Saving money has never been more important for most Americans, yet many forget how much they inadvertently waste through inefficient heating and cooling of their home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, you could save up to $180 per year on your energy bill simply by upgrading an outdated thermostat to a programmable model. Newer models keep track of daily activities, lowering the energy output when you’re sleeping or away from home, so you don’t pay to heat or cool a space to optimum temperatures around the clock.
These modern marvels include 7-day scheduling options, clear digital displays, touch screens, and programmable default settings that let you quickly return the thermostat schedule to preferred selections. Some programmable thermostats connect to smart-home devices, like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, allowing them to learn from each other and design a comprehensive heating and cooling schedule that suits your family’s specific needs.
Keep reading for a primer on what to consider when shopping for these eco-friendly devices, and discover some of the best programmable thermostats for the home on the market today.
- BEST OVERALL: ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Honeywell Home RTH2300B1038 5-2 Day Programmable
- BEST FOR LINE VOLTAGE: King Programmable Line Voltage Thermostat
- BEST DIGITAL OPTION: Orbit 83521 Clear Comfort Programmable Thermostat
- BEST TOUCH SCREEN: Honeywell RTH8560D 7-Day Programmable Touchscreen
- BEST GOOGLE INTEGRATION: Google Nest Learning Thermostat
- BEST FLOOR HEATING: Ditra Heat Touchscreen Programmable Floor Heating
There are several factors to weigh when choosing the best programmable thermostat for your home. Be sure to consider compatibility with your current HVAC system, scheduling options, ease of installation, the ability to connect the thermostat with smart devices, and the desire for extra bells and whistles. Read on to learn more.
HVAC System Compatibility
Whichever programmable thermostat you choose, it must be compatible with the home’s current heating and cooling (HVAC) system. The first item to verify is if the system is low voltage (24V), which is true of most heating and cooling systems, as opposed to line voltage (120V to 240V). In a low-voltage system, a single thermostat controls a large furnace that heats the entire house. In a line voltage system, a thermostat controls an individual electric space heater, such as a baseboard heater, with each requiring an independent thermostat.
For quick reference, both ecobee and Nest offer compatibility checkers; or you can check out this detailed guide on furnace compatibility.
Next, determine if you have enough wires for a programmable thermostat.
- In low-voltage systems, the same wires all run to the thermostat from the furnace, so you won’t have to worry about wire type. Just keep track of the terminal letter to which each wire is connected.
- High-voltage systems have four wires: two that correspond to line terminals and two that connect to load terminals. When connecting a programmable thermostat, be sure to label all wires before detaching them from their terminals so you know where they reattach.
While not an issue for programmable thermostats without Wi-Fi, most WiFi-enabled programmable thermostats require a closed circuit between the furnace and the thermostat, using a common wire (also called a C-wire).
To tell if there is a C-wire, remove the cover from your current thermostat, and look for the terminal labeled “C.” If there is a wire here, you’re good to go; if not, check in the insulation behind the thermostat, as the HVAC technician who installed the unit may have buried the C-wire if it wasn’t immediately needed. However, only check inside the furnace for the correct wire if you are highly confident in your HVAC knowledge.
If the current system doesn’t have a C-wire, consider hiring an electrician or HVAC technician to run one from the furnace to the thermostat.
Programmable thermostats offer several scheduling options, which help save money by conserving energy whenever possible.
- Basic thermostats offer day and night modes that automatically lower or raise the temperature depending on the time of day.
- 7-day thermostats schedule an entire week, with a different program for each day that’s geared to when family members are home and when they’re away.
- 5+2-day thermostats have two weekly programs, one for the Monday to Friday work week and one for the weekend. 5-1-1 thermostats offer similar scheduling options, except the two weekend days can be scheduled independently.
Alternately, smart thermostats learn weekly patterns and auto-adjust without users having to create schedules manually.
Readable, Wireless Control, and Intuitive Design
How you read, schedule, and control the thermostat, either via a simple illuminated display screen or a fully integrated smart-device system, depends on your personal preferences.
The best programmable thermostats provide an easy-to-read digital hub where users can check the temperature in the home and schedule changes that match routines to adjust for when the house is empty versus full.
The latest styles trend toward a large, simple display on a wall-mounted touch screen. If you spring for voice control and compatibility with smart-home systems, you’ll be able to make scheduling changes without touching the thermostat.
WiFi-enabled programmable thermostats may also display temperature and scheduling options through coordinating smartphone apps. These wireless controls allow for operation of the thermostat outside the home, which is a convenient feature if you forget to adjust the temperature before leaving for the day. They can also send alerts to your smartphone about heating and cooling patterns.
Ease of Installation
A professional HVAC technician or electrician installs programmable thermostats, or you can do it yourself in about an hour if you have basic electrical skills, such as those required to replace an electrical outlet. Before buying a programmable thermostat, review the instructions on the product website to understand what is involved in the installation and determine if it’s a project you can handle alone.
Programmable thermostats offer a range of additional features. Some provide geofencing technology that uses an invisible perimeter around a specific geographic location (i.e., your home) to determine when you arrive and depart. Others have additional room sensors for more precise temperature control. Built-in programs, like Amazon Alexa, can turn a simple thermostat into a fully operational voice service that is capable of accessing the internet and retrieving weather, music, phone calls, and more.
