Not too long ago, all a thermostat did was switch on and off your heating and cooling. Since then they have changed beyond all recognition. Every different thermostat seems to have different features and it can be a bit of a minefield finding the best programmable thermostat to suit your needs and budget.
They all come with a number of different terms in their description, some of which actually mean the same thing. It can be confusing. One smart thermostat can be totally different from another.
To help you navigate through this maze, we will explain some of the terms used and what they mean for you. Explain what the difference is between a smart thermostat and a programmable one.
Then, we have selected the best thermostats available across a wide range of prices and features to help with your decision making.
When looking for a thermostat, there are various terms used in the product description that you will find to describe the product. The problem being that some manufacturers use different terms for the same feature. Here a few of the more common ones are briefly explained;
Programmable – this means that a number of on and off periods to heat or cool can be set through the day. These units usually operate on a 7-day cycle.
Smart – in reality any thermostat that can be programmed is classified as ‘smart’. Practically, though, smart thermostats are usually programmable thermostats with additional features. The term also includes Wi-Fi enabled thermostats.
Wi-Fi enabled – the thermostat can be remotely controlled through a computer, a smartphone or an app. All will work with Apple or Android apps, but only a few will work with Blackberry. Check out our wifi thermostat reviews to see which is suitable for you.
‘C’ wire – the common wire is often necessary to power Wi-Fi and other ‘smart’ thermostats. There are some exceptions that we highlight in our reviews. If you don’t have one, we explain how to use an alternative wire or power source.
So, do you want a programmable thermostat or a smart one? Check out our reviews and find the best for your needs.
Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat
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Nest Learning Thermostat, 2nd Generation
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Sensi Wi-Fi Smart Programmable Thermostat 1F86U-42WF
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Ecobee3 Wi-Fi Thermostat with Remote Sensor
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Honeywell RET97B5D1002/U Wi-Fi Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat
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Top WI-FI / Programmable Thermostats
1. Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat
Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat is easy to setup, easy to use fully featured, reliable system for controlling the temperature in your home or business.
While this may not have the stylish design of the Nest Learning or the Ecobee3, inside, every bit as sophisticated and advanced as they can be.
The programming and any overrides that you may need can be carried out through the touchscreen or remotely through a computer, a smartphone or tablet (using the free Android or Apple app).
The onscreen display, which can be set to have 1 of 12 different color schemes, lets you know, the time and date, the indoor temperature and humidity and also the outdoor temperature and humidity. There also display remotely on your device.
Once the unit is programmed and operating, it learns how quickly you heating and cooling system takes to reach your set temperatures. So, for example, if you select that you want 70 degrees at 6 am the thermostat will turn on your heating system at the right time to ensure that your home is 70 degrees at 6 am. We have compared Nest VS Honeywell in detail here.
The Nest Learning certainly has a fine pedigree. The company was started by former Apple design engineers and is now part of the Google family.
Before Nest came out with its round thermostat, the majority of thermostats were rectangular white boxes. Since then some manufacturers have been inspired to add some design into their products, the most successful being the Ecobee3.
The innovative design of the Nest on its own may rate it as one of the most stylish Wi-Fi thermostats, but it is the features that make it one of the overall top-rated thermostats.
The ‘Learning’ in the name refers to the ability of the thermostat to learn your routines and program itself, rather than you have to manually enter them.
It includes many features that are aimed at lowering energy usage (and cost). There is a motion sensor built in that, if it doesn’t detect movement for 2 hours, will switch off the heating or cooling, whether it is programmed to be on or not.
When manually setting the temperatures, just below the readout there is a small green leaf that lights when you have the most energy-efficient temperatures.
Using the free app, you can check on your last 10 days energy usage, temperatures and the areas where the energy used has been most efficient.
3. Sensi Wi-Fi Smart Programmable Thermostat 1F86U-42WF
Sensi Wi-Fi Smart Programmable Thermostat deserves to be here for its ease of use and energy saving functions. But, in addition to those features, it has one more that makes it easier to install than many.One of the small drawbacks with Wi-Fi thermostats is the need for a ’C’ (or common) wire to supply power to the Wi-Fi. With other Wi-Fi thermostats, if your existing system does not have this then you either need to add one, find a work around to add a power extender kit.
