Smart Home Tech 9 comments

My home’s air conditioner has been trudging through a slow, laborious death over the past six years or so. It’s an older unit that still uses the old style freon to charge and I’ve been able to recharge it more cost-effectively than replace it. When the lines started freezing up and causing water to pour through the furnace as it finally condensed, however, that cemented the need to replace the AC (and the furnace as well). So with that replacement coming up, I’m weighing the benefits of standard 13-14 SEER rated units (80% efficiency) versus 16 SEER rated ones (96% efficiency). The cost difference is about $1500, but I’m wondering how much energy savings I’ll actually see to make it a viable decision. I fully realize that the savings may not be substantial until the weather turns more extreme.

So I’m turning to the home owners reading this post to see what sort of savings you’ve experienced. Have your utilities been fairly consistent between multiple summers or winters? Have you noticed a spike where one season is significantly higher than the other (summer over winter or vice versa)? I’m sure savings will depend on the differences between the efficiency of the older unit compared to the newer ones.

While I’m on the topic of heating and cooling, I would be remiss in not mentioning the other decision before me. What’s the best way to control the new AC and furnace? I’ve narrowed my choices down to two WiFi programmable thermostats:


– Versus –


The Nest is about $100 more expensive than the Honeywell and is reported to be more intuitive in its ability to learn your daily routine. One large drawback from a multitude of reviewers is that The Nest doesn’t show the current temperature by design unless it’s greater than a three degree difference from the target temperature. At that point, it’s the smaller number along the edge of the device rather than the centrally located number. I find it curious that the top three Amazon reviews are all three stars or less (83% are five star ratings).

The Honeywell isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as The Nest. Although it has a customizable touchscreen which can allegedly be set to match any decor, it’s still a hunk of white plastic surrounding the edges. It’s also supposed to make up for its lack of intuitive learning of your home routine by being highly programmable. It certainly features a lot more information on the display panel than The Nest. By comparison, two of the top four Amazon reviews for this are three stars or less (66% are five star ratings).

Both are programmable on the thermostats themselves, via a web portal, or an Android/iOS app. I don’t know if the Honeywell unit can be integrated into a home system as The Nest boasts. Perhaps the biggest concern is whether my parents will understand how to work them if they decide to visit. Seriously, my dad still watches my older, smaller TV upstairs because he can’t figure out how to turn on everything downstairs (even when it was all controlled with three buttons on a single keyboard).

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9 thoughts on “Smart Home Tech

  • Margie Calderone

    I don’t have a clue as to which unit to get so I can’t help with that problem, but the second problem is easy. You set it where you want it and tell us not to touch it!

  • Randy

    Check to see if there is s power company rebate based on seer. Might get some money back.

    Avoid Goodman. It’s a lower quality, and anyone can install it, so it it’s often sold and can be tempting. It’s not with it.

    I went with carrier when we replaced last year. Got a great deal.

    Be completely comfortable with your installer. If there’s anything to make you nervous about them, just choose someone else. It’s way too much money to trust to just anyone. And you’ll possibly use them for service in the future.
    M I ultimately chose my installer because of the way he had presented to me is, his professionalism, and the care he took in presenting his proposals. The other bids were quick, uninterested, and hard to get hold of.

    S for the thermostat, don’t get too excited about all the features. You’ll honestly said it, program it wants, and hopefully never have to touch it again. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend a lot of money on something you’re never really going to mess with

    • pcalderone

      I know there are tax credits if I go for the higher efficiency units. KCPL was installing free programmable thermostats as part of a program, but they also had control of your AC unit in the summer and could power it down in the event of rolling brownouts.

      The installer is the one who installed the current unit and I’ve dealt with him since I bought the house. He’s always treated me fairly and has even helped me out when I’ve been unemployed. The brand he uses is Amana and they are better than the Goodman.

      With the thermostat, my main concern is the ability to program it so it uses less energy heating/cooling while I’m at work or out of town.

  • TōB

    I put a 80% in my old house before I sold it because I wasn’t going to be around to realize the long-term benefit of a more efficient unit. My new house is LEED-certified with a 96% unit. It’s too early to tell how the AC is going to stack up in the summer, but I can tell you that for Jan-Mar 2015 in the old house vs Jan-Mar 2016 in the new house, I used on average 100 fewer CCF of gas. Now, that’s not the same house. That’s a 1964 1500-sqft vs a 2015 2800 sqft home. So roughly twice the size, but much much more efficient before you even get to the furnace (which is a heat-pump with aux gas furnace so there’s that difference, too).

    I know you have a soft spot for gadgetry, like I do. I would compare the Nest with the Ecobee instead of the Honeywell. I have a Nest but I haven’t yet installed it in the new house (still using the builder ‘stat).

    I can talk forever about this stuff. I’m putting a lot of “smart home tech” into the new house, so I have ideas.

    • pcalderone

      Thanks, Toby. At first blush, the Ecobee didn’t grab me. I’ll go back and look at it again. I’ve been hemming and hawing over quite a few tech additions to the house, so feel free to fire additional thoughts.