Nest: Smart home heating interview

From potential impact on energy bills to installation costs and pricing, installers and home owners alike have a lot of questions about smart heating. To help find the answers, we’ve been putting these questions to a range of experts from some of the most exciting manufacturers on the market.

In the first of a series of interviews, we’ve been talking to Paul Haynes, Head of Pro for Europe at Nest Labs, about the benefits of smart technology, its impact on modern heating, and what the future holds.

What are the benefits of smart home heating to the modern homeowner?

PH: According to a study by OFGEM, heating makes up over 60 per cent of the £1,342 average energy bill. Despite this, 11 million UK homes don’t have suitable heating controls, like thermostats, and instead simply turn the boiler on when they’re cold and off when they’re too hot. Or they use programmers or timers that don’t take the temperature - and user’s comfort - into account.

But can we really blame them? Traditional thermostats are complicated to use and so ugly they are hidden away in cupboards and unused corridors. Smart home heating systems like Nest look - and act - special, so people will treat it as special. Because we’ve put so much care into the design and functionality of the device, people appreciate it, and want to engage with it. Smart heating controls help people save energy, whilst also improving comfort, and provide new levels of control and insight to end-users.

How can smart heating systems like Nest help people save energy?

PH: Most thermostats are programmable. They make you enter every temperature change that you want throughout the day or choose a start and stop time for heating your home. It’s annoying and complicated – many people don’t even bother.

The Nest Learning Thermostat learns the temperatures that you like when you’re at home and then programs itself. It even turns itself down when you’re away so that you’re not heating an empty home. It also learns about your home and figures out how it heats or cools, because no two homes are exactly the same. And it considers the outside weather conditions. So, it can figure out when to turn on the heating to get your home to the temperature you want without wasting energy, or when to turn the temperature down to prevent overshooting.

Smart thermostats also provide new insights to consumers, helping them understand their energy use and how they can make small changes to help save even more energy. For example, with the Nest Thermostat each time you adjust your thermostat to an energy-efficient temperature, you’ll see the Nest Leaf. Over time, it becomes harder to get the Leaf, encouraging you to save even more energy. Then you can check your Energy History on the Nest app to see how much you use every day and what has caused any big changes in your energy use.

Nest also sends you a monthly Home Report so that you can compare how much energy you’re using this month versus last month. As you learn more about how and why you save energy, you can make simple changes to be more efficient.

We can also now control your hot water tank, in addition to central heating. You can adjust the hot water schedule from your phone or thermostat, boost from anywhere, and Auto-Away also works with your hot water tank to help save energy when no one’s home.

In a rapidly developing industry, just how important will an expertise in smart heating technology be to the heating engineer of the future?

PH: A recent survey by CP Consulting found that almost half (47.6%) of British consumers would consider purchasing a smart-home (or connected-home) device within the next 12 months - with a Smart thermostat topping the list of potential purposes. This combined with the majority of respondents stating they would spend between £100 to £300 per device, creates a huge opportunity for the installer community.

But smart heating controls are just the beginning. Consumers don’t want to just keep their families warm, they also want to make sure they are safe and secure for example, and this presents the opportunity for installers to up-sell additional connected products and services to their client base - for example the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm or Nest Cam security camera.

What are the most frequent questions from homeowners about having smart heating installed in their homes?

PH: One of the most common questions we have is around the topic of compatibility - whether it will work with their existing boiler, and also whether it needs Wi-Fi to work for example.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is compatible with almost all central heating systems, including combi and condensing boilers, system and heat-only boilers, hydronic underfloor systems, air source and ground source heat pumps, zoned systems, switched live systems, and of course low-voltage systems.

And we designed it so it will work without a Wi-Fi connection. If you're connected, additional features are available such as temperature control, automatic software updates, and weather-aware features, but of course if there is no connection then it will still learn your schedule, turn off the heating when you leave, and most importantly allow you to change the temperature.

To help installers prepare for even the toughest questions. Nest provides both online and in-person training to help engineers answer the most typical, and even non-typical, questions. We recently announced the ‘Nest Pro Tour 2016’ which will see a team of certified trainers visit over 300 branches, from over 20 distribution partners, across the country. Check out nest.com/pro to learn more.

Smart home technology has attracted criticism from some corners for being too expensive. What would you say to a smart-home cynic?

PH: Over the past few years, we’ve seen an exponential growth in demand for smart home products amongst UK consumers. This in part has been due to previously too expensive or complicated products, being replaced by a new-generation of products that reimagine previously neglected household items and deliver tangible value are compelling consumers to make their homes more intelligent.

For example, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government, dwellings with no smoke alarm accounted for 38% of deaths in home fires in Great Britain, and nearly one fifth of deaths occurred where the smoke alarm wasn’t working. When was the last time you checked your smoke alarm?

The second generation Nest Protect has new features to help people know the alarm is working, testing itself over 400 times a day, and it now has up to a ten- year product lifetime. Like the first generation Nest Protect, it does more than just sound an alarm. It speaks to you, telling you what and where the problem is. It can also give them a friendly Heads-Up before it has to sound the alarm and you can hush it with your phone.

It also speaks directly to the Nest Thermostat, a great opportunity to upsell when fitting a new heating system for example, automatically turning off a gas boiler for example if carbon monoxide is detected. The ability to provide examples of tangible benefits, whether it’s energy savings or even ease of use, means that the case for these types of thoughtful devices is stronger than ever before.

What does the future of the smart home look like for Nest?

PH: We love the home. It’s the best place in the world. But not everything inside our homes is lovable. There are things that beep at us; fail without warning; keep us in the dark. There are things that we’ve learned to ignore. We think that they should do more.

Our mission at Nest is to create the thoughtful home: a home that takes care of the people inside it and the world around it. We’re doing this by focusing on making simple, human, delightful things.

And we’re not doing this alone. Today, lots of brands that you already use can connect to Nest, like your Philips Hue lights and Whirlpool washer. And more are being added to the list every day. Creating a more thoughtful home, tailored to your home, one product at a time.