Our house was built during the infamous Irish building boom, which means that a lot of shortcuts were taken during its construction. One of those was that the heating system was never properly configured. For one thing, the control panel was limited: we could only turn the heat on/off, or set a timed schedule or one-hour boost. It really bugged me that we couldn't heat the hot water separately from the radiators - at least the system in our previous house did that much. Plus it seemed impossible to keep the house warm, even though the hot water in the taps (faucets) would scald us.
Our old heating control panel
One of our old thermostats
Eventually, the control panel developed a quirk whereby it would only work if we slapped it! I'm pretty sure one of us discovered that trick out of frustration with it. That basically meant that the timer never worked because somebody would have to be there to give it a slap in order for the heating to come on. So we had to get up every morning to a cold house and come home from every trip to a really freezing house. Clearly, it was an untenable situation.
Hubby had been researching smart thermostats, or learning thermostats, for a while and was determined that we should get one. These are automated devices for regulating home heating that are connected to the internet so that they may access online information and be controlled remotely by mobile phone. When we visited the Ideal Homes Show in the RDS a couple of months ago, we were looking for a 21st-century alternative to our slap-it-into-action style thermostat.
Nest thermostat on display at the Electric Ireland stand
I really love to support Irish enterprise where I can, so I have to mention that we were both very impressed with the HUB Controller, which is designed and engineered in Dublin. However, we needed a dual zone system that can control the heating upstairs and downstairs separately, a feature that the HUB is currently developing, but which wasn't yet available at the time. As much as we wanted to go with the Irish product, with winter approaching, we couldn't wait any longer to fix the heating.
I couldn't resist posting that! I've never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones myself, but Hubby is a huge fan.
In the end, we signed up for a special offer with Electric Ireland to a Nest Thermostat. And you know what? It has completely changed how we live. I know that sounds like a hyperbole but, when your house hasn't felt warm for years, that's genuinely how it feels.
Note: This is not a sponsored post. I'm writing it because I genuinely believe in this product and thought others might be interested in hearing about it.
First of all, the design is very slick. It's a round dial, available in four colours: copper, stainless steel, black, or white. It can be mounted on a mobile stand (sold separately) or onto a wall. Because we were replacing wall-mounted thermostats, we put ours on the wall. The nest even comes with a white plate to cover the hole in the wall left by the previous thermostat. If you're installing it for the first time, then it looks even better because you can mount it directly onto the wall without the plate.
Nest is a control panel and thermostat combined, and is controlled by rotating the outer dial to change options and pressing the centre to select. You can also access all functions of the thermostat via a mobile phone app. You can turn the heat on/off, put it into eco mode, or set a pre-programmed heating schedule. You can also turn the hot water on and off, boost it for a determined duration, or set a schedule for hot water separate to the central heating. There are even in-depth settings for your particular type of heating system (oil/gas/radiators/underfloor heating etc.), your family members (whose mobile phones are linked to the Nest), your location (to access local weather data), etc.
The main difference between the Nest thermostat and regular ones is that you programme the temperature rather than heating times. That takes all the guesswork out of heating the house. For example, say you get up at 7:30am in the morning, you might usually set the heating to come on 30mins prior so that the house is warm by the time you get out of bed. But perhaps it only takes 20mins to heat your house, only you don't know that, so you're using extra oil/gas unnecessarily. The genius of a learning thermostat is that it actually learns over time how long it takes your house to heat up and cool down, and then it regulates the heat for maximum efficiency. All you need to do is tell it that you want the house warm by 7:30am, and Nest does the rest.
It even connects to the local weather station to determine the outside temperature, and will make any necessary adjustments to take that into account.
In the app, the background changes between day and night and with the weather!
The learning feature of the thermostat also ensures a more consistent heat throughout the day. What usually happened in our house was that we would put the heat on until the house was warm enough, and then turn it off. But the radiators would continue to warm up for a while even after we had switched off the heat, and so the house soon became too hot. Then the house would cool and we'd put the heat back on again, but even after we put the heat on, it would take a while for the house to warm up again. Now the Nest manages the heating to ensure an even temperature and we don't even have to think about it any more.
Home/Away Eco Mode
Another feature I love about the Nest is that it can be controlled from your mobile phone via an app. Now we never arrive back to a cold house because we can turn the heat on before we get home! Nest can also track the location of your phone and automatically set the heating to Eco Mode when you are away from home, thereby saving energy. But don't worry about everyone at home being cold just because one person has gone out - Nest will only activate Eco Mode if all registered mobile phones are away from home. It also registers movement to detect when people are in the house.
Track Energy Consumption
Another great feature of the Nest is that it keeps a record of your energy usage over time. It will show you how many hours each day the heating was on, and if you click on any day (see Mon 2 in the pic below), it will give a more detailed breakdown of when the heating was turned on and off. It will also notify you when weather conditions are responsible for a greater or lesser than average energy consumption.
Ours is a large and poorly-insulated house, and it never felt warm enough. But since installing the smart thermostat, the house feels warm and cosy all day long. In our case, we're using about the same amount of oil as before - maybe even a little less - but we're getting much more benefit from it now because the house is warmer than it has ever been. If your house is already warm, then I think it likely that a smart thermostat could very well save you money by reducing your fuel consumption.
In the current economic climate, we all want to squeeze the most out of every penny we spend and reduce our energy usage as much as possible for environmental reasons too. Smart thermostats are a great way of doing that. However, they don't come cheap. Both the Nest and the HUB currently retail at €249. Tip: Electric Ireland are currently running a promotional offer for new customers to receive a Nest thermostat for just €99, or €199 for existing customers. To me, it's worth every penny for the difference it has made to our home.