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What is a Programmable Thermostat?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A programmable thermostat is a digital device that replaces the automatic thermostat located in most older homes and apartments. There are many advantages to a programmable thermostat, including potential savings in heating costs over the long run through a more efficient and easier heating strategy.

A thermostat measures the heat in a room, turning the heating element on or off in order to maintain the setting indicated on the thermostat. For example, if the thermostat is set at 68-degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celsius), it will only trip on the heater if the room’s temperature falls below that setting. Once the heater turns on, the thermostat continues to monitor the room’s temperature, and will turn off the heater when the setting is reached.

One of the drawbacks of the traditional thermostat is that it is commonly left at a single setting out of sheer convenience. This translates to higher energy bills because the home is kept warmer than required when people are tucked away in bed, or even off at work. What would be far more efficient is to have a thermostat that knows when you need it and when you don’t, so that it could vary the temperature and save energy. This is exactly what a programmable thermostat offers.

By entering custom temperature settings to span certain hours of the day, you can set the programmable thermostat to turn off about the time you normally retire to bed and turn back on thirty minutes before you get up. You’ll save money while you sleep and wake to a warm house.

In many cases, Monday through Friday, homes are empty during the day with parents at work and kids at school. A programmable thermostat can turn off automatically about the time the house empties, and kick back on at 3:00pm or so, before the kids get home from school.

If, like most people, your weekend routine is different from your workweek, consider a programmable thermostat that allows 7-day programming. Why warm the house at 7am on the weekends if you won’t be up for another hour or two? You can also program the thermostat to stay on during the day on Saturday and Sunday when people are at home.

There are several models of programmable thermostats. Less expensive models allow one program setting for Monday-Friday, meaning the days can’t be programmed individually. This might work for you if your schedule doesn’t change throughout the workweek. More advanced models optionally allow each day of the week to be programmed separately, including Saturday and Sunday. Models that are a little more expensive might also be easier to program, or more “user friendly.” You should be able to find a nice model for about $50 US Dollars (USD).

Virtually all programmable thermostats feature a convenient override button that allows you to either lower or raise the temperature setting on the spot without reprogramming. The override function might last until you press a reset button, or for a designated length of time, depending on the model. Many models also control an air conditioning unit, if present, in addition to the heater. Installation instructions are included.

Once you’ve used a programmable thermostat you’ll probably wonder how you ever got along without one. Not only is it highly convenient, it also saves substantial energy that translates to dollars – savings you’re bound to notice when it’s time to pay the bill.

Whether single, living with roommates or part of a family, the programmable thermostat can keep your household the right temperature during the right hours, automatically. All it takes is initial programming and you can save money while you sleep, work and play.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon14959 — On Jun 27, 2008

Is there a security code used to set the programmable thermostat, so that it could be used in an apartment and the settings not be changed without 'the code'?

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