Programmable Thermostat: A Handy Overview

Programmable electronic thermostat for temperature control in living room hall way

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You may not think about your thermostat often, but maybe you should. Whether you need to replace an outdated model or you just want to save some money, a programmable thermostat can improve your life.

Programmable thermostats come in a few different styles. It can be confusing at first to distinguish between various features and decide what will be the best fit for your home. Luckily, with just a little bit of information, you can find the perfect thermostat to fit your needs.

What is a Thermostat?

You’re probably familiar with the little box that controls the temperature of your home. However, you may be less familiar with how that it works.

Thermostats use a sensor to measure the temperature of the system they are regulating. In this case, the system is your home. By accurately measuring the temperature of your home, your thermostat maintains a setpoint temperature.

In years past, thermostats were exclusively analog systems. Now, with improved technology thermostats have launched into the digital age and become highly sophisticated.

The most basic digital thermostat includes an LCD screen and a degree specific temperature gauge. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ll find the highly customizable smart thermostat. Programmable thermostats fall kind of in between these two options. Although as you’ll see, “smart” thermostats are merely an improved variety of programmable thermostat.

programmable thermostat
Image via Nest

What is a Programmable Thermostat?

Just like an analog thermostat, a digital thermostat is a tool for regulating the temperature of your home. Digital thermostats provide a higher degree of accuracy than their older and outdated analog counterparts.

Programmable thermostats take the technology behind this digital advancement one step further by including pre-programmed settings to regulate the temperature of your home. These pre-programmed settings are designed to maximize your energy savings and save you money.

Anyone can conserve energy by using their thermostat to regulate the temperature of their home. In general, you should keep your home warmer in the summertime and cooler in the winter. By observing these basic principles, your heater or air conditioner will be running less frequently and therefore use less energy.

In addition to keeping your home warmer during hot periods and cooler during cold ones, you can decrease your energy usage by running your HVAC system less frequently when you are not at home.

The primary advantage of installing a programmable thermostat comes in the form of convenience. The pre-programmed settings available on these devices automatically change the settings of your thermostat to reduce the amount of time your HVAC system is running.

Choosing a Programmable Thermostat

Different programmable thermostats come with various features. When selecting a new device for your home be sure to consider the following factors:

  • Price point
  • Available Features
  • Remote Accessibility
  • Demands of Your Current System

Price Point

A new thermostat and installation can cost anywhere from $50 all the way up to $415. However, if you are installing a digital thermostat with programmable settings, your costs will likely start around $100.

It may be hard to give up extra money on the front end, but installing a programmable device will likely save you money in the long run. As a bonus, more advanced models will add value to your home if you choose to sell it in the future.

If you’re want to save money on your new thermostat, try installing it yourself. If any significant electrical work is required, be smart and hire an electrician. However, users can often install a new thermostat by merely following directions provided on the package.

Available Features

To justify the cost of a new thermostat, you should make sure that it has the features you want. Some standard features found on more modern thermostat models include:

  • Touchscreen Programming
  • Backlit Displays
  • Voice /or Phone Programming
  • Hold/Vacation Modes
  • Alerts for Malfunctions and Necessary Maintenance

Typically the more features your device comes equipped with, the more money you can expect to spend on your new equipment. However, you may find the price increase to be worth it when taking the added conveniences into account.

In addition to the features mentioned above, different thermostats may have different modes that affect how many different settings you can apply. For example, some models will allow you to schedule one program for the days of the week and another for the weekend days.

Remote Accessibility

remote control for programmable thermostat
Image via Joplin’s

With the increasing rise of “smart” technologies, it’s no surprise that we’ve entered the age of the smart thermostat. In the most basic sense, intelligent thermostats are the next step up from the programmable thermostat.

In addition to being programmable, this new “wireless” thermostat will automatically adjust itself to accommodate your routines. As an added convenience, most smart thermostats are remotely accessible from either a smartphone or web app.

Current System Demands

Probably the most important consideration to make when choosing a new thermostat is what your current HVAC system demands.

Typically, thermostats are designed to moderate one heat source and one cooling source. However, you may need to look for a more specialized model if your home has  more than one heating or cooling source.

If you just search for “the best smart thermometer” without considering what kind of setup you currently have, you’ll likely find yourself facing disappointment.

Installing Your New Thermostat

After you pick out what device will work best for your home, installation is relatively straightforward. Most thermostats come with a user manual that will tell you how to install it. Merely follow the included directions, and you will find yourself with a new and improved thermostat in no time.

Keep in mind that working with electrical components always comes with risk. For your safety, consult with a professional if you are unsure of what you’re doing. It’s also a good idea to check for any necessary permits before you begin working.

One extra note of caution regarding very old thermostats: Use extreme caution with any glass tubes. Older thermostats used mercury contained in glass tubes to regulate temperature. Mercury is extremely toxic, so be careful.

When you’re ready to install your new device, follow these steps to ensure your success:

Cut the Power

If your old thermostat is digital, turn it off. Additionally, use your circuit box to cut power to both your heating and cooling systems. This step is crucial as it will protect you from electrocution when you start disconnecting and reconnecting the wires.

Remove the Old Thermostat

After you’ve cut the power, remove the old thermostat but leave the wall plate in place for now. Label each wire with its letter designation. Don’t worry about the colors of the cables just use the letter. Now is an excellent time to snap a quick picture just in case you get stuck later on in the process.

Disconnect the Wires and Remove the Wall Plate

Carefully disconnect the wires from their terminals. Undo the fasteners holding the wall plate to the wall and remove it. It can be helpful to secure the cables with some painter’s tape to ensure that they do not fall into the wall.  Remove any unneeded wall anchors and patch the holes.

Attach the New Wall Plate

If necessary, drill new holes and attach wall anchors to mount the new wall plate. Carefully feed the wires through the hole in the new wall plate. Secure them to the wall with tape once more. Connect the wires to the terminals using the user manual as a guide.

Restore Power

Install any necessary batteries to the thermostat and connect it to the wall plate. At this point, you should restore the power and test out your new equipment.

Download Any Necessary Apps

If you chose to install a modern smart thermostat, take some time now to download any necessary applications on your phone, tablet, or computer. Also, spend some time navigating the app and getting used to it. This step will give you remote access to your new device so that you can control it from anywhere.

Overall, installing one of these energy saving devices is a pretty easy project. Take your time and consult with professionals if you find yourself frustrated or overwhelmed. Once you successfully install your equipment, you can look through your user manual to program it.

Keep in mind that it can take time to get used to using a programmable thermostat. Read over your user manual so that you know what to expect. Familiarizing yourself with the manual will also help you if you run into any problems down the road.

Remember that choosing to install a programmable thermostat is a rewarding process. It shows dedication to yourself and the environment. While the price may seem steep at first, you can rest assured knowing that your new equipment will save you money for years to come. Even if it is difficult to use at first, you will quickly master the intricacies of this new technology and wallow in newfound comfort.

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