Are Smart Thermostats Worth It? Pros and Cons

Woman controlling temperature with smart thermostat at home

A self-regulating, climate-control system for your home that also saves energy and money? That’s what smart thermostats promise to deliver, offering automated temperature adjustments, maintenance alerts, energy reports, and other capabilities. But, as with anything, there are some downsides, too, which may have you wondering, “Are smart thermostats worth it?” We’re here to help you weigh the pros and cons.

But First, What Is a Smart Thermostat?

In short, a smart thermostat is a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat that can be scheduled to automatically carry out certain temperature settings at certain times. If also a learning thermostat, it will get to know your desired temperatures over time, adapting to provide the most comfortable heating and cooling for your specific environment. Some even have temperature sensors you can purchase to control the climate of individual rooms.

Boasting compatibility with smart home devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as remote control functionality via a tablet or smartphone app, these gadgets also help homeowners use less energy and save on electricity bills. 

The Pros of Smart Thermostats

They Lower Energy Costs

Energy efficiency rating chart
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By hooking your HVAC system up to an Energy Star-certified smart thermostat (like Ecobee and Nest thermostats), you can expect to save around 8% (or $50) annually on energy bills. Your exact energy savings may be slightly higher or lower based on where you live, your home’s occupancy, your thermostat settings, the thermostat brand, and the overall efficiency of your cooling system and heating system.

Smart thermostats work to decrease energy consumption through the use of automation and algorithms that learn to anticipate when you’ll be home or when you’ll be away. With geofencing, your smartphone app will even be able to communicate your impending return to your thermostat, causing the appropriate temperature controls to kick in before you arrive.

Bonus: You may qualify for a rebate when you upgrade to a smart thermostat. Check with your local energy company to see which ones are available to you.

They Can be Controlled Remotely

Woman uses smart phone to control thermostat
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Let’s say your household goes on vacation — or even just out for the day or night — and you forgot to manually adjust your home’s temperature before leaving. All you have to do is connect to some Wi-Fi, log in to your smart thermostat app, and set your home’s heating or air conditioning where you’d like it to be.

But you don’t have to be away from home to use the remote control functionality; simply break out your smartphone app to control the temp in an individual room without having to leave said room. Sometimes, HVAC systems produce uneven heating and cooling, so if you’re spending a lot of your time in a hot or cold spot, this is a quick, easy way to raise or lower the settings.

They’re Easy to Use

Unlike programmable thermostats that often make setting up schedules a hassle, smart thermostats (and their accompanying apps) are more user-friendly, as many consist of familiar touch screen functionalities. What’s more, if you opt for a learning thermostat, you won’t have to worry about programming anything, as your thermostat will learn your movements over time and program itself.

Some reviewers say smart thermostats may be difficult for people who aren’t tech savvy, while others disagree. Basically, though, if you can operate a smartphone or a tablet, you can use a smart thermostat and its app with no problem. As for the wall units, the touch screens typically have a simple aesthetic, large print, and are well-lit to make reading them a breeze; others may operate without a touch screen, choosing a movable dial, instead.

They Alert You to Maintenance Tasks

Man controlling smart home from a tablet app
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Further supporting less energy use, smart thermostats can notify you of necessary maintenance tasks like when it’s time to change your air filters and when it’s time to schedule your annual preventative maintenance visit. 

Switching out dirty air filters and sticking to a regular maintenance schedule ensures maximum energy efficiency by keeping your air conditioner and heating system from overworking itself. Clean air filters allow for adequate airflow and routine maintenance helps prevent breakdowns, excess repairs, and overall, extends the life of your HVAC unit.

The Cons of Smart Thermostats

They May Require Professional Installation

Now, there are several smart thermostats on the market today that homeowners consider to have an easy DIY installation process, complete with step-by-step directions via the accompanying app or brand’s YouTube video.

However, if you want absolutely nothing to do with wiring of any kind, your best bet is to enlist the help of an HVAC pro. They can tell you if your new smart system is compatible with your current HVAC or if you’ll need a C-wire (common wire) or C-wire adapter to make everything work. Note: Some smart thermostats were created to be powered without the need for either one.

