Programmable Thermostats Offer Temperature Control for Homeowners Across the Southeast

Published on: September 18, 2013

Imagine coming home to a perfectly cool house, even on the hottest Southeast day, without having to leave your A/C on high all day. Imagine waking up every winter morning to a nice warm bedroom even though your heat was on low all night. With a programmable thermostat, you can experience just that.

You already know turning your heat or cooling down when you’re away or asleep saves money. While you can use a standard mechanical (non-programmable) thermostat to do this, there are two problems with doing so.

First, every time you get up or come home, you’ll have to readjust the thermostat and wait for the house to become comfortable again. To maintain your home’s temperature, you may not want to turn the heat or cooling down very much, which limits your energy savings.

Second, it’s easy to forget. Even if you usually remember, adjusting the thermostat is just one more thing you have to deal with on busy workday mornings. Programmable thermostats solve both problems.

Programmable Thermostat Basics

Not long ago, thermostats were just a dial or needle that could be moved to turn the temperature up or down. Today’s digital programmable thermostats can do far more than that because they’re designed so differently.

Older mechanically operative thermostats contain a bimetallic strip. This component is made of two pieces of metal formed into a coil. The coil expands or contracts depending on the room temperature. As it moves, it opens or closes the contact that signals the heating or cooling to turn on. While they can be programmed, only two different temperature settings are possible.

Programmable thermostats are electrically operative. They use a thermistor to measure the temperature. A thermistor is a resistor – a component that resists the passage of an electric current. The resistance levels of the thermistor change as the room temperature changes. The thermostat contains a microcontroller that monitors the thermistor’s resistance level and uses that information to determine a room’s temperature. The temperature reading is digitally displayed on the thermostat’s screen. This type of electronic operation allows for more precise control over your temperatures.

How a Programmable Thermostat Benefits You

Programmable thermostats let you pre-set your preferred temperatures for different times of the day and different days of the week. The thermostat automatically turns your heating and cooling system on or off based on the temperatures you’ve selected. The benefits you’ll enjoy include:

  • Lower energy bills – Correctly using a programmable thermostat could cut your heating and cooling bills by 5 to 15 percent, according to experts from the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Improved comfort – Although you can save money by turning the heat or A/C off when you’re in bed or away, doing so means waking up or coming back to an uncomfortable home. With programmable thermostats, you can select energy-saving temperatures for certain periods while still ensuring your home is a comfortable temperature when you’re home and awake.
  • Convenience – Program your thermostat for the season, and you won’t have to worry about your indoor temperatures until the weather changes again. For especially cold or hot days, the override feature allows you to temporarily select a different temperature without deleting your programmed settings.

To get the most out of a programmable thermostat, there are a few guidelines you’ll need to follow:

Select set-points for long periods – To obtain lower heating and cooling bills, set your thermostat at energy-saving temperatures for at least eight hours at a time. For instance, in winter you might program your heating for 62 degrees from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., while you’re in bed. Then program it to go back up to 68 degrees by the time you get up.

Choose reasonable temperatures
– Unless you have a thermostat with adaptive or intelligent recovery, you’ll need to set the temperature you want for around an hour before you need it. Setting extreme temperatures won’t heat or cool your home faster; it just wastes energy. If you get home at 7 p.m. in summer, don’t set your air conditioning to 50 degrees for 6:45 p.m. Instead, set it to 78 degrees for 6 p.m.

Take advantage of the vacation setting – With the “vacation/hold/permanent” setting, there’s no need to turn your system off when you plan to be gone for more than a few days. Turning your A/C off in summer allows your home’s humidity level to rise, which promotes mold spores and dust mites. Turning the heat off in winter puts your pipes at risk for freezing. The vacation setting lets you avoid these problems and, even better, you’ll come back to a comfortable home.

Change the batteries regularly
– Many programmable thermostats depend on fresh batteries to perform optimally. Low batteries can impair the thermostat’s accuracy and operation. Other models use your home’s electricity and don’t require frequent battery changes.

Choose the Right Model for Your Needs

Not all programmable thermostats work the same way. These thermostats come in three basic models: the 5-2 schedule, the 5-1-1 schedule, and the 7-day schedule. Your usual daily routine determines which model is best for you.


  • 5-2 schedule – This model allows you to select one temperature schedule for weekdays and another for weekends. Which days you select as “weekdays” and the “weekend” is up to you. This thermostat type is ideal if you have the same schedule five days a week and another two days a week.
  • 5-1-1 schedule – This thermostat type lets you choose a single schedule for five days, another for one weekend day and yet another for the other weekend day. This model is best if you keep a regular schedule for five days, but have different schedules for each of your days off.
  • 7-day schedule – The most flexible of all programmable schedules, this one lets you choose a separate schedule for every day of the week. This is the model to get if no two days in your week are quite alike.

Because prices are similar for all three schedules types, many manufacturers offer models in all three types. The choice depends entirely on your lifestyle and preferences.

Advanced Features Give You Even Greater Benefits

While basic, inexpensive programmable thermostats help you control your indoor temperatures and cut your energy costs, advanced features make these thermostats even easier to use.


  • Multiple programs – Many thermostats let you choose just one program a day, but some allow for multiple programmed schedules in a single day.
  • Ease-of-use features – The touch screen and backlit displays on some thermostats make these models easier to read and program.
  • Remote programming – More advanced thermostats can be programmed through your smart phone or the Internet.
  • Adaptive recovery – Also called smart or intelligent recovery, this feature lets the thermostat sense how long it will take your system to heat or cool your home to the next programmed temperature. This way you won’t have to worry about programming the thermostat to start your system ahead of when you wake up or get home.
  • Fan operation – In homes where air circulation is limited, running only the fan for five or 10 minutes before a heating or cooling cycle helps keep temperatures even. Some thermostats can be programmed to run the fan if there hasn’t been a cycle in the last hour.
  • Indicators – Many advanced programmable thermostats indicate when your air filter should be changed. Others also alert you to system malfunctions.
  • Weather sensors – These sensors detect changes in the weather and automatically adjust the heating or cooling output to maintain your desired temperatures.
  • Smart technology – A thermostat with a built-in PID controller can monitor past conditions and “learn” how your heating and cooling system reacts. Based on what it learns, the PID controller decides when to start and stop your system in order to reach the right temperature at the right time. Unlike adaptive recovery, a PID controller helps not just with temperature recovery after a setback (energy-saving) period, but also with ongoing temperature control.

Zoned Systems

Zoning is another way you can use your programmable thermostat. A zoned heating and cooling system lets you separately control temperatures in different areas, or zones, of your home. These systems use multiple thermostats, a central control panel, and dampers in the ducts that direct airflow. Zoning is useful if you have wide temperature variations in different parts of your home. For instance, you might have a south-facing room with large windows that requires more cooling than other rooms, or a finished basement that never seems to get warm enough.

The savings and improved comfort you get out of your programmable thermostat depend on both the model you choose and how well you use it. If you’re thinking of installing a programmable thermostat, visit us at AirConditioningSouthEast.com for professional guidance. Our Find a Contractor feature will help you locate a reliable local technician in Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida or Alabama.