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18 Jun 2020

Smart thermostats: 5 things to consider before you buy one

We explore whether buying a smart thermostat is right for your household, plus see the latest results from our lab tests

We've just tested nine smart thermostats in our lab, including models from Google Nest, Hive and Honeywell, revealing two new Best Buys for 2020.

A good smart thermostat will be simple to install and have great features which allow you to manage your heating effectively. Plus a decent and more advanced model will also learn your routines, helping you to save money on your heating bills.

But before you rush out and buy one, we've listed five things you should know before you part with any cash.

Already convinced? Skip straight to ourBest Buy smart thermostatsto discover the top models for 2020.

1. What can a smart thermostat actually do?

A smart thermostat can switch your heating (and sometimes your hot water) on or off remotely via the internet or using a dedicated app.

This means that you can use your smartphone to switch on your heating when you're on the train home from work, or on the way back from a weekend away. You can even use it to check the temperature of your home while you're away from it and adjust the heating accordingly.

Many smart thermostats will also allow you to see exactly how much energy you're using, while a few can monitor your usage and learn your routines.

person looking at sleep tracking graph on smartpho
2. What features should you look out for?

Not all smart thermostats are made equal. For starters, not all of them will allow you to control both your central heating and your hot water; essential if you don't have a combi boiler and you fancy a hot bath the moment you return home from a holiday. Here are a few other great features to look for:

  • Control through an app or a PC. You can control all of the smart thermostats we've tested through an app on your phone, but not all of them have an additional web browser function that will allow you to control your heating through a PC. Control via a web browser often allows for deeper analysis of your central heating and usage.
  • Motion sensor on the thermostat. Some smart thermostats have a motion sensor on the user interface which will light up and reveal the temperature when you enter a room. It's a simple feature, but it isn't half useful if you don't like having to get up from the sofa and press a button every time you want to check the temperature.
  • GPS tracking. This is where things can start to get very interesting. Smart thermostats that can track your location through your phone can start to learn your routine and adjust your heating schedule accordingly. This means they're capable of switching the heating on when you get on the train back from work, or turning it off when you leave the house.
  • Zonal heating. Some thermostats will allow you to set different temperatures in different rooms of your house. For example, warmer in the living room and cooler in the bedroom. You'll normally have to do this by pairing the thermostat with a compatible thermostatic radiator valve, which will cost extra, but not all smart thermostats will allow you to do this.

In our smart thermostat reviews we'll tell you all about the features that each thermostat has, and you can filter by the features you want at the top of the page.

3. Can you install a smart thermostat yourself?

Most smart thermostats will recommend that they're installed by a trained professional; this can add as much as £100 to the overall cost.

Others are simpler to install and can be done by a confident DIYer. In our reviews, we let you know if this is or isn't the case.

4. What kind of household would benefit from a smart thermostat?

Smart thermostats require you to be confident using a smartphone, downloading apps and using the internet. If this doesn't sound like you then a smart thermostat probably isn't suitable.

A smart thermostat is ideal if you want to be able to see exactly how much you're spending on your heating at a moment's notice. They're also suitable for people with busy lifestyles who want to be able to programme and schedule their heating while they're on the move.

It also tends to be easier to programme your heating with a smart thermostat than using the clunky analogue system which is common with most boilers.

5. Will a smart thermostat save me money?

Despite the big claims from many manufacturers which say that a smart thermostat can save you anything between 10% and 30% on your energy bills, this shouldn't be your only motivation for buying one.

The hefty savings advertised by manufacturers are often based on a customer currently having their heating on a constant temperature all day, even if they leave the house. We know that this isn't how most people use their heating.

Used carefully, we think a smart thermostat could save most people a relatively small amount of money on their heating each year. Given the relatively high cost of smart thermostats, it's likely to take a number of years for the thermostat to pay itself back in savings.

But if you plan on spending a good number of years in your property, and you're interested in saving money, and of course the environment, then a smart thermostat could still be for you.

If you're still not convinced, see our detailed guide on are smart thermostats worth it.