Thermostats have come a long way from those early models with manual temperature dials that may or may not accurately reflect the room’s actual temperature. Today’s thermostats are highly efficient. Many are programmable. Some connect with smart-home systems for remote control through a smartphone app.
The best home thermostat depends on the user’s wants and needs and whether the home has a Wi-Fi network. Ahead, learn what factors to consider when shopping for a new thermostat, and find out why the following models are top options for many homeowners.
- BEST OVERALL: Google Nest Learning Thermostat
- RUNNER UP: Honeywell Home Programmable Thermostat
- BEST TOUCH SCREEN: Emerson Sensi Touch Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat
- BEST MINI: Honeywell Home T9 WIFI Smart Thermostat
- BEST LARGE DISPLAY: Honeywell Wireless WiFi Thermostat
- HONORABLE MENTION: Emerson Non-Programmable Single Stage Thermostat
- ALSO CONSIDER: Honeywell Home Wi-Fi 7-Day Programmable Thermostat
Types of Home Thermostats
Thermostats are available in three basic types: manual, programmable, and smart. A new thermostat can cost as little as $20 to as much as $300 or more for a high-end thermostat that comes with a boatload of bells and whistles. Most homeowners want a thermostat with features that help save on utility costs—without getting too complicated.
Manual thermostats are the least expensive and most straightforward to operate. Most come with an LED screen and a couple of buttons that raise and lower the room temperature. They usually include a manual switch that allows the user to switch to heat in the winter, cool in the summer, or a fan to circulate air whenever.
A programmable thermostat allows the user to set heating and cooling schedules based on activity in the home. For example, a homeowner can schedule the furnace to come on at 6 a.m. on weekdays to heat the house before the family wakes up to get ready for work and school. The heat or AC may start up again 30 minutes before the family gets back home. Depending on the thermostat, scheduling may be limited to repeating a seven-day cycle or extend for an entire month.
The new kids on the block, smart thermostats allow users to adjust a home’s temperature remotely through a corresponding smartphone app. These thermostats include a wide range of features and functions. Some could be very useful; others less so. When you look at smart thermostats with tons of functions, consider your lifestyle and choose accordingly. Don’t pay for features you won’t use. Here are some extras you might see:
- Occupancy sensing. Sensors can detect when a person is in the room, which triggers the AC or furnace to bring the temperature to a comfortable level. On some thermostats, these sensors can also evaluate aspects of air quality, such as allergen or humidity levels, and alert the homeowner.
- Geofencing. With the help of an app on the user’s phone, thermostats with this spiffy feature sense when occupants have left the home or are on the way back and adjust temps accordingly. The phone’s GPS triggers the thermostat when the phone is within three miles of the house, either coming or going.
- Smart-home integration. Most smart thermostats sync with various smart-home systems, such as Alexa, Google Home and Samsung SmartThings, to allow the user to control all the connected components from a single app.
Keep in mind that all these extra features require a little extra power. Manual and programmable thermostats require only a wire that connects the thermostat to the HVAC system, but smart thermostats often require an additional common wire (C-wire). The extra voltage is necessary to power a smart thermostat’s added functions, such as geofencing and Wi-Fi connectivity. New homes often come with C-wires already installed. In older homes, a professional may need to install a C-wire before the smart thermostat goes in.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Home Thermostat
It might be tempting to run out and buy a smart thermostat that promises energy efficiency, but don’t pull out the credit card until you’re sure it’s the right pick for your home. The best home thermostat is compatible with your existing heating and cooling system, comes with the features needed to make life simpler, and fits within your budget, which includes allowing for professional installation costs if necessary.
When it comes to choosing the best thermostat, one size does not fit all. Some thermostats control only heat, others control only cooling, and others control both. The type of thermostat required depends on the type of HVAC equipment. The following tips will help determine which type of thermostat you need.
- Separate heating and cooling systems require two separate thermostats.
- A zoned HVAC system requires a zone-enabled thermostat.
- If the home has a heat pump or a multistage heating system, a type-specific thermostat is necessary.
- Some new thermostats are compatible with mini-split systems and even window A/C units.
Smart thermostats may require users to place sensors in various rooms in the home to sense activity, monitor the temperature, and adjust the heating and cooling accordingly. These sensors, which communicate wirelessly with the thermostat, are a vital part of learning thermostats that record activity in the home for a period of time and then schedule heating and cooling to fit the family’s patterns. Sensors may also monitor other factors, including allergen and humidity levels in the room, and send alerts to the user’s smartphone.
Display and Controls
The best thermostat is one that’s easy to see and program. Many of today’s thermostats come with large LED screens and easy-to-follow prompts that help set the temperature and program a heating and cooling schedule. But some smart thermostats only include a small screen and limited direct programming capability. Instead, the user must control most functions through the corresponding app on a smartphone, tablet, or PC.
Replacing an existing manual or programmable thermostat with a new manual or programmable model is relatively simple; the existing wires simply connect to the new thermostat. Installing this type of thermostat is often a DIY project.
Replacing an existing smart thermostat with a new one may also be a DIY project. But if a C-wire is not available, running a new one is a job for an electrician. Installing a smart thermostat is only the first part of the task. After the new thermostat is on the wall, the user must download an app and then follow the prompts to connect the thermostat to the home’s Wi-Fi network. Most of the time, this is a relatively simple task if the user has a basic knowledge of routers and networks.
