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Living with the Nest #2 – the daily energy summary and why other appliances should act like the Nest

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Several months ago, I got a Nest thermostat. Last month, I overcame my laziness and decided to swap out our “normal” programmable thermostat with the Nest. Follow along as I document what it’s like having a thermostat that connects to the internet, learns your behavior, and notifies you when you are saving energy. Read other entries here.

A quick check-in about the Nest. We’ve had installed for about three weeks now, and I’ve received a fair number of questions (and comments) about the thermostat since I first posted about it last week. I’ll get to those next time. Right now, though, I want to walk through the past week.

Last week, I gave the Nest a few nudges in the correct direction by manually entering in temperatures in the online scheduler (in addition to a few manual bumps at the physical thermostat). So far, the Nest has done a pretty good job of figuring out our schedule. We tend to keep things on the warmer side (around 78F-81F), depending on how many people are home, if we’re sleeping, or have guests over. And before we had the Nest, we would manually jog the temperature up and down in that same temperature range depending on our discomfort.

Honestly, if even the most basic thermostat had the ability to program/schedule via the web or an app, I think a lot more people would take the time to schedule their thermostats. We still have a basic thermostat in our house (we have a separate thermostat for the rear of the house with two bedrooms, which is an addition to the original section), that we don’t program, because it’s about as user friendly as the VCR I had growing up.

So how did the schedule work out? We can pull up the Energy summary tab on the Nest website (or iPhone app), which shows you the total hours of cooling (or heating) each day, and why the energy usage might be higher or lower than average. Here’s the summary from last Saturday through yesterday (Friday):

You can view a daily summary of total heating and cooling for each Nest thermostat you have installed. The green leaf also indicates when you're saving energy.

Over the past week, our A/C was running for an average of 7 hours. Our highest cooling day was last Saturday, with 9.5 hours of cooling. Awesome part: the Nest tells me that this extra cooling was because of the weather (it was 102F). We were also home most of the day; if we had been away, our away temperature of 81F would have kicked in, which is what happened on Sunday. It was still hot (102F), but we were out at the lake all day, which the Nest confirms with a little “away” icon. We reached another high on Tuesday, again due to the weather. While this information is retroactive, I find it useful at understanding our A/C usage. With our basic thermostat, I have no idea how much we’re heating and cooling.

Using the website or phone app, I can see why the A/C was running more or less than normal. The weather explains that energy consumption was higher this day because of the weather (it was hot).

We used less energy this day because we were out of the house, and Nest shut off the A/C automatically.

I want to stress that the Nest isn’t the end all solution to home energy efficiency. Just like buying expensive running shoes won’t magically melt away that extra 20 pounds, installing the Nest in your house won’t magically resolve every inefficient part of your house or your behavior. Uggh! What the Nest is, as I’m learning, is a modern way to control and manage your heating and cooling, which is responsible for a significant chunk of a home’s energy consumption. Having a product that helps you understand what’s actually going on in your house can help you make decisions that could save you money and energy. Whether or not that information turns in to savings is still, for the most part, up to you.

Just from using the Nest for three weeks, I want other appliances in my house to work like it does. Shouldn’t my clothes washer, clothes dryer, dishwasher, water heater, and refrigerator provide some sort of feedback to me so I can make more informed (and hopefully better!) decisions? And before you say “smart grid!”, as the Nest demonstrates, you don’t need a multi-billion dollar overhaul of the electric grid to enable smarter appliances. I should be able to pull up the appliances folder on my iPhone and check in on my appliances, to see how much energy and water my dishwasher is using, to check in on the water heater. Or at the very least, have those appliances learn when I want them to be running, and to let me know when they think they shouldn’t be running.

Next time I’ll address some of the common threads I’m seeing in the comments and my email. Do you have a Nest? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments or via email. Or just ask questions. Thanks.

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? david.m.wogan@gmail.com Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. shyampatel 2:40 pm 08/19/2012

    I did an analysis of my energy usage with the Nest for the first three months of usage compared to one year ago that I think you might find interesting: http://getgrok.in/PIL1ax

    Link to this
  2. 2. lukef 2:45 pm 08/19/2012

    David,
    Great review. As a fellow user / tester of web-communicating thermostats (Nest, Ecobee, Filtrete…) I agree that web-connection is key. Of the ones I’ve tested so far, each has it’s own awesomeness. E.g. Ecobee has some great features like temp and humidity plots and Filtrete /Radio Thermostat allows for the easiest “away” mode I’ve seen. The Nest features above are among my favorites not just for utility but also because the user experience is fun.
    To see this sort of info for all of your appliances without a pile of plug-monitors or expensive circuit-level metering, check out plotwatt.com. Since George Musser wrote about us here a while back, we’ve continued to make some huge improvements.
    -luke

    Link to this
  3. 3. davidwogan 9:49 pm 08/23/2012

    Hey Shyam, thanks for sharing the link. Looks like we’re in the same situation with the programmable thermostats. We didn’t program ours for the four years we’ve been in our house. We actually JUST got around to programming the rear thermostat, so we’ll see how that works out for us…

    What do you think could be contributing to your lower energy bills for 2012, vs 2011? Do you think the Nest has changed your behavior at all? Or is it something else? I’m curious to know.

    Link to this

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