Geo What?! & My top 3 picks for Smart Thermostats

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eric aune 2The smart thermostat market is a highly competitive place. Google’s Nest changed how consumers approached their heating and cooling system for the first time in decades just a few years ago. Entering into the market just last year was the controls giant Honeywell with the Lyric and, not to leave the two giants alone, Ecobee made the switch from a professional market to the consumer driven market to stir the pot.

Before I get into my list I want to share a recent encounter with one of these so-called smart stats. About two weeks ago I got a call from a lady, I’ll call her Angie, who was referred to me by one of my customers. Angie stated that she had house guests staying with her and for some reason the air conditioning wasn’t working right for at least part of the time. She was thoroughly confused because every time she came home to check on the a/c it was working fine.  I happen to be in the area and was able to be to her house within the hour.

Of course when I arrived the system was working perfectly. I checked all the “normal stuff’ and set about to check the wiring at the circuit board and thermostat. That’s when it hit me, like square in the face, they had a Honeywell Lyric smart stat and periodic problems but otherwise everything seemed up to par as they reported.

The lyric stat uses “Geo-fencing” to monitor your presence, or lack thereof in the home and adjusts the heat/cool settings based on your location through a mobile app. This mobile app must be running and everyone in the home must have a smart phone with the app in order for the “smart” thermostat to operate the way the occupants would expect their perfectly functional hvac system to do so.

Angie’s husband installed the thermostat himself of course and immediately installed the mobile app on all of the family phones, everything was fine for months and then grandma and the sister’s came to town for the baby shower. Little did they know they were staying at a sauna…Or at least a sauna while Angie and her immediate family were not around.

Geo-fencing is a pretty cool technology and how the Lyric employs it sets the stat apart from the motion sensor used by Google’s Nest. Unfortunately, house guests will need the app too if you plan on running to the office for the day while they’re staying with you.

Here’s the quick list, all are primarily consumer-marketed devices that have either entered the market as such or have made the switch.  No matter which each tend to have gained ground in the race to alienate the professional contractor. I’ve written about the Nest before here and here; keep reading for the highlights of the three major players, listed in no particular order, in the smart stat game.

Honeywell Lyric1. Honeywell Lyric Smart Thermostat

Honeywell’s Lyric thermostat launched a little over a year ago and is a direct response to like likes of Nest, with similar styling and features. It is easy to set up, and works on the user’s presence rather than learning about their comings and goings through direct sensor readings. That makes it theoretically simpler to operate, with away mode turning the heating off when you’re out of a certain range, and then kicking back in as you near home to make things comfortable for your arrival.

Now, not every home performs the same and not everyone in the home might own a smart phone so naturally there are weaknesses here. The display is simpler compared to some rivals, with just the current temperature shown as default on the main screen and the target temperature plus operating mode on the secondary screen. Tap the weather button to see the local forecast and conditions, while the Home button triggers away mode.

The smartphone app can be a little confusing but it has been regularly updated. Updates also include improved installation and making it easier to set up geo-fencing, which suggests that Honeywell is at least listening to its customers.

Unfortunately the Lyric isn’t directly available outside the United States yet, and the iOS app is only on the US Apple Store. The company apparently has plans for a wider launch.

Ecobee32. Ecobee3

In an attempt to one-up Nest, the Ecobee3 uses remote room sensors around the house that monitor activity and manage the hvac system accordingly. The standard package includes one sensor but can be expanded to accommodate up to 32.

The remote sensors are the key to managing the home overall, they do this by monitoring the highs and lows throughout the home [the more sensors there are the better this is accomplished] and the stat tries to balance heating or cooling.

The 3.5” display is nice to look at, has full color LCD but given they are on their third generation smart stat it is definitely the least user friendly of the three on this list.

The Ecobee3 can be wired in to most current 24V HVAC systems, via its wiring adapter and, in my opinion, installation should be left to the professional. As with each listed here, the Ecobee3 can be controlled with your IOS or Android smart phone.

nest-gen-3-display3. Nest Gen 3

Although the latest Nest is in its third generation it will likely remain on every list of smart thermostat comparisons for many years to come.

The first of its kind and credited with connecting homeowners with their simple or complex heating systems for the first time in decades. The third generation Nest is equipped to handle three stage heating and two stage cooling systems, plus fans and humidifiers for total climate control.  It’s not necessary really to program the stat considering it learns your patterns and adjusts the heating/cooling to best conserve energy and [hopefully] maintain comfort within the home.

There are no shortage of problems with the first two generations of course but the software updates and feature additions have slowly brought this stat closer to being a good fit for the majority of heating/cooling systems.

When it comes to software, Nest seem to be a little behind its rivals, with the last update in February. However, it is one of the more rounded apps, showing your energy usage history, which will encourage users to be more efficient, and all the settings control you need, including for the company’s smoke detector.

If your customers are not worried about the world’s largest data mining conglomerate knowing their every move then the Nest may just be the one to look at until remote sensing becomes more affordable.

Eric Aune


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