Nest’s Smart Thermostat Gets Cooler 2.0 Update

In terms of gadgets that can reduce your energy use and help you save money on monthly utility bills, the Nest Learning Thermostat is one of the coolest. And it just got cooler.

Nest Labs announced the release of what is essentially version 2.0 of its wireless smart thermostat’s software, which can be accessed by an Internet-connected Web browser or by apps on mobile devices using Apple’s iOS operating system or Google’s Android operating system.

The Nest thermostat uses a person’s temperature settings to “learn” about heating and cooling habits and preferences so it can “auto-program” itself. The software upgrade enables the thermostat to present history data over 10 days, generate monthly reports, communicate when heating and cooling systems are turned on and show if setting changes were cause by the weather, a manual adjustment or an auto-away setting.

According to Nest Labs, the software upgrade will help thermostat users better understand how changes to temperature settings affect energy use. One cool feature of the upgrade, called Airwave, keeps an air conditioner fan running, instead of both the fan and the compressor, to keep cool air circulating and reduce energy use. According to Nest Labs, the feature can reduce electricity use by 30 percent for people in dry climates.

An EPA study found that while programmable thermostats can result in energy savings of 20 percent to 30 percent, the study found that only about 10 percent of people who have programmable thermostats program them. In a Nest Labs survey, however, the company found that almost all users of its learning thermostat use its automatic setback feature. The company says that’s because the thermostat only has to be used manually for a few days before beginning to program its own setback based on user preferences.

Do you use a programmable thermostat? If so, do you program it? If not, why?

Sources

Nest's Smart Thermostat Chills Out With New A/C Feature,” CNET, April 5, 2012.

The Best Ways for Illinois Residents to Save Money off Energy Bills in 2012

Friday March 23, 2012
Posted at 08:38

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about how you can cut energy costs in 2012 by decreasing the amount of electricity, natural gas and water you use. After all, who doesn’t want to save money this year? But many of the types of changes you’d have to make go beyond simply turning off the lights when you leave the room. A lot of the things you can do to make your use of electricity, natural gas and water more efficient require you to spend money on home improvements. If only there were a convenient way for Illinois residents to quickly compare the costs and benefits of common home improvements and other efficiency projects.

That’s where we come in. We’ve taken data from Energy Impact Illinois (EI2), an organization led by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and analyzed it so that you can get a quick idea of home improvements you can make to lower your monthly bills, how much the improvements cost and how soon you can expect to make your money back and start saving.

Top 10 Most Efficient Home Improvements

It’s important to understand how efficient home improvement projects are. One of the best ways to rank the efficiency of a home improvement is to compare the cost of the improvement to the amount of money you can expect to save every year after making the upgrade. That will let you know how soon you can recoup your investment and when you’ll really start to save some money. According to EI2, here are the top 10 most efficient home improvements Illinois residents can make.

Rank

Improvement

Average
Cost

Average
Annual Savings

Annual
Payback %

1.

Install a faucet aerator

$5

$10–25

200–500%

2.

Upgrade to CFL light blubs

$15

$28–75

186–500%

3.

Dry clothes on drying rack or clothesline

$20

$23–70

115–350%

4.

Upgrade to a low-flow showerhead

$25

$25–82

100–328%

5.

Change out your furnace filter

$10

$10–30

100–300%

6.

Install a programmable thermostat

$50

$131

262%

7.

Insulate your water heater

$25

$10–27

40–108%

8.

Seal air leaks around your home

$200

$150

75%

9.

Insulate your home’s attic/roof

$1,000

$300

30%

10.

Install a solar water heater

$1,000

$209–323

20–32%


Top 10 Home Improvements with the Highest Annual Savings

For those who’d like to see which home improvements simply save the most bucks, here’s a list of the top 10 home improvements that produce the highest annual savings, according to EI2.

Rank

Improvement

Average
Cost

Average
Annual Savings

Annual
Payback %

1.

Install solar panels on your roof

$12,000

$259–863

2–7%

2.

Insulate your home’s exterior walls

$2,500

$90–350

4–14%

3.

Insulate your home’s attic/roof

$1,000

$300

30%

4.

Install a solar water heater

$1,000

$209–323

20–32%

5.

Upgrade to a tankless water heater

$700

$80–200

11–29%

6.