They Have Higher Upfront Costs

While you can get a new manual thermostat for as low as $40 or a new programmable one for as low as $60, a new smart thermostat can run you, on average, between $140 and $310 — throw in a little extra ($150 to $500) if you add on professional installation. That being said, the energy savings you accumulate may offset those initial costs over time.

Smart Home Devices Can Potentially Be Hacked

Hacker with laptop, cyber security interface
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As with any smart home device — from your TV to your baby monitor to your refrigerator — there’s security risk involved. In addition to collecting and tracking information about your home environment to aid in reducing energy bills, these gadgets also collect the following data:

  • Name
  • Email
  • Phone number
  • Zip code
  • When you’re home/away/sleep

Smart thermostat brands do have protections in place (think encryption, passwords, etc.) to safeguard your information and work quickly if a breach does occur, but still, there’s always a risk something could be compromised. Would-be burglars could potentially hack into your system and use this information to determine the best time to break in; or, hackers could simply use your smart thermostat as an entry point to access other parts of your network, and thus, other sensitive information.

Note: On the other hand, smart thermostats can help improve the safety and security of your home if integrated with your alarm system. For example, if your security system detects carbon monoxide or fire, it can signal the HVAC to shut down.

FAQ About Smart Thermostats

So, are smart thermostats worth it?

It depends. If your home runs on central heating and air, a smart thermostat may be the perfect upgrade for you, as it makes temperatures easier to adjust and program; a learning thermostat could increase energy efficiency even more, since it will automatically adjust temperatures based on occupancy and sleep/wake cycles.

However, if you have a different type of heating and cooling system, such as radiant heating or window units, a smart thermostat isn’t going to help. Thermostats work by sensing the temperature of the surrounding air, and radiant heat uses infrared waves to heat objects, rather than the air. Plus, window units have their own built-in thermostats.

Another reason a smart thermostat might not necessarily bring on more energy savings than a programmable thermostat? If you’re always at home. If you have a learning thermostat, it’s meant to adjust temps on its own based on whether you’re home or not. That being said, if you’re home a lot but typically confine yourself to one room/area most of the day, a smart thermostat could still help lower energy consumption, as its sensors would pick up which areas of the home you regularly use and don’t use, adjusting the temperature as necessary.

Will a smart thermostat still work if the internet goes out?

Yes. The thermostat itself will continue to work, maintaining the settings it had prior to the outage. What you won’t be able to use, though, is the remote control functionality via your app. This also means you won’t receive alerts, notifications, or energy reports until internet connectivity is restored.

What’s the difference between smart thermostats, Wi-Fi thermostats, and programmable thermostats?

Again, a smart thermostat is a Wi-Fi-enabled device that helps improve your HVAC’s energy efficiency via automatic settings and schedules. Many of these are learning thermostats, meaning they detect and remember your preferred temperatures over time, as well as when you’re home, away, or sleep, automatically adjusting their settings to fit those circumstances. You can also control your smart thermostat remotely using an app or voice commands.

A Wi-Fi thermostat, like a smart thermostat, is connected to the internet and can be controlled remotely with a smartphone app. What it can’t do, though, is be programmed to automatically run at a certain temperature during certain times of day.

A programmable thermostat is a traditional thermostat (not connected to the internet) that allows you to customize your temperature settings to follow pre-programmed schedules for different times of day and/or different days of the week. Depending on your settings, these thermostats can also contribute to energy efficiency.

When to Hire a Professional

While it’s possible to install your own smart thermostat — if you’re comfortable working with wiring, that is — it may be best to hire an HVAC technician near you for help. This can ensure you don’t accidentally injure yourself or mess up your HVAC with the wrong system.

Besides installing your new device, these experts can help you choose the system most compatible with your HVAC, determine what features you need and don’t need, suggest the ideal placement of your new thermostat, and show you exactly how to use it.

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Andréa Butler

Andréa Butler is a writer and editor. And while she hasn't been blessed with DIY skills herself, she is adept at writing and enjoys sharing home improvement tips and pool care guides for the true DIYers out there.