Syracuse (Consumer Reports) -- If I asked you what your favorite techie gadget is, I doubt you’d say it’s the thermostat in your home. But people couldn’t get enough of the $250 Nest thermostat. It was sold out for months when it first came out. Consumer Reports just tested it and 28 others to see which make it easiest to cut your energy bill.
The Nest Learning Thermostat was designed by part of the same team that came up with the iPod. You’re supposed to “use it like your old thermostat and it’ll program itself.”
Consumer Reports tested the Nest and 29 other programmable thermostats. One of its unique features is motion sensors that detect when you're home.
"The Nest will actually set up its own program. And then it keeps tweaking the program based on the input it gets from you and from its sensors," said Consumer Reports’ Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman.
The Nest is one of several new thermostats that lets you use your smart phone to change the temperature, even if you're not at home.
A key test showed just how easy each thermostat is to use. Turns out programming the Nest manually wasn't always so straightforward. But Consumer Reports still recommends it, unlike the Venstar Wireless Remote model T-11-hundred R-F. It was the toughest to set up.
"I want to program it. So what button do I press? Well, it's probably 'mode.'
So I press this button, and nothing happens," Lehrman said.
Another important assessment was how clear the display is.
In the end, three thermostats were some of the easiest to use – with their colorful, touch-screen displays.
One - a different Venstar - the ColorTouch Series T-58-hundred – is the least expensive of the three at $170. And its clear graphics make programming a snap.
For far less, this no-frills $70 Lux thermostat from Lowe's is a Consumer Reports Best Buy. It's relatively easy to program and lets you enter different settings for each day of the week.
A programmable thermostat can potentially save you up to $180 per year. Consumer Reports says to get maximum savings, depending on season, raise or lower the thermostat five to 10 degrees overnight and when you’re out. That should cut your bills on average about 10 to 20 percent.