Wireless, programmable thermostats are an affordable way to reduce your energy bill and increase your comfort. In this article, we’re going to look at what wireless and programmable thermostats are before outlining how to determine what you need from a programmable thermostat. We’ll then provide our recommendations to facilitate your decision.
What Are Wireless, Programmable Thermostats?
Wireless thermostats allow you to control your system remotely, whether via an app on your phone or a control panel that doesn’t have to be wired into a network. Programmable thermostats allow you to create thermal profiles, reducing your overall energy usage. With some models, you can adjust the settings to keep you comfortable, and the thermostat learns your routine. You don’t have to choose between being comfortable and being green.
Wireless programmable thermostats combine both of these technologies.
What Should You Look for in Wireless, Programmable Thermostats?
One important thing you want is an easy to read, easy to use touchscreen. Flexibility should be a deciding factor in programmable thermostats. Reporting is useful, though not essential.
Technological compatibility matters. Instant plug-and-play with your existing HVAC system is critical. Connecting to your existing smart phone or home network is important.
Our Recommended Wireless, Programmable Thermostats
The type of HVAC system you have, the layout of your home, the degree to which you’d like to customize your home’s thermal profile and your own physical limitations can all affect the best thermostat for your home. That’s why we have several recommended models.
Ecobee3/Ecobee 4 Thermostat
Ecobee branded wireless programmable thermostats are more advanced than the others on this list. However, they provide the best thermostats for those who want multiple room temperature control. The Ecobee 3 is good, but Ecobee 4 has extra features that are worth it if you can utilize them.
For example, Ecobee4 has Alexa built into it. Note that the speaker simply lets you speak to the thermostat, a plus if you have difficulty manipulating controls or pushing buttons, but you’re not going to be playing music through the thermostat speakers. Interestingly, it can give you some data through Alexa, such as today’s weather report. You’ll be able to control the thermostat through Alexa once you add it as a separate device on the Alexa app. Both Ecobee models are compatible with a variety of major HVAC brands.
Both Ecobee models allow you to control multiple rooms in your home, such as making the baby’s room warmer than the living room. If the front living area tends to get colder because the door is open so much, you can turn up the heat in there without overheating the main living areas. Or you can set a different thermal profile so the bedroom that overheats in the afternoon isn’t made worse by your thermostat settings.
The reason Ecobee thermostats can do all of this is through their wireless external sensors. They’ll read the temperature of a room and send that back to the main thermostat. The side benefit is the simplicity in day to day maintenance; you don’t have to remember to adjust the thermostat settings because someone moved a small heater into the bedroom.
The basic bundle for the Ecobee model is the thermostat and one sensor, but you can buy several more. They’ll all work together. And the entire system is easy to use, given its complexity. The graphs on the interface show you what your programmed temperatures are relative to what it actually is, allowing you to make adjustments based on real-time data.
The system works with tablets, computers and most smart phones. You can change the program as desired or set it for particular seasons. It is smart enough to tell when people are home and adjusts the settings accordingly. If your kids get home early from school this winter, it turns on the heater to make the house more comfortable.
It can also be told to override your regular programs if it doesn’t sense anyone in the house. If you’re a day late returning from vacation, know that the system could keep your energy saving routine in place automatically, keeping your energy bill as low as possible. Programmable thermostats have been found to yield up to 20% energy savings when used properly. However, given the price of top of the line programmable thermostats, some people choose the cheaper Ecobee 3 to save money.
The Nest Learning Thermostat
We’ll call this the best wireless thermostat on the market, and it is certainly ideal for those that want the thermostat to figure out the right thermal profile for your comfort. Adjust the thermostat for the first few days to what makes you comfortable, both physically and financially. Eventually, the Nest thermostat will figure out the general routine and program itself to follow that profile unless you change something. The Nest thermostat stands out from the competition for its low price tag given this advanced functionality.
The space age design is appealing to some. For most, though, the sheer simplicity of adjusting it is the major attraction. You can see what temperature it is without having to push a button, while the color coding clearly communicates if it is in heating or cooling mode. It is easy to read at every light level, and altering the settings is easy. For many, the large display screen with strong backlighting is reason enough to get it – you could probably read it without breaking out your reading glasses.
This means you get energy savings and customized profiles with relatively little effort. Forget looking at complex charts and adjusting the settings; it will figure out Friday nights have different environmental settings than the rest of the week. If you do want to review the reports, the Nest thermostat reports are probably the most elaborate of all, and you can see how your temperature settings have affected AC usage.
One major downside is that the Nest thermostat isn’t compatible with the Apple home kit. The Ecobee beats it in that regard.
