You probably remember the old thermostats that were adjusted manually with the click of a wheel - maybe you even still have one. But thermostats have come a long way from their primitive roots.
Much like your coffee pot, most modern thermostats are programmable. You can set the thermostat to automatically turn the temperature up or down at certain times. Set the AC to turn off each day as you leave for work and back on right before you get home. Set the heat to turn down and night when you’re sleeping and back up in the morning.
Programmable thermostats are appealing for the potential energy savings. According to Consumer Reports, programmable thermostats can trim up to $180 per year from your heating and cooling bills. However, the actual energy savings have been a subject of some controversy in recent years (more on that later).
There are two types of programmable thermostats: weekday/weekend models and seven-day models. Weekday/weekend thermostats offer two settings - one for weekdays and one for weekends. Seven-day models allow you to set a different schedule every day of the week.
Programmable thermostats are available with a wide variety of advanced features, but features vary from one model to the next. Some are wireless, and some have touch screens. The most advanced models are web-enabled, which allows you to program them remotely, and some are even solar powered.
Other popular features include:
- An adjustable cycle that prevents the furnace from constantly kicking on and off, which leads to higher energy bills.
- Auto changeover switches that automatically switch from heating to cooling when the days are warm but the nights are cold.
- A filter-change reminder that alerts you when it’s time to change the furnace or air conditioning filter.
- Hold or vacation features that allow you to keep the temperature at an energy-saving level for an extended period of time while you’re away.
- A memory-save feature that saves your energy-efficient settings in the event of a power outage.
Basic programmable thermostats with weekday/weekend settings cost about $20 to $60, not including installation. These models have very few extra features, and they tend to work only with single-stage furnaces or low-voltage heating and cooling systems.
Seven-day programmable thermostats for multi-stage furnaces or higher voltage systems start at about $60 to $100, while wireless programmable thermostats start at about $100. Wireless thermostats with features like web integration and touch screens can cost $200 to $500.
Installation costs vary based on the type of thermostat, the time required and your geographic location, but in most areas you won’t pay more than $100 or $150.
There has been some controversy surrounding programmable thermostats and the amount of energy they save. Some models are difficult to use, which can cause homeowners to accidentally spend more on energy, not less. For this reason, Energy Star no longer certifies programmable thermostats.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t purchase a programmable thermostat. It means you should do significant research before buying one to find a model that is easy to use. Features like touchscreen displays tend to make programmable thermostats more user-friendly, although those features also add to the cost.
Read consumer reviews before purchasing a programmable thermostat to find out which thermostats are easiest to use. In Consumer Reports tests, some models proved very easy to use, while others were difficult. Generally, however, programmable thermostats are becoming easier to use as the technology improves.
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