Best Programmable Thermostats of 2021
Consumer Reports’ latest tests reveal top products from Emerson, Honeywell Home, Lennox, and more
It’s no secret that programmable thermostats are a great way to save money on your utility bills. But a 2015 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that while 41 percent of American households had programmable thermostats, fewer than a third of those were actually programmed, which means most of us are missing out on potential savings.
But perhaps that’s changing, because in recent years we’ve seen improvements in basic programmable options. “Many of the programmable thermostats in our ratings have gotten easier to program compared to earlier models,” says John Galeotafiore, who manages thermostat testing at CR.
In the lab, we focus our testing on ease of use, broken down into four aspects of the product experience: setup, ease of reading the display, programming, and manual operation. (Previous tests found that most thermostats are able to keep rooms close to the set temperature.)
Below you’ll find reviews of the six best programmable thermostats from our latest round of testing, covering models from Aprilaire, Emerson, Honeywell Home, and Lennox. They’re listed in alphabetical order.
All offer 7-day programming, meaning you can set up to four temperature changes throughout the day for each day of the week. This gives you more flexibility compared with 5-1-1 day and 5-2 day programming, which allow just a single repeating schedule for weekdays and either separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday (a 5-1-1 program) or a single schedule for the weekend (5-2). Most of these models also incorporate all of the features we track in programmable thermostats, including lockout protection, automatically changing over between heating and cooling, and activating the heat or AC early so that the space reaches the desired temperature at the time of a scheduled setting change and not after.
CR members can click on each model name for more detailed ratings. See our full thermostat ratings for a complete list of programmable and smart thermostats, which give you intuitive controls through a smartphone app, as well as automated temperature changes based on your preferences and behavior. (Energy Star certifies only smart thermostats.) And if you need help programming your new thermostat, check out our step-by-step guide.
CR’s take: The Aprilaire 8600 is a solid programmable thermostat. It offers a large grayscale touch screen with a backlight (to easily make adjustments in the dark), and features additional 5-2 day and 5-1-1 day programming schedules and a variety of holds, including temporary ones and longer vacation holds. It performs quite well in all of our tests and earns an Excellent rating for programming. One time-saving programming feature to note: a copy function that quickly replicates settings.
CR’s take: The Emersons on this list are decent thermostats, but both suffer from the same drawback: They’re much more difficult to set up than the other top picks on this list, rating only Fair on that test vs. Very Good or higher for the other models. But once set up, the Emerson 1F85U-42PR is a breeze to program with a heating/cooling schedule and performs well on our other tests, too. This Emerson also offers 5-1-1 day and 5-2 day programming. But it’s the only one of these six thermostats to deploy mechanical buttons and the only one not to switch automatically when daylight savings time comes and goes.
CR’s take: Though the Emerson 1F97-1277 is also harder to set up, it performs quite well in our other tests. We prefer this Emerson’s backlit screen, with its colored temperature up and down buttons, to the display on the 1F85U-42PR. In addition to a 7-day program, this Emerson offers a 5-1-1 day program. And it supports a single indoor or outdoor remote temperature sensor, sold separately.
CR’s take: The Honeywell Home RTH8560D programmable thermostat has a display and interface that’s very similar to the Honeywell Home T5+ smart thermostat’s. The RTH8560D performs admirably in our tests and receives a display rating of Very Good, thanks to its intuitive touch-screen layout. The combination of stellar performance and a relatively low price earn this model a CR Best Buy designation. This Honeywell features multiple types of programming schedules in addition to 7-day, including one week, 5-2 day, and 5-1-1 day.
CR’s take: The Honeywell Home Vision Pro 8000 Touch TH8110R receives a CR Best Buy designation due to its winning combination of performance and price. In our tests, it gets high ratings across the board, including an Excellent score for programming. This Honeywell Home model features a touch-screen display, vacation mode, home and away modes for quick temperature changes, and compatibility with Honeywell Home RedLINK accessories, which include wireless temperature sensors and an internet gateway for remote control of the thermostat via your smartphone.
CR’s take: The Lennox ComfortSense 7500 Series offers color touch-screen controls that feel very similar to using a smartphone app. It features multiple types of programming schedules (one week, 7-day, and 5-2 day), an away mode, and the ability to create three unique weekly schedules. The device can also create reports to track your monthly energy usage. The Lennox 7500 earns a display rating of Excellent, thanks to its well-designed, applike interface.