A SMARTER WAY TO HEAT AND COOL YOUR HOME
Thermostats used to be pretty humdrum as home gadgets go, until smart thermostats like the Nest and Ecobee came along about a decade ago. These days, smart thermostats dominate the market, but you can still find programmable thermostats that do the job just about as well (and cost a lot less). Smart thermostats range from about $100 to $250; programmable thermostats can cost as little as $15. Many utilities offer rebates that can mitigate some or all of the price of a smart thermostat, an added incentive. We've looked at professional hands-on testing by reliable sources, like Wirecutter, CNET, Top Ten Reviews, and Tom's Guide, and pored over hundreds of consumer reviews on major retail sites to identify the best programmable and smart thermostats, including best-value and budget models.
Both standard and smart thermostats do the same thing: regulate the temperature of your home and control your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Which is best for your needs, experts say, depends on how much you want to spend and whether or not you want your thermostat to be part of a fully-fitted "smart home" system. Smart thermostats can save you more money on your utility bill over the long term as they monitor energy use and automatically adjust to maximize efficiency. They can also be controlled remotely via smartphone and other wireless home devices. But there are a few drawbacks: If you don't use the preset options, it can take a long time to program a custom HVAC schedule. You'll also need to find out whether or not your existing HVAC system has something known as a "common wire" or "C wire," one of five wires that connect most newer HVACs to these thermostats. If it doesn't, DIY types can install a power-extender kit (PEK); some models, like the Ecobee, come with PEKs included.
Prices and availability are subject to change.
LUX BRIO TX500U
Best Value Programmable Thermostat
Est. Price: $35 | Buy it on Amazon
- Separate schedules for weekdays and weekends.
- Simple to program.
- Large, easy-to-read backlit display.
- 3-year warranty.
- Some users report false "low battery" warnings.
- Plastic housing is flimsy, reviewers say.
- "Universal" compatibility does not include 2-stage cooling systems.
Takeaway: Reviewers say the Lux Brio is a step up from a basic digital thermostat, with extra flexibility and a few nice-to-have features for a relatively low price. This Lux 500 thermostat is a 5/2-day programmable thermostat, meaning you can set one schedule for the weekdays and another for the weekend (there are also settings for morning, day, evening, night), and most owners say it's very easy to use. The Brio displays both the room temperature and your target temp, functions, time and date on one large screen — no pressing a button to switch between displays — and it has a blue backlight that most reviewers love. This unit requires two AA batteries to operate, which Lux says should last at least one year, yet a handful of owners say that their thermostats went through batteries far more quickly.
LUX BRIO TX9600TS
Best Programmable Thermostat
Est. Price: $49 | Buy it from Home Depot
- Most fine-tuned temperature control in tests by Top Ten Reviews.
- Can program settings for each day of the week, with 2 to 4 time periods.
- Large, backlit display with touchscreen functionality.
- Includes energy-use monitor.
- 3-year warranty.
- Programming daily settings can get tedious.
- Works with 2-stage heating systems, but not compatible with 2-stage cooling.
Takeaway: Like it's cheaper sibling, the Lux Brio TX500U, this Lux programmable thermostat gets overwhelmingly positive marks from both owners and expert testers for its overall ease of installation and operation. The touchscreen controls are very intuitive, and unlike cheaper units this thermostat can be programmed with unique settings for each day of the week (morning, day, evening, night). That schedule can also be put on hold or modified if you're on vacation, and users can also program swing temperatures in variables as small as .25 degrees. Although this is advertised as being compatible with heat pumps, a small minority of reviewers say they could not get the thermostat to work properly with their units. Unlike many cheap programmable thermostats, the Lux Brio TX9600TS can be either hardwired or run on two AA batteries.
Cheap Programmable Thermostat
Est. Price: $24 | Buy it on Amazon
- Simple to install and program.
- One week schedule includes 4 daily settings.
- Screen isn't backlit, making it difficult to read.
- Instructions for programming are unclear, some reviewers complain.
- Does not work with multi-stage heating and cooling units.
- Relatively short 1-year warranty.
Takeaway: Professional tests of standard digital programmable thermostats are virtually nonexistent, but consumer reviews at major retailers like Amazon, Home Depot, and Walmart say this Honeywell thermostat is a good choice if all you need is a basic model for a small home or rental property. Although this thermostat can't be programmed with different settings for each day of the week, like pricier units, it does have four daily temperature settings (wake, leave, return, sleep) for some degree of customization. The biggest drawback of this barebones basic is the screen's lack of backlighting, which several reviewers say makes the relatively small display readout hard to decipher. Also, unlike some thermostats which can draw power from the HVAC wiring, this unit requires two AAA batteries to operate.
NEST THERMOSTAT E
Best Value Smart Thermostat
Est. Price: $169 | Buy it from Walmart
- Compatible with Google Home and Amazon's Alexa.
- No common (C) wire required for installation.
- Integrates with Nest home monitoring and security devices.
- Not compatible with Apple HomeKit.
