Smart vs Programmable Thermostat

smart vs programmable thermostat

Energy Star has to give energy stars to smart thermostats

When I decided to compare Smart vs Programmable Thermostat, I started with researching Programmable ones. After all, they were the older ones, and most of the studies I could  find were about them. Energy Star used to give energy star ratings to these thermostats. I remember having one 10 years ago. But Energy Star stopped giving energy stars to programmable thermostats in 2009 abruptly. What was the reason behind this decision? I asked myself. Since the internet is filled with information about how amazing programmable thermostat is. Even the Wikipedia article about programmable thermostats claiming these devices save 180$ a year, linking to a report by Consumer Reports. I bet you the first 100 research results from Google will tell you that programmable thermostats save you money.

You have to dig deep in order to figure out the reason. Thankfully Energy Star has an archive page where you can read all the emails going back and forward between energy saving organizations and Energy Star.  If you take a look at the following page you will understand why the program was killed.

Programmable thermostats do not save money.

If you read the emails from numerous organizations from archives, you will see that study after study proved that people choose comfort over savings. Programmable thermostats biggest problem is usability. It doesn’t have an intuitive interface. You shouldn’t open a user manual to figure out how to use a thermostat. Today we have much-complicated smartphones and none of them come with a 50+ page user manual. According to the Florida Study, Consumers ended up spending more energy using programmable thermostats at the end. This is why Energy Star killed the program. Energy Star thermostats were raising energy consumption. Programmable thermostats were not saving money at all. Yes, Wikipedia and Google lied to me. Wikiality will get you if you blindly accept every information presented to you.

Stephan Colbert was right a decade ago when he said on his satire show:

“You see, any user can change any entry, and if enough other users agree with them, it becomes true. … If only the entire body of human knowledge worked this way. And it can, thanks to tonight’s word: Wikiality. Now, folks, I’m no fan of reality, and I’m no fan of encyclopedias. I’ve said it before. Who is Britannica to tell me that George Washington had slaves? If I want to say he didn’t, that’s my right. And now, thanks to Wikipedia, it’s also a fact. We should apply these principles to all information. All we need to do is convince a majority of people that some factoid is true. … What we’re doing is bringing democracy to knowledge.”

Source: The Colbert Report / Comedy Central recording of The WØRD “Wikiality”, Comedy Central, July 31, 2006.

Smart vs Programmable thermostat

Just like a smartphone is not just a cell phone, these two thermostat types are vastly different from each other. When you compare Smart vs Programmable Thermostat , the biggest difference is usability. My grandfather had a very hard time programming his old programmable thermostat, his biggest problem was he couldn’t figure out how to set different schedules for weekends and weekdays. I don’t blame him, I had to read the manual and watch youtube videos to figure it out myself. But with his new smart thermostats, setting up different schedules was easy. He did it all by himself. They are Wi-Fi enabled, so the actual programming can be done from a computer (or smartphone). Large screens enable much richer interfaces that “map” into user experiences with computer mice, TV remotes, etc. They are Voice-based, along with the lines of prescription refill services today.

So I wanted to figure out if the new smart thermostats deserve a second change from Energy Star. Because there are Energy Star rated Heating and Cooling systems for sale in the market. But here is the funny part, a thermostat that controls an advanced, premium, Energy Star furnaces and air conditioners is prohibited from bearing the Energy Star label on the thermostat, the only interface the consumer uses and sees daily. Ask yourself, how a contractor is to explain that the best system available, the only one that has auto-diagnostics and air filter alarms, does not include an Energy Star thermostat.

Energy star does not  have any large-scale studies done about these thermostats. Are there any studies done at all, that I can trust?

Smart vs Programmable Thermostat Studies

Vectren Corporation is a Fortune 1000 energy holding company headquartered in Evansville, Indiana. Through its utility subsidiaries, the company distributes natural gas to approximately one million business and residential customers in Indiana and Ohio. The did a pilot study comparing programmable thermostat to smart thermostats. The study can be accessed from . It’s behind a paywall.  They installed 600 Nest thermostats and 600 standard programmable thermostats in the homes of randomly selected Vectren natural gas and electric (i.e., dual-fuel) customers who had previously undergone a home energy assessment.  A control group of over 4,000 Vectren customer households still using manual thermostats was used to determine adjusted gross savings from the Nest and programmable thermostats. They also installed data loggers in 700 participating homes to track indoor air temperature and air conditioner runtime—the largest installation of this scale to date.

The Study found significant savings who had smart thermostats installed. Participants with the Nest thermostat reduced their heating gas consumption by approximately 12.5 percent, compared to only 5.0 percent for participants with a programmable thermostat.

Nest thermostat users had, on average, a 13.9 percent reduction in electricity use for cooling.

This is only one study, there are many others done by public service companies. For example, by Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) had much better results with 16.1 percent reduction in electricity use for cooling. These studies were done by Energy companies, not by thermostat makers.

Conclusion Smart thermostats deserve a second chance

You should do your own research about these thermostats. Do your own testing, try a programmable thermostat for a month and a smart thermostat for another month to see the results. I did my own testing. I saved 8% using a Smart vs a programmable thermostat. There is also the comfort and peace of mind of using a smart thermostat as well.

I believe the results are significant enough for Energy Star to reconsider implementing an energy star program for smart thermostats. New Smart thermostats have user-friendly interfaces. They fix a lot of major problems of programmable thermostats. Energy Star has to do new studies, their last study is from 2009.

From an industry point of view, it will be easier to sell them with an Energy Star logo. It will be easier for a contractor to convince costumers to get Energy Star furnace and air conditioning units.

Our main concern on this website is climate change. If you want to lower your carbon footprint you should get a smart thermostat. If you have a programmable thermostat you should replace it with a smart one. We have to learn to consume differently, just like “Before the Flood” documentary said at the closing: “Consume Differently“.

But if you want to do something extra contact your representative about this with an email. You should also contact and by sending them an email.

I leave you with the ending screen shot of Before the Flood by National Geographic presented by Leonard Dicaprio. You should really watch it. I have uploaded the documentary with closed caption here.


Before the Flood | National Geographic


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