HVAC Q&A: What Is A Programmable Thermostat & How Do I Choose The Right One?

Recently, we’ve received several questions about programmable thermostats from the HVAC.com community. This installment of HVAC Q&A will address Lucas from Florida’s question. He writes:

“Dear HVAC.com team,

I’m a new homeowner and I’m trying to find a way to lower my energy bills. I’ve heard a programmable thermostat can help, but what exactly is a programmable thermostat? What should I look for if I want to buy a programmable thermostat?”

Luckily for Lucas, we love programmable thermostats at HVAC.com, so we can definitely help.

What Is A Programmable Thermostat?

A programmable thermostat is a thermostat designed to automatically adjust the temperature in your home based on programmed settings. Programmable thermostats allow you to set a schedule for your units, delivering heating and cooling only when you need it and saving you hundreds of dollars over the life of your system.

At its most basic, a programmable thermostat lets you set an operating schedule for your HVAC system, avoiding wasted energy on heating or cooling your home when you aren’t there.

Programmable electronic thermostat

How To Choose The Right Programmable Thermostat For Your Home

When you choose a programmable thermostat, the most important thing to consider is the kind of schedule you keep. How often are you away from home? Are you gone at the same time everyday, or does your schedule change?

Programmable thermostats come three different models — 7-day, 5+2 day, or 5-1-1 day — that reflect the different types of schedules each programmable thermostat will allow for. Consider the type of schedule you and your family keep and how much scheduling flexibility you need before choosing the right programmable thermostat for your home.

    • 7-day models let you set different heating and cooling programs for each day of the week. They provide the most scheduling flexibility and are great for homeowners with busy schedules.
    • 5+2 day programmable thermostats allow you to set one daily schedule for weekdays and another schedule for the weekends. These programmable thermostats are best for homeowners with predictable, steady weekday and weekend schedules.
    • 5-1-1 day programmable thermostats are similar to 5+2 day thermostats, with the exception of weekend scheduling. With a 5-1-1 day programmable thermostat, you set your weekday schedule and then set separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday.

Features We Recommend Having

Programmable thermostat features range from the simple to the high tech, so how do you know which ones are best for your home? Here are some of the main features to consider when choosing a programmable thermostat for your home:

      • Vacation/hold features allow you to set your thermostat for maximum energy savings while you’re out and revert to your original schedule as soon as you return without re-programming…it’s all at the touch of a button.
      • Wi-Fi-enabled programmable thermostats allow you to adjust the temperature of your home from a computer or mobile device. Some, like the Honeywell Lyric, use Wi-Fi and your mobile phone’s location to start warming or cooling your home when you are seven to 10 miles away. This way, when you step through the door, your home is already at the temperature you desire.
      • System alert capabilities help programmable thermostats communicate important system information to homeowners. It will alert you when something is wrong with your system or when you need to check your HVAC unit’s air filter, taking the guesswork out of basic home HVAC maintenance.
      • Adaptive recovery starts your heating and cooling system early to make sure your home is the right temperature when you schedule it to be. That way, if your  schedule is set for 74 degrees at 5 p.m., it’ll be 74 degrees at 5 p.m. You won’t have to wait until 5:45 for your home to adjust. But be careful, adaptive recovery isn’t always the most energy efficient feature.
      • Auto-changeover automatically switches your system from heating to cooling when the weather changes. Programmable thermostats with auto-changeover are especially helpful in climates with high daytime temperatures and cold (even freezing) nights.
      • Full memory save will ensure that the schedules you program into your programmable thermostat remain intact in case of a power outage.

A programmable thermostat can save you money and some give you the freedom to control your home’s temperature from anywhere in the world. Now that you know a little more about the different models and features available, search our catalog and find the right programmable thermostat for your lifestyle.

What programmable thermostat features do you think are the most important? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Matt, HVAC.com expert

If you have a question you would like our HVAC.com experts to answer, send us an email at [email protected].


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