- 1-year warranty is shorter than other brands.
- Remote temperature sensor must be purchased separately.
Takeaway: Reviewers love the Nest Thermostat E because it does nearly everything the company's flagship Learning Thermostat does for a lot less money. Most people say installation is straightforward and the entire process can be completed in 30 minutes or less. The Nest uses internal sensors and geofencing to "learn" when you come and go and how cool or warm you like your home to be, minimizing the need to program settings. Like other Nest products, most reviewers say the controls and app are very easy to use, although a few complain the backlit digital display's stylized "soft focus" is hard to read. And, unlike some fancier models, this Nest doesn't have a touchscreen — instead, a ring dial is used to make adjustments — but the understated yet sleek and modern look wins accolades from many. Like other Nest products, this model can be integrated with the brand's home security systems, cameras, doorbells, and smoke alarms.
Best Smart Thermostat
Est. Price: $249 | Buy it from Best Buy
- Named best smart thermostat by CNET and Tom's Guide.
- Wireless room sensor helps keep temperature consistent in larger homes.
- Touchscreen display shows time, indoor/outdoor temperatures, and weather conditions; display lights when motion is detected.
- Built-in speaker and Alexa controls.
- 3-year warranty.
- Remote sensor sometimes fails to recognize room occupants.
- Some owners say audio quality and microphone sensitivity not as good as dedicated Alexa devices.
- Alexa functions don't access all Amazon features and services (like messaging and using third-party apps).
Takeaway: If money is no object, reviewers say the Ecobee4 is the best Wi-Fi thermostat you can buy. Installation takes about 30 minutes, and it comes with a power extender kit if your HVAC system doesn't have a common wire. The Ecobee also can be integrated with "smart home" systems, including HomeKit (allowing Siri voice control) and Google Assistant, and it has Alexa and a speaker built in, so you can even have your Ecobee play your favorite music. Aside from the extras, in head-to-head bench testing by CNET and Tom's Guide, the Ecobee4 performed better at it's basic job — temperature regulation — than even the top-of-the-line Nest Learning Thermostat, thanks largely to its included remote temperature sensor. No more worries about hot and cold spots as the sensor can be placed in a bedroom or living space to maintain optimum temperatures where most needed, and additional sensors can be added for larger dwellings. While complaints, aside from priciness, are few, several owners do say the Ecobee's motion sensor sometimes won't detect occupants sleeping in a room and doesn't follow its programming as a result.
EMERSON SENSI TOUCH WI-FI
A Less Expensive Smart Thermostat
Est. Price: $140 | Buy it on Amazon
- Large, touchscreen display changes color for heating or cooling.
- Interface is simple to use.
- Compatible with Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Home.
- 3-year warranty.
- Requires C wire; power extender kit adaptor not included.
- No wireless room sensors.
- Unlike other smart thermostats, doesn't generate usage reports to monitor energy consumption.
- A handful of owners gripe about units that had trouble maintaining a Wi-Fi connection or broke shortly after purchase.
Takeaway: The Sensi Touch Wi-Fi thermostat offers its share of of high end features for its relatively low price: for example, a touchscreen and Apple compatibility. The large backlit display is easy to read and responsive, although a few reviewers say they wish it were brighter. It's compatible with Amazon and Apple digital home systems, but you'll need to use the third-party Wink app to connect to Google Home. The Sensi also has a geofencing feature to track when you're home or not and adjust temperatures accordingly. It's not the best looking smart thermostat on the market or the most high tech — and experts are bit more "meh" on this model — but for what it costs it's certainly a big step up from the cheapest competition. In fact, for its ease of installation, user-friendly app, and wide smart-home system compatibility, Reviewed.com gives the Emerson Sensi Touch the thumbs up as its pick for best smart thermostat of 2018.
Best Cheap Smart Thermostat
Est. Price: $95 | Buy it on Amazon
- Compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant.
- App lets you chart energy use over time.
- Mounts both horizontally and vertically.
- 3-year warranty.
- Plastic housing and buttons feel cheap, reviewers say.
- Some complain of inaccuracies in temperature readings.
- Wi-Fi connectivity can be unreliable, some owners say.
- Not compatible with Apple HomeKit.
- No remote room sensors.
Takeaway: Reviewers say the Lux Geo is a good entry-level Wi-Fi thermostat, although it lacks many of the convenience options found on pricier models. Installation is straightforward and the app is relatively easy to operate, most owners say, but several complain of problems with wireless connections and some mention having to manually reboot after power failures — a serious problem if away from home. While, unlike some thermostats, you don't have to have a common wire to install the Lux (it comes with a power extender kit or you can use two lithium AA batteries), the primary drawbacks to battery power are that the thermostat won't be able to connect to digital home assistants in that mode and some say that batteries run out quickly and are pricey to replace. Also, this thermostat doesn't include or connect to any remote room sensors, a potential drawback for larger structures. At less than half the price of the very best smart thermostats, however, it's a decent option and could, in theory, rack up nearly as much savings on energy bills.