Special Report

A Smart, Sleek, Money-Saving Thermostat

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

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

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What energy savings can one expect from the Nest?

On average, it is about $173 per year on a small size home. So, Nest can pay for itself back in less than two years. We see a lot of people [in larger homes] saving that much even on a monthly basis.

There are many things we use on a daily basis that contribute to our energy use and our individual footprint—cars, lighting, and appliances. How do heating and cooling systems stack up?

Typically, between 45 and 50 percent of your annual household energy bill is consumed by heating and cooling. In most homes, it is the major source of energy usage. Then, after that comes hot water and those kinds of things. Lighting is really on the low end of the scale. We chose to go after the biggest consumer in the home, the one that has been unloved and that most people ignore.

How does the device work?

Ninety-five percent of Nests are installed by the users themselves. They can put them in themselves in under 30 minutes. Then, all you do from there is turn it up and turn it down. Say you want a certain temperature in the morning and a certain temperature when you are going to bed. It learns that pattern over a couple of days and through that repeats that pattern moving ahead in the future. As you change what you like, you just change the dial.

So, you are not asking people to change their behavior.

We think the number one thing here is to get people to create energy efficient schedules and turn down their heating and air conditioning when they are not home. That is, automatically through software and algorithms. Then, we add this thing called the Nest Leaf. Whenever you adjust the thermostat, Nest Leaf shows up just beyond what you normally like that temperature to be. Let’s say in the afternoon when you are cooling, you like your temperature to be 72 degrees. Well, the Nest Leaf will show up at 72.5 or 73 degrees. Basically, it is a nudge to help you try to find a new level of comfort and energy efficiency.

What happens when you leave the house?

Sensors in the product can tell whether you are at home. If we don’t see you active around eight or nine or 10 in the morning during the weekdays, we suspect that you are going to work, so we will turn that down much more rapidly than maybe if you go away on the weekend or later in the afternoon. It depends on what we’ve learned about your activity habits over the course of you having the Nest installed on the wall. We can adjust the temperature as soon as 20 to 30 minutes after you leave or it could be longer, like two hours. It all depends on the activity in the home and what we’ve seen previously. As soon as you walk in the door, it will turn on again.


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