How to choose the right thermostat for your home

Programmable thermostat. How to choose the right thermostat for your home
Touch screen programmable thermostat. Wikimedia Commons

Choosing the right thermostat for your home is more complicated than it used to be. Not long ago, you only had a choice among brands of manual thermostats. You can still get a manual thermostat if you want. But now you need to consider the features of programmable thermostats and smart thermostats. 

Your choice matters. About half of the energy costs for your home come from heating and cooling. It also matters where your thermostat is located. The builder of my house put the thermostat in an interior hallway. I can set it for a comfortable temperature, but when it’s that temperature there, it can be too hot or too cold in the rest of the house.

If I still had a manual thermostat, I would have to pay a lot of money to have it moved. But I have a programmable thermostat. All I had to do was buy a remote control for it, and I can put it wherever I want. 

Smart thermostats can do even more. You don’t even have to be home to control them. All you need is a cell phone.

With all those options, how do you choose the right thermostat for your home?

Manual thermostats

When you have a manual thermostat, you set the temperature. It keeps the same setting until you change it again. A lot of people had no idea what happened when they changed it or how long it took for the temperature in the house to change.

I knew a retired heating contractor back in the 1970s. He told me of a time when the man of the house quietly offered to tell him where the thermostat was. His wife was one of those people who constantly changed the setting. He disconnected it and installed a working thermostat on a floorboard behind the couch!

As it turns out, both micromanaging the thermostat and leaving it at the same temperature all the time both waste energy. 

On the one hand, some people thought that turning the thermostat a little higher or lower than they want it would make the furnace or air conditioning work faster. It doesn’t. All it does is make the temperature to hot or too cold. Then they’d have to fiddle with it again.

On the other hand, often no one is home for eight hours during the day. At those times, the temperature should be a few degrees lower than comfortable in the winter or higher in  the summer. And you should also have a different setting while you sleep. Those changes can save about 15% of your energy costs. 

But, of course, with a manual thermostat, you have to remember to change the settings at just the right times. And it is less accurate and precise than programmable or smart thermostats.

Manual thermostats cost less upfront. They have a simpler design; therefore they last longer. But they are probably not the right thermostat for your home.

Programmable thermostats

Remote. How to choose the right thermostat for your home
Battery operated remote for programmable thermostat. My photo

With a programmable thermostat, you rely on computer memory, not your own. Define times of the day when someone will be  home, times when no one will be home, and times when everyone is in bed. Choose suitable temperatures for each time. 

Program make one set of temperatures for heating and another for cooling. Be sure to get one with and “automatic” setting as well as heating and cooling settings. It helps in the spring and fall when the weather can’t make up its mind. The thermostat will choose whether to operate the furnace or air conditioner.

When you go on vacation., program a temperature that would be uncomfortable for people but good for your furnishings and appliances. Tell the thermostat the day and time you expect to return. You’ll come home to a comfortable house.

People found the earliest programmable thermostats hard to use. So many people gave up and used them as manual thermostats that Energy Star stopped certifying them. They don’t save any money if people don’t program them.

Therefore, modern programable thermostats have a simple touch screen. They are so easy and intuitive to use. If you need help, ask the technician who does your annual inspection to show you how to program it. If you have the old kind of programmable thermostat that confused everyone, it will be worth it to get a newer one.

Programmable thermostats cost more than manual thermostats. They have a more complex design, so more things can go wrong with them. It’s also more complicated to match your home’s heating and cooling system with just the right one. But it’s worth the momentary hassle.

As I said before, you can also get a battery-operated remote control if your thermostat is not in a good place. 

Smart thermostats

Smart thermostats run on wi-fi. You can control them from an app on your phone. They can also give you reports on  how the system is working. They’ll even remind you of when to put in a new filter. 

Some smart thermostats let you put sensors in several places in the house. That helps keep temperatures in balance. 

Energy Star started a new certification for smart thermostats in 2017. As of April 2019, 45 models had earned certification. 

Instead of working on a preset program, some smart thermostats work with occupancy sensors or geofencing. That way, the can control temperatures based on who is actually at home. Some of them operate on voice commands. They might even learn your habits and respond to them automatically. 

If you forget to set a programmable thermostat for vacation, you can’t do about it. But with a smart thermostat, you can take care of it with your phone.

And so naturally, smart thermostats cost more than programmable thermostats. Some of their features may use up some of the energy they’re saving you. 

The biggest downside to smart thermostats, however, is the same as their greatest advantage. They are connected to the internet. Therefore, they can potentially open your home to hackers. You need to decide whether security concerns are worth the advantages of an interactive system.

So it’s harder to know how to choose the right thermostat for your home than it used to be. But it can be an important part of conserving energy at home. I hope this article has given you the information you need. 


3 dumb things you do with your thermostat that cost you money / MSP Plumbing Heating Air. August 22, 2014
Ask our experts: are programmable thermostats worth it? / Tuckey. December 13, 2019
Manual vs smart thermostats: which is best for you? / Service Champions Heating and Air Conditioning. May 18, 2018
Thermostat buying guide / Consumer Reports. April 30, 2019

Honeywell Home RTH7600D 7-Day Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat

Honeywell TH9320WF5003 Wi-Fi Touch Screen Programmable Thermostat

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