Best Cheap Thermostats
$20 - $50Cheapism
$50 - $100Mid-Range
$100 and upHigh End
- Published on
- BySaundra Latham
Programming a thermostat is a simple way to cut energy costs. It can automatically lower the temperature in the winter and raise it in the summer, to save energy when you're sleeping or away from home, and kick up the heat or AC when you need it again. The Environmental Protection Agency pegs yearly savings at about $180 for the "average" U.S. household. Frugal consumers who don't want to pay a lot upfront to realize long-term savings can find a cheap programmable thermostat that reliably maintains a consistent temperature, within a degree or so, and is a cinch to use. We scanned thousands of expert and consumer reviews to find the best candidates for your wall. Our top picks include models between $20 and $50 that allow for weekend vs. weekday adjustability or even seven individual days of set-it-and-forget-it temperature control. We also recommend a couple of pricier but relatively affordable "smart thermostats" that can be remotely controlled.
Lux TX9600TS Review
Users love the high-end features of this thermostat, such as a large touchscreen and individually programmable days. It's also compatible with a wide range of heating and cooling systems.
Honeywell RTH6350D Review
Ease of use is the hallmark of this 5-day/2-day programmable unit, which has a bright backlight and smooth installation that users appreciate. It will work with most systems, including multi-stage.
Honeywell RTH2300B1012 Review
This 5-day/2-day programmable thermostat touts a backlight, easy-to-use controls, and simple installation, but for the ultra-low price, users sacrifice compatibility with multi-stage systems.
Lux TX9100U Review
This thermostat gives users individually programmable days at a budget-friendly price, and it manages to include other conveniences, such as a backlight and an adjustable temperature swing.
Honeywell RLV4305A1000/E Review
Users say this 5-day/2-day line-volt programmable thermostat is a big upgrade for finicky electric baseboards. They report that it's easy to install and smooths out temperature swings.
Hunter 44157 Review
Though it's appealingly cheap and has an adjustable temperature swing, this 5-day/2-day programmable thermostat has settings that may not function reliably, users say.
Choosing a Cheap Thermostat
Our top picks reflect the dominance of two thermostat brands: Lux and Honeywell. Both produce a wide range of models, from inexpensive manual thermostats starting at less than $20 to higher-priced and higher-tech units. Robertshaw, Carrier, and Emerson are a few other big names that make thermostats in most price ranges (some Emerson products bear the White-Rodgers brand name). Hunter also manufactures a small line of budget and mid-tier programmable thermostats. Other major names, including Venstar, Trane, Nest, and Ecobee, focus on higher-end thermostats, which fall well outside the Cheapism price range.
More expensive thermostats offer a few more frills -- larger displays, touchscreens, or more programmability -- and the priciest ones typically have Wi-Fi or other smart-home capabilities. But the reality is that these higher-end models are no more favorably reviewed than their budget counterparts. Bottom line: A cheap programmable thermostat offers potential energy savings without a high upfront cost or the hassle of constant manual adjustment.
In the sea of choices, five programmable thermostats under $50 floated to the top during our research. Our recommendations for best cheap thermostat are the Lux TX9600TS (starting at $41) and the Honeywell RTH6350D (starting at $43). Both keep home temperatures at an even keel with easy-to-use features. We also like three slightly more basic models that still meet performance expectations: the Lux TX9100U (starting at $34), the Honeywell RTH2300B1012 (starting at $23), and the electric-baseboard-compatible Honeywell RLV4305A1000/E (starting at $45). Despite its ultra-cheap price tag, we weren't impressed with the Hunter 44157 (starting at $20) given user complaints about performance issues.
Our focus on thermostats under $50 didn't allow for a full investigation of smart thermostats, which can easily top $200. However, many consumers want an affordable model with Wi-Fi connectivity. We found two smart thermostats that are comparative bargains: the Honeywell RTH6580WF (starting at $83) and Emerson Sensi UP500W (starting at $110). They allow consumers to control their home's climate remotely, whether from the couch or while out and about, without forcing them to overspend on features they may not want, such as touchscreens, self-scheduling functions, multiple temperature sensors, or compatibility with a host of other smart-home devices.
Thermostat Reviews: What We Considered
In our search for the best cheap thermostats, we relied mainly on consumer reviews found on retail sites including Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Walmart. Reliable expert reviews featuring head-to-head testing of thermostats, from sources such as The Wirecutter, tend to focus on higher-end smart thermostats. We did find one excellent exception at CNET, which tested several budget-friendly programmable thermostats. Consumer Reports has also tested a range of programmable thermostats, although many also fall outside the Cheapism price niche.
