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Smart Home Thermostats: Total Control is Here

The human desire to control one's environment for the sake of comfort is an ancient one. The pharaohs had slaves waving huge fans to keep them cool, but most people throughout history were at the mercy of nature when it comes to temperature until the invention of effective heating and cooling systems and methods by which to control them.

From the earliest iterations to the modern day smart home programmable thermostats, devices to control and regulate the heating and cooling of homes have helped to make life more pleasant and enjoyable by maintaining a comfortable environment. The new generation of smart home thermostats is taking this even further, allowing for even more precise control over temperature, humidity, and environment and even offering the possibility to save money and energy.

Early Thermostat Innovations

With the Industrial Revolution and later technological advances in the 20th century, it became possible to heat and cool buildings and homes in an effective way. The invention of the electric thermostat in 1883 revolutionized the concept of temperature control, and although the first designs were created to regulate the temperature of chicken incubators, the electric thermostat was here to stay and would soon become incorporated into indoor heating and cooling systems around the world.

The first electric thermostats were essentially single-function devices that allowed for a specific temperature to be maintained with a fair degree of accuracy. You might think that thermostats capable of doing more than that would be a far later development, but amazingly, the first programmable electric thermostat was invented over 100 years ago.

In 1906, the Electric Heat Regulator Company, today known as Honeywell, introduced the very first programmable thermostat called the Jewell. This simple, yet innovative, device was based on a clock and allowed the user to set a cooler temperature at night that would automatically be raised to a higher temperature by the clock the next morning.

The 20th century saw many more advances in thermostat technology. The programming capabilities became more and more elaborate, and the functions became more comprehensive. By the 1980s, it was possible to set different temperatures for different days and different times of the day, and by the 2000s, thermostats were commonly using touchscreen technology.

Smart Thermostats Arrive

In 2007, the first truly "smart" thermostat was introduced by a company called Ecobee. Created by venture capitalist and engineer Stuart Lombard, this was the very first thermostat in history to offer Wi-Fi connectivity. The idea revolutionized the thermostat world and established Ecobee as a first-to-market industry leader.

Competitors, however, were not far behind. Lombard's Ecobee soon found itself up against a new smart home thermostat manufacturer, Nest. Founded by former Apple engineers Tony Fedele and Matt Rogers, the startup quickly launched itself into the spotlight as tech reviewers gushed over the sleek, modern design of the Nest thermostat, as well as its innovative "learning" capabilities that allow the device to adjust temperature and energy usage based on owner preferences and energy costs.

Next, thermostat manufacturing behemoth Honeywell threw its hat into the ring with a line of several different Wi-Fi capable smart home thermostats. Ecobee and Nest swiftly followed their initial releases with updated devices boasting even more comprehensive features in order to keep up with the near constant technological advances in the market.

The Smart Thermostat Difference

So, what sets a smart home thermostat apart from a programmable thermostat, aside from Wi-Fi capability? And why would anyone need Wi-Fi connectivity for their thermostat to begin with?

The answer, in a word, is information. Not only can smart thermostats provide you with a host of information about your home's temperature and environment, as well as your energy usage and local weather, they also take in information in ways that no other type of thermostat can. Sending and receiving information and putting that information to use in groundbreaking ways is what makes a smart home thermostat so different from the programmable thermostats of yesterday.

Remote Control

The ability to control your thermostat and adjust the temperature of your home, even if you're in another part of the world, is probably one of the most futuristic aspects of smart thermostats. Using smartphone and tablet apps, you can cool down your kitchen while you're on the way home from work on a hot summer day, shut down the HVAC system completely if you forget to turn it off when you leave town, or even turn up the heat for an older relative who may have trouble getting around the house.

Energy Data

All of the major brands of smart home thermostats offer some amount of energy usage data. With this information, you can get insights into your energy usage that you have probably never had access to before. You can identify where most of your energy bill is being spent, and make adjustments to lower your costs. This information is generally available through the thermostats smart phone app and website.

Weather Information

Smart thermostats have access to local weather information, and not only do they display this information to you on the thermostat's touchscreen, but they also put the information to use in optimizing energy consumption. Integrating weather information with thermostats acknowledges the obvious connection between the weather on the outside your home and the temperature and environment inside your home.

Self Programming

According to the EPA, only about 20% of people who own programmable thermostats actually bother to program them. This represents millions of dollars in energy bills that could potentially be saved, not to mention carbon emissions that could be eliminated.

The new generation of smart thermostats, however, are capable of programming themselves. Using temperature and motion sensors placed around your home, smart home thermostats can reduce energy usage and expenditures by learning your habits and schedules, and adjusting accordingly. For example, if the thermostat doesn't pick up any motion with its motion sensors, it can shut off your HVAC system until it senses that someone has come home again.

Smart Grid Capabilities

Smart thermostats are capable of connecting to what is known as the "smart grid." The smart grid, put simply, is a way for electric companies to have two-way communication with their customers. Using information supplied by your energy provider, smart thermostats can minimize your energy consumption during the peak hours when it's most expensive to run your HVAC unit and even maximize usage during times when electricity rates are at their lowest. The smart grid is not available in all areas, so you'll want to check with your local electricity provider first.

The Future of Smart Home Thermostats

With fierce competition in the market, smart thermostat manufacturers who hope to remain in the race will no doubt continue to focus on adding new features and creating slick designs for their devices in the future.

One of the hottest topics in smart home design in 2014 was the wearable device. These watch-like gadgets can perform a variety of tasks, from turning off the lights when you exit a room, to locking your doors when you leave home. As smart home thermostats become more common, we can expect to see thermostat related features that work together with wearable devices. For example, a wearable device could communicate with your thermostat and down the temperature on your AC when it senses that you are overheating.

Integration in general will certainly be one of the most important things for smart home thermostat manufacturers to keep in mind going forward. In 2014, Honeywell signed an agreement with Apple to participate in their "HomeKit" platform. This will allow Honeywell smart thermostats to be accessed from a central control panel where users will also be able to access things like their home lights, locks, and other security features. Smart thermostats will become even more integrated with other platforms, apps, and devices in the future.

Smart Thermostats, Smart Energy Consumption

Smart thermostats have been around for less than a decade, but they are already completely changing the way that we cool and heat our homes and the ways in which we use energy. Technological advances mean that we have an amazing level of control over our home environment, while at the same time saving money and reducing our carbon footprint. Smart thermostats typically pay for themselves in energy savings within the first year, so equipping your home with a smart thermostat is one of the greenest moves you can make for your wallet and the environment.