How to Program a Programmable Thermostat

Having a programmable thermostat allows you to set customized heating and cooling schedules to match your lifestyle and help you save money on energy bills. Programming a programmable thermostat may seem daunting at first, but it’s actually quite straightforward once you understand the basic steps. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about how to program a programmable thermostat for maximum efficiency and comfort in your home.

What is a Programmable Thermostat?

A programmable thermostat is a type of digital thermostat that allows you to set different temperatures and schedules for different times of the day and days of the week. Unlike old-fashioned manual thermostats that just offered basic temperature control, programmable models allow you to customize heating and cooling based on your routine.

Programmable thermostats work by allowing you to program setpoints for the times you are typically home, asleep, or away. The thermostat will then automatically adjust the temperature according to your preset schedule, without you having to constantly change the settings manually. This saves you time and helps maintain consistent comfort when you are home, and saves energy when you are asleep or away.

The main benefits of programmable thermostats include:

  • Custom schedules – Match heating and cooling to your daily and weekly routine
  • Energy savings – Only heat or cool when needed for comfort when home
  • Convenience – Once programmed, thermostat runs automatically
  • Improved temperature control – Maintain consistent temperatures when occupied
  • Remote access – Many models allow temperature adjustments from your phone

Programmable thermostats are primarily used in residential settings, but can also be beneficial in commercial buildings that have regular occupancy patterns. Most models can be overridden with manual temperature adjustments as needed. Overall, programmable thermostats provide an easy way to match heating and cooling to your lifestyle and reduce wasted energy.

How Do Programmable Thermostats Work?

Programmable thermostats work by allowing users to pre-program a schedule of temperature setpoints for different times of the day and days of the week. This schedule is stored in the thermostat’s memory.

The thermostat then follows this programmed schedule by communicating with your home’s HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, telling it when to turn on and off and what temperature to heat or cool to. For example, you could set it to 70°F for when you are home during the day, 65°F while you are sleeping at night, and 60°F when you are away at work.

Most programmable thermostats contain:

  • A display screen to view current set temperature and program settings
  • Buttons or touch screen to adjust temperature and program schedules
  • Memory to store programmed schedule
  • Processor and circuitry to operate thermostat
  • Sensors to detect ambient temperature
  • Relays or switches to control HVAC system

The thermostat monitors the indoor temperature using its built-in sensors, and then signals the HVAC system to turn on if the indoor temperature deviates from the setpoint. It sends electrical signals to relays that control the flow of power to your heating and cooling systems.

Many newer thermostats also offer Wi-Fi connectivity for remote access and control using your smartphone or other smart home platforms. Overall, the programmable functionality lets you easily customize schedules for greater efficiency.

Types of Programmable Thermostats

There are a few main types of programmable thermostats to choose from:

7-Day Programmable Thermostats

  • Allow different programs for each day of the week
  • Offer maximum scheduling flexibility
  • Can have varying schedules for weekdays vs. weekends

5-1-1 Programmable Thermostats

  • Have one program for weekdays
  • One program for Saturday
  • One program for Sunday
  • Slightly less flexibility but simpler programming

5-2 Programmable Thermostats

  • Have one program for weekdays
  • One program for weekends
  • Provide a balance of flexibility and ease of use

Within these types, you can choose programmable thermostats with basic digital displays or touchscreen models. Higher-end options also offer features like smart home integration, remote access via smartphone apps, voice control, humidity monitoring, and advanced programming options.

When selecting a programmable thermostat, consider your schedule needs, lifestyle, and comfort preferences. More program flexibility is better for households with varying schedules.

Programmable Thermostat Scheduling Tips

Here are some key tips for setting up an effective program schedule on your programmable thermostat:

  • If home all day, use a Comfort setting from 6am – 10pm
  • Set a slightly cooler Sleep temperature from 10pm – 6am
  • Allow about 30 minutes before scheduled temp changes for the home to adjust
  • If away consistently, use an Away setting from 8am – 5pm on weekdays
  • Use Weekday/Weekend programs if your routine differs between the two
  • Consider a Vacation hold setting for extended away periods
  • Use the thermostat manual and programming screens to set time, date, schedules
  • Adjust schedules seasonally as your heating/cooling needs change

You want to program setpoints that provide comfortable temperatures when home, save energy when away or asleep, and match your household’s routines. It takes some trial and adjustment to perfect your thermostat program, but once set up it will optimize daily comfort and efficiency.

How to Program a Programmable Thermostat

Here is a step-by-step walkthrough on how to program a programmable thermostat for the first time:

1. Reset Thermostat to Factory Settings

If your programmable thermostat is not new, first reset it to factory default settings. This clears any existing programming and lets you start fresh.

Look for a “Reset” or “Factory” button, usually on the back of the unit, to reset. Consult your manual if unsure.

2. Change Current Date and Time

Next, you need to set the current date and time so your thermostat schedules can be accurate:

  • Press the Menu, Settings, or Clock button
  • Use the arrow buttons to adjust the month/day/year
  • Adjust the current hour and minute displayed
  • Ensure AM/PM is set correctly if applicable
  • Press Done after each adjustment

Having the proper date and time is crucial for following your set program.

3. Choose Programming Options

Determine if you want a 5-2, 5-1-1, or 7 day programmable schedule. This depends on your routine.

Those who are home on weekdays/away weekends may want a 5-2 schedule. Those with varying schedules each day may prefer a 7 day program.

Refer to your manual to choose between programming options to match your lifestyle.

4. Create a Schedule

Now, you can start setting the times and temperatures for your schedule:

  • Select “Create New Schedule” or similar in the menu
  • Choose Weekday or Weekend schedules to program
  • For each day chunk, set the start time, end time, and target temperature
  • Example: 6:00 AM to 8:00 AM = 70°F (wake up time)
  • Repeat for other periods of your day – evening, night, away, etc.
  • Save your schedule settings after completing time blocks

Take the time to think through your typical routines to create an effective program.

