When we moved into our house, there was a long list that I compiled of things that we’d need to upgrade to something that met my own personal energy efficiency standards. One of the easiest (I thought) would be the thermostat. I figured that we could just swap out the old, mercury thermostat for a newer programmable thermostat that would save us energy (and money). Then I started to read that programmable thermostats dont always save money. I read some articles and research, and found that while lots of them do work, there’s a lot of room for error in the “program” part of a programmable thermostat. The energy savings comes from following a program, but it turns out that humans dont do that very well. I had even seen this in our old house, when H or I thought that it was too cold inside, we’d just override the program. Though this didnt happen often, we were rather good at policing the other one – getting sweaters and/or blankets for the person that wanted to turn up the heat. That worked out for a while, but the blankets started to get everywhere, and we decided to buy a house and move.
Not long after we moved, I found something that used new technology, design and a small nudge to override the constant fussing that people tend to do with their thermostats. This thermostat was called the nest, and after reading about it, I thought it would make a great addition to our new home. I quickly ordered one, and waited until the painting was done to install it. I got it set up right before our wedding, but was unable to get the unit working correctly (because there was not enough power coming from the furnace to power the unit). I had other things on my plate, so I left it – much like I did with our hot water heater.
The first frost hit wyoming last week, with nighttime temperatures dipping to the mid twenties, and temperatures inside the house getting down into the 40′s . H didnt seem to mind at first, but I think the real reason was that she just didnt have time to deal with the problem. Friday morning, I was cold and annoyed, and decided to get the problem fixed. I called someone that offered same day service, and they came later in the afternoon. It took them about 10 minutes to get the furnace turned back on, and of course, the thermostat was dead.
Once the unit was charged however, I was excited to see it in operation. It basically “learns” your schedule as it goes, and adjusts accordingly. You turn it down when you leave your house or go to bed, or you turn the heat up to the desired level when you wake up or get home. It uses your habits to adjust the temperature accordingly, and in the process save you energy. In addition, you can remotely turn up the temperature of your house from your phone or the website! One of my personal favorite parts about the unit is that it has a little green leaf at the bottom to let you know when you’re saving energy. If you have the heat lower than a certain temperature (70, I think) the green leaf pops up and lets you know you’re saving energy (and money!). I find myself turning the heat lower just to see how low that H and I can get it, and still have the house comfortable – it’s like a game.
Of course, since the thermostat begins to ‘know’ you, it can tell you why your energy usage was lower on one day than it was on the next. For instance, though the unit does not ‘know’ us very well yet, it gave us the following message:
“your adjustment caused energy usage above the weekly average”
I do not really appreciate this, as it makes me feel wasteful for being cold, but I do look forward to what it will tell us when it knows us better. Other days, it targets the “warmer than usual outside temperatures” for using less energy. Great ways for saving energy and money, even if it’s a little patronizing.
When I was telling my dad about this his first question was “well how much did that thing cost?” Well, I told him, it cost $250. He was pretty shocked, but I explained why I did it. Energy used in heating and cooling households is widely suspected to be about 40% of the overall household energy bill (according to the Energy Information Association). That’s a large percentage, and would most likely be the driver of higher electrical bills as resource prices change. Installing this unit will ensure that we are getting the absolute most efficient use of our resources – natural resources and our cash. Over the lifetime of this unit, I have no doubt that it will meet my payback period (which Im guessing we will hit sometime in the winter of 2015 at the latest) requirements, and will start saving us money on heating and cooling at some point.
The appliance payback period is probably one of the most difficult things on the journey to a more sustainable lifestyle. You sink a lot of cash into the unit up front, forgoing other options and incurring opportunity cost for the “investment” you made in your values. This is something that if you truly value being a wise steward of natural resources and rooting out waste from you life, you should be perfectly happy to have made – I always am. To top it off, you’ll save some money too.
You can reap the rewards with sustainability and sometimes those rewards come cheap and quickly. Other times, you’ll need to bide your time and watch the savings pile up slowly.
Readers: Do you have a hard time spending money on ‘green’ and money saving technology or other products if the initial cost is high? If you do, do you normally ignore it and just make the purchase, or do you go for the less expensive substitute?