Thermostat Buying Guide
Getting the Temperature Just Right

When it comes to controlling the temperature in your home, a good thermostat can both warm your heart and cool your jets as needed.

With a programmable thermostat, you can save up to $180 a year on your energy bills. It also means you don’t have to fiddle with the controls because you can set it to match your schedule. WiFi and programmable models cost more than manual versions, but when used properly, they can pay for themselves in just one season.

When Consumer Reports first started testing programmable thermostats, we found that many were anything but intuitive to install and use. For that same reason, Energy Star stopped certifying thermostats in 2009 and won’t endorse them until they meet new ease-of-use standards.

In response, manufacturers are working to make some programmable thermostats less daunting by adding colorful, interactive touchscreen displays and connectivity. A number of new models can be manually programmed through your smartphone and even connect to your local weather forecast to anticipate changes in temperature.

Choosing a Thermostat

Most modern thermostats are able to keep rooms close to the set temperature, so instead of testing accuracy, we tested ease of use—taking note of how simple each thermostat was to set up and adjust without reading the manual. If we had to resort to the manual, we based our score on having to do that. All of the models in our thermostat ratings have basic pre-programmed settings.

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. When narrowing your choices, consider performance, features, price, and attributes that matter to you, such as color, size, or style.

A Word About Installation
The majority of thermostat 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 

Thermostat Types

The iconic round thermostat with a dial is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Today's models have brighter displays and more exact settings that help you save money on heating a cooling.  

Photo of a thermostat with remote access capability.

Smart Thermostats

Part of the growing trend in "smart home" technology, these models allow you to control your thermostat from a remote location via your computer, or iPhone, Android or Windows smartphone. Many employ multiple sensors to monitor temperatures in various parts of the home, and can even detect and adjust temps if a room is occupied. Through manufacturer apps, some can collate data on your energy usage to help customize your heating and cooling schedule.

Pros: Energy-efficient and convenient. Offer greater control of your HVAC system to reduce your carbon footprint, lower your home's energy usage and save money.

Cons: More expensive. Not every smart thermostat works with a home’s existing HVAC system.

Smart Thermostats Ratings
Photo of a thermostat without remote access capabilities.

Thermostats Without Remote Access

These models require you to set the temperature manually, as well as setting the heating or cooling cycle of your HVAC unit. Most are programmable and feature a digital interface with the option to schedule/ automatically adjust your home’s temperature based on time.

Pros: Cost-effective. Most models allow for multiple temperature points you can set by day of the week.

Cons: Not quite as accurate or site-specific as units with multiple sensors.

Thermostats Ratings

Thermostat 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. "Advanced recovery" settings initiate heating or cooling anytime during the energy-saving period, so your preferred temperature is preset 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 are much cooler.

Clear Screen Prompts and Intuitive Controls
Intuitive controls help you avoid energy-wasting mistakes, as do large readouts for temperatures and times. A bold "hold" prompt reminds you when you're overriding the energy-saving mode in favor of added comfort.

More models are moving to touchscreens that offer touch-sensitive menus to replace buttons or knobs. 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 AC is activated.

Filter-Change Reminder
This convenient feature tells you when the furnace or AC filter needs changing based on elapsed time.

Full Memory Save
A full memory save lets the thermostat save the programs you created in case of a power outage.

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