Thermostat Buyer's Guide

Choose the Thermostat That Best Meets Your Needs

Your thermostat might seem like a pretty basic feature of your home, but the fact is that thermostat technology has evolved dramatically over the course of the past decade or so. These days, flipping a switch to turn it on or off, pushing a button to set the temperature, and even using basic programming features seems almost archaic compared to the advanced settings and automation offered by modern, smart thermostats..

Modern thermostats offer an array of benefits. No longer are you simply capable of moderating your home's temperature – the latest thermostats allow you to achieve a level of comfort and convenience that were previously unheard of. They'll also reduce your power usage, which not only saves you money, but helps protect the environment.

What's more, they're actually smarter. From control from your smart phone to advanced programming options to thermostats that will actually learn your temperature preferences on their own, the technology has evolved a great deal.

But with all of these state-of-the art options on the market, how do you choose one that's right for you? There are several considerations pertaining to your home and your personal preferences that you need to take into account.

That's why we've created this handy, simple, but complete thermostat buyer’s guide – to help you determine the thermostat that best suits you and your home. Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

  • Smart Thermostat Benefits
  • How To Pick The Right Thermostat
  • Manual Thermostats
  • Programmable Thermostats
  • Learning Wifi Thermostats (Recommended)
  • Select Your New Thermostat

THE BENEFITS OF A NEW SMART THERMOSTAT

There are a number of practical reasons for getting a new thermostat:

Reduce your energy usage.

As we've already mentioned, new smart and programmable thermostats can dramatically reduce how much energy you consume, which keeps both your wallet and the environment happier. How much can you save? Even the most basic programmable thermostat will reduce your bills by 5% at a minimum. With more advanced options, you can see as much as a 25% decrease in usage. That's huge – a quarter of the money you've been spending on electricity back in your pocket.

Operate with ease.

With a programmable thermostat, all you need to do is set the temperature once and let it take over from there. Forget about manually adjusting the temp every time you leave the house or come home.

Get more detailed info about the status of your HVAC system

You know how modern phones combined with wearable fitness accessories are changing how people get in shape by providing a wealth of information they can use to make their diet and exercise habits more efficient? Many new thermostats do the same thing by providing a slew of useful info about your HVAC system, such as indicating the status of your filter (a dirty filter can drive up your electrical usage by 5%) or alerting you to problems with the system.

Forget about the imprecision of manual dials – go touchscreen.

Most new thermostats offer touchscreen displays, which many homeowners find not only more attractive and modern, but easier to use. In the past, you had to deal with a bunch of buttons, dials and levers that were difficult to see in the dark and could be imprecise. Touchscreen displays allow you to quickly choose an exact temperature.

Use a zoning system.

If you're installing a zoning system in your home – which will allows you to adjust the temperature to different settings in different sections of your home – your current thermostat might not be advanced enough to handle it.
The benefits to upgrading to a new thermostat are pretty obvious, but knowing all of this, what's next?
Now let's take a look at how to choose the right thermostat for you.

SELECTING THE RIGHT THERMOSTAT

There are three basic steps to selecting a thermostat:

Step #1: Determine if you have central air conditioning.

Determine if you have central air conditioning.

The first step to selecting a new thermostat involves figuring out whether you have central air conditioning or not, because if you don't have it, a smart thermostat is off the table. Smart thermostats must connect to a central air conditioning system in order to work.

If you do have a central AC system, you now need to identify what kind of system you have to make sure that it is compatible with modern thermostats. These are the most common types that you're likely to encounter:
24V: This is the most common system that you'll find in American homes, and it works with pretty much every thermostat on the market.

Gas or oil: These systems do not use any electricity, and are compatible with some, but not all, modern thermostats.

Electric: These systems are not compatible with any thermostats as they are plugged into the wall and must be operated using their own manual controls.

Heat pumps, electric baseboard, fireplace and floor/wall furnaces: Also known as direct line or high voltage systems, these use a whopping 110V to 204V of power and only work with certain thermostats.

