10 Smart Thermostat Features You Should Use

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Upgrading to a smart thermostat is nice, but if you don’t use all the features, you leave a lot of benefits on the table. Make sure you take full advantage of these smart thermostat features.

Your thermostat can’t do everything automatically

Many people get a smart thermostat because it was offered to them as part of an energy discount from their utility company or, in newer homes with more advanced HVAC systems, it was supplied with the house or apartment.

If you haven’t done your best to research everything there is to know about smart thermostats and your particular model, you’ve probably overlooked a feature or three. (And honestly, there are so many features in smart thermostats that even if you did your homework, you might have missed a few!)

In addition to reading our list of features here, now is a perfect time to check out your smart thermostat and read the manual or online help files. This will help you identify all the features and learn how to use them.

Increasingly, many of these great features happen automatically in the background once you install your thermostat, but many of them require you to either subscribe, toggle the setting, or enable the feature to realize the full benefits. Don’t assume the feature is turned on by default just because it’s advertised as available on your smart thermostat.

Use smart scheduling

There are two great ways smart thermostats make setting the table easier. First of all, if you want to set a schedule manually (or multiple schedules!), it’s much easier to do with the app or web interface than it used to be with old programmable thermostats.

I have more than a few unpleasant memories of leaning over an old-fashioned programmable thermostat by clicking little buttons to set the program. With the app, it is trivial to set a schedule and trivial to change the schedule if the need arises.

Even better, many smart thermostats have smart scheduling functions as they adapt over time to your household’s patterns. Without lifting a finger, the thermostat can learn your schedule and entertainment, and adjust accordingly.

However, keep reading, because there are a variety of ways you can make your smart thermostat smarter and, in the process, smart scheduling even better.

Activate smart home integration

We are slowly moving into a future where all the smart devices and sensors in our homes work together in a beneficial way. In order to take advantage of the best aspects of a smart thermostat, you need to install the app, set up any necessary calculations, and connect the thermostat to your smart home.

Doing so opens up a world of possibilities from the simple things – like controlling the thermostat from a smart display in your kitchen – to the more advanced – like integrating the smart thermostat into more complex procedures with IFTTT procedures.

And with the Matter smart home standard imminent, smart thermostats will play an even bigger role in the emerging smart home than sensors.

Take advantage of remote mode

The Nest thermostat is in automatic off mode.
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The remote mode is closely related to the smart scheduling function. One of the downsides to set schedules and older programmable thermostats was that, although they were an improvement over never setting the thermostat, they weren’t adaptable.

Smart thermostats provide an adaptive system where the home is heated and cooled not based on a schedule or manual setup, but based on physical presence in the home.

It may not seem like a big deal, but let’s take a simple example. Let’s say, with your old programmable thermostat, you can set the temperatures for Saturday and Sunday to be very comfortable in the middle of the day because you’re expecting to come home on the weekend.

Remember to fiddle with the thermostat every time you end up going somewhere on a Saturday afternoon? Mostly not. But with occupancy sensing, the smart thermostat can automatically adjust the system when it detects the house is empty. No need to enter on your behalf.

Thermostats that support this function usually have a motion sensor built into the front of the thermostat. Others will get that, plus smart sensors for better home coverage (more on that in a moment). There is usually also the option of using geofencing with your smartphone – a smart thermostat will use the presence of your phone to determine if the house is occupied.

Use intelligent fan rotation and humidity adjustments

What are called features vary from brand to brand, but the majority of smart thermostats have a stack of efficiency and convenience functions related to improving air flow and humidifying (or dehumidifying) your living space.

Look in the settings for options that turn on the fan for a period of time after each heating or cooling cycle to help circulate air and even out the temperature in your home.

There are usually also options for achieving targeted dehumidification goals in the summer and hydration goals in the winter to keep your living space comfortable.

Don’t forget the smart sensors

Smart Sensors are not a replacement for a multi-zone HVAC system, but they do provide enough advantages that it is worth considering smart sensor options for your thermostat.

Some sensors act as (and are directly marketed as) temperature and humidity sensors that you add to extend the reach of your thermostat. Many Ecobee smart thermostats ship with an additional sensor, and you can pick up extras to expand the system.

