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The Nest Learning Thermostat takes an active role in saving energy around the house. (Nest Labs)

A Smart, Sleek, Money-Saving Thermostat

The father of the iPod talks about his next-generation thermostat

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Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, both former Apple executives, founded Nest Labs in May 2010 with a mission to build a better thermostat. The startup took shape as many do, in a garage in Palo Alto, California. The pair tinkered for over a year, until commercially releasing the Nest Learning Thermostat, which takes an active role in saving energy around the house.

The device—about the size and shape of a hockey puck—has a sleek, modern look that is reminiscent of the Apple family of products. That’s not by coincidence. Fadell led the charge to design the first 18 generations of iPod, with Rogers at his side, and they both went on to develop the iPhone.

At Nest, Fadell and Rogers have given the often-ignored thermostat more than a facelift. “It is not just a beautiful looking thermostat,” says Fadell. “We built so much technology inside.” Over time, the thermostat learns from the adjustments a user makes and then automatically alters the temperature based on these patterned behaviors, as a means of saving energy.

I spoke with Fadell, founder and CEO of Nest, about the $249 gadget—now part of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum collection—and its novel features.

You had designed the iPod and iPhone at Apple. What then made you turn to the thermostat of all products?

When I chose to take early retirement from Apple with my family, I started immersing myself in the design of a home in Lake Tahoe. I wanted it to be the greenest, most connected home that I knew of, so I started researching all the different things about designing a home. Through that, I found the thermostat problem. It just wouldn’t leave my brain, so I started working and designing my own.

What are the biggest problems with standard thermostats on the market and how people use them?

In the U.S., there are a quarter-billion thermostats in operation. A very tiny percentage of those thermostats are ever programmed to save any energy, because they were too difficult to learn how to program. The first thing that we set out to do was to make a thermostat that learns from your behavior the temperatures you like and when you like them and then it programs itself. We can actually get people to save energy without all the hassle of programming and learning about it.

What is the waste, on average, in both energy and money, for consumers who don’t use programmable thermostats?

First, between $1,200 and $1,500 per year is spent in the U.S. on heating and cooling an average home. We typically see between 20 and 30 percent of that energy wasted because of unprogrammed thermostats.

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