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07/30/2012

Hands-on with the smartest thermostat ever: Nest

20120529_C3432_PHOTO_EN_14291Your home’s thermostat: it’s a beige box tucked away on some wall.

If it’s a traditional, manual one, it probably doesn’t see much action unless you’re feeling particularly warm or cold. It’s quite an unsophisticated device for something that sucks up about 64 per cent of your energy bills.

If you’re sporting a programmable unit – it’s probably not even programmed. According to studies, about 90 per cent of programmable thermostats are installed and then left without even programming the thing.

This new thermostat, the Nest, changes that. It looks sleek, you can control it with your smartphone, it’s plugged in to the web and it saves energy. Oh yeah, it programs itself.

This sexy, circular device is from a team that includes the guy who led the team behind the iPod and iPhone, so you know this thermostat is going to be as easy to use as a doorknob.

The Nest is a programmable thermostat, but you don’t need to program it. That’s because it learns the temperatures you like – and when you like it. Did I mention it saves you money on energy bills?

Installation

Photo (3)Thermostats come in two parts – one has the wiring connectors, the other is the “brains.”

This step was pretty straight forward, but the most challenging part of getting up and running with the Nest.

All I had to do was take apart my old thermostat, use the provided stickers to label the existing wiring set-up, and then disconnect the old thermostat completely.

Next, I wired up the Nest and drilled it into the wall using a power drill. In all honesty, the power drill was excessive and I could easily have used the provided screwdriver.

Once attached, I clipped in the “brains” portion.

Set up

The Nest is smart, but it does need your input to figure some things out. That includes where you live. It’ll automatically adjust the temperature based on the weather outside. You’ll also want to set the Nest up to access the Internet using your WiFi connection.

Then set the temperature and walk away.

It’ll automatically switches off and slips into “Away“ mode when you’re not home when the built-in motion sensor detects no activity. When you’re back from work, the Nest wakes up and begins heating or cooling once again.

Feeling too cold or hot? Adjust the temperature and it’ll get the hang of your changes throughout the week and learn your patterns and preferences.

You can also adjust the temperature remotely using their website – or their iPhone and Android apps. Do a whole lot of work to schedule your thermostat manually using the web too, or check out your historical energy usage (and savings).

Living with Nest

After about four days, the Nest displayed a message that said it had figured out my schedule and my HVAC system, knowing how long it takes to cool and my preferred temperatures throughout the day.

At one point early on, the place was warming up at night as the Nest may have decided to take it easy in the dark. Preferring to sleep in an ice box, I would turn the thermostat down a tad before going to sleep and the Nest has figured things out.

Photo (2)Energy savings

Since my electricity utility company recently decided to bill me for three months’ electricity in one month, I can’t exactly say how much money we’ve saved with the Nest. That being said, I’m able to check my consumption against the building average (I’m in a condo) and our unit’s electricity consumption is down by 50 per cent on weekdays.

With a price tag of USD $249, it’s not exactly the most affordable thermostat. But it will save you money in the long run – and it’s a pretty good-looking gadget.

- Maurice Cacho, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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