WiFi thermostats are the future as smart-home technology and automation evolves. The WiFi thermostat models available now are the second or third generation from most manufacturers. Also, the control and convenience they offer along with easy setup and intuitive learning technology in some are very impressive.
If you're just browsing this post and aren't familiar with the basics of a WiFi thermostat, this introduction will be of help.
With dozens of quality models available, which WiFi thermostat is right for you? These five tips focus on functionality with some information about brands. Moreover, they’ll help you select a unit that will control your system to suit your lifestyle.
Sticking to your budget will keep you from being lured into a higher price range for features that might be interesting or convenient but not essential. Most full-function WiFi thermostat models without a touchscreen or forecast cost $135 to $250. This includes popular thermostats like Nest (+/-$225) and ecobee ($170-$250).
If your budget has range to it, then decide if you want to pay extra for touchscreen ease and functionality.
Most WiFi thermostat models work with the 95 percent of HVAC systems that use low voltage, or 24 volts. If you have one of the few 110V systems still in use, indicated by wiring nut connections or the back of the thermostat stamped “110V,” then the system isn’t compatible with a WiFi thermostat.
If you have concerns about compatibility, there are two ways to check it:
A WiFi thermostat needs continuous power to remain connected, which is not the case with other thermostats. A wire known as a common wire or C-wire must be installed. Look at the “C” connection in or on the back of your thermostat to determine the presence of a common wire. If you don’t have one, there are four options:
In our opinion, the cleanest, most future-proof method is to run new 5-conductor wiring. An HVAC technician or electrician can install it or just a common wire for $100 to $200. The price depends on how accessible the current wiring is and the distance it will travel. The Venstar product makes sense when running new wire isn’t cost-effective. However, an electrician or tech will need about 30 minutes to install it for a minimum service fee of $75 or more.
Note: The Nest is one WiFi thermostat that doesn’t require a C-wire. However, its WiFi connectivity will be intermittent without one. Consequently, that will cause problems when attempting to control it remotely.
Most programmable WiFi thermostats have one of three scheduling functions:
Others, like the Carrier Côr and Nest use functional descriptions and motion sensors to control temperature. In the case of the Côr, you program Away, Home, Wake, Sleep and Vacation. You set the temperature you want for each function, and the thermostat uses sensors to determine, for example, whether you are home or away and for how long you’re away, at some point switching to Vacation mode if no motion is sensed.
Less important than the schedule is that you use programming. The US Department of Energy suggests that a programmable thermostat will reduce energy use and cost by 10 percent, but only when it is used. In 2009, the government Energy Star program stopped certifying programmable thermostats. They did this not because they don’t save energy but because most were so difficult to program that many people gave up. So they began using them like non-programmable models and losing the potential benefit.
The WiFi thermostat models with top ratings for easy setup and programming include:
If you have another WiFi thermostat in mind and want reviews that include ease of setup, see what buyers are saying about it at online retail sites.
The number of WiFi thermostat models that work directly with Alexa continues to grow. Here are the most popular Alexa-compatible WiFi thermostats at this writing:
Many other WiFi thermostat models work with Alexa, Apple HomeKit and/or with a home automation system through hubs. Some of them are Samsung SmartThings, Insteon, Wink Hub 2, Iris Smart Hub, Logitech Harmony Elite and Smart Home. Check the website of the automation equipment manufacturer or the thermostat manufacturer to ensure compatibility and find instructions on setting up the WiFi thermostat on the system.
While the ease of use for WiFi thermostats has improved, there is still a learning curve. After you purchase your WiFi thermostat, download the app and read the enclosed literature. Watch demo videos on the manufacturer’s site. Most WiFi thermostats aren’t difficult to use; they’re just unfamiliar and new. You’ll soon master the thermostat, the app and any home automation applications it integrates with.
Other readers would enjoy hearing your experience with a WiFi thermostat, if you’d come back to share what you bought and your opinion of it. And please pass along this information to your followers and friends. They might be looking for tips on how to buy the right WiFi thermostat too.