5. Review Program Summary

After entering your complete weekday and/or weekend program schedule, the thermostat should provide a summary review of the full program.

Double check each time period, temperature, and day settings to confirm the program matches your intended schedule. Make any needed tweaks until you are satisfied.

6. Switch to Program Mode

Finally, switch your thermostat mode from manual or hold to “Program” or “Run”. This activates the programmed schedule.

Your thermostat display should now show the current setpoint and next scheduled temp change based on the current time.

Your programmable thermostat is now up and running! It will automatically adjust temperatures according to your customized schedule.

Tips for Modifying an Existing Thermostat Program

Once you’ve set up an initial program schedule, you may want to modify or fine-tune it over time. Here are some tips:

  • If home/away times change, adjust your time blocks accordingly
  • If certain set temps are too hot/cold, increase/decrease as needed
  • Add more detail with shorter time blocks for more precision
  • Delete unused time periods to simplify programming
  • Consider adding weekday vs weekend schedules if you don’t already have them
  • Adjust schedule seasonally as heating/cooling needs change
  • Keep the thermostat manual accessible to help modify schedules

Take note if you find yourself frequently overriding your program – you may need to alter your setpoint times or temperatures to better match your lifestyle. Tweaking your thermostat schedule occasionally helps maximize the benefits.

Setting a Programmable Thermostat to Vacation Mode

Vacation mode on a programmable thermostat is a useful setting to temporarily suspend your normal schedule and maintain an energy-saving temperature. Here is how to enter vacation mode:

  • Locate the Vacation, Hold or Temporary Schedule function on the thermostat menu. This may be under Program, Settings, or System menus.
  • When prompted, enter the date span for your vacation
  • Enter the target temperature to maintain during your specified vacation dates
  • The thermostat will override your normal schedule and keep the home at the vacation setpoint
  • To exit vacation mode, select “Resume Schedule” or similar after returning

The vacation function eliminates the need to manually override your program schedule for extended away periods. Just set the duration and preferred temperature, and the thermostat handles the rest!

Be sure to turn off any HVAC systems completely if vacationing for longer than a couple weeks.

Troubleshooting Common Programmable Thermostat Issues

While programmable thermostats make temperature control easier, you may occasionally run into issues. Here are some common problems and solutions:

Display is blank:

  • Check circuit breaker to confirm power is on
  • Ensure fresh batteries are installed if battery-powered
  • Press reset or power button to reboot

Settings keep resetting:

  • Replace old batteries with new alkaline batteries
  • Inspect thermostat wiring for faults
  • Thermostat may need to be replaced

Temperature is off:

  • Adjust thermostat offset setting in menu if available
  • Check thermostat placement – avoid direct sun, drafts
  • Consider replacing thermostat sensor/unit

Heating/cooling won’t start:

  • Make sure system mode matches your program (heat/cool/auto)
  • Double check time and program schedule is correct
  • Inspect wiring for loose connections
  • Test heating/cooling with manual overrides

Refer to your owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer for additional troubleshooting tips. Most issues can be readily addressed with simple solutions.

Advantages of Programmable Thermostats

Now that you know the ins and outs of how to program a programmable thermostat, let’s recap the key benefits:

  • Energy savings – Intelligently matching heating/cooling usage to occupancy patterns
  • Optimized comfort – Keeping temperatures consistent and comfortable when home
  • Convenience – Set automated schedules rather than constant manual adjustment
  • Customization – Tailor temperature schedules to match household routines
  • Remote access – Modify settings on the go with smartphone apps
  • Smart home integration – Ties into automation systems for added control

Programmable thermostats promote both efficiency and comfort. Once your thermostat is programmed properly, you can enjoy maximized savings and customized climate control!

How to Program a Programmable Thermostat FAQs

Still have some questions about mastering your programmable thermostat? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What temperature should I set for day and night?

As a guideline, set your programmable thermostat to 68-70°F for awake/home hours, and dial it down to 60-65°F for asleep/away hours. Adjust up or down a few degrees based on your comfort needs.

How do I temporarily override my thermostat program?

You can temporarily override the set temperature by manually adjusting the thermostat. This will be in effect until the next scheduled program period. Or you can set a temporary hold for a longer override duration.

Do programmable thermostats really save money?

Yes! Programmable thermostats can save homeowners 10-30% on heating/cooling costs per year by reducing unnecessary heating and cooling. The level of savings depends on how long you are typically away from home each day.

Should I get a smart thermostat instead?

Smart thermostats like Nest offer advanced features and smartphone access. But programmable thermostats provide most of the same energy-saving capabilities at a lower upfront cost. Start with a programmable model first before upgrading.

How often should I update my thermostat program?

Plan to review and revise your programmed thermostat schedule at least twice per year, such as when daylight saving time starts/ends. Also adjust setpoints seasonally and if your daily routine changes.


Programming a programmable thermostat offers a simple way to maximize home energy efficiency without sacrificing comfort. By following the steps to set customized heating and cooling schedules that match your lifestyle, you can enjoy convenience and savings all year round.

The most important points to remember are:

  • Use weekday/weekend or 7 day programming to match your routine
  • Set occupied home temperatures 3-4° higher/lower than unoccupied periods
  • Adjust program details seasonally as heating/cooling needs change
  • Review your program a couple times per year or whenever your schedule shifts
  • Change batteries frequently to avoid reset issues

With a properly programmed thermostat keeping your home comfortable and energy efficient, you can then sit back and enjoy the savings! Just be sure to take the time to establish and periodically optimize your personalized thermostat schedules.