Smart thermostats vs. programmable thermostats: What’s the difference?

Remember when thermostats used to just change the temperature? Those were good times.

Now there are different types of thermostats that have a variety of fancy features that promise better energy efficiency and more convenience (aka, let us be lazy after a hard day of work).

If you’re looking to upgrade your thermostat, you may have heard of “programmable thermostats” and “smart thermostats.”  But what’s the difference?

We’ll provide some distinctions and examples of each. Then we talk about if they’re even worth buying.

What is a programmable thermostat?

Programmable thermostats let you pre-program to automatically change the temperature at a particular time and day.

Example: Assume it’s winter. Let’s say you go to bed at 10 PM every night and get up at 6 AM every day.

To lower your heating bill, you could program the thermostat to work like this:

  1. Lower the temperature 30 minutes after you typically fall asleep (10:30 PM).
  2. Raise the temperature 30 minutes before you wake up (5:30 AM).

This let’s you go to sleep and wake up in a comfortable temperature, while sleeping at a more  “energy efficient” temperature. If all that sounds complicated, don’t worry. Many programmable thermostats come with preset options; higher-end models will walk you through the programming process.

The number one feature you need to look for is the schedule model type. This determines how many temperature schedules you can create. A temperature schedule is made up of a setup (the temperature rising) and setback (the temperature falling).

More schedules equals more customization which equals more comfort and potential energy savings.

There are 4 different scheduling models:

  • 7-day model — Most customization possible. You can program a difference setup and setback for every day of the week.
  • 5-1-1 model — You can program 3 temperature schedules: weekdays, Saturday and Sunday.
  • 5+2 model —You can program 2 temperature schedules: Weekdays and the weekend.
  • 1-week model — Least customization. You can create only one schedule for the entire week. If your life is predictable (or your budget is tight) this is your model.

Examples of programmable thermostats:

What is a smart thermostat?

Defining a “smart thermostat” is tricky because they’re relatively new. But they’re just “smarter” programmable thermostats. That means they have usually have one or both of these features:

  • Learns from your temperature setting habits and programs itself—so you don’t have to.
  • Connects to the Internet (via Wi-Fi) and can be controlled remotely on your phone, tablet or desktop.

If you’re looking for smart thermostats online, you’ll usually find them classified as “programmable thermostats” and will be called Wi-Fi thermostats.

Examples of smart thermostats:

Are any of these thermostats actually worth the money?

Well, they do make life more convenient. So if you’re looking to simplify your life, then yes, they’re worth it.

But if you’re looking to lower your utility costs, then these thermostats are only as good as useful as the temperatures you set them to.

Think of programmable thermostats and smart thermostats like fitness apps. The apps don’t actually get you in shape. They’re just tools that help you stick to a habit. In the same way, a programmable thermostat and smart thermostat alone won’t save you money.

But, if you set them to energy efficient temperature settings, then yes they will make it easier to save money.

How much money?

According to ENERGY STAR, “Homeowners can save about $180 a year by properly setting their programmable thermostats and maintaining those settings.”

Want to learn more about your options?

Santa Fe carries a variety of thermostats. We can help you find one that fits your needs and budget and can even install it for you. If you live in the Kansas City area, contact us for help.

Santa Fe Air Conditioning and Heating serves the Kansas City area.