· smart energy devices · 6 min read

Smart Thermostat Shopping Guide

With features ranging from advanced learning algorithms to geofencing and air quality monitoring, smart thermostats offer a comprehensive solution for optimizing your heating and cooling systems.

With features ranging from advanced learning algorithms to geofencing and air quality monitoring, smart thermostats offer a comprehensive solution for optimizing your heating and cooling systems.

Navigating the world of smart thermostats can be overwhelming, especially when you’re aiming for an energy-efficient home. These devices are more than just a modern convenience; they’re a strategic investment in your home’s energy management. With features ranging from advanced learning algorithms to geofencing and air quality monitoring, smart thermostats offer a comprehensive solution for optimizing your heating and cooling systems. However, the plethora of options and technical jargon can make the selection process daunting. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the key features, compatibility requirements, and even the rebates available to make an informed decision.

What to Look for When Buying a Smart Thermostat

According to Energy Star and the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), a smart thermostat must meet specific criteria to earn the “smart” label. Here’s what you should consider:

  • Energy Feedback: Smart thermostats should provide feedback on the energy impact of your settings, guiding you toward energy-efficient choices.

  • HVAC Energy Use Insights: These devices offer valuable data about your HVAC system’s energy use, such as monthly run time, to help you better understand your consumption patterns.

  • Scheduling Flexibility: The ability to set a schedule is crucial for maximizing energy savings, especially if you’re dealing with Time-of-Use (TOU) rates.

  • Utility Program Compatibility: These thermostats should work seamlessly with utility programs to mitigate brownouts and blackouts, while also offering you the option to override these settings.

  • Occupancy Sensing: According to The CEE, a smart thermostat should be capable of reducing HVAC use when the home is unoccupied, thanks to features like sensors or geofencing.

The Smart Thermostat

At its core, a smart thermostat allows you to set schedules that save energy and optimize usage based on TOU rates. It enables participation in Demand Response programs, monitors your HVAC system, and provides helpful hints along with monthly usage reports. Geofencing capabilities, usually via your smartphone, can automatically adjust the thermostat based on your location. These base models are generally priced around $100 or less.

The Smarter Thermostat

If you’re looking for a thermostat that offers more than just the basics, the “smarter” category is where you’ll find additional features that offer enhanced control and convenience. Here’s what sets these thermostats apart:

  • Smart Home Integration: These thermostats can seamlessly integrate with smart home ecosystems like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit, offering effortless control through voice commands.

  • Built-in Sensors and Radar Technology: Built-in sensors detect external temperature and humidity levels and trigger smart alerts, optimizing your HVAC system’s performance. Additionally, built-in radar sensors offer a more accurate and responsive geofencing experience compared to basic models.

  • Additional Sensor Compatibility: Smarter thermostats can work with extra hardware like temperature sensors, occupancy sensors, or even smart sensors that do both. This allows for more precise temperature control in different rooms, enhancing both comfort and energy efficiency.

  • Learning Abilities: These thermostats are designed to learn from your behavior, detecting patterns in your daily routines and automatically adjusting the temperature settings accordingly.

  • Touchscreen Color Display: For those who appreciate aesthetics along with functionality, many smarter thermostats come with a touchscreen color display, offering intuitive menu navigation and enhanced visuals.

These smarter thermostats generally fall within the $120 to $190 price range, offering a balanced mix of advanced features without breaking the bank.

The Smartest Thermostats

For those who seek the ultimate in smart thermostat technology, the “smartest” category offers a range of advanced features that elevate your home’s comfort, energy efficiency, and safety to new heights. Here’s what sets these premium models apart:

  • Advanced Learning Capabilities: These thermostats go beyond basic learning algorithms. They not only adapt to your daily routines but also make predictive adjustments. For instance, they can pre-heat or pre-cool your home before you arrive, ensuring optimal comfort as soon as you walk through the door.

  • Built-in Voice Assistants: Unlike other categories where you may need a separate smart home hub for voice control, the smartest thermostats come with integrated voice assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant. This means you can control your thermostat and other smart home devices using the thermostat’s built-in microphone and speaker.

  • Comprehensive Air Quality and Safety Monitoring: In addition to temperature and humidity sensing, some high-end models offer comprehensive air quality monitoring. These thermostats can measure levels of pollutants like VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), particulate matter, and even carbon monoxide. They can alert you when air quality drops and can trigger your HVAC system or air purifiers to improve it. Additionally, some models incorporate smoke detection features, offering an added layer of safety. In case of a fire, these thermostats can send alerts to your phone and even trigger other smart home safety devices.

These smartest thermostats are generally priced at $200 and above, making them an investment in your home’s long-term comfort and safety. Their advanced features make them the ideal choice for those who are looking for the most comprehensive smart home experience.

Top Brands in the Smart Thermostat Industry

When it comes to smart thermostats, choosing the right brand is crucial for ensuring both quality and reliability. Here are the top brands in the smart thermostat industry:

Google Nest: The OG of smart thermostats, Google Nest has narrowed it down to two main buying options to cover most household needs. Their “smarter” thermostat is known for its intuitive design and user-friendliness, while their “smartest” model comes with advanced features like learning algorithms and voice control. Both are aesthetically pleasing and packed with functionality. Dive deeper with our Google Nest Buying Guide or check out Google Nest options on Amazon.

  • Honeywell Home: A reliable name in the thermostat industry for decades, Honeywell Home offers an extensive, user-friendly line of smart thermostats in the “smarter” category. Known for their user-friendly designs and touchscreen color displays, these thermostats are a solid choice. Honeywell Home on Amazon.

  • Ecobee: Ecobee boasts an interesting range of smart thermostats from “smart” to “smartest,” with a focus on smart sensors. These sensors can be built-in, included in buying packages, or sold separately. This unique approach allows Ecobee to offer more than just heating and cooling solutions. They also provide options for air quality, fire safety, and even home security. For a comprehensive look, check out our Ecobee Buying Guide or look at Ecobee options on Amazon.

State Level Rebates

When considering a smart thermostat, it’s important not to overlook the rebates offered by your utility provider! Many utility providers offer rebates that can cover a significant portion of the cost of a smart thermostat, enhancing the value of your investment. Some states would cover the total cost. For more information, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.


Smart thermostats are not just a trendy gadget; they’re a cornerstone in the modern, energy-efficient home. From basic models that offer straightforward scheduling to advanced units with built-in voice assistants and air quality monitoring, there’s a smart thermostat tailored to your specific needs and lifestyle. For DIY enthusiasts, ease of installation is another factor to consider, ensuring a hassle-free setup. Lastly, don’t forget to check the compatibility with your HVAC system to avoid any technical hiccups.

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