Thermostat reviews typically focus on performance, programmability, ease of use, system compatibility, and extra features. Users comment on the pleasures of waking to a comfortably warm home in the dead of winter or, less often, returning from work to a comfortably cool home at the height of summer. Many consumers write about stepping up from old-style manual thermostats to programmable models, because doing so promises the end of constant fiddling and adjusting. Thermostat reviews also indicate that consumers appreciate the modest pricing, no-frills feature sets, and user-friendly operation of the models we researched.
One factor that didn't heavily figure into our recommendations was durability. Happily, most cheap thermostats give their owners several years of trouble-free use, and reviews show a lot of brand loyalty: Satisfied customers often move to updated devices by the same manufacturer when older models finally conk out. While there are, of course, exceptions to this rule, they are spread among thermostats at all prices.
Compatibility.Despite their low prices, the best cheap thermostats work with most heating and cooling systems. In particular, most of the models on our list are compatible with central heating or central heating/air-conditioning systems powered by electricity, gas, or oil. These systems typically require a low-voltage thermostat, and all but two of the home thermostats we researched are low-voltage models.
Users with multi-stage systems should be careful to note any compatibility issues, however. For example, the Honeywell RTH2300B1012 works only with single-stage systems, and the Lux TX9600TS and TX9100U work with two-stage heating but only single-stage cooling. Some thermostats are incompatible with heat pumps that use an auxiliary or emergency heat source. The Department of Energy explains that compatible thermostats minimize the use of these backup systems in order to maximize efficiency.
Low-voltage thermostats don't work with every type of heating and cooling system. Electric baseboard heating systems run on 220 volts, so users need a line-voltage model such as the Honeywell RLV4305A1000/E, one of the best-reviewed models we found in the Cheapism price range that's compatible with electric baseboards. Another model we researched, the Lux WIN100 (starting at $36), is a portable, plug-in thermostat compatible with 120-volt space heaters and window air conditioners, giving users of those appliances the programmability they often lack.
Consumers drawn to a smart thermostat should note whether it requires a C-wire, or common wire, for compatibility with their home heating and cooling systems. The C-wire is often tasked with supplying the steady supply of power that these devices demand to support Wi-Fi connections and display screens. The Honeywell RTH6580WF requires a C-wire in all cases. The slightly pricier Emerson Sensi requires it only when used for heat-only, cool-only, and heat-pump installations, which is a selling point for many but a source of frustration for others who assumed a C-wire was never required.
Cheap thermostats are usually battery operated, running on AA or AAA batteries. They don't use lots of power, so the batteries should last through all four seasons. Manufacturers recommend replacing the batteries at least once a year. Some models come with a low-battery indicator.
Programmability.Programmable thermostats offer different settings for different days of the week. Some of the best cheap home thermostats let users program each day individually, allowing the most flexibility for homeowners with variable schedules. More standard is a 5-day/2-day system, which allows one program for five consecutive days and a different program for the remaining two days -- a good option for people who have a predictable workweek schedule and tend to pass the time at home on weekends. Other budget thermostats feature a 5/1/1 mode that allows one setup for a five-day stretch and separate programs for Saturday and Sunday. There are also thermostats that follow a single program for the entire week, without any daily variation, but we found enough cheap models with more flexibility to avoid putting any of those on our list.
Among the models we researched, the Lux TX9600TS and TX9100U offer the most flexibility, as users can program each day individually, with up to four temperature periods (for instance, they can be programmed to maintain a specific temperature while you're sleeping, switch to another before you wake up, change again when everyone leaves home, and adjust yet again when someone is due to return). The pricier smart thermostats we recommend, the Emerson Sensi and the Honeywell RTH6580WF, also have this capability. The more basic Honeywells (RTH6350D, RTH2300B1012/A, and RLV4305A100/E) and the Hunter 44157 allow a less flexible 5-day/2-day program. Still, these might be fine for anyone with a more consistent schedule.
Temperature Regulation.The thermostats that made our list largely meet consumers' performance expectations. Programmable thermostat reviews indicate that these models typically keep indoor temperatures stable and adhere to the programmed day and hour settings.
Users praise the Honeywell RTH6350D, in particular, for its ability to maintain even heating and cooling levels, and some confirm that their energy bills have gotten smaller as a result. Reviewers say the Honeywell RLV4305A1000/E helps tame the inefficiency that can plague homes with baseboard heaters, convectors, radiant ceilings, and fan-forced heaters. Users are similarly complimentary of the Lux TX9600TS and TX9100U, though a few are concerned that the latter model feels a bit cheaply built. An exception to these generally positive performance reviews is the Hunter 44157, which users say is prone to random resets, wreaking havoc on their temperature settings.