Upgrade to a high efficiency gas furnace or boiler

$1,000

$66–180

7–18%

7.

Seal air leaks around your home

$200

$150

75%

8.

Install a programmable thermostat

$50

$131

262%

9.

Upgrade to a high efficiency clothes washing machine

$600

$80–120

10–20%

10.

Upgrade to a heat pump water heater

$1,000

$49–101

5–10%


Top 9 Free Ways to Save Money off Energy Bills

What list of efficiency improvements would be complete without a look at the top free ways you can lower energy costs? Most of these ways simply require that you make a decision or change a behavior and all of them can start saving you money right away.

Rank

Improvement

Average Annual Savings

1.

Lower your thermostat in the winter*

$28–132

2.

Wash clothes in cold water

$60–110

3.

Raise your thermostat in the summer*

$34–93

4.

Get rid of a second refrigerator

$20–80

5.

Lower your water heater temperature**

$28–61

6.

Use celling fans instead of your air conditioners

$37–53

7.

Use a power strip for electronics and appliances

$22–35

8.

Close your blinds or curtains during summer days

$15–35

9.

Clean your air conditioner filter

$10–30

* At least 10 degrees for eight hours a day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

** To at most 120 degrees. Every 10 degree reduction in water heater temperature can save between 3–5 percent in monthly energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Sources

Energy Impact Illinois, “Find Energy-Saving Actions & Incentives.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Lower Water Heating Temperature for Energy Savings.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Thermostats and Control Systems.”

How to Set Your Thermostat to Save Energy and Money During the Winter

Wednesday November 30, 2011
Posted at 15:13

best-winter-thermostat-settings.jpg

Setting your thermostat is a personal decision and is largely based on comfort. After all, you want to live in a house that is neither too warm nor too cold. However, setting your thermostat too high during the winter can cause you to spend a lot more on heating than you might prefer.

Here are a few tips for setting your thermostat this winter so that you can save energy and save money off monthly utility bills while maintaining comfort in your home:

  • While at home and awake, set your thermostat to 68°F.
  • While not at home or while at home but sleeping, set your thermostat to 58°F or lower.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy, turning your thermostat back 10°F–15°F for at least eight hours a day will allow your to save 10 percent to 15 percent off your heating bill, depending on your climate (harsh climates save less from setback than milder climates).
  • Use a programmable thermostat and set it to automatically set the temperature to 68°F when you wake, 58°F or less when you leave for work, 68°F when you return home from work and 58°F or less when you go to bed.
  • If you follow the Energy Department’s setback guidelines you’ll save about two percent on your energy bills this winter for every degree of setback.

Sources

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “Thermostats and Control Systems.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ENERGY STAR, “Frequent Questions: Heating and Cooling.”

New Smart Thermostat Software Cuts Energy Use and Helps Save Money

New software may help save energy with digital thermostats

A New York-based residential energy company is helping consumers navigate the world of programmable “smart” thermostats in order to increase heating and air conditioning efficiency and help people save money on monthly utility bills.

On Monday, EnergyHub announced the release of a new software system called Mercury that allows consumers to program smart thermostats from a webpage or smartphone. Programmable smart thermostats that are connected to the software via a broadband Internet connection can be optimized for maximum energy efficiency using the software’s back-end data service, which is supported by a large database of information.

Once customers perform an initial software setup, which includes entering information such as the hours of day when they’re home, the database begins to collect a variety of additional information, including home type and weather forecasts, to create an operational plan designed to maximize energy efficiency and savings.

Existing smart thermostats already allow consumers to control settings remotely using cloud computing, but the addition of the informational database and back-end analytics can cut energy use by about 10 percent more, according to EnergyHub CEO Seth Frader-Thompson.

Mercury will also allow customers to compare their home’s energy use to similar homes, a technique that has been proven to encourage consumers to pay closer attention to their energy use.

Sources

Smart Thermostat Links to Cloud for Energy Savings,” CNET, Aug. 1, 2011.

6 Tips for Saving Energy and Saving Money Starting Today

Here’s a fact: When you save energy, you save money. Here’s another fact: You don’t have to wait to start saving money off your monthly utility bills — you can start saving today by making some simple changes to the way you use energy in your home. Here are six tips to help you start saving energy and money right away.

