Unless you live in a particularly warm part of the world, heating your home is absolutely essential. From the day the first leaves start to fall in autumn all the way through to the early days of spring, you’ll need to use your central heating (along with the help of a cosy jumper) to stay warm. If it gets particularly chilly, you may be tempted to keep your radiators on around the clock - but one look at your next energy bill will soon turn you off that idea! Not only is gas heating expensive, but it’s one of the biggest contributors to the average person’s carbon footprint. So it makes sense that you’d want to squeeze the most out of every kilojoule generated by your boiler.
Getting the balance right between too much and too little heating is a big challenge, but there’s a series of gadgets that can help you walk the tightrope: smart thermostats! In recent years, smart home systems have gone from being a luxury enjoyed by the rich and famous to accessible for all, no matter the budget. As a relatively new technology, you may feel lost while searching for the right smart products for you. Luckily for you, we’ve put together this handy guide to make your shopping experience easier! Once we’ve got you up to speed with how these nifty gadgets work, we’ll suggest a few of our favourite smart thermostats to help narrow down your decision. A warmer, more efficient home is only a few clicks away!
How do smart thermostats work?
Just like regular thermostats, smart thermostats control how hot your home gets when you switch your radiators on. In fact, the basic inner workings of a smart thermostat are pretty similar to that of an old-fashioned one. Enter the temperature you want your home to be on the thermostat’s dial, then turn your boiler on. A digital thermostat inside the thermostat will automatically switch your boiler on and off over time to maintain the temperature you’ve set. So what exactly makes smart thermostats any different from their traditional counterparts?
What sets smart thermostats aside from the rest is the extra features that come with the circuitry embedded behind its shell. Smart thermostats are controlled via a companion app that you can install on your smartphone or tablet. Each manufacturer develops their own apps but the basic functionality is the same across each of them.
With these apps, you can switch on your thermostat from anywhere (as long as you have an internet connection). This feature is perfect if you work away from home. Activate your smart thermostat when you’re leaving work and, by the time you walk in through the front door, your home will be exactly the right temperature. These remote apps are also useful for deactivating your boiler remotely if you forgot to switch it off before you left your home for a holiday or a business trip. You can be on the other side of the world and your smart thermostat will still respond to your commands in an instant!
Another key advantage of smart thermostats is that, by making it easier to switch your heating on and off, you’ll cut down on wasted energy when you don’t need to heat your home. This electronic efficiency can save you a considerable amount of money on your heating bills over the lifetime of the device. Set it up properly and not only will your smart thermostat pay for itself, but you’ll get money back that you would otherwise lose and still have access to all the other smart features. Impressive or what?
Can you install a smart thermostat yourself?
Some smart home devices are entirely wireless and need minimal set up to work correctly - smart thermostats are not among them, as they need to be hardwired into your central heating system. In theory, you could install a smart thermostat yourself, but you’ll need basic electrical knowledge and a formidable understanding of your central heating system at the very least, not to mention the equipment used to install it.
The consequences of an improperly installed smart thermostat can be quite severe. If installed incorrectly, you could damage your new smart thermostat or even your boiler. Plus, because you’re working with live electrical elements, there’s always the possibility of giving yourself a nasty electric shock. Because of these risks, we recommend that no matter which smart thermostat you end up buying, you get a licenced heating engineer to install it for you. Some of the biggest brands in this buyer’s guide, like Google, will send out their own engineers to install one of their thermostats, even if you already own one.
Smart thermostats and smart homes
A smart thermostat is one part of a series of smart devices linked up together in your home. Fittingly, these devices are called smart home products. You can use smart thermostats on their own, but to get access to all of their features and make the most out of them, you should invest in other smart home products. For instance, almost all smart thermostats allow you to change settings or switch on your heating using voice commands, but they need to be connected to a smart speaker (such as the Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Nest) for this feature to work.
If you’re keen to go smart but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered! To save you all the hard work of researching yourself, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to making your home a smart home. Check it out to see all the must-have smart systems on the market today and discover all the benefits these can have to your home, life and bank balance!
Our top five smart thermostats
Because smart thermostats are such a versatile smart home gadget, there are many reasons why you might want one. With this in mind, we’ve focused our list of the top thermostats around which ones are best for certain applications. Whether you’re trying to tweak your home’s energy usage with smart AI technology or want a smart thermostat for a rented flat, keep reading and you’re sure to find the right one for you!
