Saturday, May 3, 2014

Smart (Nest-like)Thermostats

I found myself in the back aisles of Home Depot just the other day—where some of their more serious stuff is displayed, not the colorful paints and appliances that appeal to the “family”, nope, the inventory back here is more the realm of the obscure.  Here is where you will find hardware you’ve never seen before, tools that do who-knows-what and great quantities of various sized air filters stacked in tidy rows. Oh, and it’s also the home of the heating, cooling and thermostat department.

I was looking for a smart thermostat that would offer options. Options that would include temperature adjustment obviously, but also remember when we needed A/C and when we only needed dehumidification and could the unit remember how much electricity use all this was going to cost. Thermostats, it turns out, control half of your home’s energy. That’s more than appliances, lighting, TVs, computers and stereos combined.

The salesman who was assigned to this area was only a little older than my grandson, which I suppose made him an expert on these electronic controllers. I had read a bit about the “Nest” a special unit invented by some Apple engineers, and so I wondered if HD carried them. “We do,” the salesman said, “but they were all stolen last week. We had a full display one minute, and the next they were all gone.” Such is the retailer’s issue with any expensive product that can be concealed  in the palm of your hand.

He went on to say that more would be coming in shortly and I should consider them. The system is designed to keep your home cozy, and it learns from your use to remember the temperatures you like and switches to an energy-efficient setting when you’re away. Wi-Fi connectivity lets you make adjustments from your mobile phone, tablet or laptop.

According to the dot gov website, you can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting. You can do this automatically by using a programmable thermostat and scheduling the times you turn on the heating or air conditioning. As a result, the equipment doesn’t operate as much when you are asleep or not at home.  Programmable thermostats can store multiple daily settings (six or more temperature settings a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program.

But the proof of the pudding these days is the user rating, and so when I got home, I took a look at what the world is thinking.  Frankly, the world seems to like the old workhorse of the thermostat world, Honeywell. The highend Honeywell units have some unique features: each month they send you an email report about your energy usage. So you have the ability to make changes and then see how your changes are working.  Being able to program the AC to loaf all day and then cool the house before you get home is great feature.

Some people value simplicity and minimalism and the Nest is simple and sleek. The screen basically shows the temperature, there is little you can actually control from the wall. But when you adjust the temperature for a few days to the way you like it, you teach Nest what you want. After that Nest Sense learns about you and your home and starts activating features to save you more energy. The other programables like Honeywell ask you how you want the atmosphere in your home, and after you once set them up, that’s what you get. The Nest web site estimates I could save about $200 a year at my house, if I had their system. I suspect I could save something…but since I have an early model programmable now, maybe not quite that much. Still, energy use is a problem for all of us as the value of the dollar decreases (and so everything gets more expensive).

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional with Sarasota Realty Associates. You can reach him at 941-681-0312 or by email at 


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