The Best Programmable Thermostats for the Home
Keep costs down and temperatures ideal with the best programmable thermostat for your lifestyle and budget.
Saving money has never been more important for most Americans, yet many forget how much is inadvertently wasted through inefficient heating and cooling of the 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to the Environmental Protection Agency, you could save up to $180 per year on your energy bill simply by upgrading an outdated thermostat to a programmable model.
The best programmable thermostats put you more in control of your home heating and cooling. Their features typically include 7-day scheduling options, clear digital displays, touchscreens, and programmable default settings that let you quickly return the thermostat schedule to your preferred selections. Some even connect to smart home devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
Keep reading for a primer on the energy-saving additions and to find out why the following rate as our top favorites among the best programmable thermostat options available.
- TOP PICK: ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control
- RUNNER-UP: Honeywell Home 7 Day Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat
- BEST VALUE: Orbit Clear Comfort Programmable Thermostat
- HONORABLE MENTION: King Programmable Electronic Line Voltage Thermostat
Key Shopping Considerations
There are some features to think about when choosing the right thermostat for your home. Be sure to consider compatibility with your current system, if you are looking for a programmable device, and if you plan to connect the thermostat with any smart devices.
HVAC System Compatibility
Whatever programmable thermostat you choose, it must be compatible with your current heating and cooling system. The first thing to verify is if your system is low voltage (24V), which most heating and cooling systems are, 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.
Next, determine if you have enough wires for a programmable thermostat.
- In low-voltage systems, all wires running to the thermostat from the furnace are the same, 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 will connect to load terminals. When connecting a programmable thermostat, be sure to label all wires before detaching them from their terminals so that you know where they reattach.
While not an issue for programmable thermostats without WiFi, 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 whether 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 tech who installed the unit may have buried the C-wire if it wasn’t immediately needed. Only if you are extremely confident in your HVAC knowledge should you check inside the furnace for the correct wire.
If your system doesn’t have a C-wire, you can hire an electrician or HVAC technician to run one from the furnace to the thermostat if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself.
Programmable thermostats offer several different scheduling options, which help save you money by conserving energy whenever possible.
- The most basic thermostat scheduling options include a day and night mode that automatically lowers or raises the temperature depending on the time of day.
- Models known as 7-day thermostats let you schedule an entire week with a different program for each day, 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.
Readable, Wireless Control, and Intuitive Design
How you read, schedule, and control your thermostat—via a simple illuminated display screen or a fully integrated smart device system—depends on your personal preferences. Here’s what you need to know about your options.
Many of 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 (times when the house is empty versus busy).
The latest styles trend towards a large, simple display on a wall-mounted touchscreen. 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 you to operate the thermostat outside the home—a convenient feature if you forget to adjust the temperature before leaving for the day. They can also send alerts to your phone to inform you about heating and cooling patterns.
Ease of Installation
Programmable thermostats can be installed by a professional HVAC technician or electrician, or you can DIY in about an hour if you’ve got basic electrical skills, similar to those required to replace an electrical outlet. Before buying a programmable thermostat, review the installation instructions on the product website to get a sense of what’s involved. This will help you determine if it’s a project you can handle yourself.
Programmable thermostats come with a range of additional features, from geofencing technology that uses an invisible perimeter around a specific geographic location (i.e., your home) to determine when you arrive and depart, to additional room sensors for more even temperature control. Built-in programs, like Amazon Alexa, can turn a simple thermostat into a fully operational voice service, capable of accessing the internet and retrieving weather, music, phone calls, and more.
Our Top Picks
1. TOP PICK: ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control
If you want to control your thermostat from the comfort of your couch, the ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control hears you! It works with Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant, to manage temperature schedules based on daily activity, and includes a sensor you can place in any room you wish to wirelessly connect to the thermostat and provide a balanced temperature throughout the home. This ecobee model can integrate with your smartphone or smartwatch, and also works with popular smart home systems such as Google Assistant, Apple Home Kit, Alexa, Samsung SmartThings, as well as supporting applications like IFTTT. Also smart: guided video walkthroughs that help simplify DIY installation. The thermostat boasts an impressive savings of up to 23 percent on your yearly HVAC costs—and you may even qualify for a rebate from your local utility provider—meaning substantial savings that help justify this smart thermostat’s relatively high price tag.
2. RUNNER-UP: Honeywell Home 7 Day Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat
If your family’s busy schedule is ever-changing, the Honeywell Home 7 Day Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat offers three different 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 one-week (every day the same). In addition to temperature, the extra-large touchscreen display shows the indoor humidity percentage and time of day with a cool, blue backlight that’s easy to read from anywhere in the room. The thermostat uses the schedule you input to learn your desired heating and cooling cycles, setting temperatures based on your preferences. Plus, temperature range limits allow a maximum and minimum temperature to be set so that auto-schedules don’t go beyond your comfort levels.
3. BEST VALUE: Orbit Clear Comfort Programmable Thermostat
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 you 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 you get home—yet those with standard 9-5 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.
4. HONORABLE MENTION: KING 7-Day Programmable Electronic Line Voltage Thermostat
If your home must use line-voltage thermostats, this model provides a few desirable low-voltage features. The KING 7-Day Programmable Electronic Line Voltage Thermostat has a 7-day programming feature that allows you to set a different program for every day of the week. A powerful backlight and large digital display let you easily read the thermostat from across the room. A simple two-button control is accessible when the cover is closed, keeping the programming buttons out of sight and away from curious children, and a battery backup protects programmed settings from power outage resets. With up to 15 percent energy savings through programmed temperature control, the thermostat quickly pays for itself.