Guide to Programmable Thermostats

Honeywell RTH7600D Touchscreen 7-Day Programmable Thermostat

Compatibilty & technical support

There are a large number of programmable thermostats on the market. Faced with all this choice it is hard to decide. So below I’ve written a guide covering some of the key things you should consider before purchasing a programmable thermostat.

Compatibility

This is perhaps the first thing you should consider. There are a great number of different HVAC systems in use. Single stage, multi stage, gas pump, air-conditioner, combined air-con and heater, electric furnace and electric fire places are some of the most common types of heating/cooling systems. Check that the programmable thermostat that you intend to buy is compatible with the heating/cooling system in your house.

Technical Support

This is really connected to the first topic. Most of us are not DIY geniuses. Although most people manage to (eventually) install their programmable thermostat by themselves, it is a good idea for your own peace of mind to check if the company who made the thermostat that you are intending to buy, provide technical support by telephone and/or email. Often it just requires a little bit of information to successfully complete installation. You want to know if there is some way to get that information. I recommend reading reviews about programmable thermostats. These often praise companies for their prompt technical support or admonish companies for their poor customer support.

Hunter 44550 Auto Save 7-Day Programmable Thermostat

Warranty & Vacation Mode

Warranty

Any respectable company selling programmable thermostats usually give at least a year warranty with any product sold. If there is no warranty, don’t buy. Many give 5 year warranties.

How Many Different Periods Can You Program Per Day

Nearly all good programmable thermostats allow you to program up to 4 different periods per 24 hours. This seems to be the optimum amount. It allows you to:

  • Have the heating on low while you sleep
  • Have the heating come on before you wake up
  • Have the heating turn off while you are at work
  • Have the heating turn on just prior to your return from work


Having control over these 4 key periods in any 24 hour cycle will help you reduce your heating and cooling bills. To maximize the savings you can make from your thermostat you should follow the settings laid out by the Energy Star Program. These guidelines can save you $180 a year in electricity bills.

Can the Thermostat Change Between Heating and Cooling Automatically?

This is a useful function that some programmable thermostats have. Often in the fall and spring the weather is changeable and can require a house to change from being heated to being cooled. Having a programmable thermostat that can automatically switch between systems prevents you having to get up and deal with this issue.

Does the Thermostat Have a Weekend and Vacation Setting?

For people who are retired or don’t leave home for extended periods of time, these settings are not so important. For others they make life a lot simpler. It is often the case that you are out the house a lot during the week but at the weekend you are at home more. It is important that you can program your thermostat to take account of your weekend schedule. Most thermostats have a 7 day programmable capacity to allow for this. Some thermostats (such as Hunter thermostats) have a useful override button. This override button allows you to change the thermostat without having to alter your programmed schedules. This is useful for example if you don’t go to work because you are sick.

A vacation mode is useful for keeping your house safe while you are away on holiday. You don’t want to waste money unnecessarily heating or cooling an empty house but it is reassuring to know that the heating will kick in automatically to stop your pipes freezing and bursting during the Christmas break.

Lux Products TX9000TS Touch Screen 7 Day Programmable Thermostat

Energy Star, Price & Swing Control

Is the Programmable Thermostat Energy Star Rated?

Energy Star was set up by the Clinton administration to promote energy efficiency and the reduction of green house gases. A device with an Energy Star rating is more energy efficient than a standard appliance doing the same task. If you live outside the United States you should check out what environmentally friendly accreditation is used in your country. The fact that an official government sponsored body recommends a particular product should be an important factor in your considerations.

Price

Perhaps for many people this will be the number one consideration. Times are hard (when are they not hard for the average person?) and few people can afford not to consider price when making a purchase. The good news is that a programmable thermostat will save you money on your HVAC bills and thus will pay for itself.

Programmable thermostats start for as little as $30 and go up to $100. Naturally more expensive programmable thermostats have more functions which may or may not be useful to you. One thing you cannot ignore is whether the thermostat can be installed onto your heating and cooling systems. The cheapest programmable thermostats tend have more limited compatibility.

Swing Control

If you live in a temperate climate zone this is not a vital consideration. However, if it is blazing hot or freezing cold outside then this is a function you are going to want. Swing control allows you to set a range for your thermostat before it turns on the heating or cooling. For example if you set your thermostat to 76 degrees and the swing control is set to one degrees then if the temperature drops to 75 degrees or rises to 77 degrees then the heating/cooling is activated by the thermostat. Programmable thermostats without swing control tend to turn the heating/cooling on when the temperature deviates less than a degree from the setting. This can mean your heating/cooling is continually cycling. This constant on and off can damage your HVAC system and lead to the expense of repairing boilers etc. It is worth noting that Hunter and Lux programmable thermostats have swing control functions.

