By Eric Murrell
If you’re interested in smart home gadgets and green technology, you’ve probably considered adding a smart thermostat to your home. Once just a boring beige box, the thermostat has become one of the most interesting upgrades homeowners can make due to their potential to save energy, keep you more comfortable and make everyday life more convenient.
They’re also kind of scary. Although smart thermostats are relatively easy to install, it can be intimidating to install any product that involves electrical panels and accessing your home’s raw wiring. Thankfully, the most popular products from companies like Nest, Zen, Ecobee and Honeywell all include easy-to-follow instructions and detailed user guides that should get you going in less time than watching your favorite sitcom. Here’s a quick overview of the setup process, and a brief guide to the benefits you’ll want to take advantage of right out of the gate.
Choosing Your Thermostat
Smart thermostats are available from a variety of retailers these days, and you can even get them through a package deal with your cable company. But there are a few things you’ll want to consider before clicking “Add to Cart.”
First, you’ll want to measure the space where you’re placing the thermostat on your wall. Although this may seem like a trivial concern (as most thermostats tend to sit right in the center of an open wall or hallway), sometimes thermostats sit right up against trim or in a corner where the shape of some smart thermostats could pose an issue. Keep in mind that you’ll still need one thermostat for every heating/cooling zone in your home.
Second, research the wiring that your HVAC system uses with your current thermostat. Smart thermostats typically claim to work with 95 percent of modern homes out of the box, but homes with older wiring or unusual HVAC setups (such as lacking a c-wire) may be incompatible with some thermostat products. Check the product’s FAQ page and even call the tech support line to ask questions about a thermostat system before you choose one.
Getting the Thermostat Installed
It’s fairly easy to get started once you’ve purchased and unboxed your smart thermostat. Most include detailed instructions and even a handy toolkit to kickstart the install process, and it’s a good idea to keep these handy until you reach the finish line.
Although every product works a little differently, the install process is typically similar for each thermostat. Cut the power to your home’s HVAC system (normally on your home’s breaker panel and maybe a separate panel by the unit outside of the house), pop the old thermostat off of the wall, and carefully remove the wiring from the old unit (labeling it as you go). I’ve found it helpful to take a clear picture of the wiring at this step that you can use as a reference later in the install.
Most smart thermostats include a series of setup videos and interactive guides in their companion apps, and these aren’t something you want to skip. Follow these instructions to carefully attach the wiring to the new thermostat, double-check along the way, and turn the power back on once everything has been mounted on the wall.
If everything lights up and seems functional, it’s time to get it up and running. Simply follow the on-screen setup instructions, connect the unit to your home Wi-Fi, and select a few quick settings about your HVAC setup. The whole process typically takes about 30 minutes (for each unit), which is a small amount of time to invest for such a significant upgrade to your home.
Starting with the Best Features
Once your connected thermostat is installed, it’s time to explore some of its fun new smart features. For most users, that’s setting up a schedule and turning on advanced functionality.
Scheduling has been integrated into thermostats for years, but it’s never been as simple to set up as with today’s smart thermostats. Rather than punching in codes on a clumsy wall panel, smart thermostats pair with a companion app on your smartphone, which allows you to quickly adjust and update a variety of settings on the fly. With just a few taps, you can set up complex daily heating and cooling routines that automatically repeat every week (saving you significant energy over time).
The “smart” features don’t stop there. Products like the Nest thermostat feature artificial intelligence that can learn your family’s schedule and routine temperature changes without any involvement on your end. Because of its always-on internet connection through your home’s Wi-Fi, it can also sense weather-related temperature shifts and adjust your home’s temperature accordingly to help you reduce energy consumption at certain times of the day, which could possibly save you some money. Smart thermostats can help you live a greener life without you even knowing it!
Taking Steps to a Smarter Home
While installing a smart thermostat is a relatively simple process, keep in mind that you can have help from professionals, especially if it’s part of an entire smart home system. Smart thermostats are a fantastic home upgrade, but they’re only a first step toward a smarter, more efficient home. Consider pairing them with a smart home hub from the hardware store or your internet service provider and adding an array of other connected home devices to the mix, all accessible through an app on your phone. Imagine coordinating your home so that your heat and lights turn on and the door unlocks for you as you pull into the driveway. Automating your life can lower your carbon footprint in a tangible way, but honestly, it’s a lot of fun as well.
Eric Murrell is a software developer and technology contributor to XFINITY Home. He enjoys sharing tips on how people can benefit from incorporating smart home automation and security in their homes on his blog At Home in the Future.