A Beginner’s Guide to Programmable Thermostats

These days, most people are all about gadgets. We went from smart phones to smart everything in pretty short order, and we just love when our electronics make our lives easier and our day-to-day tasks faster. As Columbia HVAC professionals, we keep our eyes on all the technological advances designed to keep our customers’ homes more comfortable and their wallets fatter. Chief among those gadgets is the programmable thermostat. 

What is a programmable thermostat?

With a manual thermostat, you have to physically go to the thermostat to adjust the temperature any time you want to heat or cool your home differently. A programmable thermostat has at least four, pre-programmed schedules for heating and cooling your home. It automatically adjusts the temperature of your living space for the times you’re at home or away.

Do I want a programmable thermostat?

Yeah, you  probably do want a  programmable thermostat—for four main reasons:

  1. Programmable thermostats will save you money. The Department of Energy estimates you could save 10% per year on your utility bills by setting a difference of 7-10 degrees for 8 hours a day. Programmable thermostats do that for you with their pre-set schedule options. You’d essentially be saving money while you and your family are at work, school, or all-day social events. Programmable thermostats also boost the efficiency of your entire HVAC system, preventing wear-and-tear costs down the road.
  2. Programmable thermostats save energy. More efficiency means less energy wasted. This also means more money in your pocket. Some programmable thermostats can also be controlled remotely with your smartphone. So, if you’re coming home later than expected, simply adjust the thermostat on-the-go so you’re not wasting energy (and money).
  3. Programmable thermostats will save you time. You won’t have to worry about adjusting the thermostat before you leave the house (which most of us forget anyway). No more back-and-forth in the early morning or evening. Programmable thermostats have you covered with their pre-set schedules!
  4. Programmable thermostats will keep you more comfortable. Programmable thermostats can make adjustments to your home’s temperature before you need it. You can wake up, go to sleep, or return home to a comfortable temperature with no lag time. Programmable thermostats also have a smaller temperature differential than your manual unit. This means your HVAC will kick on sooner to maintain your perfect temperature.

How do I choose a programmable thermostat?

There are a lot of choices out there. Every programmable thermostat has at least four pre-programmed settings—wake, sleep, leave, and return times—to customize for your personal schedule. After that, there are three basic decisions you have to make: 

  1.     How flexible is my schedule? 7-day models keep the same heating and cooling schedule every day. 5+2 models have one schedule for weekdays and a second schedule for weekends. 5-1-1 models have one schedule for weekdays, a second schedule for Saturdays, and a third schedule for Sundays.
  1.     How fancy am I trying to get? Different models have various bells and whistles. Depending on the thermostat you choose, you can get touch screens, voice and phone programming, WiFi-compatibility, maintenance reminders, even weather-on-demand. Just be sure the product you choose fits your programming and tech-related needs.
  1.     Does technology frustrate me? If yes, stick with the basic programmable thermostats. But if you’re a tech-minded person, a smart thermostat might be right for you! Smart thermostats have much more variety in settings and capabilities, but they can be more difficult to program, and they’re certainly more expensive. Some smart thermostats can even learn your schedule based on movement and light detection. (But if you’re not-so-keen on a piece of technology learning your household schedule, that’s OK, too.)

What’s the catch?

This more of a disclaimer, than a catch—but, like most things, to maximize the benefits of your programmable thermostat you have to use it correctly. ENERGY STAR gives a good list of things to keep in mind, including:

  • Understanding any hold, vacation, or override settings
  • Using the pre-set schedules effectively
  • Switching over all of your thermostats
  • Changing the batteries annually (if necessary)

To get the most benefit from a programmable thermostat, you should also consistently be out of the house for 8 hours or more, most days of the week. This is to maximize the savings from the efficiency and limited energy use while you’re away. For example, if you work from home, programmable thermostats might not be for you.

In addition, the right equipment is a necessity. Your HVAC has to be compatible with your programmable thermostat, and location matters, too. Installing your new thermostat in a convenient location that prevents “ghost readings” maximizes your satisfaction and savings.

The last disclaimer? Your programmable thermostat should be professionally installed. As Columbia’s trusted HVAC specialists, we’ve got you covered. Give us a call today!

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