What’s the Difference between Smart and Programmable Thermostats?

Nobody loves paying more than they absolutely have to for utilities. Want to know the #1 secret to saving money on your heating and cooling bills? Use less heating and cooling. 

That doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable in your home, though! It only means you have to use your HVAC system to its maximum efficiency. And that starts with your thermostat.

Three Types of Thermostats

Thermostats come in three types: manual, programmable, and smart. 

Manual thermostats are the old-school type you run across in older hotels (or maybe your grandparents’ house.) They’re inexpensive, but they aren’t especially precise or energy efficient. To ensure maximum efficiency of your HVAC unit, you have to manually adjust the settings every time you enter and leave your home.

Nowadays, most people have a programmable thermostat. You program the thermostat to output various temperatures throughout the day to maximize your savings and comfort. For example, when it’s warm outside, you can set your thermostat higher when you’re not home and lower in the evening. These electronic thermostats allow for customization, adaptation, convenience, and energy savings. They may cost more than their manual predecessors, but the savings are absolutely worth it! 

Now here’s the really cool option. Smart thermostats are essentially programmable thermostats on steroids. If you’re looking for all the best features and then some—we’re talking self-learning and energy-use data galore—a smart thermostat is the way to go. You’re definitely going to pay for the extras, though; even the most basic models run about $250.

We’re going to guess (and strongly recommend) you don’t go for the manual thermostat. So how do you decide between the programmable and smart options? Keep reading.

Three Differences Between Programmable Thermostats and Smart Thermostats

#1 Customization

Programmable thermostats allow for varying degrees of customization, depending on the model you choose:

  • 7-day models allow you to have a different schedule every day of the week. 
  • 5+2 models have the same schedule for the 5-day work week and a different schedule for weekends. 
  • 5+1+1 models provide the same schedule for the 5-day work week then different schedules for each weekend day. 

Smart thermostats offer these same settings plus the ability to make adjustments on-the-go using a smartphone—even when you’re not home. Let’s say soccer practice went a little shorter than usual, but your kiddo worked up a real sweat. You can adjust the thermostat on your way home to give you the perfect temperature when you return! 

Some smart thermostats are also self-learning—they can track movement in your home to figure out more specific patterns and schedules, automatically adjusting themselves as needed to keep you comfortable.

#2 Cost

There’s a steep price difference between smart and programmable thermostats. A smart thermostat can easily set you back $250, while programmable thermostats are more in the range of $60 to $100.  

So do smart thermostats result in a significantly more efficient system? Will you make up for the initial cost over time? Probably not. You can expect to save the same amount using a programmable or smart thermostat, meaning all that extra money is going toward bells and whistles, not energy efficiency.

#3 Bells and Whistles

For some people, smart thermostats cross the thin line between futuristic and just downright creepy. If you’re uncomfortable with smart tech  in your home, a programmable thermostat will serve you better! 

Here’s another consideration: To get the full use of a smart thermostat, you’ll want to take advantage of features like energy reports and monitoring. If that’s not you, a smart thermostat probably isn’t the best choice. 

Similarities Between Smart and Programmable Thermostats

Ultimately, depending on your budget and preferences, either thermostat will be a great upgrade to your home! Given their key similarities, it’s pretty hard to make the wrong decision.

You’ll experience nearly the same cost savings. If you use your thermostat to its full potential, you can expect to save 15 to 30% on your energy bills. ENERGY STAR gives a pretty thorough list of things to keep in mind to get the most from your thermostat.

The thermostat needs to be compatible with your home. Depending on the age of your home and the existing HVAC system, you might be limited in your options. Both programmable and smart thermostats need to be compatible with your HVAC system. Each thermostat should be professionally installed. Both smart and programmable thermostats should be installed by your Austin HVAC technician. Give us a call today!

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