Improving Your Home - Part 1

Have you ever stopped at a local gas station and asked for directions? I know in the age of GPS and Smart phones, this experience is one that is leaving our population. I remember stopping at a gas station recently and asked the clerk a question about the town. I asked, “Where can I get a good bite to eat?” Not quite in the realm of directions or how you used to be able to ask how do I get to someone's house, but as close as you can get into today’s experience. The clerk looked at me completely bewildered, and said, “I don’t know let me check my phone.” I said “No thanks, I have one of those too”.


 Today this picture I am about to paint looks different. Back in the day you could stop at any local gas station and grab some town gossip, a good gravy recipe, and directions. I remember in my childhood asking for directions was a normal experience. Especially if you forgot your map or simply weren’t familiar with the area. You would stop at the gas station and ask things like, “how do you get to the library”. The question seeming so simple is about to unlock a reflection of a time gone by. The magic begins, my journeyman tells me, “You need to take this road until it dead ends, Go right about 5 min, you’ll be on some curvy roads, just keep going straight, you’ll see a stop sign, go left, and the library will be on your left in a few yards, if you reach the mill you’ve gone too far.” Listening and comprehending this barrage of information was always difficult, but these short stories add color to a wonderful part of a personal interaction. The words were often laced with land marks, things not to do, things you will see, and sometimes things you won’t see, and also the actual directions. 

 In today’s world of GPS we like succinct instructions, but still overshoot our destination many times. Today rather than giving you a succinct set of instructions, I am going weave in and out of multiple points. The question I want to tackle today is purposely vague. Much like asking for directions you don’t know what you are going, until the other individual starts speaking. Sometimes asking a vague question, with a unique perspective can give you a better answer than you intended. The question I want to tackle today is:

 How do I make my home better?

 If you ask a real estate agent, home designer, or architect this very question, you will more than likely get varying answers about outward appearance, kitchen, bathroom, etc. The problem is that this isn’t a home improvement blog, this is a tech and productivity blog. If I started exposing the benefits of granite over marble, I would quickly bore you and myself. I am going to take a particular perspective on this question, which the very valuable professionals above, normally don’t think about. Most of us enjoy lives in a home or apartment. We like the security, stability, and we usually add a little personality to our dwelling space. We don’t enjoy the day to day parts of running a home. I’ve never heard anyone, myself included, mention how much they love adjusting their thermostat when it gets cold outside. We like being warm, but the act of changing the temperature, usually isn’t a joy. I don’t enjoy making sure that my furnace filter is clean, but I know that it is a part of regular maintenance. 

They just changed their furnace filter, could you be any happier?

They just changed their furnace filter, could you be any happier?

 Don’t worry I’m not going to pretend to inject joy in these activities. Much like our strategy from the email articles we’ve discussed earlier most activities can be thrown into 3 categories. Below is a quick comparison to email and real life choices.

 1.) Respond to the email - Do Them

2.) Delete/Archive the email - Don’t do Them

3.) