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Smart vs Programmable Thermostat: A Comparison

When you have to replace the existing older thermostat in your home, you might wonder whether you have to purchase a smart thermostat, or will a less pricy programmable thermostat be suitable.  The problem is most probably that you don’t know what to choose because you don’t know what the differences and similarities between the two types of thermostats are.  

Both programmable and smart thermostats allow you to program your home’s cooling and heating system. Smart thermostats, however, go further and are designed to learn your behavior over time and then automatically adjust the temperature in your home to accommodate your habits and preferences. You can also communicate with your smart thermostat remotely via an app on your mobile device.

In this article, we’ll have a look at the similarities and differences between programmable and smart thermostats. If you understand the differences and know what the benefits of each are, it will be easier to decide what will be the best type of thermostat for you.  

Similarities between smart and programmable thermostats

Unlike manual thermostats, which hold the temperature where you set it until you adjust it yourself manually again, both programmable and smart thermostats can be set to increase and decrease the temperature automatically, without ever touching the devices after they’ve been set.  Thus, both are instrumental in saving you money on your energy bills and regulating the temperature of your home. 

Programmable thermostat

When you use a programmable thermostat you can pre-determine the temperature of your home for specific days and times throughout the week. Some allow you to program different temperature schedules for each day of the week. 

Others only allow you to schedule a “week schedule” and a separate “weekend schedule,” meaning that all the days of the week have the same schedule. And all Saturdays and Sundays have identical schedules.  

Whichever type of programmable thermostat you have in your home, you can set it that the heating and cooling system is not running unnecessarily when you and your family are not at home. 

A programmable thermostat is all you need if you normally leave the home and return at the same time every day. However, if you come home earlier some days, you’ll have to override the set temperature manually and set your preferred temperature. 

However, despite the “inconvenience” when you don’t stick to set times, a programmable thermostat offers benefits. One of the benefits is that you can save up to 20% on your energy bills.

Honeywell TH4110U2005 is an example of a programmable thermostat.

Smart Thermostats

A smart thermostat can do everything a programmable thermostat can do, but goes above and beyond a programmable thermostat’s functions. It is intuitive and can learn from your behavior. By following the temperature changes you make, the smart thermostat begins making the same changes on its own. 

A smart thermostat is Wi-Fi enabled and can be adjusted and programmed remotely from your mobile device via an app. 

Another great benefit of a smart thermostat is that it accurately tracks and manages data regarding your energy use. It helps you to monitor the effectiveness of your HVAC system. Generally, a smart thermostat can also save 20% on your home’s energy bill.

Ecobee is an example of a smart thermostat.

Smart vs Programmable Thermostats: A Brief Comparison

For your convenience, we’ve compiled the following table indicating the most important similarities and differences between the two types of thermostats. 

Smart ThermostatsProgrammable Thermostats
Time and day schedules accepted Limited time and day schedules accepted 
Save energy and moneySave energy and money
Intuitive and learn user’s habits and temperature preferencesOnly work with set schedules
Can be programmed via an appDon’t work via an app
Wi-Fi enabledDon’t need/work with Wi-Fi 
Track and manage HVAC information Don’t track and manage HVAC information
Easy to change schedules via the appHave to change schedules manually
Offer multiple schedulesOffer only one schedule
Can control multiple zones in the homeControl home as one unit
Automatically change schedules due to weather conditionsCannot change schedules automatically
Well-designed and fit into the decorGenerally not designed with the décor in mind 
Smart vs programmable thermostats

Which type of thermostat is right for you?

Both programmable and smart thermostats offer money-saving benefits. Although a smart thermostat is more expensive than a programmable one, a smart thermostat should be your choice if you like the innovative option and want to be able to control your thermostat remotely.  You can calculate how much you can save using a smart thermostat using our Savings Calculator Tool.

If you in principle only want a thermostat to keep to pre-set schedules because you are always forgetting to adjust the temperature levels manually, then a programmable thermostat will be beneficial. 

In the end, it is a personal choice you have to make. It depends on your preferences and needs.

Why some homes don’t benefit from either a programmable or smart thermostat

Programmable and smart thermostats are ideal in homes where warm or cool air is blown around to regulate the temperature. Both are designed to work well with furnace and air conditioning-based systems, called forced-hot-air systems.

About 90% of homes in the US use this method to establish a comfortable temperature in the home and thus can accommodate programmable and smart thermostats.  

But there are homes that use hydronic, or water-based, radiant heating systems. These systems have boilers to heat water and then send it around the home to heavy cast-iron radiators, baseboard heaters, and radiant flooring. Homes with these kinds of radiant heating are not suitable for programmable or smart thermostats.

The problem with smart thermostats is that a radiant system heats and cools slowly. So, there’s not much opportunity to use setbacks. For instance, a radiant floor usually takes a few days to warm up to the right temperature. If the temperature is dropped for a few hours it would take many hours again to recover. 

Some smart thermostats have built-in software to anticipate the time to heat and cool heavy cast-iron radiators, baseboard heaters, and radiant flooring, but there is not much opportunity for the thermostats to gain efficiency with such systems. 

Conclusion

If your home is not part of the 10% of U.S. homes that use radiant heating systems you can benefit by installing a programmable or smart thermostat to enhance your HVAC system’s efficiency. We hope that this article will help you to decide whether a programmable or smart thermostat will be the best for your home.