Thermostats are functional, not decorative. Still, many of today’s thermostats have sleek digital displays and look more appealing than their older counterparts. Some allow users to download a chosen background image onto the display. Most are low-profile so they don’t stick out far from the wall. A few of the newer models are designed for recessing in a wall stud space, making the front of the screen nearly flush with the wall’s surface for a sleek, clean look.
Our Top Picks
The best thermostats must be well made, dependable and accurate. Any extra features may benefit some, but not others. While the following home thermostats vary in features and functions, each one is a quality instrument that will help homeowners cut down on heating and cooling costs. One is sure to be an asset in your home.
The Google Nest Learning Thermostat takes note of repetitive tasks, such as when home dwellers tend to turn the temperature up or down, and remembers the information to adjust the temperature automatically. This smart thermostat also includes geofencing so that the temperature is just right when the family gets home without wasting energy when the house is empty. A dial display shows the temperature in large digital numerals that are clearly visible from across a room. A blue backlight indicates the house is cooling; a red one shows it’s warming up. It’s compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant so users can activate the thermostat with voice commands.
The Google thermostat requires a C-wire for installation and a Wi-Fi network for use. Sensors to activate additional features are sold separately.
No need to spend a lot of money to update an old thermostat to a new programmable model. This Honeywell Home thermostat offers weekday and weekend programming with up to four program changes per day, all at an affordable price. With a programmed daily schedule, this thermostat will run only when family members are home, saving money and energy when they’re out. Users further adjust the temperature with the press of a button on the thermostat.
Honeywell Home’s thermostat does not require a C-wire for installation, but it does require two AAA batteries (not included) to provide the additional power necessary to run the digital display. Installation instructions are included.
For those looking for both on-screen and remote thermostat control, this Emerson model might be just the ticket. On the large screen, users can check the temperature at a glance and make adjustments with the tap of a finger. Like other smart thermostats, it integrates with smart-home systems, including Alexa, Samsung SmartThings, and Apple HomeKit.
The Emerson monitors humidity and, with some configuration in the corresponding app, sends an alert via smartphone if the humidity rises out of a preset range. It also monitors heating and cooling patterns to generate energy usage reports that help the homeowner make changes to save energy. This smart thermostat works with most HVAC equipment and requires a C-wire for installation. A home Wi-Fi network is also necessary.
At about two-thirds the size of comparable models (4.92 inches high by 3.7 inches wide), Honeywell Home smart thermostat won’t take up much room on the wall or stick out like a sore thumb, but it still offers high-end smart features. Geofencing adjusts the temperature when family members leave home, which is a money and energy saver. Individual sensors (sold separately) help further adapt heating and cooling to the family’s needs.
This thermostat follows a preset heating and cooling schedule or learns the family’s routine and comes up with a program to fit. It integrates with several apps, including Alexa, Google Assistant, and Samsung SmartThings to offer remote or voice control of the HVAC system. The T9 comes with installation instructions and requires an installed C-wire as well as a home Wi-Fi network.
With the large digital display on this model, users can easily see the temperature from across the room. The display also shows the day, date, time, outdoor temperature, and indoor and outdoor humidity levels.
Users can program the thermostat, either directly on the display or through the smartphone app, to follow a seven-day schedule, which saves money and energy. Save even more with the optional energy-saving mode.
This smart thermostat syncs with smart-home systems, including Google Home and Alexa. Installation instructions are included, and a C-wire and home Wi-Fi network are necessary to run the thermostat.
Those looking for the most basic thermostat need look no further than this model from Emerson. One button raises the temperature and the other lowers it. The Emerson thermostat goes from heating to cooling with the flip of a switch. An easy-to-read LED screen shows the desired room temperature and the current temperature. This no-frills thermostat is well suited to homeowners who want to set and change the temperature by themselves without the need for programs or Wi-Fi connections. It doesn’t need a C-wire.
This smart thermostat comes in well below the price of models with comparable features and functionality. For an affordable price, the Honeywell Home unit brings some of the most popular smart thermostat options. For starters, it runs a weeklong program with up to four changes per day. The Honeywell syncs with a range of smart-home devices and apps, including Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, and Google Assistant, so users can control the temperature directly on the thermostat or remotely from an app-connected device.
The app pings when it’s time to replace air filters, when the Wi-Fi is down, and when the home’s temperature reaches (or falls below) a preset level. The thermostat comes with installation instructions and requires a C-wire. A home Wi-Fi network is necessary for operation.
FAQ About Home Thermostats
Here are a few of the most common questions about the latest thermostats.
Q. Will any thermostat work in my home?
Probably, but some additional wiring may be required to install a smart thermostat if the home is more than five to 10 years old.
Q. How does a smart thermostat work?
A smart thermostat connects to the home’s wireless network to relay information and allow the user to control the HVAC system remotely or by voice commands.
Q. Do you need Wi-Fi for a smart thermostat?
Yes. Smart thermostats must connect to the Wi-Fi in a home in order to communicate with the user’s smartphone.
Q. How do I choose a programmable thermostat?
Programmable thermostats can be smart or not-smart. Select one that can schedule at least seven days of heating and cooling and will allow you to override the schedule by adjusting the temperature up or down from the thermostat itself.
Q. Can you install a smart thermostat yourself?
If your home already has a C-wire, replacing an existing thermostat with a smart one is relatively simple and most likely a DIY project. If the house doesn’t have a C-wire, a professional should install one.
Q: Does a smart thermostat still work during an internet outage?
The features that make the thermostat “smart,” such as geofencing, voice command, and control through a smartphone app, won’t work when the internet is out. But, you can still control the thermostat manually directly on the unit.