Controlling Your Thermostat from Afar

By Dwight Spivey

A likely place to begin with home automation is with your thermostat. Temperature has long been a bone of contention in most households, as almost any couple can attest. One wants the temp at 85 in the winter and 55 in the summer. The other loves a happy medium of 72 degrees all the time.

One believes the air-conditioning or heating should be cranking at all hours of the day and night, while the other would rather melt or freeze, depending on the season. Today’s smart thermostats will benefit all involved, as you’ll discover.

How setting temps remotely benefits you

“What’s the big deal? Just set your ­thermostat to a reasonable temperature and when you get home all is well.” But what if you can’t stomach the thought of the thermostat running all day when no one’s home. And what about those who don’t have central heat and air?

The smart thermostats and other smart temperature devices on the market today will help ensure that when you need your heating or cooling on, you can take care of it with no problem from wherever you may be — provided you have an Internet connection of some kind. Here are some of the benefits of controlling your home’s temp smartly and remotely.

Saving money

Can you really save money with a smart thermostat? The answer may seem to be an obvious yes, but it actually depends a great deal on how you already control your home’s temp.

If your thermostat is the old manual kind where you slide a switch marked C or one marked H to a certain temperature marking, then the answer is an emphatic “yes!” Smart thermostats don’t require you to frequently bother with them to set your home’s temp, and they’re much more accurate when it comes to actually maintaining the temp you set. The smart thermostat will quickly pay for itself once you begin realizing the savings to your heating and cooling bills.

If you already own a standard programmable thermostat, then the answer may be “maybe.” If you’ve diligently programmed your thermostat to turn on and go off at certain times of the day, and you maintain a reasonable temperature setting in the home when the thermostat is running, then your money savings using a smart thermostat over a programmable one probably won’t be substantial (unless your programmable thermostat is faulty, of course).

However, the capability to turn off your heating and cooling systems remotely could save you money if you aren’t concerned about maintaining a constant temp in the home. For example, if you forgot to turn off the thermostat when you left your home, or if you later decide that you wish you had turned it off for the weekend instead of it running with its current programmed settings, you could easily handle the issue with a few taps on your smartphone. Money saved.

Another advantage of a smart thermostat over a programmable one is that many of the models give you real-time views of your energy usage and provide other monitoring and reporting tools to keep you on top of your energy bills.

Saving time

Remotely controlling your smart thermostat, and simply employing a smart thermostat, will indeed save you time.

Sure, there’s the initial installation and setup, but that’s required of any thermostat. After your smart thermostat is up and running, though, you rarely will have to make changes unless you simply want to. But here’s where the time saving comes in: You don’t have to be in front of your smart thermostat to make those changes.

There’s no need to panic in the airport because you forgot to turn the thermostat off; just do it on your smartphone. No need to waste time calling neighbors or family members so they can adjust your thermostat; just whip out your trusty smartphone and get it done. If your mother is in town visiting, you won’t need to give her instructions on running the thermostat; you’ll be able to keep her warm and toasty from work using your smartphone.

The tech behind the thermostat

Thermostats have long been a staple in most households, but the technology has certainly improved over the decades.

Back in the day, the only thermostat one had at his or her disposal was the “wake up and jerk back the covers test.” Thankfully, over the last century or so people have graduated beyond that to more sophisticated methods. Mechanical thermostats have long used purely mechanical means (hence their name) to determine the temperature of a room:

  • Wax pellets

  • Bulbs filled with gas or air

  • Bulbs filled with mercury

  • Bimetallic strips

Since those devices of Stone Age days, today’s digital thermostats employ much more reliable electronic sensors to detect temperature with far greater accuracy. This increased accuracy can actually save you money in the long run by keeping temps in your home more consistent. These electronic sensors are also used by today’s smart thermostats, which account for their excellent performance.