The 6 Best Smart Thermostats to Conserve Energy and Save Money

Photo credit: Staff
Photo credit: Staff

From Popular Mechanics

If you’re a thrifty homeowner, you probably wait until it gets really hot to turn on your central air—and super cold before your switch on the heat. But there are better ways to conserve energy and save money on your electricity bill in the summer and winter. A smart thermostat is the most convenient way to control your home’s temperature remotely and ensure the air or heat isn’t blasting when you’re not even home to feel it. After all, according to Energy Star, 42 percent of the average annual electric bill in the U.S. is dedicated just to heating and cooling. With a smart thermostat, you could potentially save hundreds by scaling back your AC without sweating this summer.

Check out the quick reviews below of our top five thermostats, or scroll deeper for more helpful buying info and full reviews of those models plus other high-ranking options.

What’s the Ideal Home Temperature?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what temperature you should set your thermostat to in the summer or winter. Direct Energy suggests that you can save money and stay comfortable in the winter by keeping your home between 68 to 72 degrees, while summer settings may be better between 73 to 78 degrees.

However, you can save even more by using a programmable thermostat that adjusts temperature when you’re out of the house or sleeping. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save up to 10 percent on heating and cooling just by turning your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees higher or lower for 8 hours a day from your preferred normal setting. If you’re still working from home for most of the day, even just a one-degree reduction in temperature overnight can reduce your energy bill by one percent.

Types of Thermostats to Consider

While smart thermostats may cost the most initially, their remote and smart capabilities will allow you to save the most energy and money in the long run. All of these smart thermostats can be installed in your home easily if you have a common “C” wire, but may require professional installation if you aren’t confident in basic electrical wiring. Because they use Wi-Fi, you may also want to ensure it’s close to your router, or get a Wi-Fi range extender to improve connection.

While we recommend a smart thermostat, here are the differences between all of the different types of thermostats you’ll likely encounter if you’re looking to upgrade yours.

How We Selected and Rated Them

We researched 10 expert sources, 66,000 consumer reviews, and even tested a couple options ourselves to select the top six smart thermostats. To determine the Total Expert Score, we calculate the ratings from trusted publications such as CNET, Tech Radar, Digital Trends, and PC Mag, and convert them to a 100-point scale to make it easier for you to weigh the best options. Our Consumer Score represents the percentage of consumers who rated the product at least 4 out of 5 stars on retail and review sites like Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Best Buy.


Ecobee Smart Thermostat with Voice Control

Total Expert Score: 85/100 | Consumer Score: 86% give it 4 stars or higher
The fifth-generation Ecobee can be controlled through Alexa, but also integrates with other smart home systems.

We’ve been testing the latest smart thermostat from Ecobee for five months and it continues to impress. The good feelings started during installation when we called customer service at 10 p.m. on a Friday and got a simple answer to a wiring question in seconds. Once running, the thermostat was easy and intuitive to control from the app. It works with optional standalone sensors (one is included; additional units cost $79 for two) that monitor temperature and household activity to adjust temps in the spaces you’re actually using
. The free Eco+ software unlocks potential for even more savings by adjusting your thermostat’s schedule and settings based on the electricity rates in your area.

Like other smart thermostats, you can program temperatures, and the system learns your habits to improve efficiency. Over our test, we’ve seen electric and gas bills drop about 10 to 15 percent compared to a standard thermostat. This new model gets a sleek glass finish, which adds a little style to the unit and the sensors have a longer battery life than previous ones. The unit also supports 5GHz Wi-Fi in addition to 2.4GHz, which makes it a good choice for anyone with dual-band routers.

The fifth-generation Ecobee also comes with voice controls with built-in Amazon Alexa, and will play music directly from its new, louder speaker. Fortunately, Ecobee doesn’t lock you into the Amazon ecosystem, since the thermostat is also compatible with Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and other smart home systems.


Google Nest Learning Thermostat

Total Expert Score: 83/100 | Consumer Score: 94% give it 4 stars or higher
This smart thermostat by Google’s Nest will learn your schedule and adjust temps accordingly.

Like the Ecobee, Google’s Nest is able to learn your habits to reduce energy use while keeping your home comfortable. Though the Nest doesn’t include remote sensors like the Ecobee, there’s still a lot we like about this unit. Its auto scheduling is intuitive to set up, the dial design is pleasing to use, and installation is easy as long as you have a common (or “C”) wire. Even without additional motion sensors, the Nest will know when you’re home thanks to its geofencing feature that detects your smartphone. If you have issues with certain rooms in your home not maintaining the right temperature, you can purchase a Nest Temperature Sensor separately for $39, which can be placed up to 50 feet away from the main thermostat to help make sure that room is the exact temperature you want it to be.

