What Makes a Thermostat “Smart”?

You may have heard the big news recently about Google acquiring smart thermostat manufacturer, Nest Labs, for $3.2 billion. But why would tech giant Google be willing to pay so much money for thermostats?

First off, if you’re unfamiliar with the term “smart thermostat,” you’re not alone. In the most general sense, “smart thermostat” refers to thermostats that can connect to the Internet via a Wi-Fi connection. Once connected, consumers can control their thermostats remotely through a mobile app or on the Internet. Did you forget to turn the heat down before you left the house today? Not a problem—there’s an app for that! Maybe you’re spending a summer weekend in the mountains, but forgot to turn off the air conditioner. Again, don’t worry—just turn it off using your phone!

But that’s not all, many smart thermostats can be programmed by asking simple questions about your schedule during installation, then they raise and lower the heat/cooling to match your schedule. They are much easier to program than past customizable thermostats, or in the case of Nest’s thermostat, it can actually learn your schedule and tailor a program based on how you use it.

Smart thermostats also offer a variety of features that can help owners use less energy such as:

  • Reminders to change air filters
  • Pop-up icons to alert owners when temperature changes they made are saving them energy
  • Alerts that detect when an air conditioner’s efficiency is declining and likely needs maintenance
  • Reports that show customers their heating and cooling energy usage month-over-month

All of these features empower customers to make smart decisions about their energy usage, which can save them money while also adding to their overall convenience and comfort.

Nest has earned much of the attention of the smart thermostat market, especially since the Google announcement, but it’s not the only company offering smarter thermostats: ecobee, Ecofactor, EnergyHub, and Honeywell all offer devices with similar feature sets. Let’s face it though—thermostats don’t drum up the same interest and enthusiasm as the latest smart phone or gaming console. But perhaps they should, and Google is betting that they will in the not-so-distant future.

Article by Lee Hamilton, appearing courtesy Xcel Energy Blog.

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