Best Wi-Fi Thermostats for 2018
Last updated: April 27, 2018
If you have four words in mind—control, automation and saving energy—when thinking about the climate management of your home, then you are most likely set to look for a smart Wi-Fi thermostat.
There are many types of thermostats available on the market, and it is difficult to choose the best one for your home without thorough research.
With that in mind, let’s review what factors you should consider when buying a new Wi-Fi thermostat so that you avoid getting one that doesn’t fit your needs and/or the technical specifications of your home heating and cooling system.
Wi-Fi Thermostat Buying Guide: Types of Thermostats
Let’s define the types of thermostats to be clear about their main features, because each manufacturer might use different words to describe the same thing. Please also note that there may be thermostats that have several of the features listed below. Here are the main types of the thermostats:
The programmable thermostat can be set to a specific temperature for ON and OFF cycles to heat or cool your home based on the time and day. These thermostats usually operate on 7-day cycles and the hours for ON and OFF periods. The days can be programmed individually, split into workdays and weekends, or Monday-Friday and Saturday/Sunday.
The Wi-Fi thermostat, sometimes referred to as a wireless thermostat, can usually be connected to your home wireless network and then controlled remotely from a smartphone application or a desktop computer.
It can also connect wirelessly to other smart devices, such as remote room sensors placed in different areas of your home, to provide temperature, humidity, and occupancy data from other areas in the house. Because of their internet connection, Wi-Fi thermostats can take local weather data into account when adjusting your home climate, or use your GPS smartphone location to know when you are home or away in order to switch between energy-saving and comfort modes.
The Z-Wave-enabled thermostat is similar to the Wi-Fi thermostat, but it uses slightly different technology. Z-Wave technology operates on a radio frequency different to the one used by a Wi-Fi network. Z-Wave devices connect together to create a special network topology called a mesh network. Inside that network, a message is passed from one device to another until it reaches the device to which the message was intended. The advantages of Z-Wave thermostats are that they usually do not require C-Wire, and are instead powered by batteries. In addition, their price is lower compared to Wi-Fi thermostats.
A learning thermostat adjusts the home climate based on machine-learning algorithms. First, you show the thermostat what kind of climate you like and when you want it by adjusting the temperature manually. It learns your home climate patterns and adjusts the temperature based on the data collected. It can also sense when no one is at home and automatically turn off (or reduce) the heating and cooling in an effort to save energy.
The smart thermostat is usually called a Wi-Fi thermostat that is programmable or/and has learning capabilities. Besides Wi-Fi, there can be other types of wireless thermostats, such as Z-Wave thermostats. Such thermostats have quite a wide array of functions that can automate your home climate and save you energy at the same time.
So what are the main benefits of Wi-Fi thermostats?
Wi-Fi Thermostats Buying Guide: Benefits
Wireless thermostats usually cost $100 - $200. That high price can be justified based on the benefits that Wi-Fi thermostats provide. Here are a few factors to consider when upgrading your old thermostat to a Wi-Fi thermostat.
Plenty of Control
To set the heating or cooling cycle on a conventional thermostat, you need to physically be present in front of the device. Naturally, a Wi-Fi thermostat can be controlled wirelessly through a smartphone app or a web portal on a desktop computer (as long as the thermostat is connected to the internet).
Having the ability to access your thermostat with a smartphone application allows you to check the current climate status in your home, adjust the temperature, change the climate schedule, and fiddle with the thermostat settings from anywhere.
A Wi-Fi thermostat with programming possibilities allows you to set the temperature based on time and day. That feature is a basic level function of home automation, but it requires you to set your climate schedule preferences manually.
More advanced thermostats with learning capabilities, can, after some time, learn your climate patterns and start adjusting heating and cooling by using machine-learning algorithms.
A Wi-Fi thermostat with motion sensors can also recognize when no one is at home and accordingly shut down heating or cooling, thereby contributing to energy savings. There are some smart Wi-Fi thermostats that use paired smartphone applications to monitor the user’s GPS location; it uses that information to switch between comfort and energy-saving modes (based on if the user is at home or away).
Saving Energy = Saving Money
Many Wi-Fi thermostat manufacturers claim that with the right use of your thermostat, you can save energy, which naturally results in saving money. One of the Wi-Fi thermostat manufacturers, ecobee, claims that their customers in the US saved an average of 23% on their heating and cooling costs. The Nest Wi-Fi thermostat manufacturer Nest Labs says that on average, their US customers saved 10-12% of their heating bills and about 15% of their cooling bills.
Design is quite a subjective factor, but let’s admit that most of the new Wi-Fi thermostats have a great design—the element that cannot be ignored in the world of great design promoted by companies like Apple.
Most of the popular new Wi-Fi thermostats are praised for their excellent design. It’s not a surprise; the mark was set high in 2010 when Nest Labs, the company founded by former Apple SVP of the iPod division Tony Fadell and former iPod and iPhone lead engineer Matt Rogers, created the first Nest Wi-Fi thermostat.
