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October 21, 2012

Smart technology can help conserve energy use at home

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The need for the Nest was rooted in the simple fact that most programmable thermostats don’t get programmed, said Kate Brinks, director of corporate communication for Nest Labs Inc. Homeowners might program a thermostat once when it’s new, but they often neglect to tweak the program as their household schedules change, she said.

The Nest, on the other hand, learns your schedule from the adjustments you make to it, either by turning a dial on the unit or operating it remotely. It also senses your presence, so it can adjust the temperature if you’re home when you’re normally gone or vice versa.

The occupancy sensor is a far-field activity sensor that detects heat and body fluids, so it can differentiate between humans and animals, Brinks said.

The thermostat has some other features, such as a leaf logo that appears when you make energy-saving changes and an Airwave feature that uses a fan to push out additional cold air when the air conditioner cycles off. It’s designed for do-it-yourself installation, using lever connections for the wires that are similar to the connectors on stereo speakers, Brinks said.

It’s available for $249 on Nest.com, or you can buy in from Amazon.com or Lowes.com. Nest also offers installation for an additional cost.

Leviton’s Hendler said that of all the home automation options, a smart thermostat probably provides the best payback for your investment.

He recommended choosing a communicating thermostat that’s capable of supporting Wi-Fi so it can be connected to a home network. Make sure you have electrical power where the thermostat is installed, or you’ll need a battery-operated unit, he said.

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