New Video – Smart Thermostats Are Pointless (11 Reasons Why)!

I have posted a new video on YouTube covering 11 reasons why I think that smart thermostats are pointless and can potentially be a waste of money, which is the video version of my ‘11 Reasons Why Smart Thermostats Are Pointless‘ article:

Video Transcript

Hey YouTube, it’s Tristan from Smart Home Point here. As you can probably guess, I like smart homes, I like a lot of smart home devices, but I do not like smart thermostats. To be honest I think that they are a little bit pointless and I think in many cases they are waste of money, so I wanted to cover the reasons why I think this in this video.

Okay, so the first reason is that I think that they are actually a bit expensive compared to how much money you save on your heating bills. So to give you an example, if you pick up a Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd gen for $240 and then you spend $80 on getting installed by an electrician, you spent three hundred and twenty dollars. Now Nest claim that you’ll save between ten to fifteen percent on your heating bills. If this happens then great, you’ve probably paid off your Nest thermostat in two or three years. However that’s based on their own claims. You might only save five percent on your central heating bills, in which case it might take you eight or nine years to pay off your smart thermostat – which isn’t really worth it. Equally if you have a programmable thermostat and you set it correctly, you probably won’t save any money at all with your smart thermostat in which case you’ve just lost money by buying it.

My second reason is that they can be difficult to install. Obviously if you’re a keen DIYer and you’ve done electrics before, you won’t have a problem. But this doesn’t apply to most people. Most people will look at the wiring diagrams, they’ll look at the install instructions and they’ll worry they won’t be able to do it and as a result they might need to bring a electrician in to install it for them. Which is a bit of a pity because one of the – sort of – marketing benefits for smart thermostats is that it’s easy, as it makes everything simple, and I don’t think that that’s really the case when it comes to installing it.

Thirdly, smart thermostats save you money by dropping the target temperature down when you’re not at home. So if you’ve gone to work at 8 a.m. then you come back at 4 p.m., it’ll set the target temperature low in those… in the middle of those times (during the day). Now this is great… other than the fact that if you have pets, that target temperature might be set too low and hence your pets might be uncomfortably cold. Secondly if your house has problems with damp or mold, the target temperature might be too low for this. Now obviously you can change this… you… obviously can make sure the target temperature is not set too low. But in my opinion this then defeats the object of a smart thermostat because they say all you need to do is install it and it’ll do everything for you. But obviously if you’ve got pets or your house is subject to damp, then you need to make sure you’re managing things and at that point I question whether you actually need a smart thermostat at all.

Okay the next concern is that the marketing of smart thermostats is all about them “learning”. They “learn” your routines, they “learn” when you go to work, they “learn” when your children go to school and as a result they know when the house is empty and they can set the target temperature low to save you money. Now whilst this can work well, modern life doesn’t always work out quite like that. You might work shifts, you might work rotas, in which case you might be in the house when the smart thermostat thinks you’re not and vice versa. Equally children get ill and come home from school, so the smart thermostat is restricted in how much it can learn because people will be in and out of the house at times that it doesn’t expect – and in this case you’re probably much better off just getting a simple programmable, non Wi-Fi thermostat. You don’t need a smart thermostat really, with modern life, because it’s so busy, people are in and out all the time.

Okay, my next reason is that smart thermostats can use motion detection to know whether someone’s in the house or not. And this is quite a nice feature, especially if you work rotas (like I mentioned), but there are two ways that this motion detection can work. It can use sensors to determine if there’s movement in the house, or it can use your phone’s GPS so everyone who lives in the house can have GPS in the app, and then it can use that to determine whether you’re in the house or not. But in this case I’ve seen this [feature] not work properly. I’ve seen people at work, they know no-one is in the house, but their phone app is actually saying that somebody’s at home and as a result the heating is high – but obviously no one is at home. This is just a bug. You know, phone’s GPS can screw up, the software of the smart thermostat can screw up, and as a result you can’t always rely on this form of motion detection. The second form is sensor-based. It can be in your house and it’ll scan to see whether people move around your house. This does work well overall, but if you have a very large pet such as a very large dog then sometimes the smart thermostat can detect your pet and think that someone’s at home and turn the heating up high – but obviously you know no-one (or at least no human) is at home. I mean, to be honest, motion detection does work fairly well but you just can’t rely on it completely because it will mess up at times.

Okay, my sixth reason is that smart thermostats can be a bit gimmicky and some households just do not need them at all. So if you’ve got a couple – a working couple – they will get up in the morning, and they want the heating to be on high. They’ll go to work, and they’ll want the temperature to go lower. Then when they come back from work, they want the temperature to be higher – and then when they go to bed, they want it to be lower. That’s fairly… that’s a fairly normal routine even if you’ve got a young child, like my wife and I do. In that case, you don’t need a smart thermostat. All you need is a simple standard programmable thermostat. No Wi-Fi, no smartness, no learning: just a simple, programmable thermostat. That’s what we have, and it works just fine. So in our case a smart thermostat would be gimmicky and no use whatsoever.

