At their core, smart thermostats can learn about when you’re coming and going and adjust the temperature automatically. Over time, however, smart thermostats have leveraged their intelligence to do some interesting things well beyond that basic mission. Let’s dig into some of the more obscure features we’re seeing in the latest smart thermostats. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something you didn’t know your own smart thermostat could do.
If your thermostat is exposed to sunlight, it can skew the ambient temperature reading. The little spot the thermostat inhabits could be a fair bit warmer than the rest of the home. This means either heating could be prevented from turning on automatically, cooling will be prematurely activated, or the overall data on your home’s heating and cooling status will be inaccurate.
Some manufacturers, like Nest, have built in a feature that counteracts this artificial spike in temperature reading. Since many smart thermostats have light sensors to automatically adjust the display brightness, they can also be used to see if there’s an overlap between when brightness increases and when an abnormal spike in temperature is read. Once it figures out how much the temperature increases in that span of time, it can automatically reduce the reading to get something more accurate for the rest of the house.
It’s considered a baseline feature to be able to use your phone or smart speaker to control your smart thermostat. This way you can say, “Hey Google, turn up the heat in the living room” or “Alexa, turn off the air conditioning”.
The newest smart thermostats have speakers and microphones installed right in them so that the thermostat becomes a smart speaker in and of itself. This opens up a whole bunch of possibilities. One of them is the ability to issue voice commands directly to your smart thermostat. Ecobee’s fifth-generation smart thermostat has exactly this feature. It started with the ability to take Alexa commands, and then added Siri support later on. It’s a welcome mash-up of smart home features, since they fit so sensibly together.
Of course, smart speakers aren’t just useful for taking commands. Thanks to their connection to your home’s Wi-Fi network, you can stream music from Spotify and other streaming services through some smart thermostats as well. The utility of this will vary by the size of the room and the quality of the speaker. In a best-case scenario, a thermostat with a built-in speaker avoids the purchase of an entirely separate smart speaker.
Companies that are making smart thermostats have branched out into other connected home devices as well. A popular category here is smart cameras. Since smart thermostats lean heavily on presence detection, having a few more data points to work with is certainly helpful. As a baseline, smart thermostats tend to use a mobile app and a motion detector on the thermostat to figure out if anyone’s home, but a smart camera can pick up anyone else who falls between those cracks. Once a smart camera detects someone is home, it can inform the thermostat and kick in heating or cooling as needed.
Heating and cooling is a huge part of a home’s energy costs. By automating adjustments so it’s only active when folks are home, a smart thermostat can save you a few bucks on your monthly bill. If you want to get into the gritty details, smart thermostats often have the ability to generate a full report on energy usage. This lets you break down what’s happening every hour of the day and figure out where your biggest heating and cooling expenses are coming from.
Some of the biggest convenience of a smart thermostat is its ability to sync with your activity, so for example, the house is comfortable and warm by the time you get home from work, rather than just starting to warm up. By pairing your smart thermostat with a fitness tracker, it’s easier to ensure your home is comfortable when you wake up. Fitness trackers keep close tabs on your sleep schedule, which can not only build an accurate model for your usual wake times, but also predict outliers. That way your smart thermostat can stay dormant while you’re sleeping off a late Friday night.
If you forget to arm your security system, your smart thermostat can do it for you. Since it already knows when you’re away from home, some smart thermostats — like the Nest — can automatically arm your Nest Cam and Nest Protect thanks to its easy integration. In this way, your smart thermostat can protect more than just your energy bill.
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