You need to determine if your central air conditioning system is a split-system unit or a packaged unit.
Split-system: An outdoor metal cabinet that houses the condenser and compressor plus an indoor cabinet that houses the evaporator. Many of these systems also house the furnace and heat pump in the indoor cabinet. These are usually the systems that you'll find installed in residential homes.

Packaged system: The evaporator, condenser, and compressor are all housed in a single cabinet, usually found on a roof or a concrete slab adjacent to your home. This type of A/C unit is usually used in commercial buildings.


Step #2: Decide which thermostat features best suit your needs.

Now it's time to figure out which type of thermostat you want.

MECHANICAL/MANUAL (AKA NON-PROGRAMMABLE OR "SMART")

Mechanical/Manual (aka non-programmable or smart)

Price range: $25-$50

Manual thermostats give you strict control over your home's temperature. You press a button, turn a dial, or slide a lever to adjust and maintain the setting from a basic wall mounted device. Things to keep in mind:

  • Temperature settings are controlled manually.
  • These are a good choice for people who prefer low-tech.
  • They offer very little in terms of energy savings.
  • They are not very convenient.

PROGRAMMABLE

programmable

Price range: $20-$250

Programmable thermostats automatically adjust the temperature and make the most efficient use of your system. By programming your preferred temperature settings in the device once, the thermostat does the rest of the work for you.

It's up to you to let the thermostat know your preferred temperature at different times of the day and during different days of the week, but then you can forget about it and let the thermostat take care of adjusting the temperature for you.

This greatly reduces the number of hours your heating and cooling system runs, which dramatically cuts back on your energy usage, saving you money and protecting the environment.

For winter months: set the thermostat to 68 degrees Fahrenheit while you’re awake and set it lower while you’re asleep or away from home. Turning back the thermostat 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours can save you 5% to 15% a year on your heating bills, which is about 1% of savings for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long. In the summer months: follow the same strategy with central A/C by keeping your home warmer than normal while you are away, and setting it to 78 degrees only when you are at home and need cooling.

Programmable thermostats will avoid any discomfort by returning temperatures to your normal settings before you wake or return home.

There are a number of different types of programmable thermostats to choose from:

  • 7-Day is the most flexible, allowing you to set individual programs with unique settings for each day of the week, with up to four periods per day.
  • 5-1-1 Day allows you to set one program for week days then another for Saturday and Sunday, with up to four periods per programmable session.
  • 5-2 Day lets you set up four programmable sessions on weekdays and weekends.
  • 1-Week provides one program for the entire week with up to four sessions.

LEARNING WI-FI (Recommended)

Learning Wi-Fi

Price range: $100-$265

While learning thermostats are similar to programmable options, these more advanced smart thermostats learn to adjust themselves without your input. This means they rapidly learn your schedule, habits, and temperature preferences all on their own.

Smart thermostats turn themselves down while you're away.

They connect to your home Wi-Fi network and can be remotely monitored, set, and managed from your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Want your home to be a specific temperature the moment you walk through the door? Just let your thermostat know ahead of time. They guide you to the most energy efficient settings, and provide monthly energy usage reports.

Step #3: Select the product that is best for you and your home.

Once you know about your home A/C system and which type of thermostat you're interested in, all that's left is to select the product that's right for you.

If you’re thinking about a Smart Thermostat, the Xcel Energy Store is the right place to get the best thermostat at the lowest price! There are a number of factors that you need to keep in mind, so take a look at the flowchart below to make the best decision.

Once you know which model is right for you, make your purchase and claim your rebate with just a few clicks. Your new thermostat will be mailed to you in a few days. Take the final step to install your new thermostat (or have a technician install it for you), and begin enjoying the savings and convenience of your new, smarter device!

Ready to upgrade to a smart thermostat? Check out our comparison chart for a side-by-side comparison of recommended models.