Smart thermostats could be way better. How?

I have always had digital thermostats in my home. The simple kind that you can program days. Often, only two programs M-F and Sa,Sun. This was kind of a pain if you worked weekends, etc. But then they came out with more programable where you could do each day. However, with those, you had only 4 time periods. If you needed 5, like coming home for lunch, you were out of luck. If you only needed 2–3 periods some days, you had to repeat the temp settings.

Sensi is a good bargain, install is easy, but it has its limits and some UI design flaws in both the app and the wall unit. See the Mode, Fan, Schedule and Menu with arrows in light grey printed on the plastic? Try reading those in the pitch black of night. (Yes, we users do sometimes use the actual controls on our smart thermostat.) All Emerson has to do is actually show the words on screen — which is back lit and otherwise, well designed. I would nudge the dots and text up enough to put the words on the screen. 72° Room Temperature does not need to be that big. A little smaller would be OK. This is a fix they could do with an update right now. To make the arrows and menu back lit or, at least make the arrows indented like the Menu button is outdented, would entail a bit more than an internet update.

Finally, with smart thermostats, we have a lot more control over the climate of our homes and offices. They also work with an app. Which makes using them more interesting and, sometimes, easier.
When Nest thermostats came out, it was too pricy for me plus, I avoid version 1.0 if I can. Nest, now an Alphabet product, remains the big player and well known brand but, it lacks in some areas that other brands are better at. Yes, there are a number of other excellent smart thermostats out there Lutron, ecobee3, Honeywell, the list goes on. I will leave the research as to the best options to you. It really depends on what you want it to do.

I’m a toe dipper past verson 1.0 of new tech. I was an early adopter of a cheap tablet device. Not that big Apple Newton thing but a small PalmPilot. It was cheap and, really nothing more than a Filofax calendar, contacts, and reminders. No apps to add. It did USB direct sync with the Mac, just barely and sometimes, rarely. But, since no one really had one of those in the late 1990s, I rarely used it in public because, well, it looked a bit weird to have a little screen in your hand that you tapped on! 
Times sure have changed.
Back to present times… I picked up a Emerson Sensi Wi-Fi smart thermostat almost a year ago when I found a deal on it direct for well under $100. You can get one now for about $100 on sale or at Amazon. There were a couple quick sales this year where it was under $80.

I chose Sensi simply because it was considered the simplest and had dead DIY install instructions. It did and it did most of what I wanted and needed without the complications or cost of a Nest or bad user interface design of some of the top rated for accuracy Honeywells. Later, I learned that, probably another brand, eccobee, would have been better for me but, it had one fatal Wi-Fi flaw, which I won’t go into here. I think it has since been updated.


So, Sensi was probably a fine choice, cheap, and worked with my HVAC system. (Be sure to check on your system specs as not all of the smart thermostats work on all systems.)

Now that I have had it some time, I am realizing, there is a lot more a smart thermostat can and should do. Even a simple Sensi, which has some nice features like, alerting you if the HVAC system is dead or the temp indoors too high or too low. Although, the high temp trigger is 99° F which, is way too high. I want an alert at 80° or 85°. The same problem with the low temp alert. It is too close to 30°. If I am out of town, by the time I get home or find a repair guy, etc., it might be too late!
The main problem with Sensi and, I imagine this is the case with many of them, is still the lack of customization of all things. Yes, Sensi lets you have a lot of temp changes and customize each day. In my case, I have the morning temp. Then, if I am home, by afternoon in summers, I have to go lower in temp or it is bad. Then in evening I can back off. Around 2am, I can really back off cooling. Heating in my old house is similar and seasonal. I also adjust and have different seasonal schedules. It is great in that sense. But, the rest is, kind of lacking. It shows humidity and, paradoxically, warns you if the humiditity is too high but, it lacks the ability, like nest, to cycle on and off the AC, any time of year, to remove some moisture if it is uncomfortable. Like in a winter heat wave. The normally dry house, is suddenly moist or, after a big rain event.
Sensi also lacks a filter change reminder. What it needs is a filter change reminder the user chooses or sets. A one month, three month, and six month setting for sure since, those are the most common. But I would also add in a user definable one. That 3 month filter might last 6 months in a home that is only used for part of the year or any number of other situations. Letting the user define the timer, makes sense.
At the same time, so much more could be done with our smart thermostats. It seems obvious that much HVAC user data is ending up somewhere. I would like to see Emerson, et all, use that data to help us all save more money and conserve more energy. In the case of filter change, by monitoring regional filter repalcement by users, Emerson and Nest, etc. could see that in Metrotown urban area, it is dirtier and users change a 3 month filter on schedule. Especially during pollen season. But in a low pollen and cleaner place, small coastal town Harborville (where ever that is!), the three month might last 4 months after X hours of the blower being used.
More careful filter monitoring and other user use data by region, season, and climate zone, could make smart thermostats even smarter and save us much energy and reduce pollution more.


Yes, it is cool that now, my Sensi can use an Amazon Echo (which I would buy in a second, if they made one with no music speaker and amp and was under $80) But the reality is, this sort of new feature is just silly user fun stuff. I can also easily whip out my iPad or phone, open the Sensi app and change a setting. Star Trek had the computer you could talk with and touch pads too! They mostly used the pads and computer consoles.
Apple HomeKit really does not advance the smart thermostat industry along all that much. It is more a system itself and terrific. In a way, Apple HealthKit (ResearchKit?) is a better system/model to compare in the sense that, it is more sophisticated and data based. We need more HealthKit like thinking for smart thermostats to diagnose and improve the health of our homes and offices!

I’d like to see more of the smart thermostat makers use the existing apps they already have and cloud systems they have in place to make our existing thermostats on the wall even smarter. But smarter in customization, data understanding, saving us all money, reducing polution, and reducing global warming.

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