Save money on your heat­ing with a smart ther­mo­stat

Take back con­trol of your home heat­ing bills with the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of smart ther­mostats — de­vices you can eas­ily con­trol from your iPhone or iPad, even re­motely

Mac|Life - - FRONT PAGE - BY CLIFF JOSE PH

The pos­si­bil­ity of sav­ing some money on your heat­ing bills meant that smart ther­mostats were among the first de­vices to emerge in the home au­to­ma­tion mar­ket, and with en­ergy prices ris­ing all the time they con­tinue to be a pop­u­lar pur­chase.

There is plenty of choice these days, with a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent de­signs avail­able. Most of these new ther­mostats will sim­ply re­place the ex­ist­ing ther­mo­stat on your wall, al­though some do in­clude a sep­a­rate wire­less adap­tor that al­lows you to move the ther­mo­stat from room to room. Some use high-tech touch­screen con­trols, while oth­ers opt for more old-fash­ioned but­tons and dials that mimic tra­di­tional ther­mostats.

Yet these de­sign fea­tures are of­ten just skin deep, and most smart ther­mostats con­cen­trate on pro­vid­ing the same core set of fea­tures, which are gen­er­ally con­trolled by an app on your iPhone, iPad or other mo­bile de­vices. The ma­jor­ity of these apps will en­able you to pro­gram daily and weekly sched­ules to turn the heat­ing on or off at spe­cific times, or set tem­per­a­ture lim­its so that your home is al­ways kept at a com­fort­able tem­per­a­ture.

Hav­ing an app on your iPhone also en­ables the ther­mo­stat to mon­i­tor your lo­ca­tion, so it can turn it­self on and warm things up when it sees that you’re on your way home from work in the evening and within a de­fined dis­tance (us­ing a fea­ture known as “ge­ofenc­ing”). Most apps can an­a­lyze your en­ergy us­age to help you save money, and can send no­ti­fi­ca­tions of un­ex­pected events — so if the heat­ing sud­denly comes on while you’re out at work, say, then that might

mean some­one’s left a win­dow open. These sim­i­lar­i­ties mean most of the smart ther­mostats now avail­able will suit a va­ri­ety of houses, con­dos and apart­ments. The only thing to watch out for is hid­den costs, such as in­stal­la­tion fees, which can add to the ba­sic cost of some smart ther­mostats.

One of the first smart ther­mostats to ar­rive in the US was the Learn­ing Ther­mo­stat from Nest, which boasts a stylish cir­cu­lar de­sign. Avail­able for $249, the third-gen­er­a­tion model lacks HomeKit com­pat­i­bil­ity, but you can still con­trol it from your iPhone or iPad us­ing the free Nest app for iOS.

The Learn­ing Ther­mo­stat is so called be­cause it “learns” when you turn the tem­per­a­ture up or down (up dur­ing the day and down at night, for ex­am­ple) and then uses that in­for­ma­tion, built up over its first week, to au­to­mat­i­cally cre­ate a heat­ing sched­ule for you — po­ten­tially sav­ing you money in the process. The Learn­ing Ther­mo­stat is also fully pro­gram­mable, of course, and it in­cludes a fea­ture called Far­sight, which au­to­mat­i­cally makes it light up and dis­play the time or tem­per­a­ture when­ever you walk into a room.

The Learn­ing Ther­mo­stat works very well and has the ad­van­tage of work­ing with other Nest prod­ucts, such as the Nest se­cu­rity cam­era and its forth­com­ing video door­bell, called Hello. There was a ru­mor that the Nest ther­mo­stat might add sup­port for HomeKit, but since Nest is owned by Google, and since the Google Home smart speaker is a di­rect ri­val for the new Ap­ple HomePod, we’re not hold­ing our breath on that.

HomeKit hard­ware

If you want a smart ther­mo­stat that fully sup­ports HomeKit — be­cause you want to con­trol it with an Ap­ple TV, Siri or Ap­ple’s HomePod smart speaker — then the $169.95 ecobee3 Lite is ideal. You can pair it with up to 32 sep­a­rate sen­sors lo­cated around

Hav­ing a nap pony our phone also en­ables the ther­mo­stat to mon­i­tor your lo­ca­tion

your home (sold separately in packs of two for $79) to keep tabs on the tem­per­a­ture in each room, and it’s easy to con­trol, ei­ther us­ing the free app for iPhone or iPad or via its touch­screen front panel.

Honey­well’s Lyric T5 is cheaper at $149.95, and also sup­ports HomeKit. It’s sold on the Ap­ple Store, so it’s easy to find, as is the more ex­pen­sive Honey­well Lyric Round, which costs $249.95. The Lyric Round of­fers ad­di­tional fea­tures, such as the abil­ity to con­trol hu­mid­ity as well as tem­per­a­ture, au­to­mat­i­cally fir­ing up the air-con­di­tion­ing when needed. Like the other smart ther­mostats here, it of­fers ge­ofenc­ing, en­abling it to turn on your HVAC sys­tem au­to­mat­i­cally as you get closer to home or shut it down as you get fur­ther away.

Also avail­able on the Ap­ple Store, the iDe­vices Ther­mo­stat costs a more mod­est $129.95. While it’s not as stylish as ei­ther of the Honey­wells or the ecobee3, it’s fully-pro­gram­mable and Home Kit-com­pat­i­ble, and can be con­trolled us­ing your voice alone, thanks to Siri.

Last, but by no means least, is the El­gato Eve De­gree — in­cred­i­bly af­ford­able at just $69.95, it’s ideal for renters be­cause it’s bat­tery-pow­ered, it’s rel­a­tively por­ta­ble, and it uses Blue­tooth Low En­ergy tech­nol­ogy to con­nect with your iPhone or iPad. It also works seam­lessly with HomeKit. Nest’s Learn­ing Ther­mo­stat is one smart de­vice.

In­stal­la­tion

Which­ever smart ther­mo­stat you choose, in­stal­la­tion is fairly straight­for­ward: you’re ef­fec­tively re­plac­ing your ex­ist­ing ther­mo­stat with a new, smarter one. But if you have any doubts about your abil­ity to do it your­self, ask a local elec­tri­cian or HVAC en­gi­neer to do it for you.

The bril­liantly de­signed ecobee3 Lite ther­mo­stat works with HomeKit.

El­gato’s Eve De­gree is in­cred­i­bly af­ford­able — and por­ta­ble.

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