Pros: Automatic adjustments, good opportunity for efficiency
Cons: Expensive, no expansions
Google Nest is the new name for Google Home, the mighty search engine’s in-house developed smart home gadgets. With decades of analysing and optimising data trends, you can count on Google to create a smart thermostat that’s even more quick-witted than its competitors. It’s called the Nest Thermostat, and it can entirely automate your heating!
The big selling point of this Nest smart thermostat is its adaptive algorithm. All of the smart thermostats in this guide have schedule settings that will automatically turn the boiler on or off according to your command. Where the Nest differs is that it will learn from this schedule.
It makes a note of every time it gets turned on or off and when you change the target temperature. By crunching those numbers, your smart thermostat will map out when you use your heating the most, when you turn it off and when you need to tweak the dial. It then takes that data and automatically adjusts its profile to fine-tune your schedule. Even better, the True Radiant feature allows the Nest smart thermostat to learn how your particular home heats up and tweak your settings even more. If you ever find that the Nest’s machine-learned thermostat throws up some odd results, you can switch off the automatic adjustments and go right back to the schedule you created.
This AI-powered smart adjusting makes the Nest Thermostat the best bet for people looking to create a truly efficient home heating system. The price is somewhat steep though, so you’ll have to wait a while to break even on your investment. So long as you’re patient, this doesn’t present too much of a problem, but what’s less forgivable is the lack of expansion options that the Google Nest allows for. There’s one additional sensor that you can buy separately, which will help those smart Google algorithms do their job but, unlike other smart thermostats we’ve listed, there’s no option for zone control further down the line.
Pros: Powerful geofencing system, easily expandable
Cons: No built-in wireless, expensive expansions
We’ve already mentioned how you can set smart thermostats to start heating your home as you return to work. This smart thermostat from German company Tado takes that idea and improves it with ‘geofencing’ technology. Give the Tado app access to your smartphone’s location data and the Tado will turn on your boiler once it detects that you’re within a preset radius of your house. A sliding scale within the app allows you to adjust how large this radius is or turn off the geofencing service entirely. This option is important, as the default setting is a pretty large circle, and the Tado Smart Thermostat can be confused if you spend a lot of time near to, but not inside, your house.
Another advantage that comes with this Tado smart thermostat is its compatibility. Tado devices are compatible with all of the major smart home control systems: Amazon Alexa, Google Nest and Apple’s HomeKit.
Where the Tado system really comes into its own is through its expandable extras. You can read more about the Smart Radiator Kits that Tado sells later on in our guide, and these can be combined with additional sensors to create a complex and highly efficient zoning system for your home - every room in your house can be a different temperature! There are downsides to this level of temperature fidelity. The expansion sensors add extra cost to an already considerable sum for the main unit, and you have to be quite confident with smart home technology to use this complex system properly.
An additional weakness compared to the other smart thermostats on this list is the lack of a proper Wi-Fi antenna built into the body of the Tado Smart Thermostat, which comes with a separate wireless ‘bridge’ instead. This bridge pairs with the thermostat and then connects to your mobile device. It’s not a major shortcoming, but it does mean that you’ll need to sacrifice a port on your router to use it.
Pro: Extremely low price, easy to read display panel
Con: Limited functions, unreliable app
Up next is our pick for the best budget smart thermostat, the Slowmoose Smart Life Thermostat. The most attractive feature of the Smart Life Thermostat is its ultra-low price tag. Whereas the other gadgets featured in this buyer’s guide all cost somewhere in the three-figure mark, this offering from Slowmoose is much less expensive.
Of course, as with any product that’s dramatically cheaper than its competitors, you sacrifice a lot of functionality to keep that price low. The Smart Life Thermostat allows you to set the temperature of your home and turn your boiler off and on remotely, but the features that give you more granular control over your home are completely absent. What you do get is a very clear, easy-to-read display panel that displays both the current ambient temperature and the temperature you’ve set for the thermostat, as well as bonus information like the local time as well.
