The top performers in our review are Nest Learning Thermostat, the Gold Award winner; ecobee3, the Silver Award winner; and Honeywell Lyric, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a thermostat to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 11 products.
The average household spends thousands of dollars each year on energy bills, and half of that money typically goes toward heating and cooling empty homes. In other words, you may be spending too much to heat and cool your home while wasting energy in the process. If your energy bills are overwhelming, a programmable thermostat is a great way to cut costs.
In general, programmable thermostats interact with the heating and cooling systems in your home. In the summer, programmable thermostats work with central air conditioning units to keep you cool. Likewise, they control your furnace in the winter to provide relief from freezing temperatures.
Sometimes manufacturers include home automation functionality in Wi-Fi thermostats to help the thermostats communicate with popular smart home devices. Here are some examples of what smart thermostats can do: A connected smart lock can activate away mode when you lock the door; an IP camera can send you a video clip when someone adjusts the temperature; and a fitness tracker can send a signal to adjust the temperature while you are sleeping.
Programmable thermostats all have one thing in common: They let you schedule when to heat or cool your home. This feature allows the best programmable thermostats to reduce utility bills and extend the lifespan of your heating and cooling equipment. For more information, read our articles on programmable thermostats.
As we evaluated programmable thermostats, we focused on two main items. Specifically, we looked at comfort control and energy management. The combination of these two functions makes up the best programmable thermostats in our review.
In our evaluation of comfort control, we assessed two things that define how a thermostat controls the environment inside your home. First, we looked at the thermostat's temperature swing, which tells the unit to activate before your home gets uncomfortable. We found that a narrow temperature swing of a degree or less, which is common in most thermostats, provides optimum comfort but may cause your system to run more frequently. A wide swing, like on the Trane XL624, might use less energy since it allows the temperature to vary up to three degrees before activating the system.
Second, we looked to see if a unit supported multistage heating and cooling. Multiple stages allow your thermostat to activate different levels of heating and cooling such as low, medium or high. One-stage equipment has only one setting that simply turns the equipment on and off. When paired with multistage equipment, a thermostat can maintain a comfortable environment on the low setting but have extra power available when needed.
While a programmable thermostat's goal is to promote energy consciousness, there are some features that take this to the next level for additional savings. For this, we looked at auto-scheduling to see which units can observe your habits, local weather patterns or ask you simple questions to determine your preferences. We found that this feature works best when a thermostat has at least one of the following: a built-in motion sensor, geofencing or a usage report.
Motion sensors allow the unit to detect and react accordingly if you come home outside of your regular schedule. This is especially an advantage if you don't plan to interact with your thermostat very often. Geofencing sets up a zone around your home that works in tandem with your smartphone's location. This allows thermostats like the Honeywell Lyric to adjust to away mode so it's comfortable when you get home from work but energy efficient while you're gone.
Finally, we found that usage reports give you a better idea of how much you're saving on energy costs. The best smart thermostats, like the ecobee Smart Si, keep comprehensive records of your energy usage all the way back to when you first activated the unit. Some reports use achievements, such as the Nest Leaf, which you can earn when you save energy.
When choosing a home thermostat, you should focus on your ideal comfort level and how you want to improve energy efficiency in your home. Next, you should choose a thermostat with an easy-to-use design and reliable technical support. Above all, be sure to choose a thermostat that thoroughly meets your needs.
The best programmable thermostats excel in terms of temperature control. When choosing a smart home thermostat, you should look for a unit that supports programmable fans, which lets the thermostat run your air conditioner's fan for a short while after the compressor turns off to effectively use leftover cold air in your system or to draw fresh air into your home. Auto changeover allows your thermostat to shift between heating and cooling when needed. A keypad lock helps prevent unwanted changes to your home's temperature.
All of the digital thermostats in our review have seven-day scheduling and away features so you can decide which heating patterns work best for your schedule. The away feature allows you to override the thermostat's preset plan to save on utilities when you're on vacation. Top thermostats also tell you how long it takes for your home to reach a target temperature so you know when your ideal level of comfort is ready.
Sensors are integral to any programmable thermostat. You want to look for a thermostat that detects and informs you of equipment problems or regular maintenance needs. Thermostats with humidity sensors can work with your home's humidifier or dehumidifier so your main system runs more effectively.
Design & Setup
Home automation systems are becoming more prevalent in homes, so it's good to check if a thermostat works with your smart home. A thermostat's Wi-Fi enables it to connect to your tablet or smartphone over the internet so you can change settings while on vacation. You should look for a thermostat that is easy to use with simple controls and a mobile app that mimics the physical controls so you only have to learn one control scheme.
Though you can always opt for professional installation, you can self-install many of the best thermostats. Look for a company that offers installation tutorials so you don't get overwhelmed. If you're unsure about system compatibility, many companies provide an online tool to check if a wireless thermostat works with your HVAC system. A built-in level makes installation easy and prevents your thermostat from being crooked on the wall.
Help & Support
The best Wi-Fi thermostats offer complete customer service options, such as email, phone and live-chat support. Some companies provide online forums so you can talk with technical support or other users about problems or how you use your thermostat. The best programmable thermostats come with a warranty of two or more years.
The top six home thermostats in our review earned our Excellence award for programmable thermostats. Outside the top three, the Radio Thermostat CT-80 is a good option to add to most home automation systems. In terms of ease of use, the Emerson Sensi and the Lux TX9600TS rival the top products in our review.
Programming a thermostat is an affordable way to keep your home comfortable for your family. By choosing the right thermostat, you can make sure you never spend money on wasted energy. Using less energy allows you to help the environment and may even qualify you for added financial incentives from the government or your utility company.