This article is written for those currently own a non-WiFi programmable thermostat or a mercury thermostat who are considering switching to a Honeywell Lyric T5 WiFi Smart Thermostat. The article will cover: reasons for upgrading to a WiFi smart thermostat; C-wire requirement; setup process; what is Geofence; smart thermostat choices and final thoughts.
Old Mercury Blob Thermostat
Our heating system is a typical high-efficiency forced-air gas furnace controlled by a non-digital White Rodger thermostat. This old mercury blob thermostat is adjusted manually everyday during colder months. Once before work (to turn it down) and turning the heat back up when we arrive home from work.
Occasionally, guests stay in our basement but they cannot access the thermostat due to a separate entrance. This means our thermostat is kept at 21 degrees Celsius (69.8 Fahrenheit) all day whether the guests are home or not. This is setup translates into a tremendous amount of wasted energy and consequently high heating bills.
Reasons for Upgrading to a Smart Thermostat
The #1 reason for replacing our old thermostat is lowering home energy bill. Nest Labs, the maker of Nest Learning Thermostat, performed a study showing its smart thermostat achieving 10-12% savings on heating and 15% savings on cooling when compared to a regular thermostat.
On the other hand, another smart thermostat brand, ecobee, claims a yearly saving of 23% on both heating and cooling bills. If both claims are true for a smart thermostat in general, we should be able to recoup the cost of buying a smart thermostat within 1.5 to 2 years.
Another reason for upgrading to a smart thermostat is to improve the comfort of our place. Setting a constant home temperature with a mercury blob thermostat is usually hit-and-miss. This means our home temperature is not consistent day-to-day. A smart thermostat can easily address this issue.
The last reason is automating home temperature control so there is no need to adjust the thermostat daily and provide a comfortable temperature for guests who cannot access the thermostat as stated above. After researching many types of thermostats, it appears upgrading to a WiFi smart thermostat with Geofence feature is the best solution for us.
Is a C-wire Necessary?
All WiFi Smart Thermostats require a C-wire (a.k.a. Common wire) to function. A C-wire provides 24V power for various functions of a smart thermostat including its display screen and WiFi capability.
Smart thermostat manufacturer such as ecobee claims a C-wire is not needed for installing its thermostat. But after reading the instructional manual closely, it turns out you would still need to install a power extender kit. The power extender kit installation involves accessing the control board of your HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) system and rearranging its wiring thru the kit. Not an easy task if you are not comfortable dealing with electrical wires.
The only smart thermostat manufacturer that advertises a C-wire is not needed is Sensi.
Which HVAC Systems are Compatible?
All WiFi smart thermostats work with a variety of heating and cooling systems with 24V power. This includes most forced-air, hydronic, heat-pump (unless with baseboards), oil and gas systems. On the other hand, smart thermostats are usually incompatible with electric baseboards and gas fireplaces which have different power consumption.
If you are looking for a smart thermostat designed for electric heating systems such as baseboards, convectors, and fan-forced convectors, check out Sinpé.
To find out whether you have a C-wire or not, you would remove the cover or thermostat from the wall to inspect the wiring labels. If you don’t see a C-wire (usually a blue or black wire) but you have a four-wire system, there is a chance that the C-wire could be hidden in the wall. You are good to go if your old thermostat already has a C-wire.
Unfortunately for us, upon opening our White Rodger thermostat, only two wires are present: white wire for heating and red wire for power. The coveted C-wire is missing. Absence of a common wire is a common obstacle facing homeowners wishing to upgrade to a WiFi smart thermostat (no pun intended). Why is the C-wire missing? Old thermostats in older homes never needed one.
In our case, we were determined to install a C-wire so we can enjoy the energy savings and convenience offered by a smart thermostat for years to come.
New Thermostat Wire Installation
Fortunately, our gas furnace is located below our living room in the crawlspace. After speaking to a contractor who was going to install the C-wire for us, the old thermostat location was abandoned. To run a new thermostat wire, an opening was cut on our living room wall with a hole saw cutter where the Lyric T5 WiFi Smart Thermostat will sit. Another hole was drilled from the crawl space that would fall within the wall cavity so the new thermostat wire could be fished via the hole opened up in the living room. Once the thermostat wire is fished, its colour-coded wires are connected from the HVAC system to the baseplate where Lyric T5 will be attached.
Each home has a different layout, your HVAC system location and how its thermostat wire is run will vary. So installation of a C-wire is probably best performed by a professional. Especially if you are not comfortable with drilling; opening holes in your walls; fishing and connecting electrical wires to your HVAC system.
Setting up Lyric T5 WiFi Smart Thermostat
Lyric T5’s manual states you can set up the thermostat by using its touch screen. This is true, but you cannot get WiFi without the Lyric App. Therefore, our recommendation is to download the Lyric App on your mobile device. Create a Lyric account and set up the Lyric T5 that way.
