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Buying a New Thermostat: What Type Do You Need?

Updated on February 7, 2016
Cre8tor profile image

Dan has been in the HVAC industry for 22 years with experience ranging from installation and service to sales and distribution.

Choosing Your Thermostat

Various thermostats
Various thermostats | Source

What Thermostat Should I Buy?

Being that you're here, you or someone you know is likely considering buying a thermostat. If you've been looking into this, then you also likely know how many choices you have.

For starters, if you have an outdated thermostat you're doing the right thing by changing it out with one that's more modern. An older thermostat costs you money simply through inaccuracy. Inaccuracy can cause your unit to run longer or shorter depending on which way the dial is swinging. A new thermostat is not typically a huge investment and will usually pay for itself within the first year. Perhaps a bit longer if you go with a more expensive option.

Secondly, an older thermostat can contain mercury, which we all know today isn't something we necessarily want around the house. They can also have something called a "heat anticipator". In my many years of HVAC experience, I can't count how often that little needle is set improperly causing much inconsistency in furnace function.

NOTE: When disposing of a mercury thermostat, contact your local recycling center for proper disposal procedures.

Knowing that you're doing the right thing now, let's get into a few general categories of thermostats so that you can better decide which is right for you.

Thermostats With Back-lit Displays

Programmable or not, there are some nicer looking thermostats with back-lit displays and touchscreens if you prefer that to the more simple button and switch types.
Programmable or not, there are some nicer looking thermostats with back-lit displays and touchscreens if you prefer that to the more simple button and switch types. | Source

How Do You Control Your HVAC System?

What kind of thermostat do you have?

See results

The Digital Non-Programmable Thermostat

The digital non-programmable thermostat is probably the most popular option among homeowners today. It is a simple heat and cool thermostat sparing all bells and whistles. There are simple up and down temperature setting buttons, a heat/off/cool switch and an auto/fan switch. The numbers on the left indicate the temperature of the room and the numbers on the right, the temperature you have it set for.

NOTE: Even though it's not programmable, a digital thermostat is still more accurate, thus efficient than the old mercury stats.


  • Simplistic Use
  • Easy to Install
  • No Mercury
  • Factory Set Heat Anticipation
  • Easy to Read Display

Install Your Own Thermostat

Installing a thermostat is really quite simple. There are only a few wires to deal with and you basically put it together the way you take it apart. Consult your installation manual to see if you can do this yourself and save a few dollars.

The Digital Programmable Thermostat

This type of thermostat operates on all the same concepts of your typical stat with the option to set your system to run at particular temperatures at certain times of the day, days of the week and for different times of the year.

It is my opinion that these are best used by those who are at least slightly technically inclined and perhaps are away from home somewhat often. Though the option to control our system to this extent is nice, you must read your manual carefully or you could find it more of a hassle than a gain and end up using it like a fancy non-programmable stat. Beyond that, our temperature desires change as do our food cravings. I've found myself overriding the automatic settings based on the day. Again, for those who may travel frequently, this isn't as much of a problem.


  • Helps to Conserve Energy
  • Automatic All Season Temperature Control (with auto-changeover option)
  • Easy to Install and Read
  • Factory Set Heat Anticipation and Mercury Free

They may not look like much in this setting but make no mistake of how intelligent these thermostats are and what they are capable of doing for you.
They may not look like much in this setting but make no mistake of how intelligent these thermostats are and what they are capable of doing for you.

The Smart Stat

Okay, so these "Smart Stats", as many call them, are about the highest technological thermostat you can have. They do just about everything but tie your shoes for you. They can control multiple systems and system types all from the same stat. They have remote sensors for different areas of the home if you have a zoned system. They are compatible with your smart phones and laptops so that you can control the climate of your home from anywhere including your humidifiers if applicable. They have service reminders, weather forecasting and even digital photo displays so when you're not using it, it runs a slideshow of your favorite family photos instead of that dull looking display we're used to. It actually becomes a focal point in your home and they even offer framing options such as wood, brushed nickel and black. If you are into the latest and greatest in technology, this is the stat for you. If you're not, it's still worth a peek since they're just so darn cool.

Thermostat Brands

Just as there are a lot of thermostat types out there, there are even more brands available to you. Here are some of the more common brand names you might see and use in your home.

Shop One of These Popular Thermostat Brands

White Rodgers
April Aire
Rite Temp
Light Stat
...and more

Use Your Fan!

Letting the fan on your furnace circulate air, regardless of the season, can help keep you more comfortable and reduce energy use. Remember, a fan's initial use of power is the greatest. Once it is running, it isn't costly to operate. It will help to keep the home at a more even temperature throughout, your heating and cooling will still function by temperature settings and as a result, you'll be more comfortable. I'm not suggesting you run it 24 hrs. a day, year round but letting it run during the more dramatic weather days isn't a bad idea at all.

Buy the Right Stat for You the First Time

I wanted to leave you with one last thought, don't be afraid to splurge a little on your thermostat. Thermostats are not something we buy often and it's not often these days we purchase items that actually do pay for themselves. Check out the selection, read about the options and capabilities and decide for yourself which one suits you best. You don't want to be stuck with something too complex to operate or too simple for your heavy travel schedule.

© 2012 Dan Robbins


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    • Cre8tor profile image

      Dan Robbins 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Marcy - Thank you. Yes, many don't realize how touchy a programmable stat can be. I certainly don't want to scare anyone from them though...just be sure to read the directions carefully to enjoy it properly. As HP said...

      @Healthy Pursuits- (Thank you) It is nice what they can save you on energy costs. So many energy savers cost sooo much you don't really see the fruits but the stat pays for itself quickly and is like a "comfy" cruise control. These all have fan options too...

      @ktrapp - (Thank you)...because running the fan helps a lot. It does even out the temp, saves a bit on the utilities and as far as wear and tear...I run mine about half the year over various seasons and haven't had a bit of problems with my fan motor. Granted, I keep up on my furnace and filter maintenance too.


    • Healthy Pursuits profile image

      Karla Iverson 5 years ago from Oregon

      You've described the options of each type of thermostat perfectly! I wish I'd had this hub a few years ago when I had to decide what to buy. I bought and installed a programmable thermostat a few years ago. I was surprised at how cheap it was to buy and how easy to install. I live alone, so it works beautifully for me. Lowering the temperature at night automatically is great, then waking up to a warm house in the morning is like having my own electronic servant. I have also noticed how much money it saves me each winter.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Cre8tor - You have the best and most useful hubs! Like Marcy, I've gone back and forth on using the fan all day. It does even out the temperature when I keep it running, but then I start to worry about the wear and tear on the fan or motor. I like your advice to use it on dramatic weather days, and trust me, in the Chicago area we have dramatic weather days in both directions. Thanks again for such professional advice.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      I'm so glad to read your advice about running the fan all day. I've gone back and forth on this, and I've heard that it costs more to run it, but I agree it seems it would help even out the temperature in the house. I absolutely need a programmable thermostat, though. I think the energy department here will install them for free. I just hope I can learn to use it (I know some very tech-savvy people who got stumped by a new thermostat!).

      Great info, and very timely! Voted up and up, and shared with followers!