The thermostat you use can affect your heating and cooling costs. In addition to helping maintain your home’s temperature, proper use of a thermostat can save you money and reduce energy use.

But which thermostat is the best for your home? We’ve researched the differences between smart and programmable thermostats and created a guide to help you decide which thermostat is better for your home. Read on to learn more.

    What’s the Difference?

    At one point, there was only a single option for a thermostat — a manual one. The market has since expanded from only offering manual thermostats to offering smart thermostats and programmable thermostat options.

    Though they perform the same function of controlling the temperature in your house, there are differences. We’ve outlined those below.

    Programmable Thermostats

    hand adjusting a programmable thermostat
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    Programmable thermostats help you save money on heating and cooling costs by allowing you to set temperatures to a pre-planned schedule. Depending on the day of the week, you may program a different setting. For example, if you’re leaving for work, you can program your thermostat to a different temperature for the time you will be gone and a more comfortable temperature once you’re back home. You can even program a different schedule for the weekend.

    Smart Thermostats

    hand adjusting a smart thermostat via cellphone
    Image Source: Canva

    Smart thermostats can learn your temperature needs over time and automatically create a schedule to match your heating and cooling preferences. They’re also Wi-Fi-enabled, allowing you to remotely check and control your home’s temperature. If you’re on vacation and forgot to turn off the air conditioner, you can access it from anywhere using a Wi-Fi signal. Many smart thermostats have geo-fencing capabilities and can tell when you’re on your way home and adjust the temperature accordingly.

    How Do Smart Thermostats Save Money?

    Primarily, smart thermostats help with energy efficiency by automatically reducing your heating and cooling based on your usage. Increased energy efficiency equates to lower heating and cooling costs. Setting your thermostat back by 8℉ to 10℉ daily from its normal setting can save you 10% a year on heating and cooling costs, and smart thermostats learn to do this automatically, making it easy to save without having to think about it. While programmable thermostats can give equivalent, energy-saving results, the usability of a smart thermostat often outshines that of a programmable one.

    Other Smart Thermostat Features

    Smart thermostats have a lot of features that make them one of the more user-friendly gadgets in a smart home, such as:

    Weather Detection

    While programmable thermostats can help cut down on energy costs, they don’t offer the versatility of smart thermostats. Smart thermostats from a brand like ecobee can factor in environmental conditions to optimize temperature settings and further reduce energy usage. For example, a smart thermostat could detect humidity and adjust your air conditioning to compensate. If you live in a variable climate, smart thermostats can take in local weather data and adjust your HVAC system automatically to keep your house comfortable.

    Data Analysis

    Another major difference between smart thermostats and programmable ones is user input. While you can track your energy usage with a programmable thermostat by looking at your energy bill, making changes to improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system is often guesswork. A smart thermostat tracks energy usage for you, as it collects data in real time and can recommend actions to maximize efficiency. Although many programmable thermostats offer the ability for energy savings, smart thermostats do the work for you, analyzing energy reports and creating maximum savings.

    Accessible Controls

    Like other smart devices, most smart thermostats offer voice and remote controllability, making them easy to use regardless of where you are. Some of the best smart thermostats, like the Google Nest Learning Thermostat, Amazon Smart Thermostat, and ecobee, all offer voice control, making it simple to set your thermostat without having to fuss with manual input on a keypad — something that can be difficult and confusing with programmable thermostats.

    Do Smart Thermostats Work for Everyone?

    Smart thermostats offer a lot of features that make everyday life more convenient. If you want to increase your energy efficiency without having to think too much about climate control, the automation of a smart thermostat can be appealing.

    Programmable thermostats also have a lot to offer. While they don’t have all the bells and whistles of smart thermostats, they’re a better option than a manual thermostat for homeowners concerned with energy conservation.

    Checking Thermostat Compatibility

    Deciding on what thermostat works best for you depends on personal preferences — some folks don’t want to learn the complexities of programming a thermostat, while others concerned with privacy may not want their data tracked. One key component in choosing a thermostat is whether or not it’s compatible with your HVAC system. Here’s how to check if your system is compatible with a smart thermostat:

    1. Turn off the breaker for your HVAC system or the main switch of your home.
    2. Remove the faceplate of your existing thermostat.
    3. Take a photo of the wiring to ensure you put it back properly.
    4. Check if there is a wire connected to the “C terminal” of your thermostat.
    5. If no wire is connected, one may be tucked behind the thermostat. Gently pull it away from the wall and see if there is an unused C-wire behind it.

    If you don’t have a C-wire and want to install a smart thermostat, you’ll most likely need to call an electrician to install one. Some smart thermostats don’t require a C-wire, but it’s best to check with the manufacturer.

    Which Thermostat Is Better?

    man setting a setting thermostat
    Image Source: Canva

    Whether a smart thermostat or programmable thermostat is better is subjective and depends on your needs. At their most basic, both offer the ability to help control your energy usage and save on energy bills.

    If you’re looking for an economical choice, a programmable thermostat is a good option. However, if you want a completely customized experience and maximum savings where the work is done for you, a smart thermostat is for you.

    Disclosure: Today’s Homeowner participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate advertising program is designed to provide a means for publishers to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Dani Straughan

    Dani Straughan


    Dani Straughan is a content producer for Today’s Homeowner from Durham, North Carolina, with an extensive writing background across multiple industries, ranging from coffee to automotive parts. Dani specializes in creating empathetic content that helps readers make informed decisions about home products and services. When they’re not writing about DIY projects and roof care, you will likely find Dani building custom handcrafted furniture or going on nature walks with friends.

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    Lora Novak

    Senior Editor

    Lora Novak meticulously proofreads and edits all commercial content for Today’s Homeowner to guarantee that it contains the most up-to-date information. Lora brings over 12 years of writing, editing, and digital marketing expertise. She’s worked on thousands of articles related to heating, air conditioning, ventilation, roofing, plumbing, lawn/garden, pest control, insurance, and other general homeownership topics.

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