Models can seve you money.
Programmable thermostats can trim about $180 a year from your energy
bills by automatically reducing heating and cooling needs when you’re
away or asleep. Sounds simple, but not necessarily. While some of the 30
models Consumer Reports tested were easy to set and use, others were so
complicated that you might give up in frustration and end up spending
more, not less.
That’s pretty much what was happening across the country, which is
why you won’t find the Energy Star on any thermostats. The program
stopped certifying them in 2009 mostly because they were hard to use.
New standards that factor in ease of use are being developed.
But you don’t have to wait. Consumer Reports’ testers rated ease of
use based on how simple each thermostat was to set up and make routine
adjustments to before reading the manual and then, if needed, with the
manual. Most thermostats can keep rooms close to the chosen temperature,
and all the thermostats rated have basic pre-programmed settings.
Here’s what else Consumer Reports’ testing found:
Displays and prompts improve.
The top three models have
colorful interactive touchscreen displays that were especially easy to
use and see. You can zip through the prompts on the top-rated Venstar ColorTouch, $170. The Honeywell Prestige $250, and the Ecobee,
$300, let you program them using prompts or by answering questions
about your daily habits. And if you get stuck at work, you can adjust
the Ecobee’s settings, using your computer or smartphone, to turn the
heat on later.
Smarter isn’t always better.
$250, is a learning thermostat. It continually senses whether you are
at home and
automatically adjusts its program based on changes you made
the first week. From then on, it takes in your preferences and schedules
and continually readjusts. It’s also improving: Nest recently alerted
customers of software updates done automatically via Wi-Fi. You can
program the Nest yourself, but Consumer Reports’ panelists found the
round, ultra-sleek model wasn’t as intuitive as the top-rated
thermostats. Like the Ecobee, you can remotely adjust the settings on
the Nest using your computer or smartphone. You can also set the Nest to
send you e-mail updates.
Some models mystify testers.
You have to push a combination of buttons and hold them for several seconds to program the bottom-rated Venstar Wireless Remote,
$105. But there’s no indication that you’re pushing the right buttons
unless you use the manual. The buttons and onscreen prompts on the Filtrete 3M-22, $45, may leave you wondering what to do next. Both thermostats also have tiny screens that are relatively hard to read.
How to choose
Almost all of the tested models work with common heating and cooling systems, but check the box for exceptions. Then:
Look at your lifestyle. Most let you program different
settings for each day. If you’re on a regular routine, consider a
thermostat that offers one schedule for weekdays and one or two for
Think about installation. Most attach to heating and
cooling systems with a few low-voltage wires, so you can replace your
old one in about an hour. If it’s more than a simple replacement, call a