The communication between the App and thermostat was out of sync during our initial setup for some unknown reason. We later determined there is a disconnect between messages shown on Lyric T5’s screen and the Lyric App. What could have been a 5-minute setup turned into a half an hour battle with error messages. It was frustrating but we got it going in the end. The best tip we can offer if you were to encounter this situation is to follow the message on the thermostat screen rather than the App itself.
Once the initial setup is done, you need to decide whether you want to use regular scheduling or Geofence. In our pursuit of automated home temperature control for everyone at our place, we choose Geofence. Setting up Lyric T5’s Geofence is easy. You simply need to input 3 desired temperatures: home, away and sleep. To setup sleep mode, you need to enter your bedtime and time you wake up. Honeywell calls its Geofence feature with sleep setting as Smart Schedule. After setting up the Smart Schedule, Lyric T5 practically requires no more input from its user.
What is Geofence for a thermostat?
Geofence for a thermostat allows location-based temperature control. In Lyric T5’s case, Geofence allows you to mark a radius around your home like setting a virtual boundary using its Lyric App. The smallest radius you can set is 500 meters. The Lyric T5 will go into its “away mode” temperature when all devices registered to the Lyric account exit the boundary. As soon as one device re-enters the boundary, it triggers the heating/cooling needed to the desired “home” temperature. This means you will be greeted with either warmth or coolness when you step into your home.
The only caveats with Geofence are 1. Lyric T5 may think you are still home if you head over to your neighbour’s home for dinner; 2. you may trigger the HVAC system if you drive by the edge of the Geofence boundary; 3. it will not work for those who do not have the Lyric App installed on their mobile device. However, these occupants can override the temperature by adjusting Lyric T5 manually.
Nest Learning Thermostat also offers a similar feature to Geofence but calls it Home/Away Assist. Nest Labs indicates this feature is more accurate than Geofence because it combines Geofence with its learning capability and built-in motion sensors.
From our personal experience with Lyric T5, Geofence is one of the best features a smart thermostat can offer because it practically means automated temperature control.
Note: Geofence will not work if “location service” on your mobile device is turned off.
WiFi Smart Thermostat Choices
All smart thermostats could be programmed remotely via an App using a mobile device (Android or iOS), some brands such as Honeywell allows remote access via a PC as well. A smart thermostat App not only simplifies the setup process and scheduling, it also offers value-added features like vacation mode, filter change reminder or extreme in-home temperatures notifications. Besides these standard features, your should look for features below when shopping for a smart thermostat:
- Location based temperature control (a.k.a. Geofence or similar feature)
- Built-in motion sensor so the thermostat knows when your place/room is empty or occupied and learns your habit
- Providing zone heating or cooling using sensors placed in different rooms
Some features stated above are specific to certain brands, below is a quick summary of smart thermostats we researched:
Nest Labs makes the popular Nest Learning Thermostat. The first generation Nest thermostat was introduced in 2011 (the company was purchased by Google in 2014). Now in its 3rd generation, Nest Learning Thermostat remains as the leader in the segment. It offers a beautiful colour screen and intuitive menu navigation via its silky dial operation. It has a built-in motion sensor which learns your living patterns and predicts the temperature accordingly. The sensor could also be paired with its location-based temperature control service called Home/Away assist for a more accurate Geofence service.
ecobee is a company based in Canada. It was founded in 2007 and was the first company to sell a smart thermostat. Its flagship product, ecobee3, differs from other smart thermostats because it controls the home temperature via its remote sensor(s). The remote sensor detects the temperature and presence of people (where it is placed) and regulates the temperature for that particular space accordingly. ecobee3 offers Geofence but it only supports one device. For multi-device Geofence, you will need to install 3rd-party Apps for a workaround.
ecobee3 is slightly cheaper than Nest (same price in the US) and includes one remote sensor. A cheaper version of ecobee3 called ecobee3 Lite is available (US only at the time of this writing). However, ecobee3 Lite does not come with a remote sensor. Naturally, it lacks the support for remote sensor (you can’t add them later on) and its App does not have Geofence but you can install a 3rd party App. Thankfully, ecobee3 Lite still has a built-in motion sensor for learning your habits. Another difference is ecobee3 Lite does not support humidifiers, dehumidifiers or ventilators.
Lyric 2 Smart Thermostat (known as Lyric Round in the US)
Unlike Nest Labs and ecobee who each features only a couple flagship products, Honeywell offers various smart thermostat models. After all, Honeywell introduced its first thermostat more than 110 years ago (1906).
