High-def, high-tech settings

You wouldn’t think of spending much time in front of your thermostat, but the newest advanced models—with their colorful touchscreen displays—are an engaging, interactive experience. They offer separate programs for each day of the week, and can even alert you if service is required.

With its high-definition screen display, Honeywell’s Prestige Comfort System resembles a mini-computer more than a traditional thermostat.

In addition to indoor temperature, the Prestige’s graphical user interface can display outdoor conditions and humidity with an add-on sensor. An onscreen wizard interviews you about your usage based on simple questions, and then sets a program accordingly. A portable controller lets you adjust settings from any room in the house.

The Prestige is priced from $250 and up.

If you can live without a fancy display, an advanced programmable thermostat from HAI costs around $300 to $400, while a simpler seven-day programmable model from Hunter costs $80.

Control from afar

What if you’re on your way to a long vacation, and you suddenly realized you’d forgotten to turn down your home’s thermostat?

If your home is equipped with the Smart Thermostat from ecobee, you can tap into the system through a personalized web portal anywhere there’s Internet access. Log in to check on your HVAC’s performance and make adjustments on the fly. The unit sells for $469.

Manage your home’s HVAC via a home automation app from Control 4. The sophisticated system allows you to change thermostat settings from your smartphone, pad, and PC. In addition, you can control the lighting, music, window treatment motors, and a wide range of Control 4 devices.

Know the price before you turn it on

Pilot programs for installing smart thermostats that display “time of use” pricing information are underway in regions like Florida and California. These thermostats receive a wireless signal from the utility company, and adjust the temperature according to the price of electricity during different times of the day.

With costs for air conditioning at about 70 cents to $1.20 per hour, reducing AC usage only an hour per day would yield a savings of $65 to $110 over the course of a summer.

Check with your utility company to find out if such a program is available in your area.