Lux TX1500E Programmable Thermostat

Lock out, filter warning & ease of programming

Lock Out Function

This is a useful function if you have children. Our little blessings are filled with curiosity and are bound to be tempted by the buttons on a programmable thermostat. A lock out function allows you to stop little fingers ruining your programmed settings. Only by keying in a code can a person change the settings.

Filter Warning

Regularly changing the filters on your HVAC system will make it more efficient. This is something we often forget to do because we are only human. Some programmable thermostats take our fallibility into account and warn us when it is time to change the filters.

Daylight Saving and Power Outages

It is handy to have a programmable thermostat that automatically takes account of changes in time due to daylight saving hours. Otherwise you might be waking up to a cold house because you forgot the clocks were going back.

Another issue is power outages. If you run your programmable thermostat off the mains supply you might lose all your programmed information during a power outage. Honeywell thermostats keep all your information during a power outage.

Other programmable thermostats are run from batteries. The better ones will have a battery warning sign telling you when to replace the batteries.

Ease of Programming

The official spiel on all products tells you that they are easy to use. Naturally not all products are easy to use or understand so somebody is being economical with the truth. It is a good idea to read reviews and ask in a Home Depot or similar type of shop to find out which programmable thermostats are the easiest to program. The best advice to give is to read the instruction manual before attempting to program a thermostat for the first time. Usually this will clear up any problems (if you can understand the manual). Having technical support available is useful too.

For some people it is not so much ease of programming as style of interface that concerns them. The iPad generation now seems to be keen on touch screen (an old idea made sexy with a new coat of spin).

Other concerns include a backlit screen. This allows you to find the thermostat and change the settings in the dark. The Lux TX900TS Touch Screen Programmable Thermostat has an auditory confirmation function, whereby the device tells you the changes you have made. This function is useful for those with poor eyesight who are not sure that they have pressed the correct buttons.

Lux, Honeywell and Hunter

Lux, Honeywell and Hunter thermostats compared
Lux, Honeywell and Hunter thermostats compared

Honeywell RTH221B Basic Programmable Thermostat

Reviews

So now I’ve explained the salient points concerning programmable thermostats I will introduce four good programmable thermostats by the three leading thermostat companies.

The Lux TX1500E Programmable Thermostat is great value for money at only $40. Lux have picked up awards for their programmable thermostats and so it is a trusted brand name. They provide excellent customer service. The Lux TX1500E is compatible with most 24-volt systems. It can be installed onto single and multi stage systems, gas pumps and combined or separate heating and cooling systems. It allows you to program your heating/cooling requirements for each day of the week. It has swing control and a lock down feature. It also has a warning for changing the filter.

The Honeywell RTH221B Basic Programmable Thermostat is the cheapest of the thermostats looked at in this hub (just $23). It has all the reliability of a Honeywell product. It comes with a warranty and allows you to program 4 different periods of heating/cooling in one day. The main problem with this thermostat is that it is only compatible with single stage systems. Another limitation is that it doesn’t have a vacation mode. However, for the price the Honeywell RTH221B is a good thermostat.

The Honeywell RTH7600D Touch Screen 7-Day Programmable Thermostat is the top of the range Honeywell thermostat. It is compatible with single and multi-stage systems, gas pumps, combined and separate air-con and heating systems. The Honeywell RTH7600D allows you to program up to 4 periods in a day. It can run off the mains or batteries. It stores your information during a power outage and has a big touch screen interface. Reviews are mixed on how easy it is to program. The main problem with Honeywell programmable thermostats is that they don’t include swing control.

The Hunter 44550 Auto Save 7-Day Programmable Thermostat is a popular thermostat. It gives you 4 time slots per day to program. It is compatible with a wide range of 24-volt single and multi-stage systems. The Hunter 44550 has the advantage of not only having the standard array of functions such as vacation mode, filter warning it also has swing control. It also can be taken off the wall to be programmed. Furthermore it has the useful ‘stay at home’ override function. It is easy to program. The only downside of the Hunter 44550 Programmable Thermostat is that it runs off batteries. The device warns you when the batteries need changing. For many people having to hunt around for batteries is still a pain. This is the advantage of Honeywell thermostats that give you the choice to run the device off the mains or batteries.

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