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What to Know Before You Upgrade to a Smart Thermostat

Who doesn’t love home devices that make life comfortable, convenient, and conscientious? Smart thermostats provide all three by maintaining the ideal temperature for your home, offering access from anywhere, and reducing your carbon footprint. As you begin your search for the perfect smart thermostat, it’s important to arm yourself with the right information.

While it’s tempting to make the switch to a more energy-efficient thermostat right before you’ll most need it, like in the thick of summer or dead of winter or before you host a family gathering, that’s not always the best time. If things go wrong during a DIY installation, you might be stuck without a functioning HVAC system until you can get it fixed. It might be better to wait for milder weather. Furthermore, if you find out mid-project that you’ll need our help, those are the busiest times of year for our technicians.

When shopping for a new thermostat, it’s important to check for compatibility with your existing HVAC system. Most smart thermostats require “low voltage” 24-volt HVAC systems, often called “central heat” or “central air.” You likely have this type of system if:

  • There’s one thermostat in your home that controls the temperature throughout.
  • There’s a single (or multiple) large furnace(s), usually in your garage or attic.
  • When you turn off the power and remove the thermostat from the wall, the wires are thin (18 gauge) rather than thick (10 to 14 gauge). These wires are often multicolored.

The other common system is “line voltage” HVAC, which is not typically compatible with smart thermostats. These systems use 120 to 240 volts and can be identified in the following ways:

  • Each room has its own thermostat.
  • There’s a high voltage warning under the cover.
  • Line voltage is more common if you have radiant, convection, or resistance heat.
  • If your vents are in the walls or floors, you may have line voltage.
  • If your home is an apartment or in a condo building, you may have line voltage.

You’ll also want to make sure you have a C-wire. However, many popular brands of smart thermostats have adapters to get around the problem if you don’t have or can’t find the C-wire.

If you’re not sure about poking through your home’s electrical systems, no worries—we’re here to help. Our technicians will guide you through installation and setup, so you can be sure your thermostat upgrade will be done correctly. The last thing you want is to short out your HVAC!

Several brands of thermostats, such as Ecobee, Nest, and Honeywell, offer compatibility checklists and online tools to help you determine if the specific model you’ve got your eye on will be compatible with your home’s wiring.

Smart thermostats require a Wi-Fi connection for their best features, namely remote management. If you’re looking for a top-of-the-line experience with your new thermostat, make sure its location is in an area of your home that gets good Wi-Fi coverage. You might have to move your home’s Wi-Fi router to accomplish this.