Wi-Fi Thermostats Buying Guide: Picking the Right One
Before ordering a new Wi-Fi thermostat, you should consider a few factors. It is essential to ensure that you will be able to install the thermostat and that it will satisfy both your home comfort needs and your home automation requirements.
Not all thermostats are created equal. They offer different levels of automation, types of sensors, and integration with smart home ecosystems. It is also very important to check its compatibility with your current heating and cooling system. Otherwise, you could end up either returning your new Wi-Fi thermostat or upgrading your heating and cooling system.
Here is the list of factors to consider when choosing the best Wi-Fi thermostat that fits your needs and will be compatible with your smart home and HVAC system.
The good thing is that most of the Wi-Fi thermostats are compatible with a wide variety of HVAC systems. Having said that, it is still essential to check whether the thermostat can work with the specific HVAC system that you already have at home. Also, not all heating and cooling systems can be optimally controlled by a thermostat, so it's worth checking that before you order the new Wi-Fi thermostat.
The best way to check thermostat compatibility is to refer to the manufacturer's website and search for the specific make and model of your HVAC and the particular make and model of the Wi-Fi thermostat you are considering. Most of the popular manufacturers have compatibility checking tools available; for example, this is one for Nest thermostats and this is for ecobee thermostats.
If you are unsure about the specific Wi-Fi thermostat compatibility with your heating and cooling system, then it is a good idea to consult with an HVAC professional for assistance. This way, you can be pretty sure your heating and cooling system will operate at maximum performance and provide the comfortable home climate and home automation you require.
Size of Your Home
The size of your home is another factor to consider when selecting the right Wi-Fi thermostat. You need to make sure it can support all the areas to be monitored and manage the climate in your home.
Some Wi-Fi thermostats, such as ecobee3, can connect to remote room sensors wirelessly. These sensors can be placed in different areas of your home, monitoring temperature, humidity and occupancy. This information is sent to a smart thermostat, which in turn tells the heating and cooling system what to do to ensure the climate in those areas is what you want it to be.
Scheduling, Automation, and Learning
One of the main benefits of Wi-Fi thermostats is making your life easier by bringing some automation to your home climate. When you start looking for a smart thermostat, make sure it meets the level of control and automation of your home climate that you require.
The easiest way to simplify your life is to schedule the climate adjustments for your home. With most Wi-Fi thermostats, it should be possible to set temperatures for each day of the week separately, set temperatures for workdays and weekends, and even set different schedules for Saturday and Sunday.
One of the most popular Wi-Fi thermostat features is that you can control your home climate remotely by using a smartphone app or a computer. In most cases, you will be able to remotely change the temperature of your home, adjust the climate schedule, review the heating and cooling history, energy consumption and savings, and adjust the thermostat settings.
The more advanced learning thermostats, such as Nest, can learn your home climate preference patterns and then adjust the temperature automatically by using machine-learning algorithms. At the same time, it can also include other factors, such as indoor humidity, past heating and cooling system performance, and even local weather data, to calculate the right temperature for your home.
Each Wi-Fi thermostat varies in its capabilities and complexity of functions. Some less expensive Wi-Fi thermostats also have smart features. Basic Wi-Fi thermostats, in most cases, will have the ability to be controlled remotely and some climate automation possibilities, like setting the temperature schedule based on the time and day.
Remote temperature sensors are quite crucial for thermostats to be able to control the climate throughout your home. They can either be built into the thermostat unit or placed remotely in different areas of your house. By using those sensors, the smart thermostat can determine the temperature in the room, the humidity, and whether the room is occupied or empty. Based on the data received, the Wi-Fi thermostat will then adjust the heating and cooling system accordingly.
Smart Home Ecosystem Integration
The recent explosion in smart home control devices did not leave controlling the home climate behind. The latest smart home control units, like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, can connect Wi-Fi thermostats to their ecosystem, enabling you to control all your smart devices from a single place. This integration allows you to control the Wi-Fi thermostat via voice commands (utilizing voice recognition capabilities built into those smart home control devices, such as Amazon Alexa).
If you are planning to introduce some smart capabilities to your home, make sure the Wi-Fi thermostat you are choosing is compatible with your smart home control hub. Some Wi-Fi thermostats go even further and can directly connect to other smart devices, such kitchen appliances, lights, cars, and garage doors, to provide more advanced home automation features.
Effective home climate automation creates energy-saving possibilities, which in turn saves you money. Based on the smart thermostat automation capabilities, the energy savings can be less or more efficient. Most of the basic Wi-Fi thermostats can be controlled remotely, allowing you to set the temperature before or after you leave your home, thereby not using energy while your home is empty.
More advanced climate control units can learn your climate preference patterns and, based on machine-learning algorithms, automatically adjust the climate. Some of the devices can sense when there is no one at home and reduce energy use.