The most expensive model in their current product lineup is Lyric 2 Smart Thermostat (known as Lyric Round in US). It is slightly cheaper than both Nest Learning Thermostat and ecobee3. Its circular design is like a Nest and you can adjust the temperature by turning the unit itself like a Nest but that’s where the similarity ends. Lyric 2 is larger than a Nest. The display screen layouts are unconventional but it is designed with ease-of-use in mind. Lyric 2 offers Geofence and receives above average reviews.
This is a proven smart thermostat from Honeywell. It offers a look similar to a car GPS with colour touch-screen. Its mobile App is different from the Lyric product line called Total Connect Comfort App. Total Connect App is a web-based software which means you can control it anywhere as long as you have a mobile device or a PC and Internet connection. The only drawback is its lack of Geofence feature. Otherwise, it received very good review ratings.
This is the cheapest smart thermostat from Honeywell. It looks like a regular programmable thermostat with green LCD screen but with WiFi capability. It uses the same mobile App as RTH9580WF above so it offers one more option of controlling it remotely using a PC. Given its price, all is forgiven even if it lacks a colour screen, touch screen, and Geofence feature.
Lyric T5 is the latest smart thermostat offered by Honeywell near the end of 2016. It is easily $150 cheaper than a Nest Learning Thermostat in Canada ($100 cheaper in the US). Lyric T5 does not have a colour screen and its display is a made of cheaper type LCD display where the texts and graphics are fixed and etched. However, Honeywell deserves credit for making the display look decent and it goes well with Lyric 5’s overall design; a clever way to keep the cost down. From the very beginning, we knew we wanted a basic smart thermostat that looks good on our wall and easy on the wallet, more importantly, it must have Geofence. Honeywell’s Lyric T5 WiFi Smart Thermostat ticks all the boxes.
We really like our Lyric T5 WiFi Smart Thermostat. Given its “budget” price, we can afford to overlook its light-weight plastic construction; lack of colour screen and built-in motion sensor. The fact we haven’t touched it much after the initial setup makes these shortcomings even less important. Our biggest disappointment with Lyric T5 is: its display screen does not show the outside temperature (it does appear on the Lyric App). Other than that, Lyric T5 regulates our home temperature perfectly thanks to its reliable Geofence feature. Geofence provides heating or cooling only when someone is home even if the person doesn’t have access to the thermostat.
We are also happy to report there is a noticeable difference in our energy cost as compared to the previous year. The saving is mostly expected because we had a mercury blob thermostat. If you currently own a regular programmable thermostat, Lyric T5 is for you if:
- household members go in and out of the place without a fixed schedule.
- guests or tenants cannot access the main thermostat in the same building.
- automated home temperature control is desired
- you are looking for the cheapest smart thermostat with Geofence feature
- you would like to reduce your home heating/cooling cost
Note: upgrading to a smart thermostat hinges on the availability of a C-wire or the need to install a power extender kit (Lyric T5 does not come with a power extender kit). It is also subject to your HVAC system and home automation system (if available) compatibility. Hopefully, you can cut your energy bill with a simple smart thermostat upgrade. Good luck!
Honeywell Lyric T5 WiFi Smart Thermostat Review Summary
- One of the least expensive WiFi smart thermostats with Geofence (see price here)
- Geofence offers automated home temperature control
- Lyric T5’s Geofence allows multiple users
- Geofence can save energy for household whose members have different schedules
- Geofence is a good option for homes with separate entrances
- Lyric T5’s Geofence feature is reliable
- Touch screen is lockable with a password
- Programming Lyric T5 using an App on a mobile device is much easier when compared a regular digital thermostat
- Set temperatures are more precise than a mercury blob thermostat thus increasing comfort in the home
- Lyric T5 thermostat’s design looks clean and its screen is easy to read
- Touch screen is fairly responsive
- It will not work without a C-wire (common wire)
- No built-in motion sensor or learning function
- Regular scheduling and Geofence cannot co-exist with Lyric T5 so you must choose one or the other (but you can set sleep schedule with Geofence, Honeywell calls it a Smart Schedule)
- Heating or cooling will be triggered if you are within the marked Geofence radius even if you are not home
- Geofence will not work if the registered mobile device is turned off or out of battery
- Lyric T5 will continue to heat or cool your place if you left your mobile phone at home thus wasting energy while you are away
- Cannot control Lyric T5 WiFi Smart Thermostat using a PC
- Screen does not display outside temperature
- Old style LCD display where its text and graphic are etched and fixed
- WiFi setup process is confusing due to a disconnect between the thermostat and Lyric App.
- Touch screen is easily marred with fingerprints (Lyric T5 has a feature to disable its touch screen for 30 seconds so you can clean it)
- Any device connected to the Internet is susceptible to hacker attacks, smart thermostats included