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How I use an iPhone controlled thermostat for convenience and to save money

Nest app

In a matter of months, Apple’s going to make a big play in the smart home market with the introduction of HomeKit. It should help simplify the setup and use of common smarthome products. For iPhone and iPad owners, the biggest advantage will be the ease of control, some of which can be done using Siri. It will allow users to group actions and have Siri execute them. “Hey Siri, lower the temperature to 75 degrees.” That’s the future and it’s not far away. When considering devices that transform a traditional home to a smart home, the thermostat plays a key role. It’s one of my most used devices in my smart home. Here’s how I use it, how it’s added a new level of convenience and helping us save money.

iPhone controlled thermostat

I was one of the early adopters of the original Nest thermostat. I ordered them during the first round of pre-orders, well in advance of a home renovation project. When they shipped, they sat lonely in their boxes, until my home was near completion. The release was timed perfectly, as I had just about to finish work on the renovation of my home, so I hadn’t invested in thermostats. Controlling my thermostats, from my iPhone, from anywhere, had tremendous appeal. I had qualified electricians to wire the Nest. These installations can be easy, depending upon the existing wiring or they can be extremely difficult, requiring a professional to install. Nest, Ecobee and others have web pages setup to see if your existing wiring is compatible. To give you some perspective, I was planning to check out the Ecobee 3, but decided to cancel my order upon looking at the installation requirements. It requires you have a C or common wire. If you don’t have one, they do include a power-extender kit (PEK). Unfortunately, this was well beyond my DIY homeowner skills.

The Nest is a learning thermostat. Over time, it learns your habits and creates a custom schedule based off of your typical usage. Working from home, my schedule is anything but normal. During the first year or so, I used the Nest scheduling, but it was everything but perfect. I don’t fault Nest, but it did dull my enthusiasm for what is a primary selling feature. Being home all the time, I tend to watch the heating and cooling like a hawk. When those fans come on, I picture money flying out of my window. I jump into action, launch the app and either lower/higher the temperature to disengage the boiler or AC. When I was using the schedule that Nest had learned, this was a regular occurrence.

Money flying out window

Realizing this wasn’t the best course of action, I started to take advantage of the online scheduling of my Nest through their website. It basically mirrors the app, so they are both equally easy to use. I know what you’re saying. Doesn’t this render the Nest no different than a cheap thermostat from Home Depot? For one, having used those, I’d rather poke my eyeballs out with a fork than program, repeat, program, repeat for 30 minutes. What size font did they need to use to print the directions on the thermostat pictured below?

Old programmable thermostat

The schedule I’ve programmed is pretty complex and not one that I think you could pull off with a old-school thermostat. During a typical day, there are no less than five changes. In the morning, I have it set to 66 during the morning hours when we wake up. Shortly after that, I dial it back to 63. There’s also a ‘reminder’ setting for 63 degrees a few hours later. This is just in case my wife decides to pump up the heat. She prefers comfort over savings. That added scheduling helps avoid any actions she might take. Comfort be damned! When she finishes work, our second floor is scheduled to go back to Antarctica. No sense paying the gas company when our family spends the evening hours on the first floor. A similar schedule plan happens around 8 pm when we typically move upstairs for a few hours of TV. For the overnight, it goes to 63. At times, I find that can be warm in our room, so I’ll fire up the iPhone and dial it back a bit.

Thermostat schedule

These temperatures are set for occupancy. When we go out for a few hours, I use my iPhone to set the Nest to auto-away. This immediately kicks in lows/highs based on my preferences. Upon our return, it’ll quickly readjust. If you outside of your home with any regularity, you can quickly make changes that will result in energy efficiency.

Nest learning thermostat

When you make a positive money-saving change to the Nest, you’ll see a green leaf. That means you’re saving energy. According to Nest, changing your thermostat by just one degree can result in a 5 percent savings. To help better quantify my savings, I receive a monthly Energy Report from Nest. This shows how many I’ve used and more importantly, how much I’ve saved. Weather pays a critical part in how much you are capable of saving. If we have a cold January, I’m going to use more energy than the previous month. Nest will show you how your energy savings compare to others in your area. For example, I managed to crack the top twenty percent of Nesters in my area in December. Quite a feat, considering I’d family visiting from Florida, which meant higher than normal temperatures in my home.

Nest energy report

Every home is different. In my home, it’s less about comfort and more about managing our energy expenditure. Don’t tell my wife. A smart thermostat is capable of providing ideal temperatures if that’s your concern. The new Ecobee 3 offers an interesting feature. It comes bundled with a remote sensor that can place in a second room, away from your thermostat. The Ecobee will combine the temperature readings and average things out. In a perfect world, your HVAC system would do this for you. In our home, we have a room that was built over a garage. It tends to be hotter or colder than the rest of our house. It was for this reason, I had seriously considered the Ecobee 3 as a potential replacement for our Nest. It’s also currently available in the Apple Store. While they haven’t officially stated it will support HomeKit, the writing does appear on the wall.

Ecobee 3

If you are considering a smart thermostat, there are so many great options. A few years in, I’m still happy with my Nest thermostats. I had a few issues with WiFi connectivity, but that could have been my router. For the most part, it’s been solid. Honeywell is a HomeKit partner. It’s not clear if the current Honeywell Lyric will support HomeKit or if a new version will usher in support. As mentioned, the Ecobee 3 is a unique offering with its remote sensors.

Honeywell Lyric

Nest from $249 at Amazon

Honeywell Lyric from $213 at Amazon

Ecobee 3 from $249 at Amazon

Outside of going solar, expenses as a result of heating and cooling are necessary. Everyone is different in how they manage their energy usage. For some, comfort is most important, at any cost. On the flipside, you have people like myself, who are trying to minimize costs, even at the expense of comfort. I suppose most people find themselves in the middle, looking for a happy compromise of comfort and savings. Regardless of where you fit in, a smart thermostat is one of the best investments for managing your home’s heating and cooling.

Where do you fit in? Are you using a smart thermostat and if so, how are you using it for improved comfort, convenience and savings?

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