Introduction to Smart Thermostats

A thermostat connected to the internet and Wi-Fi can save money

Woman Operating Thermostat Using Smartphone

 AndreyPopov / Getty Images

Having a computer network installed at your home or business lets you do you much more than simply surf the web. Smart thermostats (also known as internet thermostats), for example, can both save you money and help the environment by allowing you to remotely control the building's heating and air conditioning systems or even respond automatically to changes in the environment.

What Is A Smart Thermostat?

A thermostat is simply a small device that contains sensors and is used to regulate temperature. You probably have one that controls the heating or air conditioning system in your home or business. Thermostats also are installed in motorized vehicles and vending machines to protect parts from overheating.

smart thermostat on wall
Smart thermostats hang on the wall just like other thermostats do.  Nest

A smart thermostat is a programmable building thermostat capable of connecting to an Internet protocol (IP) network. Through an IP connection, you can remotely send instructions to an Internet thermostat to turn it on or off or change its programming. These thermostats now often work with virtual assistants such as Alexa or Siri to include voice control capabilities.

Some smart thermostats even include artificial intelligence which allows the device to learn. So, for example, when you come home from work at the same time every day, it will learn to adjust the temperature ahead of time in anticipation of your return. That's the smart part of the smart thermostat.

How Smart Thermostats Work

Internet-controlled thermostats are a type of home automation device. Home automation systems increase the efficiency of managing various home electronics. For example, using a home automation system lets you configure lights in a room to switch on automatically whenever a person enters, or set the home oven and coffee maker to run at certain times of day based on your meal schedule.

Smart thermostats that connect to virtual assistants and support a network connection add another level of convenience and flexibility beyond basic thermostat programming. Instead of needing to be physically present at the keypad, you can interface to the thermostat using a Web browser to override the thermostat's default programs as needed. These devices contain a built-in Web server that can be configured with a public IP address enabling it to be reached from remote locations.

App showing thermostat information - screenshot
The Alexa app showing the thermostat setting.  Lifewire

Once the thermostat is installed, it is controlled using the manufacturer's app for Android or iOS devices.

Smart Thermostats vs. Programmable Thermostats

Simple programmable thermostats offer similar conveniences as other types of home automation devices do but, since they typically are not connected to the internet or Wi-Fi, they don't work with virtual assistants. Based on the time of day, for instance, you can pre-set these devices to maintain certain temperatures while the house is occupied and other (more extreme) temperatures when unoccupied to save energy. Most modern thermostats support this level of programming through a keypad on the front of the unit with no network interface required.

Reasons to Use A Smart Thermostat

Aside from the obvious benefits of programming a thermostat to save energy and money, situations where a smart thermostat is ​the most useful include:

  • Shutting off a building's air conditioning system if you forgot to do so before leaving it.
  • Telling the thermostat to postpone cooling (or heating) your home because you need to work late.
  • Monitoring a building's temperature in case the air conditioner fails or another occupant changes the programming.
  • Adjusting the programming from your computer as a "remote control" rather than walking over to the device in another room.

Smart thermostats are fairly easy to install. If you do it yourself, be sure to turn off proper electricity feeds and follow standard electrical safety procedures.

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