Another issue that makes this smart thermostat less attractive is that it uses the Tuya Smart app rather than one designed specifically for the smart thermostat. Tuya is a Chinese company that provides app support for dozens of smart home devices around the world. When the Tuya Smart app works, it’s clean and easy to use, but it has some reliability issues. Sometimes it freezes up and other times it fails to send commands to connected devices. With all that said, you’ll struggle to find smart thermostats at a better price than this.
Pros: Includes geofencing, easy to set up
Cons: Limited settings, geofencing can be deactivated accidentally.
Honeywell is an American company that has been in business since 1906, earning a strong reputation for their great heating machines and thermostats. Despite being an old name, Honeywell is definitely not old-fashioned, and it’s only natural that they would come out with a smart thermostat at some point.
This Honeywell smart thermostat is attractive because it’s so easy to set up and use. Once installed by a qualified technician, it will only take a few minutes to configure the device to your liking. Like the Tado Smart Thermostat, the Lyric T6 has a geofencing function which you can adjust yourself. Once you’ve selected the geofencing radius, you’ll get to switch between three modes: home, away and sleep. This means you can set up temperature profiles for different times of the day, and then never touch the panel again if you like. You can also set up a more rigorous seven day schedule if you desire.
This can be both an advantage and a drawback. If you want a smart thermostat that requires very little babysitting or technical wizardry, this pared-down approach is perfect. But if you want the maximum possible control over how your smart thermostat operates, you might well be disappointed. It’s also worth noting that enabling schedule mode deactivates the geofencing function, which isn’t the end of the world, but a tad frustrating.
While not as advanced as some of the other smart thermostats on this list, the Lyric T6 is a cheaper option for those on a tighter budget. This, combined with its ‘set and forget’ nature, certainly earns this Honeywell smart thermostat a place in this buyer’s guide.
Pros: Can be installed yourself, suitable for rented accommodation
Cons: Wi-Fi not built in (and weak signal), no boiler control
At the beginning of our buyer’s guide, we recommended getting a professional to install your smart thermostat as they’re too fiddly and dangerous to be installed by the inexperienced - well, the Tado Smart Radiator Thermostat Kit is the exception to the rule.
This Tado smart thermostat kit is unique in the products among this list because it doesn’t contain a full thermostat. Instead, it contains a pair of tiny thermostats that replace the knobs on standard radiators, giving you complete control over how hot they get. We’ve already mentioned them in the context of expansions to the main Tado Smart Thermostat, but the radiator thermostats can be used independently, and this starter kit includes a wireless bridge to get you started.
All you have to do to install them is unscrew the control knob of your radiator so only the connector is showing and screw on the mini thermostat. It’s super easy and there are no live electric wires to give you a nasty shock. A series of connectors is provided in every starter kit, so you can be sure these tado smart thermostats will fit properly.
Because the installation is so discreet, you can enjoy some of the benefits of a smart thermostat in rented accommodation - just be sure to check your contract first! It’s especially handy if you’re sharing a house with other tenants. There’ll be no fighting over central heating, you can have your room as hot or cold as you like!
This starter kit has a big disadvantage though, which is that you have no boiler control with this thermostat. You’ll still be able control the temperature remotely through the Tado app, but it will only affect specific radiators. This makes it harder to save energy and money, so if that’s your main reason for buying a smart thermostat, it might be best to skip this starter kit. It also shares the main Tado Smart Thermostat weakness of a lack of built-in Wi-Fi. There are also two versions of the Tado Smart Radiator Thermostat Kit, one that’s meant for vertical radiator knobs and another for horizontal ones, so make sure you check which radiators you have before buying.
The Cool Down Period
That sums up all of our favourite smart thermostats on the market today. If you haven’t quite found what you’re looking for among this list, don’t fret: we have a huge variety of smart thermostats just waiting to be discovered! Take a peek to find one that’s right for you.
As we’ve already said, a smart thermostat is just one part of creating the ideal smart home. The LED bulbs found among our smart lighting selection can be dimmed to set a subtle mood or brighten your rooms with dozens of colours, while a smart security camera can alert you to unexpected visitors when you’re not around. With so many smart home systems to discover, you can kit out your entire home with the latest tech in no time at all. Smart by name and by nature, it’s a no-brainer!
Please note: The information in this buyer’s guide is correct at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.