My next point is that some people get scared of new technology, especially people who are not tech savvy. So if you’ve got a smart thermostat on the wall – whilst I’d have no problem changing the temperature and many of you watching wouldn’t either – some people who are not tech savvy would be scared of changing the temperature. And if they are home alone, then they might just keep the temperature as it is – even if it’s too hot for them, or it is too cold for them; and it’s worth just considering this point because not everyone is techy and a smart thermostat might actually scare scare some of your visitors, so it’s worth just making sure that they’re comfortable with how to use your smart thermostat.

Okay so my next concern with smart thermostats is that you’re usually not able to take it with you if you move house. After all, if you’ve got a normal thermostat you’re not going to be able to just rip it out of the wall, leaving a bunch of wires when you move house. So it could be the case that if you’ve bought a smart thermostat a couple years ago, it hasn’t paid itself off yet so you sort of invested all that money in one and then you’ve kind of just lost that money and it’s the new owner who will benefit from your investment, essentially. Secondly when you move house, if you’ve left it behind then you have to make sure you deregister the smart thermostat so that the new owner can register it. That is a bit of a pain – I mean it’s a pain for the new owner (because you might forget to deregister it), but it’s also a pain for you because on moving day the last thing you want to do is be on the phone app somewhere trying to deregister a smart thermostat. So it’s a bit of a potch [annoyance].

Okay so my next concern with smart thermostats is that – as I mentioned earlier – life is busy. You might have your children playing in a playroom, you might have people hanging out in your living room and then other people are hanging out in your kitchen diner. This is especially true if you’ve got friends over, but a modern family can work like this as well. Now the solution to this is to have a multi-zone heating setup – where you have multiple thermostats around your house and they each control their own target temperature of each zone of your house. Now you can do this with smart thermostats, but obviously this can get expensive. If you pay $240 for three thermostats and a couple of hundred dollars to actually get these installed in a multi zone heating setup, you’re not going to have much change out of a thousand dollars. Whilst if you do this with a normal thermostat it’ll probably cost $200 or less.

My next concern with smart thermostats is that the software on them can fail. They can have bugs, or sometimes they just screw up. Now this might mean the software on the thermostat itself or the software in the ‘cloud’ that’s managing your thermostat. When this happens, your house might be set to an incorrectly high temperature, or it might not come come on at all and your house will be freezing. And this isn’t scare mongering on my part, this has actually happened. There’s been dozens of reports online of software bugs that have resulted in people’s houses being freezing cold because the smart thermostat has ‘smartly’ decided not to work; and this is a problem with smart thermostats.

Okay, so my final concern with smart thermostats is that they are collecting very valuable data about you and your house and your heating 24/7. Now this data is very valuable and there could always be a temptation for companies to sell this data or to ‘pass it on’ to their partners. Now whilst this might sound like scare-mongering on my part, this has actually happened. So there’s a smart company called Kinsa who – as the New York Times reported – sold a bunch of data about whether people have fevers to advertisers, and then advertisers in this particular area actually started bombarding people with adverts for things like antibacterial wipes… which is a bit creepy. Equally Nest – before they got bought by Google – originally said that they think they’ll make money in the future by selling anonymized house heating data. So at least it’s anonymized, but certainly before they got bought, Nest had plans of making money from your home’s data. Equally if you look at your Nest Terms and Conditions now, what they say is that they won’t sell your house’s data ‘without asking your permission first’. Now as far as anyone is aware, they don’t actually sell your data but it raises the question: why is that sort of line in your terms and conditions? All I would say is just be careful with your smart thermostat. Check your app, check your marketing preferences and make sure you haven’t opted into anything that you don’t want to opt into.

Okay so that wraps up this video. I hope you enjoyed it. As you can probably tell, I’m not a fan of smart thermostats. I wouldn’t personally buy one because I don’t think they’d be of value to me or to my family. But my hope with making this video is it makes you think about some of the disadvantages of them. But obviously if they’re going to benefit you then by all means go out and buy one. I hope you enjoyed this video: if you liked it, don’t forget to click the thumbs up button and don’t forget to subscribe. Thank you!

About Tristan Perry

Tristan Perry is a software developer who is passionate about tech gadgets, DIY and housing. He has therefore loved seeing smart homes hit the mainstream. Tristan also has an academic background (in Math & Computer Science), and so he enjoys digging into the technical ways that smart home devices work.

Tristan owns close to a dozen Amazon Echo devices, way too many Philips Hue bulbs and lightstrips, a boat-load of Ring Cameras and Doorbells... and a bunch of other smart home devices too (from Reolink, Google Nest, GLEDOPTO and others).

If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!

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