Many Wi-Fi thermostat manufacturers are providing some average figures as to how much you could save by using those smart devices. For example, Nest claims that on average, their learning thermostat saved US customers $131 to $145 a year.
With the growing number of smart devices connected to the internet, the concern with security is also growing. It’s no surprise—hackers are always looking for ways to unlawfully gain access to smart home devices for their benefit.
When selecting wireless devices, including smart thermostats, it’s important to take security seriously and protect your home from someone interfering with your property. To make sure your home is better prepared to fend off hacker attempts, follow some basic rules (actually, you should already have these in place to secure your home internet connection and wireless network). Remember, any wireless device is only as secure as the wireless network it’s connected to.
C-Wire availability might be a bit in the technical domain, but it is quite essential to take into consideration when selecting a Wi-Fi thermostat. C-Wire, also known as the "common" wire, is a low voltage wire that powers the thermostat.
Most of the older HVAC systems don’t have that type of wire (because mechanical thermostats don’t need them). It could also be the case that you have C-Wire, but since your old thermostat doesn’t use it, the wire might be just hiding somewhere in the wall.
If you don’t have C-Wire, you have several options. You might look for a Wi-Fi thermostat that doesn’t require a C-wire. The Honeywell Lyric Round and ecobee3 smart Wi-Fi thermostats can, in most cases, be installed without C-Wire, using power from your system wiring or the batteries. There are also adapters available to substitute for the common wire. And, of course, you can hire an HVAC professional to install C-Wire to your heating and cooling system and connect it to your smart thermostat.
Wi-Fi Thermostats Buying Guide: Top Models
The Nest 3rd generation learning thermostat learns your preferred temperature settings based on a variety of different factors: time of day, outside weather temperature, and humidity levels. It uses machine learning to create a heating and cooling schedule based on those factors and your habits, so that you always feel comfortable at home. And, over time, manual adjustments are required less and less.
This smart thermostat also detects when no one is at home and reduces energy consumption accordingly. It tracks your energy consumption and provides a lot of data about your energy usage. It can send regular email alerts about your energy use and how much your heating and cooling patterns vary month by month. But keep in mind that that amount of data can become overwhelming, and you could become obsessed with checking how much you saved last month!
Starting from April 2018 Nest offers remote room sensors. This feature allows you to monitor multiple rooms and thermostat will make sure the climate in those rooms is according to the set temperature. However, the sensors needs to be purchased separately.
If you are looking for a thermostat that you install and then not program again after the initial setup, the Nest 3rd generation Wi-Fi thermostat is for you.
Although the ecobee3 is not a learning thermostat, it is a programmable Wi-Fi thermostat—you can remotely check and adjust the temperature from a mobile application. The ecobee3 thermostat can read temperature and humidity data from multiple Wi-Fi sensors around your home and ensure the temperature in the occupied rooms is as close to the desired temperature as possible. It also will save energy through its ability to sense when the room is unoccupied. This thermostat may be a good option for larger homes that have some rooms that are used more than others.
Initially, the ecobee3 Wi-Fi thermostat was not compatible with Google Assistant, but as of November 2017, it is. The ecobee3 can now be controlled from the Google Home or any other device that supports the Google Assistant.
Overall, the ecobee3 is one of the best Wi-Fi thermostats for larger homes. It can aggregate the data from multiple sensors in different rooms in your house and display the temperature of the residence (as opposed to the temperature of the one spot where the thermostat is installed).
The Honeywell RTH9580WF smart thermostat is an improvement over the more basic programmable thermostat. This thermostat is a good fit if you want to set the weekly schedule yourself and need to view or adjust the temperature remotely on your smartphone or desktop computer.
The Honeywell thermostat provides quite a good overview of the primary information on the home screen—the touchscreen display unit is big compared to other Wi-Fi thermostats. The screen itself provides good quality crisp colors, excellent responsiveness, and vast customization possibilities (such as changing the background color to match your wallpaper).
The Honeywell RTH9580WF Wi-Fi thermostat can be considered to be an intermediate-level thermostat. It doesn’t have the wide array of cool features that the Nest and ecobee3 have, but it does provide remote control of the thermostat at a lower price point than the other Wi-Fi thermostats.
The vast number of available options to upgrade your old thermostat can be overwhelming. When shortlisting the thermostat that best fits your needs, the central question to ask is how much control you need over your home climate. Most Wi-Fi thermostats provide remote control of your thermostat through a smartphone application or web portal (as long as it is connected to the internet). Some provide smart features based on your smartphone GPS location, switching "home" for comfort or "away" for energy-saving modes.
If you are satisfied with setting your heating and cooling schedule based on time and day, then a Wi-Fi thermostat with programmable thermostat features is sufficient for you. However, if you would like to set the thermostat and forget about it, then the learning thermostat is the best option. If you have a big house, look for a thermostat that can monitor and adjust the climate in multiple rooms by using remote room sensors.