Who isn't concerned about energy costs these days? One of the best ways to save money on heating and cooling bills is to install a cheap programmable thermostat that follows orders you encode in the device. You can program these thermostats to use less energy when you're sleeping or away from home and automatically kick up the heat or AC when you need it. Indeed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pegs yearly savings at about $180 for the "average" household that uses so-called temperature setbacks and set ups.
Cheap Thermostats Buying Guide
Four cheap programmable thermostats costing less than $40 floated to the top during our research. Our favorite budget models are the Hunter 44260 (starting at $34) and the Lux TX500E (starting at $29); both keep home temperatures at an even keel and boast practical features.
Cheap programmable thermostats don't have lots of features, but there are several things to note. First, you have a choice of modes; that is, different settings for different days of the week. Thermostats with a 5-day/2-day format let you set one program for the weekdays and another for the weekend. Other models operate on a full-week schedule with the same settings for all seven days. A handful of budget thermostats come with 5-day/1-day/1-day capability, which lets you program one schedule for weekdays and separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday.
Another feature common to cheap programmable thermostats is the ability to choose up to four different temperature settings during a 24-hour cycle. You can program a cheap thermostat to maintain a specific temperature when you go to bed, switch to another before you wake up, change again when everyone leaves home, and adjust yet again when household members are due to return.
Cheap programmable thermostats are usually battery operated, running on AA or AAA batteries. Thermostats don't use lots of power, so the batteries should last through the four seasons; manufacturers recommend replacing the batteries at least once a year. Some cheap thermostats come with a low-battery indicator and a handful of models include a function that reminds you when to change the system's air filter. One feature users really appreciate, but isn't always present, is a backlit display.
The term "programmable thermostat" may sound fancy but there's really not much to one in terms of operation or performance. Most cheap programmable thermostats do a good job of maintaining the appropriate temperature within a degree or so. We also found that these models are user friendly; that is, easy to install and easy to program. Most DIY-ers can complete the task in less than 20 minutes, and programming proceeds with just a few pushes of a few buttons. Although some users are more than happy to report the positive impact on their energy bills (experts say savings are greatest in more temperate climates), the primary appeal of a cheap programmable thermostat seems to be the set-it-and-forget-it convenience.
Several brands in the budget segment are especially prominent. Honeywell offers quite a few affordable models in addition to pricier options. Lux and Hunter also produce some good cheap programmable thermostats, and White-Rodgers is another well-known brand.
If you're a fan of home automation, wireless versions of programmable thermostats are available but tend to be very expensive. Expect to pay at least $80, and in many cases well over $100, for a wireless thermostat that you can control from a PC, or from a smartphone when you're away from home.