The Nest Learning can theoretically draw power from other wires, but this can lead to erratic connectivity. With the Sensi, there is no need to have a ‘C’ wire to operate with all its functions. This allows it to be fitted into more homes without any modifications to existing wiring systems.
In addition to the easy installation, there is a warranty of either 3 or 5 years (depending on whether DiY or professional installation).
The only drawback, which may not be relevant to most people, is that the initial installation needs to be carried out using a smartphone or tablet. After the installation, the device can be controlled through a computer as well as the smartphone or tablet.
4. Ecobee3 Wi-Fi Thermostat with Remote Sensor
As with cell phones, most thermostats available today are technically smart thermostats. Again, as with cell phones, the price you pay and the features you get vary greatly. The Ecobee3 is toward the top end of the smart thermostat price range, but it does come full of features that are designed to make it easy to program, convenient to use, and help you cut your energy usage and costs. Just some of the reasons why it will always appear in any credible selection.
Like the Nest Learning, the Ecobee3 has ignored the rectangular white box design of most thermostats and, instead, is a stylish rounded black square shape.
Although it is priced toward the higher end of smart thermostats, it does come complete with additional items, such as a power extender kit (PEK) and remote sensor.
Like most Wi-Fi thermostats, it does need the ‘C’ wire to operate. If you system does not have this wire, one of the ways that you can overcome this is to use a PEK to supply the power.
Thermostats can only sense the heat or cold where they are located. The remote sensor supplied with the Ecobee3 (and it will handle up to 32 sensors) will sense where you are in the home and make sure that the temperature where you are is the temperature that you have programmed.
To help reduce energy costs, every month you get a home IQ energy report on your energy usage, cross-referenced with the local weather conditions at the time.
5. Honeywell RET97B5D1002/U Wi-Fi Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat
When listing all the features that make this one of the top Wi-Fi thermostats, stylish looks won’t be among them. This is a conventional-looking white box thermostat. Which, in a way is unfortunate, because it hides highly functional, easy to use, inner workings. The design can look a little dated when compared to the ecobee3 or even its stablemate the Honeywell Wi-Fi 9000 Color Touchscreen Thermostat.
Honeywell produced one of the most comprehensive instruction manuals for wiring the thermostat in. virtually every possible wiring configuration is covered, and if you have problems you can call on customer support for assistance.
Once connected to your Wi-Fi system, you can then control your thermostat from anywhere, from feet to 1,000s of miles away. Unlike some Wi-Fi thermostats, this will operate without an internet connection, you just won’t be able to remotely access it.
One of the energy saving and comfort increasing feature of the RET97B5D1002/U is the Smart Response technology. The thermostat learns how quickly you want the system to heat or cool your house. Without it, you either have to guess how long it will take to achieve the desired temperature and set your system to come on early or, have it come on at the set time and put up with the discomfort until the system reaches temperature.
How Does a Wi-Fi Thermostat Work?
A Wi-Fi thermostat, as the name implies, is a thermostat that can be wirelessly connected to the internet. With this internet connection, you can, whether through a computer or smartphone or tablet app access your thermostat and remotely control the settings.
This, in and of itself, can be very useful when you have unexpected changes to your schedule, but most Wi-Fi thermostats take this interconnectivity a stage or two further.
In addition to being able to remotely control your heating and cooling, most Wi-Fi thermostats offer you additional features.
Alerts – if your heating or cooling system fails, if your air filter needs cleaning or replacing or if the maximum and minimum temperatures that you have set are exceeded, the unit will send you an alert to let you know.
Monitors local weather – most Wi-Fi thermostats connect to local weather reports and some will adjust themselves if the weather changes, for example, if you have the air conditioning on and the outside temperature will drop, the thermostat will then turn down your air conditioning and use the outside air to cool your house.
Energy use reports – many manufacturers give regular reports on you energy use, some link this into the local weather conditions and even make recommendations as to where you could reduce your energy costs, for example, the Ecobee3 Wi-Fi Thermostat with Remote Sensor.
Advantages of Using a Wi-Fi Thermostat
There are many advantages to using a Wi-Fi thermostat, but they fall into three basic categories – convenience, comfort, and cost.
