It is well known that programmable thermostats are under-utilized at best and practically useless at worst. Enter connectivity. To combat some of the issues with programmable thermostats, there is a new generation of Wi-Fi thermostats that let you adjust the temperature on the way out the door, from the office or on your way home.

Radio Thermostat Company of America, which has had Wi-Fi in its device for the past few years, has expanded to the holy grail of home improvement retail: Home Depot. Ecobee and iThermostat both offer similar products, but Radio Thermostat is hoping the price of $99 and space on the shelves of one of the nation’s largest retailers will compel the masses to pick up its product.

“The 'programmable' got you part of the way there, but no one lives in a Leave it to Beaver household anymore,” said Dan Goodman of Radio Thermostat Company of America. Instead, people need a device that is easy and user-friendly, as well.

The product, sold under the 3M Filtrete brand, isn’t that different from others on the market, and one could argue it’s even a little more simplistic in terms of its touch screen and offerings. However, Ecobee retails for nearly $500 in the U.S., and while iThermostat is free, that is only through a utility partner.

The thermostat’s website, which is free, and requisite iPhone app, are both simple to use. The interface is less than flashy, completely utilitarian, and easy to understand. For now, it is just a place to adjust the temperature of the thermostat, as opposed to a home energy management portal.

The trend in simplicity is everywhere in home energy efficiency, as can be seen in the products and services offered by other companies such as EnergyHub, but Radio Thermostat takes it to the next level by just starting and ending with the thermostat. 

Radio Thermostat seems to be one step ahead on the curve of getting to the big-box stores, an often-cited goal of various home energy management companies. Currently, most are going through utilities or service providers.

Like its competitors, Radio Thermostat also has utility and HVAC partners that it is working with, but it has also expanded into stores to make a play for the DIY crowd. The thermostat can be installed by anyone; it takes about 30 minutes, maybe less, according to Goodman, and connecting the Wi-Fi should theoretically as easy (although this reporter was Wi-Fi-handicapped in at least one attempt to connect a different product).

The price tag might seem far higher than the other offerings on Home Depot’s shelves, but few of them have wireless connectivity. Goodman says that utility trials are in the works, adding that “a large number of people will have a free thermostat from us in 2011.”

Radio Thermostat is not stopping with just Home Depot; instead, it is running on all cylinders between working with partners and trying to get its product into other big-box stores. The thermostat has been trickling into Home Depots across the U.S., and should be nationwide by the end of 2010. So far, “they’ve been flying off the shelves in every store they’re at,” said Goodman.

If you’re wondering if this thermostat will connect with your ZigBee appliances (you’re probably not, but on the off chance that you were), there is space for a ZigBee module to be plugged into the back of the thermostat, as well as space for a module to enable demand response. Alerts will be coming soon that will let you know if your thermostat is set far above or below your usual temperature.

As for controlling smart plugs, appliances, pool pumps and lights from the thermostat or its web portal? "I think there’s a big leap from I need a connected product," said Goodman, "to I need all connected products."

Tags: energy efficiency, radio thermostat, radio thermostat co. of america, residential energy consumption, wifi thermostat