Ecobee SmartSensors not only monitor room conditions – which is useful if you want to make sure a specific room, like baby’s nursery, stays comfortable – but also occupy the home in smart home and remote mode.

In other cases, the sensors are limited but still useful. If you have a Nest thermostat, for example, every Nest smoke detector in your home also does double duty as an occupancy sensor. If your thermostat is in a room that is less used, it is very helpful to have a sensor somewhere else that provides a more accurate view of whether or not anyone is in the house.

In my house, for example, the thermostat is on the living room wall and the living room is not part of the normal flow of traffic. But there is a sensor near the stairs, which is a very busy area, which ensures that the temperature outside the house is more accurate.

Turn on the temperature optimization “look like”

You might have noticed your favorite weather app or local news station using terms like “Feels Like” or “Real Feel” when describing weather conditions. The “looks like”” temperature readings use variables like actual temperature, humidity, wind speed, and dew point to give you a rough estimate of what the weather feels like outside rather than just a raw temperature reading.

Some smart thermostats have a similar feature, but they work, more or less, in the opposite direction. With the thermostat function, you can tell it what you want it to “feel” and it adjusts the indoor temperature and humidity in your home to match your expectations. This way, you will feel 72°F on a nice fall day instead of 72°F on a humid summer day.

Enable Usage Time Energy Saving

There are several different approaches to energy-efficient “time-of-use” models available with smart thermostats.

Some thermostats, such as those in the Ecobee line, offer user-controlled downtime plans. You can enable a setting that directs your smart thermostat to work around your location’s maximum power requirements.

For example, your thermostat might cool your home at night to avoid turning on the air conditioner when energy costs are at their peak in the middle of the day.

Other thermostats, including Ecobee models, can link to your local utility company to make automatic adjustments to usage time and even some savings. Many utility companies offer discount rates or even cashback rewards for these programs, so it’s worth looking into.

Check energy and usage reports

An example of the type of feedback you can get in smart thermostat reports.
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Historically, it’s been really hard to keep track of data and stats about the HVAC system and energy usage. Old thermostats lack any tracking gauges at all, or if you have them, you’ll need to go to the thermostat and browse the menus on the small LCD screen for some basic information of limited use.

However, smart thermostats provide more complex feedback. It’s not just about learning and adapting quietly in the background – you can also look at reports to see if your usage is up or down. You can also more easily relate this data to any changes you’ve made in your home.

For example, if you roll out blackout blinds or buy new windows, you can easily compare energy use between two periods of the same season or even last season with the current season.

The reports will usually do some basic analysis for you, such as displaying the outside temperature and conditions against your energy use to help you determine if the reason the air conditioner has run so hard this week is because it was unusually hot or because there are some issues that you need to investigate.

Use reminders and alerts

Speaking of issues to investigate, smart thermostats are much better at helping you identify problems than they are at all on older models.

For example, if you have a Nest thermostat or thermostat with similar functions, it will monitor results and alert you if unexpected things happen. If the thermostat connects to AC and runs for X hours a day, for example, and the house temperature isn’t changing as expected, you’ll get a notification that something is wrong.

The problem may be easily resolved (such as your kids leaving a set of windows open) or it may be more serious (such as a coolant line leaking).

You can also set up high and low temperature alerts, humidity alerts, and even maintenance alerts and reminders. You can also rely heavily on the “living better with technology” aspect of having a smart thermostat and using these features.

Activate proxy service alerts

While the general warnings and alerts are great (and will work no matter what type of oven or air conditioner you have), there’s a more advanced feature you can take advantage of if your smart thermostat supports them.

Some thermostats support agent integration, where you can link your thermostat to the company that serves your HVAC system. In this case, in addition to giving you a notification that something is wrong with your HVAC system, the system can also forward the error report or warning to your dealer automatically.

Instead of having to figure out what the error means or schedule a call for a technician to take a look at it in person, they can check things remotely and be better prepared to fix the problem. Even better, they can proactively alert you if a series of errors or issues seem to portend a much bigger problem. Now a small repair or replacement is sure to beat $1,500 over a much larger one later.

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