In an era where convenience is king, it’s no wonder that smart thermostats have been integrated into so many homes. But what is so smart about smart thermostats? To find out, we asked Shannon Jerabek, Energy Management Specialist.

These gadgets enable homeowners to control their HVAC systems remotely via a smartphone or, of course, locally via a user-friendly screen. Plus, they provide more information than ever before as they track and analyze heating and cooling habits and record energy usage.

1. Installing a smart thermostat is a first step toward saving money on heating and cooling. While smart thermostats are undeniably convenient, Jerabek tells us that one of their biggest benefits is their ability to conserve energy. “Smart thermostats can save money on energy costs in two ways: the ability to monitor and control temperature remotely and the function (on select models) to learn user behavior and adjust settings accordingly,” Jerabek says. Each of these capabilities helps ensure that your HVAC system won’t be running unnecessarily when no one is around to appreciate the comfort.

2. Smart thermostats offer a variety of advanced climate controls. When describing gadgets, the word “smart” often refers to their ability to connect to other WiFi-powered devices, but these products are also often smartly designed, tailored for seamless, intuitive operation. Some smart thermostats sense when a room is occupied, then tweak the temperature to suit. Others know when you’re on your way home from work—using a GPS-based feature called “geofencing”—and adjust the temperature so your house is comfortable upon your arrival.

3. A Wi-Fi connection is required. While smart thermostats can operative manually without a wifi connection, you won’t have access to a large number of the thermostat’s features. “Homeowners will always need a Wi-Fi network to reap the benefits of a smart thermostat,” Jerabek says.

4. A mobile app is necessary for smartphone control. Home installation isn’t the only part of the process; a new smart thermostat requires installation on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop as well. Every smart thermostat pairs with a free-to-download mobile app from the same manufacturer that provides remote access. “The ability to control smart thermostats through a mobile app is perhaps their best feature,” Jerabek says. “The app can be used to keep an eye on your home while on vacation, or to simply turn up the heat or A/C on the way home from work.”

5. Consider your existing smart-home system when searching for the right model. Today’s smart thermostats not only do a great job automating and monitoring temperature settings, but they also tend to be more integrated with the home. Most boast compatibility with one of the big names in smart-home voice assistants—Google Home, Amazon Alexa, etc. When shopping for the right thermostat, make sure the one you choose is compatible with your existing smart-home system.

6. Unless you know a lot about wiring, have an electrician install your smart thermostat. Unlike older thermostats, smart thermostats often require additional wiring,” Jerabek explains. Many newer homes have this extra wiring, but some older ones don’t. In those cases, homeowners should hire a professional electrician to install one or, if that’s not an option, select a smart thermostat that offers an alternative method of powering the unit.

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