Best Programmable Thermostats of 2020

Consumer Reports’ latest tests reveal top programmable thermostats from Emerson, Honeywell, Lennox, and more

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You can save up to $180 in energy costs per year when you program your thermostat with a heating and cooling schedule, according to Energy Star.

But a report released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that less than 20 percent of Americans with heating and/or central air conditioning actually program their thermostats—which means most of us are missing out on potential savings.

Smart thermostats help bridge the gap by giving you intuitive controls through a smartphone app, as well as automated temperature changes based on your preferences and behavior. It's worth noting that for the past decade, Energy Star has certified only smart thermostats.

But if you're not ready to make the leap to a smart thermostat, you'll be happy to know that today's programmable thermostats have become simpler to use.

“The top programmable thermostats in our ratings have gotten easier to program compared to earlier models,” says Peter Anzalone, CR’s test engineer for thermostats.

How We Test Programmable Thermostats
Our previous testing found that most thermostats are able to keep rooms close to the set temperature, so we now 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.

Below you’ll find reviews of the six best programmable thermostats from our latest round of testing, covering (in alphabetical order, not rank order) models from Aprilaire, Emerson, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Lennox, and Orbit.

All models feature 7-day programming, meaning you can set unique temperature changes at different times of day for each day of the week. This gives you more flexibility over 5-2 day and 5-1-1 day programming, which let you make only one repeating schedule for all weekdays and a different schedule for the weekend (5-2 day makes one schedule for both Saturday and Sunday, and 5-1-1 day makes unique schedules for each weekend day).

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.

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, vacation holds for overriding the schedule when you go away, and a touch-screen lockout to prevent fights over the temperature settings. It performs quite well in all of our tests and earns an Excellent rating for programming.

CR’s take: The Emerson 1F97-1277 is a terrific thermostat, but our testers found one drawback: The 1F97-1277 is much more difficult to set up than our other top picks, rating only Fair for setup while the rest of the models on this list rate a Very Good or higher in that test. Though it takes longer to set up, it performs quite well and earns solid scores in our other tests. This Emerson comes with a backlit touch screen, as well as 5-1-1 day programming.

CR’s take: The Honeywell RTH8560D programmable thermostat has a very similar display and interface to the Honeywell Lyric T5+ smart thermostat. 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 most expensive programmable thermostat in our ratings, the Johnson Controls T8590 costs more than some smart models. It comes with a full-color, high-resolution touch screen and doubles as a digital photo frame—so it can look like more than just a thermostat on your wall. Johnson Controls also sells add-on components that add WiFi and an outdoor temperature sensor. Its performance garners strong ratings across the board, including an Excellent rating for setup. While it performs exceptionally well in our ratings, there are plenty of other thermostats that cost far less and offer comparable performance.

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, app-like interface.

CR’s take: If you’re not a fan of touch screens, the Orbit Clear Comfort 83521 is the thermostat for you. Instead of a touch screen, it uses mechanical buttons and slide switches to change settings and program a heating/cooling schedule. This Orbit model also comes with a backlit display. It features only 7-day programming (unlike the other models on this list, which offer multiple modes such as 5-2 day or 5-1-1 day). It does well in our tests but rates only a Good for programming due to a more difficult process: There's no back button, which means if you make a mistake in the programming, you have to repeat the entire process to correct it. Still, this model is a CR Best Buy, thanks to its all-around solid performance and low price.

Home Content Creator Daniel Wroclawski

Daniel Wroclawski

I'm obsessed with smart home tech and channel my obsession into new stories for Consumer Reports. When I'm not writing about products, I spend time either outside hiking and skiing or up in the air in small airplanes. For my latest obsessions, follow me on Facebook and Twitter (@danwroc).