It's amazing what you can automate around the house when you've got a nice, solid Wi-Fi network and a little ingenuity. And $100. That seems to be the gadget freak price point. If it's $100, we can buy it without the spouse totally freaking out. I've setup Alarm.com and automate our home security system from my smart phone. I've setup wifi cameras around the house and plugged them (wirelessly) into the Synology DiskStation as a composite image and 24 hour DVR. All this done with commodity parts and a VERY small amount of know-how. Stuff that only millionaires and folks on MTV Cribs (or Geek Developer Cribs) could have in the past, now we can have just by stopping by Home Depot.
This is how I came upon the Filtrete Touchscreen WiFi-Enabled Programmable Thermostat. My buddy John Batdorf walked by one of these at Home Depot and bought it on a whim. Later that evening he was like "dude!!!" and I did some research. What a clever idea! Not just a programmable thermostat, but one I can control from any connected device, the web or any phone (iPhone, Android, etc).
This opens up a lot of interesting scenarios where you can get the house ready before you get home, where you can keep it colder and save money if you forgot to turn off the heat before you left.
It was $99 at Home Depot and took about 20 minutes to install and we all know I'm not handy. There's only one catch, you really need to have a "C" wire. This is a standard wire that most furnaces have at least run between the furnace and the main thermostat.
However, it is possible you don't have it. In my case, I had the wire but it wasn't hooked up at the furnace. This meant I needed to turn off the power to the furnace at the main electrical switchbox temporarily, then connect the loose wire to the power of the furnace, and turn it back on. I tested it with a simple cheap multi-meter from Radio Shack (or Home Depot, of course). If you like, you can also run a new wire between the thermostat and the furnace. Finally, if none of that works, you can use a standard wall-transformer and plug it into the wall. It just won't be as sanitary.
The installation process was a little nerve wracking initially just because I'm not a wires guy but the installation PDF was pretty clear and the wires were clearly labeled.
Once the wires were hooked up and I confirmed I had power and plugged in some backup AA batteries, it was just a matter of registering the thermostat with the Wi-Fi network. I was impressed that it supported WPA security as I've standardized on it. I wouldn't have used the thermostat if it only supported WEP. Nice to know that WPA and WPA2 have finally arrived in cheap consumer devices.
Of course there's a website to manage the thermostat (or any number if you have multiple) but there's also multiple phone applications. I usually access this from my phone. There's of course the ridiculous first world problem of changing the temperature of the house from bed (which is awesome, by the way.) The think I use it the most for is setting the house to "away" mode. I haven't yet measured if this has saved us money (as we in the past have left the house on 74 for YEARS at time without changing it) but I can only assume it has as there's no reason to heat an empty house.
All in all, a great and useful gadget if you're into Home Automation. It is inexpensive without being cheap. Recommended.
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.