Making HVAC sexy

The folks over at Nest Labs are doing something truly innovative and even sexy in the field of HVAC.  Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (or HVAC as it is called by insiders) is responsible for keeping most of the U.S. civilized in the dead of winter or during the sweltering heat of summer.  It is also responsible for roughly half of the average household’s energy expenditure in a given year – roughly $1,100.  If you’re like most people, the thermostat is your interface point for more than 99% of your interactions with your HVAC system. Those interactions range from putting the system on permanent “hold” (a recent Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study found that as many as 50% of households are set this way) or trying to program it using a kludgy interface that conjures painful memories of trying to set the clock on the VCR in 1983.

The dream team behind the Apple iPod – led by gadget genius Tony Fadell – saw this experience to transform the thermostat into an elegant and, yes, sexy device.  They estimated that across the nearly 250 million thermostats across America’s homes and small businesses, billions of dollars of energy was being lost and incalculable tons of carbon were being emitted into the environment all because the thermostat is essentially a difficult-to-use and “dumb” device.  Ironically thermostats are also relatively inaccurate in measuring ambient temperature due to the antiquated technology utilized for this purpose and the entire category lost their Energy Star eligibility in 2009.  Thus the Nest Learning Thermostat was born.

You operate the sleek little device the same way you would a 1950s era dial thermostat – turn it up when you’re cold and down when you’re hot.  After a few days of this the Nest begins to learn your patterns as well as senses the environment in your house and builds a schedule to adapt to your behavior.  What if you forget to turn down the heat at night when everyone is in bed?  If you’ve been using Nest it already learned that behavior and it reduces the heat for you.  Nest can also sense when you’re away thank to an array of sensors and will adjust the temperatures accordingly to avoid heating and cooling an empty home.  As you would imagine the Nest Learning Thermostat can be accessed online and via your iPhone.

Time will tell how much energy the Nest Learning Thermostat will save and whether this device will succeed where other home energy projects have failed (i.e., Microsoft Hohm, Google PowerMeter, etc.) – although the latter seems less likely as the Nest is attacking the problem at a more manageable level than its predecessors.  If one thing is for sure, it definitely will have people thinking differently about their HVAC.

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