The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 10, 2013

It Feels Cooler in Here Already

Filed under: Technology — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:44 am

Not long ago, I opted to renew the lease on my apartment again.  I was pretty sure when I moved into a Downtown Bellevue highrise (well technically a midrise, but that’s just nitpicking really) three years ago that it would be something I’d get a chance to do once during a relatively small window of opportunity, then I’d have to go find somewhere a little more sensible to live.  Apparently things didn’t quite work out that way, and somehow I’m still here.  Not that I mind too much.  Sure it’s expensive as heck to live here and things to tend to get a bit crowded with various stuff every once in a while, but the commute into Seattle where I’m working is just about as easy as I’m going to find without actually living in Seattle (given the fact that my housing search criteria tends to start with “It’s not in Seattle”, I can’t say I’m a big fan of living there) and the amenities are quite nice.  I’ve been making some efforts to get myself into better shape recently (or at least counteract some of the extra sitting around and staring at a computer that’s come with my job lately,) and having health club quality exercise equipment and an indoor pool at my disposal certainly helps with that, and even if I find myself with less time these days to enjoy it, I still enjoy the view I’ve got here.  Eventually I would like to move toward buying a house, but I think I need to get some personal things in order before I make that kind of commitment.  Nonetheless, it’s definitely something that’s started to show up on the radar.

One thing I found when I filled out my lease renewal this time around is that occasionally they’ll throw in various add-ons for a few extra bucks a month.  In the past, these have mostly been pointless things like $6 a month for eco-friendly light bulbs to be installed or things like that.  This time around when the renewal came up, a new option was added:  Installation of a Nest Thermostat in my apartment for $12 a month.  On one hand, if I go back and look at it from a practical perspective, there really isn’t a whole lot of point to something like this.  After all, it’s not like my electrical bills have ever been particularly high here.  Even with running the AC in the Summer I don’t think I’ve ever had an electric bill of much more than $60 or so, and the east-facing windows here let in enough heat during the Winter that I hardly need to run the heater at all.  On the other hand, as an inveterate gadget junkie I’m pretty sure I couldn’t click the checkbox to get the thing installed fast enough.  Today I arrived home from work to find that it had been installed in place of the old thermostat while I was away.

I haven’t had too much chance to mess with it yet (as a learning thermostat, it takes some time to learn your patterns and tweak itself accordingly)  but compared to what it replaced the thing is ridiculously high-tech.  The original thermostat I’ve had in this apartment during the time I’ve lived here was a relatively basic model that is theoretically supposed to be programmable, but in reality the procedure to do so is so convoluted that I suspect at least 90% of the people who own the things don’t ever bother even trying to do so.  This, on the other hand, is connected to the Internet, allowing it to retrieve local weather data and adjust itself accordingly, and also to be remotely controllable through a website or a Smartphone app (which would have been handy a few weeks ago when I forgot to turn the thermostat up before one of my recent weekend trips.)  It also has sensors that can sense when someone is in the area and use that data to learn when people are or are not home, adjusting accordingly.  Eventually, it’s supposed to be able to collect energy usage data and tell you how much of a wasteful energy hog you are, but I don’t think I’ve gotten to that point yet.

Of course, even with all the cool features, the big question remains:  Is it actually worth it?  In my case, it’s hard to really tell at this point since I don’t really have all that much energy usage here in the first place, even with the old-and-kind-of-primitive thermostat I used to have here.  One thing I’m quickly learning is that the temperatures that the old thermostat reported had little to do with actual reality, and it’s taking a bit of learning to figure out what the “proper” temperature range to keep the apartment reasonable is supposed to be again.  In some informal experimentation with the old thermostat I figured out that it generally reported temperatures 2-3 degrees lower than they actually were (for example, a 68 on the thermostat seems to have meant an actual temperature of around 71-72) which was a bit of an annoying quirk, but one I just dealt with.  Now that I have a thermostat that accurately reports temperature (and humidity) I’m having to figure out the proper temperature range again.  Sure it’s a smart thermostat, but apparently it requires some learning on my part too.

It’s too soon to tell just what kind of impact (aside from looking really cool on the wall) the new Nest Thermostat is going to have on my electric bills or the overall comfort level of the apartment, but it’s certainly interesting to see what kind of things we get when people start throwing large amounts of technology at problems we didn’t even know we had.  I’m sure if there’s anything interesting to report here and/or I run short on Blog material I’ll update on some of what I’ve found here, but in the meantime, I guess I’ll have to see if I manage to get my twelve bucks a month worth of usefulness out of it.  Of course, given the fact that it costs $250 to buy one, I’m actually getting a pretty decent deal here (at least until I move out, buy a house, and have to buy another one for there.)

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