Programmable thermostats for the home have been around for at least a quarter-century. They all offer some degree of hands-off flexibility in the demand on your heating or cooling system, or both. Recently, competitive improvements have added automatic switching, armchair programming and battery-free memory to the already impressive list of features on the best programmable thermostats. By working through a few simple choices, you should be able to find the one that’s the best match for you.
Match Your System
A programmable thermostat may have some super gee-whiz features that you really want but, if it can’t control the heating or cooling equipment you need to control, it’s of no use to you. First of all, then, jot down the system you have, or that you’re planning to install: a heat pump, a boiler, a gas pack, geothermal, forced-air heat, central air conditioning, or some combination of these. “Central heat” is not a useful term – there are too many varieties. Be more specific on that one.
Match Your Wiring
Your thermostat, whether programmable or not, must be able to operate with your existing control wiring, if you’re upgrading the thermostat. If you’re installing it with a new system, get specific information on the control circuitry for your system and match the thermostat to that. The most obvious example of the need to make this match is a line-voltage system. If the thermostat must handle 120 or 240 volts of electricity, one that’s built to take 24 volt DC control current will simply melt.
Match Your Lifestyle
A good programmable thermostat can perform all the tasks you would perform yourself, automatically. The trick is to choose a good match. Most of us will get the best results from a seven-day programmable thermostat, which lets you control each day of the week independently. That way, your system can stay up late with you on Friday night, drop back for going to services on the weekend, or give you a little extra time for the Scout meeting or game every Monday night. Touch it less and save more.
Have a Backup Plan
When you lose electricity, your programmable thermostat is useless, just like a non-programmable one. The question is, will it be ready to work again as soon as the power is restored? It can be. To do that, it will need either a back-up battery power supply, preferably with a built-in charger, or a memory chip – like the Honeywell T8600.
Take It Easy
I couldn’t count the hours – and I’d rather not think about it – that I’ve stood in front of a programmable thermostat punching in my settings. Now I don’t have to do that anymore, and neither do you. Just choose a model that offers “armchair programming.” These thermostats have a base that connects to the wires and a control module that plugs into that. Or unplugs, so you can sit down at your kitchen table or your computer desk, or, of course, in yor favorite chair, while you enter the program.
Many programmable thermostats have a vacation mode. These allow you to set the thermostat for maximum energy savings during the time you will be gone, then restore your normal settings when you return, by pushing one button.
Heating and Cooling
If you have central, forced-air heating and central air conditioning, look for a thermostat that will control both. For maximum comfort with minimum effort, look for a thermostat that will automaticall switch from heating to cooling, and back, as needed.