Users particularly appreciate being able to deviate from the programmed settings when they want to, and most cheap thermostats offer temperature overrides or holds. The terms seem to be used interchangeably, but the important distinction is whether the adjustment is temporary or permanent. A temporary override allows the user to adjust the thermostat until the next programmed setting kicks in, while a manual hold keeps the thermostat at a specific temperature until a user tells it to resume its normal program. The best thermostats, such as the Lux TX9600TS, offer both features. Still, reviewers seem to thoroughly appreciate the permanent hold offered on the Honeywell RTH2300B1012. Here, again, the Hunter 44157 falls short, as this model's temperature hold function may malfunction: One consumer reports in a review on Amazon that using the hold option reconfigured permanent temperature settings, defeating the purpose of that feature entirely.
Many users like having the option to adjust the "swing," or the amount the temperature is allowed to fluctuate around a set point before the heating or cooling system is triggered. A tighter swing can maintain a more even temperature but cause the system to cycle on and off more often, whereas a wider range allows more temperature variance but also results in less cycling. The Honeywell models on our list have a 1-degree Fahrenheit swing that is not adjustable. However, both Lux thermostats, the TX9600TS and TX9100U, let users adjust the swing in .25-degree Fahrenheit increments up to 2.25 degrees. One owner of the Lux TX9600TS says on Amazon that it's more energy efficient for his oversize air conditioner to come on less frequently but stay on longer -- and the thermostat's adjustable swing makes that possible.
Some thermostat users complain of clicking noises every time their heating or cooling systems cycle on or off. While this is fairly common to most thermostats, users of the Honeywell RTH6350D find the clicking particularly loud and annoying in bedrooms.
Ease of Use.Consumers who aren't technically inclined may be a little intimidated by the notion of a programmable thermostat, but it's clear from reviews that most have little trouble programming the units we've picked. For the most part, these cheap thermostats are simple to use, with streamlined interfaces and few bells and whistles to complicate matters. Here and there we heard a few groans, but never so loud as to warrant a return to a manually controlled model.
Reviews also indicate that all our picks are easy to install. Consumers seem relieved that the wires often come with helpful labels but caution that it may take some cinching to get everything safely secured behind the unit and tucked into the wall. Most users say DIY installation can be accomplished in 20 minutes or so, although some -- especially those who are upgrading from old-style manual thermostats -- prefer to delegate the job to a professional.
The Honeywell models we researched are particularly easy to set up, in part because of excellent, thorough directions, according to most reviews. On Amazon, for instance, one consumer says installation of the Honeywell RTH6350D is extremely simple, thanks to step-by-step help and diagrams for different types of systems. Users posting reviews on HomeDepot.com agree, reporting 10- to 15-minute installations and just a few minutes for programming. The Lux thermostats we looked at get slightly lower marks for ease of use, mostly because those who bought them didn't like having to track down more complete installation instructions online. Programming these models may also take a bit more time, but as one user notes on Amazon, they're fairly low-fuss, and provide significant savings, once temperatures are set.
Smart thermostats can be slightly less wieldy because they add Wi-Fi to the equation. While most users enjoy having Wi-Fi connectivity once everything is up and running, getting there may demand a little more know-how. For example, Honeywell RTH6580WF users report some head-scratching over whether their home had a C-wire, or common wire, to power the unit. The Emerson Sensi gets better marks for installation, particularly because it doesn't always require a C-wire, but still suffers from reports that the Wi-Fi connection isn't always reliable.
Display.Although cheap home thermostats lack some bells and whistles, many do boast a few helpful features when it comes to display functionality. All our top picks include a backlight, a feature that users really seem to appreciate. Many comment about the convenience of being able to check the current temperature or override a program without having to turn on a light. The Lux WIN100 is the only thermostat we researched without a backlight, and several reviewers wish for one. That said, a minor performance qualm reported with several cheap thermostats is a buzzing sound when the backlight is on. We saw this complaint in reviews of the Lux TX9600TS, Lux TX9100U, and Hunter 44157, in particular.
While touchscreens are not common below $50, the Lux TX9600TS is an exception. Users love getting a touchscreen at such a low price, and while some note that it's not as responsive as the mobile devices they're used to, they say it still adds a level of ease and refinement. The pricier Wi-Fi-connected Emerson Sensi and Honeywell RTH6580WF can be controlled via apps on a smartphone or tablet screen, but unlike other smart thermostats such as the Nest, Ecobee, and Honeywell Lyric, these two models don't have touchscreens themselves.