It’s a tight competition between Ecobee and Nest since they’re listed at similar price points and the Nest Learning is just as simple to use with a great design. Like the latest Ecobee, the Nest has some premium features like Bluetooth support and dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity. It also includes a feature called “Farsight” that displays the time, temperature, or weather so you can read it even across the room. Plus, this model comes in a variety of finishes, so you can match it to your home’s style. While the Google Nest is also compatible with Alexa and other smart home systems, it may be a better choice for those who use other Google Home devices, since everything can then be controlled all under the same app. Otherwise, the external sensors and voice control give the Ecobee a very slight edge over this one.


Ecobee3 Lite Smart Thermostat

Total Expert Score: 80/100 | Consumer Score: 93% give it 4 stars or higher
The Ecobee3 Lite is a more affordable, basic version of the latest Ecobee with the same versatile connectivity.

Though the Ecobee3 Lite doesn’t have an Alexa speaker built in, it’s designed to be just as versatile in terms of connectivity, working well with any other smart home setup. Despite its plentitude of connectivity options, however, the Ecobee3 just isn’t as “smart” as some other thermostats. You can certainly purchase Ecobee’s room sensors separately to use with it, but it doesn’t have any sensors included.

Unlike the most advanced Ecobee and Google Learning thermostat, the Ecobee3 Lite doesn’t have the smart tech that learns your schedule and adapts temperatures accordingly, so it mostly functions as a standard 7-day programmable thermostat—just with more smart home connectivity options to control it remotely. Like the higher-priced Ecobee, however, this basic version is still easy to install, comes with the same Eco+ software, as well as a similar design with its responsive 3.5-inch color touchscreen.


Google Nest Thermostat E

Total Expert Score: 77/100 | Consumer Score: 96% give it 4 stars or higher
Get most of the smart features of the Nest Learning for a fraction of the cost.

Nest’s Thermostat E is essentially a more basic version of the Learning model, which maintains the auto-schedule and home/away modes but gets rid of other components for a much cheaper price. For instance, the design is plastic instead of metal with only one white color option, and the display is slightly smaller with a lower resolution and no Farsight feature. It’s still compatible with Google’s Thermostat Sensors, and you can integrate it with an existing Google Home or Alexa smart home system.

On Amazon, one buyer summed up, “This has all the features of the more expensive model, with the exception of the fact that it doesn’t give you the time, outdoor temperature, or weather forecast. For me, those are not critical things I need my thermostat to do.” Basically, you’ll get all of the practical features to lower your energy bill that come with the Nest Learning, without the luxury add-ons that raise the price tag.


Honeywell Lyric T5+

Total Expert Score: 71/100 | Consumer Score: 74% give it 4 stars or higher
This affordable thermostat with geofencing is great for smart home beginners on a budget.

The Honeywell Lyric T5+ compares to the Nest Thermostat E with its basic smart features—though it’s even less expensive. While it has seven-day scheduling like most other cheap smart thermostats, it can also adjust your home’s temperatures based on whether you’re home or away through geofencing, a feature usually reserved for more expensive units. One Amazon user even said that the geofencing feature worked better for their household than Nest’s Learning schedule because they didn’t keep a regular schedule. The Lyric T5+ also sends your smartphone notifications to remind you to change air filters or warn you about extreme indoor temps.

Reviewers also described that installation was easy if you already have a C-wire, and it works with a variety of heating and cooling systems, though not humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and ventilators. Its design and display isn’t as attractive as the Ecobee or Nest’s, but it’s not an eyesore either. For those who don’t have complex heating and cooling needs, it’s got the best smart features on a budget.


Emerson Sensi

Total Expert Score: 77/100 | Consumer Score: 86% give it 4 stars or higher
This practical smart thermostat works just as well as other budget models, but doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

Like the Honeywell Lyric T5+, Emerson’s Sensi smart thermostat includes similar features like seven-day scheduling and geofencing to automatically adjust your temperatures. It’ll integrate with all of the most common smart home systems like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit. The large touchscreen works well, though it looks slightly outdated compared to the Nest and Ecobee’s budget models. The geofencing and other practical features don’t function significantly better than the Honeywell and other options under $200. So while
you’ll probably be pleased with how the Sensi works, it doesn’t necessarily stand out as better than other budget smart thermostats.

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