both thermostats also work with Amazon Alexa.

Advanced learning

Uber knows when you’re likely to be heading “home” and Spotify can pick out the perfect song just for you. Computers these days are able to adjust to your habits – and smart thermostats are no different! After you request temperatures for specific times of the day a few times, smart thermostats with advanced learning will understand your habits and can make the adjustment for you.  

Geofencing 

If you’re always on the go, remembering to adjust your smart thermostat’s temperature settings might be a struggle. Fortunately, some products have already solved this problem with georeferencing technology. A smart thermostat with geofencing technology sets up virtual perimeters around your home. When the technology is enabled, the device will know whether you (or, more accurately, your phone) are inside or outside the perimeter. Your smart thermostat will be able to adjust the temperature appropriately when you leave your home and when you’re arriving home, minimizing energy waste. 

Seven-day scheduling

If you prefer to keep it simple, you’re in luck. Not all smart thermostats have the more sophisticated advanced learning and geofencing capabilities. However, many do have a convenient feature that allows you to set schedules by the days of the week. If you’re gone during the same hours Monday through Friday, you won’t need to turn off the thermostat each time you leave your home. With a seven-day schedule feature, you can program the thermostat to adjust the temperature while you’re at work and never worry about it again.

Major smart thermostat companies

In 2008, ecobee created the world’s first smart thermostat: the ecobee Smart. However, the industry didn’t really start to take off until 2011, when Nest launched their first product, the Nest Learning Thermostat. While ecobee and Nest are still some of the biggest companies in the industry, many other companies – old and new – have come out with smart thermostat products. For example, Honeywell (founded in 1906) has become a dominant player in the smart thermostat industry and Mysa (founded in 2016) has gained a lot of traction as well with their Smart Thermostat for Electric Baseboard Heaters. 

For our reviews of some of the top products in the industry, be sure to check out our Smart Thermostat Buyer’s Guide

How do smart thermostats integrate with energy management systems?

Energy management devices include two major components: monitors and controls. So, because smart thermostats provide these same functionalities, they definitely fall under the category of energy management devices. However, an energy management system goes beyond the capability of most devices, providing monitoring and control of your whole home in one mobile app. 

Some energy management systems can integrate directly with thermostats. For example, Generac’s recently announced PWRmanager (available in Spring 2022) will provide control for up to two thermostats. While they haven’t released the specifics on how this will work, most likely the PWRmanager will be able to turn ordinary thermostats into smart thermostats. 

Start your electrification journey on EnergySage today!

The best way to take control of your energy usage? Get solar-plus-storage! Your solar-plus-storage system will integrate directly with your energy management system, allowing for full home control and significant energy savings. On the EnergySage Marketplace, you can compare up to seven quotes from pre-vetted solar installers so you can install a system that meets your needs at the right price. 

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About Emily Walker

Emily is the Content Manager & Research Analyst at EnergySage, where she enjoys making energy fun and easy to learn about! She has a background in environmental consulting and has degrees in Environmental Science and Biology from Colby College. Outside of work, Emily is pursuing a Master of Science from Johns Hopkins University in Environmental Science and Policy. She also loves hiking, tending to her collection of houseplants, and trying out new restaurants and breweries whenever possible.

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