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How to Install a Programmable Thermostat

by Benjamin Roussey



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A programmable thermostat is a great tool to help you adjust the temperature settings in your home automatically. You can preset it to take effect during different times of the day, which will save money on your heating and cooling bills throughout the year. Here's help with the installation and operation of a programmable thermostat.

Choosing the Right Thermostat

Programmable thermostats can be digital, electromechanical, or a combination of both. Electromechanical thermostats are less flexible compared to the others and are more suited for people who have a daily schedule without too many variations. Digital thermostats are extremely versatile but can be harder to program. Hybrid thermostats combine the features of both digital and electromechanical. They have digital controls and various program options but come with manual controls and knobs.

The thermostat you choose will have to match the type of heating system you have installed in your home. For instance, some thermostats can function only with single-stage furnaces, while others function only with two-stage furnaces. Thermostats intended for use with heat pumps are also available, but they aren't recommended for use. Check with the store to get the right type.

In addition to the type of programmable thermostat available, programmable thermostats can also come with different functions and features for weekdays and weekends or seven-day models with separate settings for every day of the week. Backlit displays, touch pads, voice programming, vacation or hold settings, air filter check indicators, malfunction indicators, and recovery options may be available in some of the premium models. Prices will vary depending on what features are included.

Tools and Precautions

Installing a programmable thermostat is fairly simple. You can do it yourself with some basic tools. A drill, a level, a screwdriver, pencil, tape, and the thermostat are all you need. Remember to turn off the electricity mains before you start working and test to make sure the power is off. Move the wall switch to the off position. Before you reach for your tools, read the instructions that accompany the thermostat and understand them properly. Have any doubts or questions? Contact the manufacturer or an electrician for help.

Remove the Old Thermostat

First, remove the old thermostat and dispose of it properly. Some older models have mercury in them, and they require special disposal. Unscrew the mounting bracket of the old thermostat and disconnect each wire from the terminal. Usually there will be four wires, so mark each of these so you know which terminal they came from.

You might also want to tape the wires to the wall until you're ready to attach them to the new thermostat. Install the new wall plate if there is one. Depending on the size and shape of the new thermostat, you may need to drill new mounting holes. This may require drywall anchors.

Affixing the New Thermostat

Once the new wall plate is in place, match the wires to the thermostat terminal and connect them as per the instructions or diagram provided by the manufacturer. Each terminal is usually identified by a letter while the wires are distinguished by color. Most thermostats will have three low voltage wires; one is to turn the furnace on, another to turn the furnace off, and a third to power the thermostat.

If you have only two wires, then you might need to contact an electrician or HVAC specialist and find out about having an additional wire put in. Once the wires are attached properly, put in the batteries in and close the cover of the thermostat. Then restore the power supply to the thermostat.

Programming the Thermostat

Once the installation is done, you can program the thermostat. Programming steps will be outlined in the instruction manual provided. Most of the basic settings will be the same as your old thermostat. The main difference will be the options available for you to set various times for switching the heat (or air conditioner) on and off.

Some Helpful Tips

The thermostat should not be placed near any heating or cooling vents, appliances that are likely to give out heat, direct sunlight, and open doorways. It is a good idea to keep the thermostat set at a constant temperature for long periods of time as often as possible. If you are planning on being away from home for a few days, you should set the hold button at a steady temperature.

Do not override your thermostat settings unless absolutely essential. In a residence with zoned heating, a thermostat should ideally be installed in each zone to maximize energy savings. Last, but not least, the batteries in the thermostat must be checked and replaced yearly.

Using a programmable thermostat is a great way to help you reduce your energy bill by 5 to 15 percent annually.


Benjamin Roussey is from Sacramento, CA, and grew up doing all varieties of home improvement projects around the home since his parents did not hire contractors or outside help to maintain their home or vehicles. As a result, he has acquired a multitude of home handyman skills in plumbing, carpentry, electrical and everything in between. He also has two Masters degrees and he served four years in the U.S. Navy.

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