Unless you have a multiple-stage heating and/or cooling system that requires a very particular type of thermostat, choice usually boils down to personal preference, which is generally a dynamic of features and price.
People who are techno-phobic often prefer the simplicity of a conventional electromechanical model. Those who are interested in more control and potential energy savings opt for an electronic type. Because of its energy-saving advantages, we recommend electronic programmable thermostats.
Most electronic thermostats cost more than electromechanical types. For example, a professionally installed Honeywell T-87 Round electromechanical thermostat may run about $40. A high-end electronic model can cost up to about $200 installed (state-of-the-art models can cost more). You can, however, buy a very serviceable electronic thermostat for as little as $40.
Though all electronic thermostats may look alike, they’re not. If one is considerably cheaper than another, there is probably a reason for the price difference. Some low-priced ones may not be able to maintain a narrow “comfort window.” Others may not adequately anticipate at what point the furnace must turn off, thereby wasting residual heat and overshooting the desired room temperature. Equally important is the fact that some types are more difficult to read and program than others. This latter point is very important. If you can’t easily figure out how to use a programmable thermostat, you may not want to go to the trouble of programming it, negating any advantages and the expense and effort of installing it.
Today, most manufacturers are focusing on features. For example, in the pursuit of the ultimate user-friendly electronic thermostat, Carrier and Bryant have each developed a line of thermostats based on input from consumer focus groups. The resulting products are aesthetically pleasing, have large “positive action” push buttons made from soft rubber, and display useful feedback and system alerts such as a “clean filter” indicator. The units also automatically change over from heating to cooling. In the event of a power outage, they hold their programming up to 72 hours—without backup batteries.
These are the types of features to look for if you want a state-of-the-art thermostat that will offer you comfortable, efficient control for years to come.
Going several steps further is the Nest Learning Thermostat, developed by Silicone Valley techies in 2011. This sleek, simple device utilizes sensors, algorithms, cloud computing, and machine learning to learn the behaviors and preferences of a household, then controls the home’s temperature accordingly. It gathers data as you use it, eventually programming itself to meet your needs. And, because it hooks up to WiFi, it allows you to manage your home heating and cooling from a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. At a suggested retail of $249, it is at the top end of the price spectrum.