Nearly six years ago, before Nest Labs had even come out of stealth mode, a Wi-Fi-connected smart thermostat hit Home Depot shelves for $99. At the time, it was an incredibly competitive price point. Fancier versions of connected thermostats with underlying software, such as ecobee, retailed for approximately $500.

Now, high-end thermostats are coming down in price. In October, Honeywell’s Lyric T5 hit stores for $149, and ecobee announced its $169 ecobee3 lite would be available by the end of the month. By contrast, Nest and ecobee3 retail for $249, and the Honeywell Lyric Round is priced at $199.

The Lyric T5 comes as Honeywell simplifies its thermostat lineup. Currently the company has about 30 thermostats, from old-school programmable options to the Lyric, which competes with Nest. Honeywell is consolidating the lineup to eight thermostats, according to Ted Booth, design director of Honeywell Connected Home.

The new Lyric T5 is aimed primarily at consumers and the Lyric T6 is aimed at contractors, who have grown more comfortable with selling and installing Wi-Fi thermostats, and want affordable but stylish options to sell to their customers.

“They’re seeing the connected home as a bigger business opportunity,” said Booth. The smart home Lyric family also includes a water leak detector and a home security system.

The T5 is rectangular, but with a more modern design than some of Honeywell’s other basic white thermostats. The T5 fills a gap in the market similar to Lux’s GEO, a $149 Wi-Fi thermostat that is not as sexy as a Nest, but offers an aesthetic improvement from earlier models.

Retail sales of thermostats have exceeded sales from installer channels, such as HVAC technicians. But Honeywell expects that trend to level out in the coming years as more contractors move toward Wi-Fi thermostats.

The Lyric T5 is similar overall to the original Lyric, but may not be compatible with quite as many HVAC systems. It has the same software behind it and is compatible with various platforms, including IFTTT, Alexa and HomeKit.

The same is true of the latest ecobee3 lite, which runs on the same software that powers the ecobee3 and integrates with various platforms. However, a major draw of the ecobee3 is the accompanying sensor that can be placed in another room. (By contrast, the ecobee3 lite does not work with sensors, even if they are purchased separately.) Similarly, an advantage of the Lyric is that it considers indoor and outdoor humidity, especially helpful for controlling AC, while Honeywell's T5 and T6 do not factor in either indoor or outdoor humidity.

For utilities and consumers, the rapidly expanding options in terms of features and prices are good news. There is still a range of white, square thermostats that also have Wi-Fi connectivity that are available for about $100, and a handful are bestsellers at Home Depot and Amazon -- proving that not everyone is willing to shell out more than $200 for a thermostat.

Compared to a few years ago, there is real differentiation in thermostats -- from pricing and style to features like sensors or geo-fencing. It can be difficult for consumers to discern which model best aligns with their lifestyle.

Utilities also now have endless choices for bring-your-own-thermostat programs. Savvy power companies are choosing to work with a wide swath of thermostat manufacturers in order to expand consumer choice. 

Check out the stories below for more about the evolving smart thermostat market and what it means for home energy management: