Homeowner’s Guide to Buying a Thermostat

Need a new thermostat? Before the winter chill sets in, upgrade to one that will regulate the heat in your home more efficiently.

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Short days, long nights, cooler temps, higher heating bills. All are good indications that winter is headed our way.

If your thermostat is in prime working order, great! You’re one step ahead when it comes to winter preparedness. If not, now is the time to replace it.

A modern, more efficient thermostat will make a huge difference in your comfort level and save you money. According to the United States Department of Energy, certain types of programmable thermostats can reduce heating/cooling costs by 10 percent..

So how do you choose the right thermostat for your home? First, understand a few important thermostat details. Read on for the inside scoop.

Should I Replace My Thermostat?

Chances are, the decision to replace a thermostat is based more on want than need.

“Thermostats are a very robust device,” says Wes Davis, the director of technical services for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. “They should easily last the lifetime of the (home’s HVAC) system.”

It’s unlikely your thermostat will fail outright. If the motivation to replace it is simply that you want an upgrade, that is reason enough. However, if your furnace fails you will need to replace your thermostat along with the furnace, Davis says.

Types of Thermostats

From just the basics to all the bells and whistles or somewhere in between, you have lots of choices when it comes to thermostats. Within those choices, there are three standard types — non-programmable, programmable and WiFi/smart thermostats.

  • The most straightforward of the bunch is the non-programmable thermostat. This thermostat is adjusted manually and does not come with added features. You can choose between digital and analog, and most are $30 and under.
  • Programmable thermostats are also fairly basic. However, they adjust automatically to temperatures you select in advance. This allows you to control how warm or cool your home is at certain times of the day, or on specific days, even if you are away. Like their non-programmable counterparts, programmable thermostats are equally affordable. This highly-rated Honeywell version is $25.
  • The next step up is the WiFi/smart thermostat, a programmable thermostat that connects to your WiFi network so you can control your home’s temperature remotely with your mobile device. Most smart thermostats also come with smart capabilities, meaning they learn your heating and cooling preferences and adjust them automatically. Some even double as smart home hubs, integrating with voice assistants like Alexa that respond to voice commands. Be prepared to pay upwards of $200 for some models, especially if you want multiple sensors throughout your home.

Do I Need to Hire a Pro to Install a Thermostat?

Experienced DIYers likely have the necessary skills to install non-programmable, programmable and WiFi/smart thermostats, especially when it’s an upgrade to an existing thermostat. New construction thermostat installations are more complicated.

“This is typically low voltage, so there is no real threat of being shocked or electrocuted,” Davis says. Still, he says, it’s important to read the instructions carefully and thoroughly, no matter how experienced you are. “And for anyone that questions their ability, I recommend letting a professional do it,” he adds.

Other Considerations

Here are a few other things to consider when selecting a thermostat:

  • Aesthetics. If you are concerned about how a thermostat looks on your wall, explore your options for style, color and shape. Some thermostats have a basic look, while others incorporate more sophisticated design elements.
  • How do you want the thermostat powered? Some run on batteries, some are plug-in, and others link to a furnace circuit board. Be sure to choose one compatible with your preference.
  • What type of HVAC system do you have? Be sure the thermostat in your shopping cart is designed to work with your furnace and A/C unit.
  • Privacy. Be aware some smart thermostats “listen” to you through their integration systems (Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri). This essentially means anytime you use a voice command, data about that command may be collected. If this bothers you, choose one without that this capability.

Dawn Weinberger
Dawn Weinberger is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon who has contributed to numerous publications and websites over the past 20 years, including RD.com, Glamour, Women's Health, Entrepreneur, and many others. Dawn has a BA in journalism from Western Washington University and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She writes about everything from health and medicine to fashion, shopping, and business.