This story is part of an ongoing DIY smart home series. Be sure to check out the latest installments to follow the renovation process from start to finish.
I’ll admit, as someone who reviews many of the best smart home devices, I can be a little pretentious when it comes to picking out products for personal use. Naturally, I want the top pick any given category has to offer, and I’m willing to spend what it takes to get them.
But when it comes to my ongoing DIY smart home renovation, I’ve had to be more practical. With the expenses incurred for all new cabinetry, updated appliances, and reframing our 1980’s galley kitchen into an open space, I’m bound to a budget. And one of the devices I’m spending less on is a smart thermostat.
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Don’t get me wrong. Smart thermostats are among the most useful IoT products for managing energy consumption, elevating smart home routines and simply creating a comfortable environment in your home. Some of the best smart thermostats even have voice assistants built-in, and/or support for sensors that read and adjust settings based on the temperatures of different rooms.
Ecobee and Nest are the two most recognizable smart thermostat makers. The top-rated Ecobee SmartThermostat (5th gen) and Nest Learning Thermostat look nothing like traditional, button-filled thermostats. Instead, they feature colorful displays with touchscreen navigation or other haptic controls. They also have $200-plus price tags.
The recently launched Nest Thermostat costs a softer $130, but there's a usability factor that removed it from consideration in my own home. While Nest products play nice Alexa (which we chose over Google Assistant) their modernized design can be intimidating. We want an app that controls our thermostat from anywhere without having to fiddle with our aging HVAC system, but we also want classic controls so guests won’t wonder what kind of swipe kicks on the air conditioner in the summer.
Even for my parents, who are still warming up to voice-enabled devices, a thermostat is one of those fixtures that they don’t want to re-learn how to use. I won’t share their age out of respect, but they say they’re getting too old for that.
In an effort to make everyone happy — me, the smart home whiz and my parents, the reluctant-yet-supportive-of-their-offspring homeowners — we came up with a solution that’ll upgrade our current thermostat setup to one with smart features. The best part? The new thermostat looks identical to our old one.
The $79 Honeywell Home Wi-Fi 7-day Programmable Thermostat isn’t the sexiest smart thermostat. In fact, we couldn’t distinguish between it and the existing Honeywell Home unit in our home. The physical buttons all work the same, but as its name suggests, the Wi-Fi 7-day programmable thermostat offers connected controls, too.
That way as my parents are walking by, they can adjust the temperature the same way they’ve been doing in the four years we’ve owned the home. The Honeywell Home brand is also compatible with the Brilliant smart home controller I wrote about last week in my explainer on neutral wires.
When they’re away, they can make changes from their phone. This is especially helpful in the dead of winter, when my parents might want to spend time someplace warmer, but want to make sure it’s warm enough that the pipes don’t freeze.
So yes, even though I talk a big smart home game, I too make budget-conscious decisions. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to spend more dough on devices that give you all the features you want. But when a device under $100 offers everything you need, why not get it instead? You can build your smart home for less than you’d expect, as long as you know what to look for.
Be sure to check out my guides to the best smart home devices (and best cheap smart home devices) for more gadget recommendations. Return next week for another DIY smart home installment. Until then, email me at email@example.com or leave a comment below with anything you’d like to see me cover in the connected space.
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Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.