Being able to program the initial settings into your new thermostat from an armchair is a lot more comfortable than having to stand at the wall while you do it, similarly, when you need to alter the settings you can do it whenever and wherever you like, even on a different continent.
Being able to access your thermostat remotely allows you to switch your heating or cooling on or off whenever you want to. If you are returning home early and you want the system to start earlier than usual, you can do this from your smartphone, tablet or computer so that by the time you get home the temperature is just what suits you.
Depending on where you live, many energy companies offer discounts for smart Wi-Fi thermostats. With their ability to access local weather forecasts, devices like the Honeywell TH9320WF5003 Wi-Fi 9000 Color Touchscreen Thermostat among others, checks the weather outside and the adjusts your system to operate in the most economical way to achieve your set temperatures.
Energy usage reports are a common feature with most Wi-Fi enabled thermostats. Every month, or 10 days in the case of the Nest Learning Thermostat, 2nd Generation, an energy report which allows you to see your energy costs over that period, the outside temperatures and then offers suggestions on how you can get better value from your energy usage.
Smart or Programmable, Which One is Best for You?
If you are looking for a new thermostat some of the descriptive terminologies can be a little confusing.
This describes a thermostat that you can program a selection of on and off times for you heating or cooling, a number of times each day. At one end, they have a Monday to Friday and then a weekend setting while others can have an individual setting for each day.
All smart thermostats are programmable, but, in addition, have extra features. The most noticeable among them being Wi-Fi connectivity. What are the benefits of having a Wi-Fi connected thermostat?
- Cost – a programmable thermostat is much less expensive that a smart thermostat, the Lux Universal 7-Day Programmable Touch Screen Thermostat costs less than 1/3 the price of the Honeywell Wi-Fi 9000 Color Touchscreen Thermostat.
- Installation – almost all smart Wi-Fi enabled thermostats needs a ‘C’ wire (or additional power source) to enable the Wi-Fi to work, the Sensi Wi-Fi Smart Programmable Thermostat 1F86U-42WF being one of the few exceptions. Many of the programmable only models do not.
- Remotely controllable – with Wi-Fi connectivity, the setting for your heating and cooling can be adjusted from anywhere, through a computer, smartphone or tablet. Programmable ones cannot.
- Greater energy saving potential – if saving energy and reducing costs is important to you, then a device similar to the Honeywell Wi-Fi 9000 Color Touchscreen Thermostat monitors your local weather and, for example, if you have your air conditioning on and the temperature outside cools the unit will switch from the air conditioning and use the free outside air.
- Alerts – most Wi-Fi systems will send you alerts if your home temperature goes outside the limits that you set. It will also send you reminders when your air filters need cleaning or replacing.
A thermostat is not something that you replace every few years, so it is worth spending a little time before you buy thinking what features you need, not just now but in the years to come before making your decision.
Programming Your Thermostat
To help gain the most energy efficiency from your programmable thermostat many come with the Department of Energy recommending setting pre-programmed. This program can be adjusted to suit your particular circumstances as you go through the installation procedure. Changing the times and temperatures is simply a matter, in most cases, of following onscreen prompts and pressing up and down arrows.
The Nest Learning, 2nd Generation, takes a different route to programming. It, as the name suggests, learns your routines and sets the timings of heating and cooling based on what it ‘sees’ you doing.
With some thermostats, if you want a specific temperature, for example, when you get out of bed, you have to have your system turn on in advance of that to make sure it is at temperature when you need it. Some of the smart thermostats like the Honeywell Wi-Fi 9000 Color Touchscreen Thermostat, learn how your system works and how quickly it can reach a temperature. So you set it for the time you want to get out of bed and the thermostat makes sure that the temperature is at the correct setting at the time you have selected.
While a programmable thermostat that is correctly programmed can save you up to $180 per year, an incorrectly programmed on could cost you money.
Energy Saving – How Much You Can Save?
While nobody is able to say a precise figure, as it varies from house to house, Energy Saver estimates that the ‘average house’ using a programmable thermostat correctly programmed can save $180 per year.
