Like most baby boomers and Gen X-ers, we grew up in a home with a wall-mounted thermostat that had four setting choices: on or off, heat or cool. It had a little dial that hid a mercury-filled glass tube on a bi-metallic temperature-calibrated metal spring. There was no formal timer function other than a parent reminding us that money doesn't grow on trees, so turn down the heat and put on a sweater. Users had to remember to kick up the temperature when waking up, and turn it down before leaving the house or going to bed. A similar scenario applied to air conditioning. This didn't really change much until the introduction of digital thermostats, which allow users to program a specific schedule, making heating and cooling much more efficient. Now, Honeywell brings us a new kind of thermostat that improves upon digital efficiency, and then some. The Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat - RTH9580 allows full internet connectivity, the ability to create detailed personalized schedules, and more.
When Honeywell sent us the review sample after our meeting at the Pepcom Digital Experience press event, a letter was enclosed that stated we were free to keep the unit after the review (and to mention this to meet FCC guidelines). Keeping it made sense, as in order to test it we had to remove our old unit (which coincidentally happened to be a 5 year old battery-operated Honeywell digital thermostat), rethink the existing wiring, then spackle, sand and paint the old mounting holes. Hardly the kind of project you’d want to have to undo at the conclusion of reviewing the thermostat! The instructions were easy to follow, but in the end we needed to view the installation videos Honeywell provides on the internet. Why? Well, we call it the missing cyan wire syndrome. While the wire is indeed often cyan colored, the C stands for Common, and it provides the power necessary to run the unit. Even though we had a new forced-air furnace, our existing wiring was missing the Common wire at the site of the old thermostat. A bit of pulling back of the insulation sheath revealed the wire, which had been snipped and unused. Fortunately we had enough play to pull more wire from the wall, reveal the Common wire, snip all to the same length, and remove the insulation on the set of wires.
Once the wiring drama was sorted out, we hooked it all up to the thermostat, turned on the power at the heater, and … nothing. Made a trip to the basement, opened up the cover of the control panel of the furnace, and there it was - the Common wire, just hanging free in the breeze. After we connected to the Common connection site on the control board, the display sprang to life. Was this difficult? Not really, but we were lucky, the wires were in place, there was enough play to use said wires, and I have the knowledge and experience to tackle the project. Note: Homeowners without the technical chops should seek out some help, although anyone with a bit of experience can handle this job. Because one can’t be too careful with electrical projects, I also visited the website of our furnace manufacturer and downloaded the manual for the unit, just to confirm the wiring diagram and location of the control board.
With unit mounted to the wall, and the wiring neat and tidy, the set up was not difficult. The first step was to note the MAC address for the unit, and then create an account on the Honeywell website. It worked on the first try (take that, healthcare.gov!), and in a minute or so we could see and control the Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat from our computer. It can also be monitored from an iPad, iPhone, and Android phone using the free Honeywell Total Comfort Connect app. The unit can also be monitored through programming right on its touchscreen, but we recommend doing it via the net as it really is very easy to do, as long as you follow the directions carefully.
Soon after the installation, I was traveling overseas and absentmindedly launched the app on my Android powered Samsung S3, to find that back at my home, the system was turned off, and the room was a balmy 70 degrees! I then tried the app on my iPad running iOS 7.03 and it worked splendidly providing identical data to the Android version. That brings up one of the best features of the unit, the ability to control it remotely from almost any device or location. Just login through the app, check the settings, modify if need be, and save. Customized schedules can be created, which allow users to program on/off times and pre-set temps at multiple intervals at any time of day. Thanks to the routine setting options, we have started to think more seriously about our habits - what time we arise, when does the last person go to sleep, what our schedules will be on certain days, what time we arrive home, and so on. The system lets you create and save a week’s worth of settings, and will respect your chosen schedule until you decide to change or override them.
As we have only been using the Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat since the middle of the fall season, It is too early for us to be able to evaluate its impact upon how much energy we will use and any financial savings, but for most users, this more precise targeting of your heating and cooling needs should result in savings. It certainly is nice to be able to check up on the system from afar. Being able to receive an alert should the temperature drop below or rise above your alert levels could help avert a catastrophe, especially for winter use when a drop below freezing could burst pipes. What we do know now after a couple of months of use is that it our home is more comfortable, there is peace of mind in checking on the house from afar, and we are using our heater with more carefully targeted planning. As we write this review, winter approaches and we’ve had a number of hard freezes, so the heater is on. It’s nice to know that we have a truly modern way to monitor our energy usage that is easy to install, easy to use, and is a contemporary approach to personal HVAC and energy management. The Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat - RTH9580 comes highly recommended.
Harris Fogel and Nancy Burlan, posted 12/1/2013
For more information on the Honeywell Thermostat visit: www.honeywell.com