A thermostat is one of the most important device in any home – as it has a key role in making your life comfortable (by regulating the room temperatures) and saving your energy bills. You may already know there are different types of thermostats and not all thermostats are alike. In this article, we write about programmable thermostats – which can be programmed to manage your schedules & lifestyle preferences. A programmable thermostat help save more energy compared to non-programmable or manual thermostats. Let’s see in detail.
Programmable Thermostats – The Intro!
A programmable thermostat gives you more comfort & energy savings compared to non-programmable or manual thermostat models. The key highlight is they can be programmed according to your preferences. Some thermostats are 7 day programmable, while some others are 5 day or 2 day programmable. Smart thermostats are self learning and they program itself automatically (after learning your lifestyle and habits) to give you the best possible comfort and energy savings.
Programming gives you a lot of control on how to regulate your heating/cooling system – for example, you are at work on weekdays and at home (full time) during week ends. In such a scenario, you can program the thermostat to turn OFF your heating/cooling system during your work hours and on weekends you can set the program to run your heating/cooling system full time. This kind of flexible programming helps to run your heating/cooling system at the best possible efficiency. Most of the programmable thermostats has holiday schedule option which allows you to either turn OFF the heating system or run at the minimal setting to prevent freezing. And that’s how programmable thermostats save more energy and save you more money compared to other models.
How they Save Energy & Money
Programmable thermostats, especially smart thermostats are really good at saving energy & thereby saving money on your wallet. They save energy by following the set program (your schedule & preferences) to run your HVAC system at the best possible efficiency. Smart thermostats can save upto 23% of annual energy usage (compared to ordinary thermostats) and the budget friendly 7 day programmable thermostats can save nearly 10 to 12% of annual energy usage.
How to Choose a Programmable Thermostat
As I wrote before, there are different types of thermostats designed for different types of HVAC systems. In America, 90% of the homes runs on low voltage HVAC systems like a central furnace or a boiler or heat pump based systems. Around 10% homes runs on line voltage systems like baseboard heaters or convection heaters which uses direct electricity to heat your homes. The very first thing to understand is that you can’t use a thermostat designed for line voltage systems (like a baseboard heater) with a low voltage HVAC system like a central furnace (and vice versa). So there are low voltage thermostats designed for low voltage systems and line voltage thermostats designed for line voltage systems.
In this article, we deal with low voltage thermostats only! We’ve reviewed programmable line voltage thermostats in our previously published guide. Let’s see some important things to consider before choosing a programmable thermostat.
- Low Voltage or Line Voltage – if you’re replacing an old thermostat, first identify if your old thermostat is low voltage or line voltage and buy your new thermostat accordingly. If you’re buying a thermostat for your newly installed HVAC system, first identify which type of thermostat (line voltage or low voltage) is suitable for your new heating/cooling system.
- Type of HVAC System – The first step is identifying if your system is low voltage or line voltage. The second step is identifying your HVAC (heating/cooling system) type. As I said before, 90% of America is running on central furnace or heat pump based systems. The key point here is that a particular thermostat model may not be compatible with all types of HVAC systems. You’ve to identify your HVAC type and check if the thermostat model you consider is compatible with your HVAC system.
- Single Stage or Multi Stage – A majority of homes in America is running on single stage HVAC systems. However, there are homes which uses 2 stage or even 3 stage heating/cooling systems. In the case of heat pumps, some homes are using single stage heat pumps only while a majority of homes use an auxiliary heating system along with heat pump. The key here is some thermostats support only single stage systems whereas some other models support 2 stage or 3 stage systems. You’ve to understand your system type and buy the thermostat accordingly.
We’ve seen the benefits of programmable thermostats – like how they save energy, how they give you best possible comfort and how they save you money. We’ve also seen how to choose a programmable thermostat wisely that suits your HVAC system. Now lets see some of the best programmable thermostat models in our world right now!
Smart Programmable Thermostats
Smart thermostats are basically programmable thermostats with “smart” capabilities & features built into it. They are really “smart” that you don’t need to program them manually by entering your schedule. Smart thermostats program itself automatically by learning your living habits & patterns. After installation, a smart thermostat starts to learn patterns of your lifestyle like when you come home, when you go to work, do you stay on weekends etc and based on this they program themselves to set your schedule automatically. A smart thermostat may take anywhere from 10 to 15 days (after installation) to learn the patterns and perfect the schedule. They continue to learn lifelong that they change themselves when your living habits change.
The key highlight of a smart thermostat is its high energy savings. Smart thermostats can save up to 23% of annual energy usage compared to an ordinary thermostat in place. In addition, smart thermostats can be controlled via WiFi, smartphone apps, most of them support voice control, they give energy usage reports and so on. Lets see some of the best smart programmable thermostat models.
#1 Nest 3rd Gen and Nest E – Smart Programmable Thermostats
Nest 3rd Gen thermostat
Nest E thermostat
The #1 choice we’ve in smart thermostat is Nest 3rd Gen and Nest E models. Nest 3rd Gen is the full featured smart thermostat model with all features & capabilities of a smart thermostat. Nest E is the budget model – which is basically a trimmed down version of the Nest 3rd Gen thermostat. You can read the comparison and see the difference between Nest 3rd Gen and Nest E in our review.
The prime difference between Nest 3rd Gen and Nest E is in features, compatibility and build quality. Nest E is compatible only upto 2 stage heating/cooling, whereas Nest 3rd Gen model is compatible upto 3 stage heating/cooling systems. Build quality is high for Nest 3rd Gen model and is available on steel or copper builds (Nest E is available only on plastic build). Some key features like Geo fencing is not avilable on Nest E. You can read our full review of Nest 3rd vs Nest E to see the comparison.
#2 Ecobee 4 and Ecobee 3 Lite – Smart Thermostats
Ecobee 3 Lite
Ecobee currently has two smart thermostat models available in the market – Ecobee 4 and Ecobee 3 Lite. Out of these two models, Ecobee 4 is the full featured model with lots of features like self learning, built in Amazon Alexa, remote room sensor, and a lot of useful features. Ecobee 3 Lite is the budget model smart thermostat (a trimmed version of Ecobee 4 in features) which has all essential features needed for a smart thermostat but not as good as Ecobee 4.
The key difference between Ecobee 4 & Ecobee 3 Lite is that – the budget model Ecobee 3 Lite has no builtin Amazon Alexa & no remote room sensors are provided with. Also Ecobee 3 Lite is not compatible with HVAC accessories like dehumidifiers and ventilators. You can read our review of Ecobee 4 vs Ecobee 3 Lite to see the differences.
Programmable Thermostats with WiFi
Nest & Ecobee are truly “smart’ thermostats, incorporating all high end features, and those ‘smart features’ comes with a price tag as well. However, if you’re looking for a budget friendly thermostat with essential features like WiFi connectivity, Emerson Sensi and Honeywell RTH9585WF are two good options to choose from.
#3 Emerson Sensi – Smart Thermostat
Sensi is a popular WiFi thermostat from the automation giant Emerson. Sensi has all features of a smart thermostat (including geofencing) except the “self learning” feature. We’ve covered full review of Emerson Sensi in our guide.
#4 Honeywell WiFi Programmable Thermostat
Honeywell RTH9585WF is one of the best selling WiFi enabled programmable thermostat. This model is pocket friendly, and has all essential features like WiFi based control, voice control (with help of smart home hubs like Alexa, Homekit), energy usage reports, big display screen and other necessary features for a modern thermostat.