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Are Programmable Thermostats a Good Idea?

Is a programmable thermostat worth the money? That answer may depend on whether or not you choose to best utilize the technology!

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programmable thermostats

Who knew a programmable thermostat was capable of such controversy? We did! And that’s why we’re going to explain the popularity of programmable thermostats, how they differ from nonprogrammable thermostats and the best thermostat for each type of homeowner. 

A Brief Overview of Home Thermostats

There are (when roughly categorized) four types of thermostats for homeowners to choose from: programmable, non-programmable, WiFi and smart thermostats.

The best choice for your space depends on factors such as whether or not you travel frequently and if you consider yourself technologically savvy or not. While we won’t go into great detail about each type of thermostat in this article, here is a brief overview of each.

  • Non-Programmable Thermostats: Tried, trusted and true; these thermostats require users to adjust the temperature manually. Consider this the base model.
  • Programmable Thermostats: These thermostats do not require users to adjust the temperature manually. Rather, programmable thermostats operate on a predetermined schedule set by the user. *They can be programmed, hence they are programmable!*
  • Wi-Fi Thermostats: These thermostats are a subtype of programmable thermostats. As the name implies, Wi-Fi thermostats connect to the internet. They even have an IP address!
  • Smart Thermostats: These thermostats are also a subtype of programmable thermostats. Smart thermostats are also Wi-Fi thermostats, but go a step beyond internet connectivity. They learn from user preferences allowing them to make accurate future decisions.
More: Are you struggling to understand the differences between the four types of thermostats? Check out this article for further explanation of each and several pros and cons →

What Is the Most Common Type of Thermostat?

Homeowners often wonder what type of thermostat is most common, programmable or non-programmable? While there isn’t a comprehensive survey detailing the preferences of homeowners in the United States, there are a few statistics available.

In 2005, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) published the Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS). The following information was uncovered by the survey. 

  • 14% of U.S. homes reported having no thermostat.
  • 56% of U.S. homes had a manual non-programmable thermostat.
  • 30% of U.S. homes (and 34.6% of thermostat owners) had a programmable thermostat. 

These figures are on par with ENERGY STAR’s claim that “sales of programmable thermostats have doubled in the last 10 years.” According to ENERGY STAR, there are 25 million homes in the U.S. using programmable thermostats. Compare this figure to the 91 million U.S. households that have thermostats. 

In 2014, the Washington Post corroborated these estimates, stating:

“Indeed, it has been estimated that only about 30 percent of homes actually have thermostats that can be programmed, despite the fact that this technology has been around for more than three decades.”

And, in 2015, the EIA published an updated RECS. The survey’s findings include:

  • Of the 118 million homes with central air conditioning in the U.S., only 12% used a programmable thermostat to control the unit. 
  • Approximately one in three homes with central air conditioning do not have a programmable thermostat. 
  • More than two-thirds of homes with central air conditioning and a programmable thermostat control the temperature without programming the thermostat. 

So, what does all of this mean? Programmable thermostats are popular … in theory. But, non-programmable thermostats are more common in reality. Including programmable thermostats that are treated like non-programmable thermostats.

Why Are Programmable Thermostats So Popular?

You may be asking yourself why programmable thermostats are popular. Or, why do programmable thermostats appear to be so popular? Either way, we have an answer for you. 

First and foremost, programmable thermostats provide the user with flexibility by allowing scheduling. Even better, smart thermostats offer both flexibility and adaptability by using technology such as geofencing, offering internet connectivity, learning from a user’s previous usage and providing easy smartphone control. Flexibility with regard to home heating and cooling increases user comfort. It also provides peace of mind. There is no need to worry about your thermostat setting or its maintaining the appropriate temperature. It will do so simply because you’ve programmed it to do so!

Moreover, programmable thermostats can save energy and money by following a predetermined energy-conscious schedule. Say tomorrow’s low is 60 degrees Fahrenheit and the high is 100 degrees Fahrenheit. On such a hot day, if your thermostat maintains 70 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the day, it will waste energy by not accommodating the extreme fluctuation in temperature. Not to mention adjusting for periods of the day when no one is in the home and the thermostat could be set much higher! A thermostat that is programmed to accommodate temperature fluctuations and occupant activities will save energy. 

Remember, energy is money in the HVAC world. Additionally, properly cycling your HVAC system helps avoid general wear and tear, furthering the system’s lifespan and preventing costly repairs.

However, this is only true if the user understands how to use their programmable thermostat. Some research (such as the aforementioned) suggests that many homeowners do not actually program their programmable thermostats. This is likely because they don’t understand how this technology works. And that’s okay! But if you’re going to invest in a programmable or smart thermostat, you might as well learn how to use one; especially when considering all of the benefits!  

More: Temperature and humidity are closely intertwined. Learn more about this direct relationship and how humidity affects your home’s indoor air quality →

How Do I Know What Type of Thermostat I Need?

So, what have we learned? The best thermostat for your home or indoor space largely depends on your needs. The programmable vs. non-programmable thermostat debate rests entirely on the occupants. 

Are you a frequent traveler that would benefit from your thermostat making informed decisions and following a predetermined schedule? Then a smart thermostat would be best. 

Are you interested in predetermined heating and cooling schedules to save money, but not interested in learning a tech-y thermostat? Programmable thermostats are the solution for you! 

Are you a homeowner and retiree that takes pride in home maintenance and spends the majority of your time in the home? A basic non-programmable thermostat should suit your needs fine.

In the end, it comes down to what you want your home thermostat to be capable of. A programmable thermostat is a smart choice for many reasons. If you are often away from home (or even just in and out throughout the day!), interested in smart home technology or want to save money on your utility bill, then we suggest pursuing a home thermostat upgrade! Conversely, if you don’t mind monitoring the temperature manually or would prefer a simple device, a non-programmable thermostat may be the best option for you. 

Our personal suggestion? The cost-savings, system improvements and increased home air awareness that come with a programmable thermostat are worth any learning period. Upgrading to a programmable thermostat is the smart choice!

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