If you already have a Nest thermostat and want to upgrade to the newer model, you may be glad to know it hasn’t changed much except to become slimmer with a few more added features. There are Nest branded temperature sensors you can buy, but those don’t come with the basic Nest thermostat. That’s another area where Ecobee stands out.
The Emerson Sensi Smart
The Emerson Smart is on our list for overall value. It is surprisingly affordable given its features. It is high-quality, and you get all the major features you want in a programmable thermostat. It is Wi-Fi compatible and works with most devices. Altering your schedule is easy, and you can have daily and weekly profiles.
We’re not going to say that this unit is a programmable thermostat for dummies, but it is both easy to use and easy to install. The instruction guide allows many homeowners to do the installation themselves. The entire thing could be up and running in fifteen minutes, especially if you don’t need a complex daily schedule. You can use its pre-programmable settings to keep things at a higher or lower temperature during a standard workday schedule while making sure you’re comfortable when you get home. A major perk is the fact that it can be voice controlled through your Echo or Wink, the home automation network. You can tell the thermostat to turn up the temperature a few degrees without breaking out the smart phone, much less getting up from the couch.
Another benefit of this model is that it is smart enough to handle a two-stage HVAC system, such as when you have a separate AC and furnace. It works with central HVAC systems as well.
This programmable thermostat works with nearly every home automation system. It works with the Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa, Wink home automation and the Google Assistant. You can install the app to control the thermostat on most Android and Apple devices. You can run the app on tablets and smartphones alike.
Emerson Model UP310 Programmable Thermostat
This is a relatively simple programmable thermostat, but it is smart enough to have a 7-day schedule. This is a good choice for putting in simply to be able to say the house you’re selling has a programmable thermostat. Or you can install it so that you can reap the energy savings of having a programmable thermostat as quickly as possible, since it is so easy to both put in and get running. The built-in wizard can take you through the installation and setup if necessary. It isn’t small, but the thin profile allows it to be installed almost anywhere.
You get a basic screen that shows the room temperature and thermostat settings and the time. It tells you if the heat, AC or fan is on. It has all the basic, necessary functions and notifications without the complex features that may scare away others.
It can control a central HVAC system and separate heating and cooling equipment. In fact, it can control up to four different heating systems and two cooling systems simultaneously. It’s the cheapest programmable thermostat on the market that is both easy to use and lets you control several different furnaces at once. For example, it can handle switching between forced air heating, radiant heating, in-floor heating and baseboard heating or altering settings for all of the above. It’ll automatically switch from heating to cooling, too.
Where the Emerson model stands out is the sheer number of heating and cooling systems it can work with out-of-the-box. It is hard to name something this system won’t work with. It works with most electric heating systems, gas systems and oil heating systems. This is the only programmable thermostat on our list that promises to work with newer millivolt applications such as space heaters. It won’t work with old 2-wire line voltage heating systems. It doesn’t work with gravity furnaces.
The app for this programmable thermostat works with Apple and Android devices. The app will share indoor humidity readings and temperature information. It works with Amazon Alexa, Wink and Google Assistant. You need a C-wire for it to work with the Apple Homekit. It won’t work with older proprietary home automation systems, but neither will anything on our list except a simple non-programmable thermostat.
Ironically, you can program this programmable thermostat with a 7-day profile, a 5-2 profile (separate schedule for weekends) or tell it to work like a non-programmable thermostat. In the last case, it keeps things at a steady temperature unless told otherwise.
Honeywell Non-Programmable Thermostat
We wanted to make sure we provided something for everyone, so we’re recommending a Honeywell non-programmable thermostat that is pure simplicity. This is a great basic thermostat for those who want to set one temperature and forget about it until they need to make a change. If you work from home or otherwise rarely leave the house, this is ideal.
The unit is cheap, simple, and has a clean, minimalist design. It can control both a heating and cooling system; you switch between them by literally switching a button. Adjust the set temperature with a push of the arrow buttons. The screen shows the current temperature by default. When you push the buttons, it pops up a set temperature automatically so you can compare the set temperature to the actual one. You can choose to only turn on the fan as well.
This is the easiest thermostat to install out of everything on our list. It is also the simplest to operate, since it isn’t programmable. We’ll say this is the best thermostat for those who want a simple control system for a forced air HVAC system. It isn’t going to work with electric baseboard heating systems or heat pumps. If you have that type of system, the Emerson is the better choice.
Wireless thermostats cost a little more than wired thermostats, but in return, you get far more freedom controlling your HVAC system. If you don’t need that flexibility, you can go with this model of programmable thermostat. If modern programmable thermostats won’t work with the older home automation system you have, this is the type of thermostat you need.
If you know what you want and need out of a wireless, programmable thermostat, you’ll be able to find the right one for your particular situation from our list. Make sure that you know exactly what your needs are and what features are more important to you if you want to make the right choice.