Our Top Picks
These programmable thermostats were chosen based on the abovementioned considerations in addition to overall quality and price. Check out some of the top-rated options on the market here.
For users who want to control a thermostat from the comfort of the couch, the ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control is an option that fits the bill. It works with Amazon Alexa to manage temperature schedules based on daily activity and includes a sensor that can be placed in any room to wirelessly connect to the thermostat and provide a balanced temperature throughout the home.
This ecobee model also integrates with a smartphone or smartwatch and other popular smart-home systems, like Google Assistant, Apple Home Kit, and Samsung SmartThings, as well as supporting applications like IFTTT. Also smart: ecobee’s guided video walk-throughs that help simplify DIY installation. The thermostat boasts an impressive savings of up to 23 percent on annual HVAC costs; these substantial savings help justify this smart thermostat’s relatively high price tag.
Set and control this inexpensive programmable thermostat with the simple buttons on the front and the sliders on the bottom of the device. The Honeywell Home 5-2 Day Programmable Thermostat has a backlit display with bold text and a battery change reminder. This battery-powered thermostat pairs with gas, oil, and electric HVAC systems and even retains the programmed settings when the power goes out.
The 5+2 programming system allows users to set a daily schedule for the Monday to Friday workweek and a separate schedule for the weekends when everyone is home, so the house is always kept at the ideal temperature to within +/- 1 degree Fahrenheit.
If a home must use a line-voltage thermostat, this model provides several desirable, low-voltage features. The King Programmable Line Voltage Thermostat boasts a 7-day programming feature that allows users to set a different program for every day of the week. A powerful backlight and large digital display make it easy to read the thermostat from across the room.
The King’s simple two-button control is accessible when the cover is closed, keeping the programming buttons out of sight and away from curious children. A battery backup protects programmed settings from power outage resets. With up to 15 percent energy savings through programmed temperature control, this thermostat quickly pays for itself.
The elegant design and vivid digital display of the Orbit Clear Comfort Programmable Thermostat give any room a modern feel. Its 7-day programmability allows users to set four programming periods for each day of the week, optimizing the temperature setting for maximum energy savings.
An early-start mode begins to increase or decrease the temperature to the desired setting before users arrive home. Those with standard 9-to-5 schedules can use the “copy” feature to program a single day and then copy the schedule to any other day instead of having to set each one individually.
For those with busy and ever-changing schedules, the Honeywell Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat offers three programming cycle options, including 7-day (each day has a different schedule), 5-2 (workweek is the same, and the weekend is the same), and 1-week (every day is the same). In addition to temperature, the extra-large touch screen display shows the indoor humidity percentage and time of day using a cool-blue backlight that’s easy to read from anywhere in the room.
The thermostat takes the schedules users input to learn their desired heating and cooling cycles and sets temperatures based on their preferences. Plus, temperature range limits allow users to set a maximum and minimum temperature, so auto schedules don’t go beyond their comfort level.
Operate the Google Nest Learning Thermostat with voice commands, a mobile app, or simply use the touch screen control. Initially, users should frequently adjust the temperature to their ideal preference throughout the day. The thermostat will record these settings and “learn” from them, which essentially means compiling the data and creating a customized heating and cooling program to meet the users’ needs.
To use voice commands, integrate the programmable thermostat with a compatible smart-home system, like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Users can set the thermostat with customized schedules that change every day, depending on personal preference, or leave it on the auto function to adjust the temperature according to the learned patterns. It also works with popular smart-home systems, like Apple Home Kit or Samsung SmartThings, as well as supporting applications like IFTTT.
In-floor heating systems need to be well controlled to ensure that temperatures remain consistent and comfortable for all residents of a home. The Ditra Heat Touchscreen Programmable Thermostat boasts a large 3.5-inch touch screen display that’s easy to read and use. A built-in floor temperature sensor and the display can indicate the time, date, temperature, and whether the system is currently running on a specific schedule or if it’s operating via a manual setting.
The thermostat features six different programming periods, allowing users to select the ideal temperature for the time of the day. This likely means warmer floors at night and in the early morning to help prevent freezing surfaces that cause bare feet to recoil. The thermostat works with both 120V and 240V systems.
FAQs about Programmable Thermostats
Still have questions about all of the features and functions of programmable thermostats? Check out some of the most frequently asked questions and their corresponding answers below to help make the purchasing decision easier.
Q. Is it worth getting a programmable thermostat?
Adding a programmable thermostat to your home is worth it because setting a heating and cooling schedule can help moderate the output of the furnace or air conditioner, reducing the overall cost of your utilities.
Q. What is the easiest thermostat to program?
The easiest thermostat to program will be different for each person. Individuals less experienced with technology may find it easier to program a simple day and night schedule, while tech-savvy people will likely be more comfortable with a smart-home integrated device controlled by voice commands.
Q. Is a smart thermostat better than a programmable thermostat?
This decision depends on your experience with smart-home devices and personal preference. If you want to set a variety of schedules with voice commands, then a smart thermostat is necessary. If the goal is to establish a basic heating and cooling schedule, then a programmable thermostat will suit your needs.