Everything You Need to Know About the Different Types of Thermostats

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated August 21, 2021
Man using smart home thermostat device
Photo: Jasmin Merdan / Adobe Stock

There are three types that you can choose from

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Not long ago, most homes used a manual thermostat to control the heating and cooling system. Round- or square-shaped, it worked the same: you physically adjusted the settings to get the temperature you wanted. In winter, that meant shuffling across cold floors to turn it down before going to bed and racing to turn up the heat in the morning, then hopping back into bed while waiting for the house to warm up; in the summer, that meant cranking the AC as soon as you got home from work.

Technology has changed a lot since then. Some thermostats now memorize settings, making life easier and your home more energy-efficient. Let’s look at the three types of thermostats for homes and which might be best for you.

Non-Programmable Thermostats

Remember those manual thermostats we just talked about? Also known as non-programmable thermostats, they are still in the market. 

These thermostats are more affordable upfront than the other types. This option is often simple and tends to be in older homes, making it more familiar and easier to use for some homeowners. 

However, its limited energy savings might end up costing you more in the long run, especially if you’re not frequently changing the settings in response to temperature changes.

Programmable Thermostats

To set temperatures that change in accordance with pre-set times, consider investing in a programmable thermostat, also known as a digital thermostat. This option is programmed to change the temperature in your home at the hours of your choosing. 

Programmable thermostats are especially beneficial to those who are out of the house for a good chunk of the day, as you can save money by reducing the temperature in the winter and increasing the temperature in the summer. 

The U.S. Department of Energy states that you can also save on energy bills by up to 10 percent yearly just from having your thermostat set to 7 to 10 degrees above (in the summer) or below (in the winter) your average temperature setting.

Programming Options

Here are the different programming options for a programmable thermostat: 

  • 7-day: Program each day of the week separately

  • 5-2: Program separate weekday and weekend settings

  • 5-1-1: Set a weekday program and a separate one for both Saturday and Sunday

  • 1-week: Set one program for the week

When purchasing a thermostat, you get what you pay for. A high-quality programmable thermostat will inevitably save you far more because it has more options for automatic settings. 

For example, thermostats at the lower end of the market only have options for individual programming. Higher-end options often have easy-to-use interfaces, such as touch screens, and more flexibility in the pre-set times you choose.

Features of Upgraded Thermostats

Advances in technology have created a dizzying array of options for what was once a simple thing. When looking for a new thermostat, here are a few features to consider:

  • Touch-screen controls: Changes settings with your fingertips

  • Selectable program periods: Sets temperatures for different time periods

  • Backlit display panel: Operates in no-light or low-light

  • Indicator lights: Indicates when to replace the battery or change the furnace filter

  • Battery operation and backup: Eliminates the need to reprogram after a power outage, and works in older homes where wiring isn’t available

Wi-Fi/Smart Thermostats

Interior of a modern house with thermostat
Photo: imaginima / E+ / Getty Images

The third and most expensive type of thermostat is a wi-fi or smart thermostat. These gadgets are smart for a reason—they can be controlled via an app on your phone and adjusted from afar. Others actually learn your daily habits so you don’t have to punch in a program or adjust a non-programmable thermostat time and time again. 

This is great for those looking to save on energy expenses, but for those who might get confused by all of the technology, wifi-fi thermostats may not be the best option.

Smart Thermostat Features

Wi-fi/smart thermostats often come equipped with high-tech features that boost efficiency and improve functionality, though the Environmental Protection Agency questions if they actually save on energy costs

Here are a few options to help you decide how you’d like to scale up the performance of your thermostat:

  • Remote energy management: Connects through a hub to your broadband network, allowing you to set, program, and monitor heating and cooling from a smartphone, tablet, or computer

  • Remote programming and controls: A removable interface allows programming from a different location

  • Keyboard lock: Prohibits others, such as kids, from changing settings

  • Vacation mode: Changes your temperature settings for maximum energy efficiency while away

  • Auto-schedule: Adjusts your thermostat to your needs automatically

  • Encryption codes: Keeps your thermostat secure by preventing breaches

  • Climate adaptation: Creates an energy profile of the climate in your local area

  • Temperature sensors: Calculates individual temperatures in rooms using sensors

  • Geofencing: Detects when you are on your way home from work and changes the temperature of your home accordingly

  • Keep in mind: Before making a purchase, be sure to check your HVAC system to ensure capability with the new thermostat.

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