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Thermostats

Thermostat buying guide

Last updated: May 2014

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Getting started

Programmable thermostats can trim about $180 a year from your energy bill by automatically reducing your heating or cooling when you need it least. Some thermostats tested by Consumer Reports were easy to set and use but others were so complicated that you might end up spending more on energy, not less.

That's why you won't find the Energy Star on any thermostats, which stopped certifying them in 2009 mostly because they were hard to use. New standards that factor in ease of use are being developed. But you don't have to wait. Manufacturers have made some thermostats less daunting by adding colorful interactive touchscreen displays.

Most thermostats can keep rooms close to the set temperature so our testers rated ease of use based on how simple each thermostat was to set up and make routine adjustments to before reading the manual and then, if needed, with the manual. All of the thermostats in our Ratings have basic pre-programmed settings.

How to choose

Nearly all the tested models work on common heating and cooling systems, but check the packaging for exceptions. Most let you program different settings for each day. If you're on a regular routine consider a thermostat that offers one schedule for weekdays and one or two for weekends. The majority of models attach to your heating or cooling system with as few as two low-voltage wires, making do-it-yourself installation relatively easy.

Keep in mind that the best place to install a thermostat is on an interior wall and away from vents and other sources of heat and drafts that could distort temperature readings. If you're doing more than a simple replacement, call a heating and cooling professional.

Types

Major brands include, Honeywell, Hunter, Lennox, Lux, Robert Shaw, among others. You'll find two basic types of thermostats.

Weekday/weekend models

These thermostats offer one energy-saving schedule for weekdays and one or two for weekends.

Seven-day models

These let you program a different energy-saving schedule for every day of the week.

Features


The features on programmable thermostats vary from model to model. We've identified some that make it easier to program the thermostat, keep you comfortable, and allow you to maximize your energy savings.

Adjustable cycle

An adjustable cycle on most models lets you prevent frequent on-off cycling for heating and cooling systems, while advanced recovery initiates heating or cooling anytime during the energy-saving period so the comfort temperature is where you want it when you get home.

Auto changeover switch

Models with an auto changeover automatically switch between heating and cooling, handy where days are warm and nights get below freezing.

Clear onscreen prompts and intuitive controls

These help you avoid energy-wasting mistakes, as do large readouts for temperatures and times, and a bold "hold" prompt or light that reminds you when you're overriding the energy-saving mode for added comfort.

A large backlit display makes reading and programming easier in dark hallways and at night, while a clear system-status display shows whether the heat or A/C is activated.

More models are moving to touch screens that offer touch-sensitive menus and replace buttons or knobs.

Filter-change reminder

This convenient feature tells you when the furnace or A/C filter needs changing based on elapsed time.

Full memory save

A full memory save lets the thermostat save the programs you created after a power outage. Most thermostats can handle most heat pumps, and a few can handle multistage versions.

   

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