In the last few years, smart thermostats have skyrocketed in popularity. By this point, you have probably seen one in a friend or family member’s home - or you might even have one of your own.

But whether you are just curious, just bought one, or have had one installed for some time, it’s important to take a look at how a smart thermostat can help save you money. Learning the ins and outs of smart thermostat usage is key to having an efficient and energy saving home.

First, let them learn.

For many smart thermostats, the key is, at least initially, to let them learn from you and your home. If the thermostat knows what range you’re comfortable in, it can start figuring out when you are home and when to save energy because you’re away.

How do you do that? By teaching it.

During the first week or two - depending on the model of your smart thermostat - you should use it like normal. When you are home during the day, set the temperature where you want it. Before you go to bed at night, turn it down.

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The reason you are doing this is to build a schedule with the thermostat. Over time, your thermostat remembers these changes and will start building a schedule that adheres to yours. It’s all about developing good habits for your thermostat, and fortunately, your thermostat never stops learning.

Set your “Eco” temperatures.

Most smart thermostats offer the ability to set an “eco” mode. We’ll talk about this more in a minute.

But basically, eco mode is a way for you to set a range of temperatures that the thermostat will adhere to while you are not home. By keeping your temperature within this range, your smart thermostat is ensuring that your home won’t be wasting energy while you are gone. There’s no sense in paying to heat an empty house, right?

However, you want to keep in mind everything else in your house. Sure, you don’t need the house comfortable while you are gone. But if you have a pet that is home all day, they will need a little more comfort. The same is true of plants and other delicate items - remember to plan for them as well when setting up your eco mode.

Combine it with your phone.

How will the smart thermostat know if you are home or away?

Many have motion sensors. But unless you are routinely walking around your house during the day, that might not work quite as well. Instead, your phone’s app will likely sync with the thermostat. That means your phone’s location can be used to pinpoint where you are, and if the house needs to be comfortable or not.

And if you have more than one family member coming and going, you might want to create a family account for the thermostat so that everyone can be accounted for in the schedule.

Take it easy.

You already know that turning down the heat can save you a lot of money over time. But that doesn’t mean you should run to your thermostat and turn it down ten degrees.

The shock of that change might frustrate you into making any other changes.

Instead, take a long-term approach. Try just setting the room one degree lower. That’s less than the difference in temperature between your nose and your feet. But sitting in your living room? That change is almost undetectable.

Small changes lead to big wins. Change your temperature one degree at a time and you will be surprised at how much you save when you look at your energy bill at the end of the month.

Remember to set your vacation mode!

Your regular heating and cooling schedule doesn’t need to be run while you’re on vacation, right? If you’re leaving for any extended period of time, it might be best to switch on that eco mode setting and keep your home within an acceptable range - that way you can save a lot of energy while you’re gone!

Don’t crank up the heat or the air conditioning.

When you walk into a sweltering room, or you step into a freezing house, you might be tempted to crank that thermostat far in the other direction.

The reason behind this is because you think that the house will grow more comfortable more quickly because “more” air is being pumped through the vents.

This isn’t true at all. Your temperature can’t move any faster than it’s already running. So if you want your room to go up to 70 degrees, for example, turning it to 90 degrees isn’t going to get you to 70 any faster.

In fact, you might actually use up a lot more energy than you intended because it will probably run longer and use more energy in the meantime.

With a smart thermostat, this is actually more dangerous. Smart thermostats learn your settings over time. So if you crank it to 90 every day just to get the heat up, your thermostat will eventually start setting it to 90 all the time, and that is going to burn through a lot of energy.

How long will it take to reach that temperature?

Many smart thermostats can even tell you how long it will take to get the house to your set temperature.

This is really handy because it allows you to weigh the differences. If you are mindful of your energy usage and you like your temperature to be in a 72-74 degree range, you might not know which to choose. But if you can see that it will only take 15 minutes to get to 72 degrees, and it would take an hour to get to 74 degrees, then you already know that the energy savings is substantial enough to keep it at 72.

What about your energy history?

Another great way to save money with your smart thermostat is by watching your energy history. Most thermostats will track and generate reports on the heating and cooling activity in your home.

You can review these reports and learn a thing or two about your energy habits. Then, building better habits will become easier.

What if I just set it to eco mode?

Your manual probably touts the eco mode setting as being a great option for energy efficiency.

The truth is, it might be.

Eco mode is not quite “set it and forget it”. You do need to set its thresholds in your thermostat settings so that it will keep the temperature in the range that you want.

But if you set the heat uncomfortably low during the day and you’re only gone a few hours, the furnace might have to run for 45 minutes to an hour when you get home. In a well-insulated home, having the furnace kick on once in a while to maintain that temperature is much more cost efficient.

If you’re on a set daily schedule, you might be better off just setting a schedule on your thermostat, rather than trying to make the eco mode work for you.

The best thing you can do is experiment. Eco mode can be a great energy saver, but it also could burn more energy than you realize. Test with your own home and see what you come up with.

Smart thermostat efficiency starts with you. Take the time to learn how to set a smart thermostat, how to use it properly, and which features will benefit you the most. That’s the only way you can ensure maximum efficiency at all times of the year.