A “central heating thermostat” – is just the same normal thermostat that is used to control a central heating system. In USA, the two most commonly used type of central heating systems are a boiler or a furnace. A central heating system produces heat at one point (usually setup in the basement area or a furnace room) and distributes heat to the whole building by forced air through duct works (in the case of a furnace), or as hot water/steam through pipes (in the case of a boiler). A thermostat that is compatible with a central heating system can be called – a central heating thermostat; that is a thermostat compatible for a boiler system or a central furnace.
As we’ve mentioned in our other guides, about 90% of homes in USA is using heating systems like a boiler or a furnace or a heat pump. When a central heating system is combined with other systems (like ducts/pipes for heat distribution, thermostats for temperature control, cooling coils) – it forms a complete HVAC system. We’ve published guides featuring Central Furnace Thermostats and Central Boiler Thermostats – both guides covering smart, WiFi and programmable thermostats compatible for central heating systems.
Thermostats for Central Heating Furnace
A furnace based central heating system mainly involves a central furnace setup in one point, and the heat produced in the furnace is distributed through ducts as warm air. Usually natural gas is the commonly used energy source in a central furnace. In USA, around 49% of homes are powered by natural gas based central heating systems (source). Other than natural gas, Electricity based heating systems (nearly 33% of households), fuel oils (6%) , propane/LPG (5%), wood (2%) are also used as energy source in a central furnace.
The heat produced in a furnace is used to heat the air in a heat exchanger. The warm air is then distributed with help of blowers (forced air), through ducts which are passing through each and every room. A central furnace is relatively cost effective heating system, compared to boiler or other systems.
Thermostats for Boiler Heating Systems
Boilers – as the name implies, uses hot water distribution through pipes installed in different rooms. A boiler unit is setup in one point (usually in the basement) and water is heated to a desired temperature (not really till the boiling point). The hot water is then passed through radiators and pipes installed through out different rooms, where they release heat from hot water while passing. Most commonly, boilers use “natural gas” as fuel source. However, heating oils, electricity, propane/LPG, wood are also used as fuel sources to produce heat.
Boilers are costly to install compared to central furnace heating systems. The reason for high cost is pipes & radiators which have high material cost compared to setting up air ducts. The key advantage of a boiler is the ease of setting up “zoned systems” where each individual rooms can be set as unique zones – which can be controlled using thermostats installed in each rooms. Central furnace based heating systems are not ideal for setting up zoned systems.
Central Heating Thermostat Types
A handful of choices are available as central heating thermostats – which can be WiFi/Wireless heating thermostats, or smart thermostats, or digital programmable thermostats for central heating systems. Out of these 3 models, smart thermostats are the most modern type with advanced features like self learning, energy savings, internet based control using smartphones, geo-fencing and a lot more. If you’re price conscious, go for a normal digital programmable heating thermostat, which would be budget friendly.
WiFi/Wireless Central Heating Thermostats
We’re living in an “internet connected” era and most people prefer connected smart devices these days. Internet connected devices often provide us with great convenience as they can be controlled from anywhere using smart phone apps. Most of the new generation thermostats like Nest, Ecobee, Emerson Sensi, Honeywell RTH – are all WiFi enabled thermostats suitable for any central heating systems (be it a boiler or a furnace). All these wireless central heating thermostats can be connected to your home WiFi and they can controlled from anywhere using the respective mobile apps.
Out of the 4 models listed above, Nest, Ecobee and Sensit ST75 are “smart thermostats” with high end features like energy savings, auto programming, geo-fencing and other useful features. Let’s go through all of them in a nutshell.
#1 Ecobee 4 and Ecobee 3 Lite
We’ve covered full review of Ecobee 4 and Ecobee 3 Lite – where we have detailed features, compatibility, comparison between the two models and a lot other useful information. Ecobee 4 is the full featured model with built in Amazon Alexa, and comes with an extra room sensor to setup zoned system (to manage any hot/cold spots in your home). Ecobee 3 Lite – is the budget model central heating thermostat, which is basically a trimmed down version of ECobee 4. There is no built in Amazon Alexa and no room sensor is provided with Ecobee 3 Lite.
For Boiler – Both ecobee models are compatible with central heating boilers. They support 2H/2C – Two stages of heating and Two stages of forced air cooling.
For Furnace – Both ecobee models support central furnace heating systems. They are compatible with single stage systems and multi stage systems (upto 2H/2C – Two stages of heating/cooling)
#2 Nest 3rd Gen and Nest E
Nest 3rd Gen is the full featured model with “self learning”, energy savings, geo fencing and a lot other smart features. Nest E is the budget model with differences in build quality. The key difference between Nest 3rd Gen and Nest E is in compatibility. Nest 3rd Gen is compatible with 90% of HVAC systems, where as Nest E is compatible with only about 80% of HVAC systems in use.
We’ve reviewed Nest 3rd Gen and Nest E – in our comprehensive guide covering all aspects & comparisons. Read through our guide, if you’ve Nest models in your mind.
For Boilers – Nest 3rd Gen supports upto 2H/2C (two stages of heating/cooling). Nest 3rd Gen also supports dual transformer configuration. Nest E supports upto 2H/1C only (two stages of heating and one stage of cooling). Nest E doesn’t support dual transformer configuration.
For Furnaces – Nest 3rd Gen supports upto 2H/3C (two stages of heating and three stages of cooling). Nest E supports only upto 2H/1C (two stages of heating and one stage of cooling)
#3 Emerson Sensi ST75
Emerson Sensi ST75 is a value for money WiFi central heating thermostat with lots of useful features like energy savings, voice control, geo-fencing, internet control and more. The only feature Sensi ST75 lacks is “self learning” which is commonly found in smart thermostats like Nest and Ecobee.
For Boilers & Furnaces – Sensi ST75 supports upto 2H/2C – two stages of heating and two stages of cooling for both boilers and furnaces.
#4 Honeywell RTH9585WF
Honeywell is still one of the market leader in thermostats, as they have models covering different budgets and different types of HVAC systems. “Honeywell RTH9585WF” – is one of the best selling WiFi central heating thermostat model suitable for central furnace and boiler based HVAC systems. This model comes with a big, color, touch screen display – where the color of touchscreen interface can be changed to suit your room interiors. The model also has voice control enabled – and is compatible with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home and other smart home hubs.
For Boilers & Furnace – Honeywell RTH9585WF supports upto 2H/2C – that is 2 stages of heating and 2 stages of cooling. Fan is supported for electric furnace models. Other accessories like humidifiers and ventilators are not supported.