How to Program Your Thermostat

Gone are the days when your thermostat served no other purpose than offering you the ability to set the indoor temperature. And at that temperature it would stay until someone came along and moved it up or down.


Like so many other things, thermostats have evolved alongside advances in technology. Today, smart thermostats help homeowners save money on their energy bills by using artificial intelligence to better understand a home’s environmental dynamics and temperature needs, and then, as it learns, adjust an array of settings to deliver the perfect indoor temperature all year round.


To get the most from your smart thermostat, however, you must know what those settings are, understand what they do, and figure out how to program and activate them.


That can be a bit of a challenge. We’re here to help.

Thermostat types

Let’s start by identifying what type of thermostat monitors your home’s temperature. There are three basic types.

Non-programmable Thermostat

This is your basic thermostat. Attached to the wall, the only feature it offers is manual temperature adjustment. Once moved it to your desired temperature, it will stay there until it is changed. While it may seem inefficient, well-made non-programmable thermostats can operate efficiently with your heating and cooling system. Non-programmable thermostats are ideal for people who are home more often than not and prefer a simpler temperature system.

Programmable Thermostat

These thermostats can be programmed to adjust temperatures depending on time of day and day of the week. If you work outside the home during the week, like to sleep in cooler temperatures or want to save on your electricity bill by adjusting temps based on peak power usage, this thermostat type can help you reach your goal. Programmable thermostats are often mistaken for smart thermostats, however, because they typically offer a digital interface. The two are not the same. 

Smart Thermostat

Smart thermostats, like Google’s Nest and Ecobee Sensi, are more akin to intelligent automation tools. Once installed, they network with other smart devices in your home and employ complex machine learning algorithms to observe your living patterns and self-adjust temperature programming to best suit your lifestyle.


Or, in simpler terms, the thermostat analyzes information from your other smart devices, like when you switch lights on and off or run energy guzzling appliances, along with energy usage data, and then makes subtle adjustments based on that analysis to maximize energy usage and temperature control.  Homeowners can program their smart thermostat through an app on their smart phone or tablet via Wifi or Bluetooth, both of which most smart thermostats use to communicate with other devices. 

8 simple tips for any thermostat type

Regardless of which thermostat type you choose, there are a few simple best practice tips to help you make the most of your heating and cooling efforts. Here are eight:


  1. Install your thermostat on an interior wall away from direct sunlight, windows and doorways
  2. Begin your waking temperature 20 minutes before getting out of bed
  3. The same goes for arriving home. Program your thermostat to reach your normal temp 20 minutes before you return
  4. If your home is empty for more than four hours, set back the temperature to take advantage of energy savings
  5. Use the “auto” setting to ensure the fan isn’t running continuously, which could lead to wear and tear and decrease energy savings
  6. During summer months, set your away temperature five degrees higher than your normal temperature
  7. During winter months, roll back your temperature five degrees when you’re away from home
  8. For maximum energy savings, set your thermostat to 63° F in the winter when you are away from home and 83° F in the summer.


Knowing which features to enable, how to program them correctly, and how to get the most energy savings out of your thermostat, regardless of its type, is the best way to ensure your thermostat is working hard to help you save on your energy bill and reduce unnecessary energy usage.

The 3 types of programmable thermostats

It’s relatively common to see programmable thermostats in most homes these days, yet 90 percent of those homeowners treat their programmable thermostat like a non-programmable one, simply raising or lowering the temperature when it suits them. They do so, according to a Lawrence Berkeley National Lab study, because they don’t know how to program it.


Learning how could save those homeowners on average 10 percent annually on heating and cooling costs [U.S. Department of Energy]. That’s money left on the table.


The first step to take if you own a programmable thermostat is to know what scheduling format it provides. There are three basic types:


  • 7 Day model. Allows you to program an individual schedule each day.
  • 5-1-1 model. These provide one five-day program (the same schedule daily Monday through Friday), plus a program for Saturday and a program for Sunday.
  • 5-2 model. Provides one five-day program for the week and one two-day program for the weekend.


