Are Smart Thermostats ‘worth it’ & Do Smart Thermostats Really Save Money?

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As 2017 begins to gather pace, it is becoming abundantly clear that smart home technology is the must have consumer gadget segment for the year. The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has proven this, and several gadgets have really captured the attention of the CES crowd in 2017 – one is the Amazon Echo and the other is the smart thermostat. Stitch the two gadgets together and you really have the markets attention. However there is one potential elephant in the room – do smart thermostats really save money? we wanted to add a 2017 perspective to this and to produce a smart thermostat ‘state of the nation’ at the beginning of what is clearly a big year for smart home technology.

The smart thermostat space is dominated by three standout thermostats – the Google owned Nest, The British Gas owned Hive and Tado. Some of the most enduringly popular posts here on HTS.com are our comparisons of these products – you ca see our comparison of Nest or Hive here and Nest or Tado here. We have a full review of Nest here, where we examined if Nest is really worth it. This article is more of an examination if smart thermostats are really worth it – and the key consideration for many is whether these smart thermostats really save money or whether they’re an expensive if slightly jazzier version of a bit of kit which you already have in your home.

Why buy a smart thermostat?

There are a number of key considerations;

  1. Their potential prowess in saving money through ‘learning capabilities’ and an ability to more intelligently heat your home
  2. Their ‘green credentials’ – smart thermostats like Nest help you to use less energy without having to sacrifice keeping your home and family warm during the winter months
  3. They can do a better job of heating homes – learning capability alongside their ability to use other data inputs (think additional smart thermometers around the home) to heat your home more evenly. For example, our house has a few ‘cold’ rooms, and they have been a heating challenge in the past. Nest helps to overcome this by evenly heating the rooms.
  4. Cool/chic factor – these thermostats have a design emphasis, and clearly they represent a visual upgrade on the plain old plastic thermostats of years gone by
  5. Linking the smart home – a gadget like Hive can add proportionally higher value out of other smart home gadgets like the Amazon Echo. Buying a Hive or Nest can enhance the value of the speech based virtual assistants out there. Suddenly when you’re sat watching the TV you can just shout to your Echo to turn the heating up two degrees – which is both amazingly lazy but also very useful

However really a lot of people want their smart thermostat to save them money – hence why the purpose of this article is to ascertain if smart thermostats really do save you money.

How much do smart thermostats cost?

Before considering their ability to save you money, we need to factor the investment by considering what they cost to buy and to install. Nest and Hive, the two most popular smart heating solutions on the market both come in at close to the £200 mark. However the Hive solution works out slightly cheaper because that cost includes a professional installation.

Now you could install the Nest yourself, and certainly if you have some expertise and a willingness to save some money, then that could work. However professional installation is recommended, so all in you’re probably looking at nearer £300 cost to get the Nest up and running.

Do smart thermostats really save you money?

Lets get down to the real nitty gritty of it and examine some ways that smart thermostats can save you money

Smart thermostats can save you money by overcoming heating mistakes

Have you ever run out of the house in a rush and left the heating on? Or have you ever set a timer on your heating expecting to be home and then get delayed at work, meaning you were left heating your home for 2 hours with nobody at home? These are some simple examples of how an app-controlled smart heating solution can help you to overcome a heating mistake. Clearly this will help you to save money, but its impact may be quite nominal unless you are prolific at leaving the heating running or have a very predictable lifestyle.

Learning smart thermostats can predict usage and save you money

There is some debate as to whether this feature helps you to save money or if its more of a convenience factor/benefit. On balance i’d lean towards the latter, but if a smart thermostat is able to combine learned usage with more efficient heating of the home, then it could pivot to a money saver. The potential downside is if the learning ends up running the heating when you’re not at home – but this is typically overcome by the way that these smart thermostats can understand when you’re at home or not depending on whether your smartphone is connected to your home wifi or not. The other advantage of their ability to ‘learn’ is that they can heat the home more gradually, which saves reactionary ‘blasting’ of the heating to quickly heat the home. Finally they also understand the temperature ranges that you like your home to sit in, so therefore they can avoid over-heating your home.

Note though that not all smart thermostats have this feature. Nest and Tado do, but Hive for example have been outspoken over the data that Google/Nest and Tado are collecting to offer this service and warning that we may want to be careful letting technology companies collect such data. The caveat is of course that it is hard to prove or disprove exactly how much data British Gas collect with Hive, and as such they may be collecting the same data but you see no benefit to it? your call.

How much money will i really save by installing a smart thermostat?

We understand your desire to come to a ROI calculation but there are a lot of factors at play. Tado offer a percentage indicator – suggesting you can expect to save around 27% on your heating bill. Scottish Power talk about a £300 saving over a year, but that figure is inflated because that is based on spending £200 per month on your energy – which is an inflated figure for those of us who do not own mansions with swimming pools. Therefore the below factors, amongst others, all play a role;

  • How often are you at home? if you work from home and are there 7 days a week, then you will likely stand to save more money just because you likely spend more
  • The bigger your heating bill, the more you stand to save. If your bill is £30 a month, then there likely are only some minute savings to be had
  • How hot do you like to keep your home? I’m a cold blooded person who constantly wants the heating on. My partner grew up in a cold part of north America and is virtually immune to the cold (her parents barely used heating and told the kids to wear more clothes in the winter). So part of this equation is your heating preferences
  • How well insulated is your home, are the windows drafty, how high up is your house in the building – all of these are factors to consider when thinking about how much energy you already use. Could you save money by plugging drafty spots and adding insulation?

So when it comes to it, it is pretty hard to say how much you will save – however you will save money if you do the below

Do smart thermostats really save you money?

Yes you do and here is how;

  • You heat your home more intelligently and more evenly – with less energy bursts
  • You never leave the heating on and heat an empty home again
  • Your heating shuts off when it reaches your optimum temperature – so you don’t waste energy over heating and then have to quickly shut the heating off to let the house cool ASAP

However – all of this is offset against a fairly expensive purchase cost – so i’m not sure that in 2017 a smart thermostat will be a ROI positive purchase when analysed purely against how much it will save. In conclusion, i think you need to see a wider benefit to it, such as its green credentials or its ‘cool factor’.

Let us know your experiences in the comments below!

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Michael Homestead is passionate about all things 'smart tech'. He built a previous Digital business around wearable technology (acquired) and has now started HomeTechStar to cover all things 'smarthome', an area that he believes will become fundamentally disruptive through 2016 and beyond.

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