Ecobee suggest on average, users of their smart thermostats can save up to 23% on their energy bills. For the ecobee3 . It does this by using their DataRhythm technology, including monitoring the outside weather and adjusting your heating or cooling to utilize outside weather when it is more economical to do so. The Ecobee.
The Nest Learning, 2nd Generation has a little green leaf on the controls which lights when you have set the most economical temperatures. There is 10-day energy usage report for you to view on a smartphone or tablet, that tells all about you energy usage, including any changes from the standard use pattern.
But to save energy and the costs involved, even a small, relatively inexpensive device like the Lux WIN100 Heating & Cooling Programmable Outlet Thermostat, which is designed for use with the portable space heaters and air conditioners. if programmed correctly save you energy and of course the costs associated with them.
Remote access as far as WiFi enabled thermostats are concerned actually means 2 separate things – you can control your thermostat from anywhere in the world, and your thermostat can remotely access local weather data to help it perform more efficiently.
Controlling your Thermostat via Wi-Fi
Every Wi-Fi enabled thermostat will allow you to communicate over the over the internet from either a computer, smartphone or tablet. To use a smartphone or a tablet you first need to download the appropriate app. While all manufacturers provide free apps for Apple and Android devices, from our list of highly recommended thermostats, the only one that provides an app for BlackBerry phones at the moment is the Ecobee Smart SI and the Ecobee3.
What you can do with remote access can vary slightly from one model to another, but in essence all;
- Allow you to adjust the settings to the programmed times and temperatures
- Allow you to set a temporary override to heating or cooling
- Send alerts when the upper or lower temperature goes outside limits that you have set
- Warns you when air filters need cleaning or changing
Information that Your Thermostat gets via WI-FI
In addition to receiving commands from you, many thermostats get local weather over the Wi-Fi connection. With thermostats such as the Honeywell TH9320WF5003 Wi-Fi 9000 Color Touchscreen Thermostat, the thermostat checks the outside temperature and if it is more economical to use outside air to reach your set temperature rather than the air conditioning, it will automatically switch to use that. The Ecobee3 takes this one stage further. With this model, you can have up to 32 remote sensors linked to the thermostat. Each sensor detects where you are in the house and makes sure that the temperature in that room is at the temperature you have set. Like the Nest learning, 2nd Generation, if it detects that there is no one there it will switch the system to standby settings.
History of Thermostats
It will come as a surprise to many that the first recorded use of a thermostat was as early as 1620. Cornelius Drebbel used a mercury thermostat to control the temperature in a chicken incubator.
Over 200 years later, the Scottish inventor, Andrew Ure, developed a bi-metal strip thermostat to regulate the temperature in cotton mills. This made use of different metals properties to expand at different rates when heated. Two dissimilar metals were joined together and when heated, one metal would expand more than the other, causing it to bend and open a circuit (turn the heating off). When they cooled, they returned to their original shape and closed the circuit (switched the heating back on).
Bi-metal thermostats are still in use today. They are inexpensive to produce, easy to adjust and last for a very long time. The first electric thermostat was patented in 1883, but it was not really a novel invention, just a development of Ure’s earlier bi-metal version.
With the advent of microelectronics, the bi-metal strip was replaced with a thermistor and a circuit board and a digital rather than an analog display. At the same time, heating and cooling programmers moved away from being electro-mechanical devices and also incorporated electronic switching with more flexibility and digital readouts.
As the two devices were always working in conjunction with each other, it was only a matter of time until it was realized that they could be combined into one unit. Thus was born the programmable thermostat, which could just have easily been called the thermostatic programmer.
Small incremental developments continued until Nest appeared with their revolutionary round smart thermostat. While many were applauding the round design as a break away from the rectangular white plastic box, this obviously forgot about the 1953 round Honeywell T-86.
Nest, founded by former Apple engineers and now owned by Google, did really give the development of more technologically advanced thermostats a boost which continues today.
Today for the home or office there are, for all intents and purposes, two types of thermostats available, programmable and smart.
These tend to be less expensive than the smart option, indeed the Lux WIN100 Heating & Cooling Programmable Outlet Thermostat which is suitable for programming and controlling the temperature of the portable heating and cooling systems only costs a few $10s. They vary in the number of heat and cool cycles per day they can switch and some have the option of seven separate day settings while others only have a weekday and weekend timing options.
