So begins my year of living greenly. My mission to make our house more sustainable starts with thinking about making it warmer; this week, I’ve been mostly thinking about thermostats.
Given my day job is technology editor here at The Biorports, it’s the technological solutions that seem most immediate. And starting with the thermostat seems an obvious one, given how much money and emissions are wasted on central heating.
We recently got a smart thermostat, after struggling with a decidedly un-smart timer on our boiler. There was of course nothing green about that, given that it spent much of the time coming on when we weren’t even in. And there was plenty that wasn’t comfortable about it, either, since it would often be on when the house was too hot, or not in as we shivered in the cold. (In the end we gave up and mostly turned it off and on manually.)
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We have the Nest Thermostat E. (Nest, which is now owned by Google, are probably the most famous of the smart home companies, and the thermostat is probably their most famous product; the E supposedly stands for a variety of things including “easy” and “energy-saving”, but basically means that it’s the cheaper version.) It works by getting your location and learning how you tend to like your heating, setting up a smart schedule and turning the heating off when you’re not there.
So since the beginning of the year I’ve been thinking about how best we can optimise the amount of energy that thermostat uses. Though it is smart, it still works on what you tell it; as such, you can change what sort of temperature you want it to be.
We already do this fairly frugally, but I’ve been focused on making sure we’re not warmer than we need to be. So the main thing I’ve done is turn the heating down before we get into bed, ensuring that we aren’t wasting heat that will only be around once we’ve gone to bed. (Another of my personal pledges for 2020 is to ensure that I pay full attention to my sleep, after reading Matthew Walker’s luminous book on the subject, and this helps with that too.)
The Nest gives you a leaf when you’re being energy- and eco-conscious by having the temperature lower than it might expect. And I feel generally rewarded, too: while there’s no real way to know the impact this is having on our own gas usage, it feels like we almost certainly are saving energy.
Smart thermostats – or, if you are like me and didn’t have a non-smart one before, any kind of thermostat – feel like a wonderful symbol of how easy it can be to be more efficient. As it turns out, we aren’t much colder; our house is still heated when we need it. It’s just that it won’t be heated when we’re not there, or when we’re already warm enough. Saving money and emissions on heating has actually made life easier.
Getting one is expensive, of course: the Nest Thermostat E is £199, and you’ll have to pay for installation if you live in a confusing, complicated house like ours. But most people probably won’t need to, and there are plenty of deals and discount schemes from energy companies that should make it a little more easy to swallow.
I suspect, as we head through the year of making our house more sustainable, that not all the changes we make will be quite so seamless, comfortable or sacrifice free. But I certainly hope so, because this feels like the kind of change that is incredibly nice to make, not only helping save the world in the tiniest way, but also saving money, and saving us from being cold.