Once you know your programming type, consider your family’s schedule. When are you home and when are you away? When do you go to bed and when do you wake up? Build an hourly schedule and designate a temperature for each change. Then use your operating manual to work through the simple programming instructions.

The smart thermostat difference

It’s estimated the average homeowner can save up to 10 percent a year on heating and cooling by turning their thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees eight hours a day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A smart thermostat’s programmability makes that task much easier – set it and forget it, so to speak – but they do much more than that.


What differentiates a smart thermostat from their programmable brethren is the smart thermostat’s use of machine learning technology. The smart thermostat can connect via wifi with other digital smart devices throughout a home to gather data, analyze it in real-time, and make heating and cooling decisions based on that information. Where programmable thermostats do what you tell them to do, smart thermostats learn from your behaviors and then optimize.


For example, with some models, connecting your thermostat to additional temperature sensors throughout your home can help you achieve both comfortable temperatures and efficient energy use. Since separate rooms and different floors are rarely the same temperature, your smart thermostat can aggregate information from each sensor to best determine when to turn on and off. Maybe you can solve the cold downstairs, warm upstairs challenge familiar to many homeowners. And a smart thermostat connected to motion detectors can determine whether you are home or away and then adjust temperature accordingly.

How to program your smart thermostat

Though the actual A to Z steps necessary to accurately program your smart thermostat will vary by brand – refer to your user’s manual and don’t be shy working with customer services – there is one critical step every smart thermostat owner should take before programming: Your individual or family schedule.


Before pressing a single button, take some time to understand your family’s temperature schedule. Go beyond when family members are home and away. Consider each family member’s individual comfort zone. Does Mom like a cool home office so she can focus? Does the family like a warmer living room when watching TV?


Once you have a sense of those numbers, consider setting sleep and away temperatures 7 to 10 degrees lower or higher than those home numbers, depending on the season – lower in colder months and higher in warmer months. This is the optimal setting to save on your energy bill, according to the Department of Energy.

Enable these smart thermostat features

Many smart thermostat owners never realize those efficiency and savings results, however, because they continue to use their smart thermostat like a programmable thermostat. In other words, they neglect to engage the smart thermostat’s automation settings. If you think you may be one of those smart thermostat owners – or are about to install a smart thermostat for the first time – here are the five features you should make sure are up and running:

Home and Away

As mentioned above, this feature allows your thermostat to monitor whether you are home and then adjust the temperature when you are away, regardless of time intervals. Some models will connect to motion sensors in the home to make that determination. Others simply connect to a smartphone and adjust the temperature based on the smartphone’s location.


  • Nest Home & Away Instructions
  • Ecobee Home & Away Instructions
  • Honeywell Home & Away Instructions

Smart Control

Smart thermostats allow you to control the temperature or program the thermostat via an app on your smartphone or through voice control. This is useful when you want to adjust the thermostat but are either away from home or have some reason not to traverse the house to the unit.


Climate Zoning

Though this may require purchasing extra equipment, enabling climate zoning – or adjusting the temperature of individual areas and rooms in your home – can help ensure comfortable temperatures for everybody.


Energy Usage Analytics

Most smart thermostats provide some way to see where, when and how much energy you are using. By reviewing these reports, you may be able to make adjustments to your heating and cooling schedules to conserve energy and lower your electricity bill.


Automatic Software Updates

Be sure you have enabled your smart thermostat to automatically update whenever the manufacturer pushes out a software update. This will help ensure your system is running as efficiently as possible. Setting it to automatically complete this task also means you won’t have to remember to check regularly for updates.

A quick word on operating manuals

While we endeavor to provide you with the information you need to achieve peak efficiency with the thermostat of your choice, your thermostat’s operating manual will always be your best how-to resource. But if you are anything like the average homeowner, there’s a good chance you lost the operating manual the same week you opened the package.


Good news: a quick online search will reveal various official operating manuals for almost every thermostat model on the market. We recommend doing that before diving in and trying to figure it out yourself. Here are quick links to three of the most popular smart thermostats:



Our goal is to help you understand which features you should activate and why, so as you do the manual work of programming your thermostat, you are turning on important features – and turning off unnecessary ones.