Nest Metering

Late last year I noticed that our thermostat seemed to be on the fritz. It routinely ignored the temperature schedule we programmed. Meanwhile, it wasn’t detecting the temperature of the house accurately. Both of these things caused us to use more energy than we needed and made our home less comfortable to live in.

My husband and I decided it was time to buy a new thermostat that would solidly move us along the path of being more energy efficient and maybe even more 21st century. We both work full time and our two children are in school and daycare. During the day our home is only occupied by our 11-year-old pug, Moco. He is furry so I’m not too worried about him getting cold during winter, and in the summer he hangs out in the basement to stay cool. A thermostat that kept all our family’s humans comfortable when we were home and that saved us money and energy when we weren’t would be ideal. It wouldn’t hurt if it would be easily programmable and accommodate our busy lifestyle, either.

We did some research about top-of-the-line thermostats and settled on purchasing a Nest, which debuted in 2011 and which—like your favorite smartphone—is out in a next generation update. While the Nest retails for about $250 dollars plus shipping, which in total was about $100 more than some of the other swanky programmable thermostats on the market, we felt the price was justified by some key differentiators: the ability to install the Nest ourselves, ease of use (the Nest was created by some former Apple employees), the potential energy savings it promised, and also because it simply looks really cool (style points never hurt).

Once the Nest arrived I was able to install it in about an hour. The result: I was proud, interested, and oddly attached to my new thermostat. It felt like getting my first iPod or tablet. With my old thermostat—I’m now embarrassed to admit—it was a “set it and forget it” scenario; I would set a program and literally forget what I had done or forget to ever check what temperature the house was unless I felt too hot or too cold. Not so with the Nest.

Now that this slick-looking, computer-like device was on our wall, I really started to engage with how we were heating our home (we haven’t used it for cooling yet). For the first week, you need to manually change the temperature to your desired settings so the Nest “learns” your habits. After that it manages all of that for you. And it really works!

I downloaded the app to both my iPhone and Kindle, which allowed me to really fine tune the temperature from anywhere. It also allows me to make sure the heat is set to “away” when we are on vacation and turn it back on a couple of hours before we get home so we aren’t freezing when we walk in the door. Even more indulgently, I can change the temperature from the comfort of my bed under the covers at night. I also signed up to receive a monthly Nest newsletter that includes information about our energy use and hours of energy saved in our area from other Nest users.

Perhaps more incredibly, we looked forward to getting our energy bill. (When’s the last time someone told you they were excited about receiving a bill?) We eagerly anticipated our first post-Nest energy bill to see how much less energy we had used versus the prior year and how much money we were going to save. It wasn’t disappointing—despite the average temperature being around the same as it was the year before we saved $40 that first month. If we keep that up, the payback on the Nest will be well under one year.

So far my only complaint is that the version we have sometimes disconnects from the Wi-Fi network to recharge itself. When that happens, I can’t control it remotely with a smartphone or tablet. Apparently this is a software glitch that Nest is working on fixing. I know it sounds terrible, but I have to walk all the way over to the thermostat on the wall and adjust it manually. The horror!

As an RMI employee and someone who cares deeply about leaving this world in good shape for my two children, I know that energy efficiency is our first, best step to changing our energy future. And it’s great to know that products like these are coming on the market—helping individuals take control of their energy use and really start being active participants in the process instead of ambivalent consumers for whom energy use is an afterthought. Just think: without doing anything structural to our home—no new insulation, or low-e window glazing, or other energy-efficiency retrofits—we were able to make our in-home energy consumption easier and more fun to monitor and control. That’s the power of a thermostat like the Nest. It takes energy out from behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain and puts it front and center in a user-friendly way.