October 27, 2011
| by Steven Castle
Can cool looks and ease of use help us save energy in our homes?
If the web buzz generated this week by the Nest thermostat—which isn’t even available yet—is any indication, the answer is yes.
Nest has a lot going for it. First off, it’s very cool looking, with a pleasing round shape to replace those bulky thermostat boxes, an easy-to-read digital readout and even a little leaf symbol that appears when you’re being good about your energy use.
But perhaps the biggest things Nest has going for it is its Apple pedigree and ease of use. Nest Labs cofounder and CEO Tony Fadell is an ex-Apple executive dedicated to making a thermostat that’s simple to use and program.
Like an iPod, Nest basically has one button, or ring. You rotate the outer ring to adjust the temperature. The display turns blue when cooling and red when heating. Push down to open the menu.
Many people have programmable thermostats that allow programming temperature set points at various times of the day, but few actually program them. Nest says its thermostat can learn your heating and cooling patterns and suggest ways for you to be more energy-efficient. Oh, and if you want, it can be manually programmed for seven days with 20 set points per day.
Nest says the thermostat learns your personal schedule in a week and starts automatically turning down heating or cooling when you’re away to save energy.
Nest tracks the temperatures you typically set and guides you to more energy-efficient ones. The Auto-Away feature can sense when you’re not home and will lower the temperature, saving energy. It has temperature, humidity, light and two activity sensors, which can notify the device to turn down the heating and cooling when no one is in the house.
The device also connects to your home’s Wi-Fi to control it from your laptop, smartphone or tablet. The unit is also reported to have a ZigBee wireless chip for connection to two-way communicating smart meters and smart grid programs being rolled out by utilities.
The $250 Nest thermostat will be available in mid-November at retailers like Best Buy. Installation bundles are available for those who are squeamish about doing it themselves.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates