Heating our homes isn’t complicated. If we need it, we flick a switch. Maybe we set a timer and the heat or hot water are there but it’s there, even if we’re not. Traditional programmable timers can be irksome. I can’t count the number of times my home has rumbled in to life before dawn on Saturday and Sunday mornings as I’ve forgotten that I work five days a week rather than seven and the boiler announces its wake up call. The radiators come on too early or the water’s already cooling before I’m up and about. This old-fashioned but crucial technology needed updating and Nest Labs, the Californian start-up co- founded by two former Apple employees have tried to re-imagine how we heat our homes.
The Nest should be installed by a professional and they have a network of Nest Pros around the country who will come and do the installation for you, ensuring it’s installed in the right place and give you a run through the features. The Nest hardware essentially comes in two parts, the Heat Link and the Thermostat. The Heat Link is really the engine of the set-up and connects to the boiler. In my case, this involved replacing the old central heating clock on the wall with the sleek, white Nest hardware. You can mount the Thermostat itself on a wall, but I went for the optional Nest stand so I could plug it in close to the mantelpiece but I have the option of moving it to the hall or a bedroom.
The Nest Thermostat itself is beautifully designed. It’s stainless steel, less than 3 inches in diameter and perfectly balances the feel of traditional analog device with smart technology. Pressing the face of the Thermostat brings it to life and after connecting it to your WiFi network you can set the display and your own preferences. The bright, clear LED display will show the current target temperature measured by the its 10 in-built sensors and also the humidity in the room. You can also set it to display the time via a digital or analog clock. Nest uses a feature called Farsight which means as you move towards it it lights up and displays the temperature for easy viewing from across the room.
Once you start using Nest it starts to learn about you. I started initially turning the temperature up and down using the intuitive wheel on the outside the of the device but find myself almost exclusively using the Nest app. After a few days of turning the heat on at 7:00am I discovered Nest starting to do it for me. After turning it down in the evenings, it feels like it’s started to understand my bedtime and I notice it’s now turning itself down in a knowing way at night. There is a timer, or scheduler which you can set on the Thermostat or using the app and looking at it reveals how Nest thinks you’re going to behave over the next few days. It looks about right for now, but things change.
With that in mind, Nest have built in an Auto-away feature. If it’s sensors get the impression you’ve dashed out of the house early Nest will turn itself down. If the children get an unexpected half-day and you’re stuck at work you can use the app to get the house cosy before they get in. If you have a hot-water system that’s compatible, you can also set the hot water independent of the heating.
As Nest learns about you it helps you to try and save money on your heating. The efficiency of the timing and scheduling start that saving process but the thermostat displays The Leaf when you’re operating at a temperature that’s a little less burdensome on the gas or electricity bill. It also spells out the energy use details plainly with a daily Energy History on the app.
Boilers, thermostats and heating systems aren’t the usual stomping ground for sharp Silicon Valley start-ups. This is an industry that could have been dominated by traditional heating companies but they were slow to the table with products that made life easier. Nest’s imagination and innovative technology allowed them to swoop in and change an entire way of life for families and they’ve done it with start-up style and exceptional elegance.