The features on the smart models do vary, but all are controllable remotely through either an app for smartphones and tablets of through a computer. The timings can be set and then overridden when needed. You will receive email alerts when there are potential problems. Then there is the range of additional features available.
Some of the thermostats like, for example, the Honeywell TH9320WF5003 Wi-Fi 9000 Color Touchscreen Thermostat, check the local weather and adjust your cooling or heating source to achieve the most economical energy use. The ecobee3 has remote sensors that can sense where you are in the house and make sure that the temperature is reached in that room – not just where the thermostat is positioned. The Nest learning, 2nd Generation , doesn’t need on and off times programmed into it – it learns your routine from the built in sensor and then sets your heating and cooling accordingly.
The ease in fitting a Wi-Fi thermostat very much depends on your existing installation. The first thing to note is that all wiring in heating, cooling and thermostats follows a common code. The wire that goes to the ‘A’ terminal in one system goes to the ‘A’ terminal in any system, same for B, C, D, etc.
As you read through our reviews, you will note that virtually all Wi-Fi thermostats need a ‘C’ (or common) wire. There are exceptions to this, and can work with or without a ‘C’ wire, the Sensi Wi-Fi Smart Programmable Thermostat and the Nest Learning, 2nd Generation. The Next Learning has had some reported issues when not connected to a ‘C’ wire. As it draws the power for the Wi-Fi from any excess power from other wires, if the is insufficient spare power the Wi-Fi can be intermittent.
There is a workaround if you do not have a ‘C’ wire. You can either add a power extension kit (PEK), which is a small transformer which supplies the required voltage from an outlet, or by substituting the ‘G’ wire und using that instead. Although manufacturers do have instructions on how to do this, this short video gives you the idea of how it is done. Note, you do lose the ability to control the fan. Alternatively, you can have a new wire run from your heating control system.
Unlike older thermostats which contained mercury, to work correctly modern thermostats do not to be exactly level. However, for aesthetic purposes, it is worth taking a little time when fixing the back plate to the wall to make sure it is.
Once your thermostat has been wired up and fixed to the wall, it needs to be tested to make sure that the heating and cooling system works, then the Wi-Fi needs to be set up. This can be done in one of two ways.
With a system such as the Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat RTH9580WF, an onscreen prompt appears and you have to then connect the thermostat to your Wi-Fi router. This video takes you through the steps. You then need to create an online account and register your unit. Multiple units can be controlled through one account.
The Honeywell RTH6580WF Wi-Fi 7-Day Programmable Thermostat has a different system where you connect to the router through a computer, tablet, or smartphone. This is a little more complicated that for the RTH9580WF, On-screen prompts guide you through in easy steps.
Once connected to the system, and registered (where necessary) the remainder of the setting of the thermostat, plus the ability to alter the settings remotely can be carried out.
While it does take a little while to completely install the thermostat and connect it to the system, this is well worth the time. It only needs to be done once, unless you change your router, then the unit needs to have the new router added.
Best WIFI Thermostat Comparison Chart
|PRODUCT||PRICE||Works With||Touch Screen||Heating Stages|
|Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat||$$||Furnaces|Heat pumps|Air conditioners||Yes||2|
|Nest Learning Thermostat, 2nd Generation||$$||Boilers|Air conditioners||No||3|
|Sensi Wi-Fi Smart Programmable Thermostat 1F86U-42WF||$||More heating and cooling systems than any other Wi-Fi Thermostat.||No||4|
|Ecobee3 Wi-Fi Thermostat with Remote Sensor||$$$||Heat pumps|Other||Yes||4|
|Honeywell RET97B5D1002/U Wi-Fi Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat||$||Virtually any system type||Yes||4|
When you start to look for the best programmable thermostat, it can be a little daunting – there is a wide selection, all seemingly with slightly different features and a wide range of unfamiliar terms. It can be difficult to know which is programmable, or the best Wi-Fi thermostat for you.
By reading our comprehensive, jargon-free smart thermostat reviews, you will be able to identify which features are important to you, which ones you would like and, as important, which ones you would rather not have.
Armed with that knowledge you can make an informed decision about which of the carefully selected top rated thermostats are the right one for you and you home.