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(Mis)adventures in Home Improvement

A beginner’s dive into energy efficiency with choosing a smart thermostat

Owning a home can be a rewarding and gratifying experience—but with little expertise in home improvement, I typically stumble my way through projects. These are my misadventures in home improvement.

Photo from behind of a man looking at the cell phone application of a digital thermostat.

Whether at the recent home show in Las Vegas or tech savvy CES expo, the breakout trend for 2016 is the smart home. What do I mean by smart home? The idea that you can monitor and control all sorts of home functions right from your mobile device or tablet, is sweeping the market. From a Bluetooth enabled grill, WiFi security cameras and even appliances, the connected home is the next great frontier and I dove headfirst with one of the pioneers and purchased a 3rd generation Nest Thermostat.

A digital thermostat.

I know you’re asking why do I need a Smart Thermostat? With its price tag of $250 and the ability to set a schedule on most thermostats already, there were three factors that drove my interest: The overwhelmingly positive reviews, the $100 ComEd rebate just for installing it and the idea that a thermostat would learn my schedule and save me money by adapting to it (average users save nearly 15%). I try to be a fairly forward-thinking techie and the more I learned about Nest, the harder it became to resist pulling the trigger.

Once I determined Nest would work with my furnace (google will nest work to use their easy online tool), the purchase was straightforward and featured instructions that took away even my ‘how the heck am I going to wire my furnace thermostat without blowing up my house’ fears. Everything is included right in the box: wire labels, wall mounts, easy to follow pictures and even the tools you’ll need to complete the task!

An image of a disassembled digital thermostat.
Once the install was complete and the power back on, the Nest lights up (as it does whenever you enter the room) and runs through a detailed setup that keeps the unit updated, displays information and most importantly connects to your device to literally allow changes in temperature anywhere you have a network connection. Leaving for vacation and forgot to set it to Away? No problem. Bitterly cold on your way home and want to bump the heat? Done. Too lazy to walk downstairs? Open the app!
I also took a few additional steps to button up our home for some added efficiency: An easy tip to help prevent airflow loss is actually sealing up unused registers. I used the self-adhesive film Vent Mask to seal two vents in the basement and one in a spare bedroom to improve airflow almost overnight. The other easy move is as simple as keeping a favorite sweatshirt handy. The Nest displays a green leaf icon whenever an energy saving temperature is chosen. Forcing attention to be paid in our temperature choices. After just a few weeks, my wife and I found we could actively keep our home cooler by plugging those unneeded vents and just throwing on a sweatshirt instead of bumping the heat. It’s also remarkable to find our thermostat adapting to our work schedules and even when we leave to run errands. I recommend the Nest thermostat for anyone looking for a smart way to manage their heating/cooling and don’t mind a $100 rebate from ComEd.


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