Programmable thermostat helps save energy and money

1. Install a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable digital thermostats are more accurate and efficient when it comes to keeping your house comfortably cool in the summer and comfortably warm in the winter. Keep your thermostat at 78 degrees in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter when you’re home, then program it to raise the temperature to 88 degrees in the summer and lower it to 58 degrees in the winter when you’re away at work or out of the house for a while. This is called “setback.” According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you’ll save about 1 percent off your monthly utility bill for each degree of setback as long as the total setback period is least 8 hours a day.

2. Turn Off Your Computer and Monitor– Don’t Just Put Them to Sleep

Setting your desktop computer and monitor or laptop computer to sleep may be a convenience when it comes to how quickly you can resume work or play, but sleep mode uses a lot more electricity than you think. Sleep mode still consumes about 10 to 30 percent of the electricity a computer or monitor uses in full operation. And since computers and electronics account for almost 10 percent of the average home’s electric bill, there’s room for some real savings by simply shutting your computer down.

Use light strips to help control energy usage

3. Use Power Strips for Everything

All your home electronics and gadgets continue to draw electricity when they’re “off” because they need juice for features like clocks, powering sensors that await commands from remote controls or carrying out scheduled tasks like recording your favorite shows. In fact, modern technology rarely ever turns off. To make sure that your technology does, attach it to power strips and then turn off the strips when you’re not using any of the electronics plugged into them. While it’s not necessarily a good solution for DVRs if you like to record shows, it’ll work wonders for things like computers and home theater systems.

4. Air Dry Dishes and Clothes

To save energy when you wash your dishes, turn off the heat dry feature and let your dishwasher air dry your dishes. To save energy when washing clothes, opt to dry them on a clothesline rather than in the clothes drier. Your clothes will last a lot longer and you’ll save money if you don’t pay to dry them with a machine.

Wash only full loads to conserve energy and money

5. Wash Only Full Loads

Washing dishes and clothes when the machine is only partially full wastes a lot of energy and water. If you have them, use energy efficiency settings on your dishwasher and clothes washer to help more closely match your energy and water use with your workload. In clothes washing machines, for example, wash only full loads using cold water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fully 85 to 90 percent of energy use in clothes washers goes towards heating water and washing only full loads will save the average homeowner 3,400 gallons of water a year.

6. Lower the Thermostat on Your Hot Water Heater

Some water heater manufacturers set their thermostats at 140 degrees. Not only is that inefficient, but water that hot can scald you. Instead, set your water heater to 120 degrees — each 10 degree reduction in water temperature can save you from 3 to 5 percent off your energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Sources

U.S. Department of Energy booklet, “Energy Savers Booklet: Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home.”

Energy Savers website, “Thermostats and Control Systems.”

Energy Savers website, “Lower Water Heating Temperature for Energy Savings.”

Energy Savers website, “When to Turn Off Personal Computers.”

ENERGY STAR website, “Top 10 Tips for Renters!

Ideal Thermostat Settings for Combining Comfort with Savings

Here are some tips for the best thermostat settings in the summer and winterRunning your air conditioner too much during the summer and your heater too much during the winter can end up costing you a lot of money. But following these simple rules can help ensure that you’re comfortable when you need to be while saving money off your residential electric bills.

Save About One Percent off Your Electric Bill for Each Degree of Setback

You should allow your home to get warmer during the summer and cooler during the winter when you’re not home. Setting your thermostat back 10–15 degrees for 8 hours a day can save you about 5 percent to 15 percent on your electric bill for the year, or about one percent for each degree of setback.

Preferred Summer Thermostat Settings

When you’re home, set your thermostat to 78 degrees.

When you’re away at work or know you’ll be gone for a while, raise your thermostat temperature to around 88 degrees.

Preferred Winter Thermostat Settings

When you’re home, set your thermostat to 68 degrees.

When you’re away at work or know you’ll be gone for a while, decrease your thermostat temperature to around 58 degrees.

Use a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats can help you easily and conveniently manage your home and away temperature settings by setting up a schedule. In the winter, a programmable thermostat can lower the temperature just after you leave and warm it back up right before you return. Likewise, in the summer, it can allow the temperature to increase after you leave and lower it back down to a comfortable level before you arrive home.

Sources

Energy Savers website, “Thermostats and Control Systems.”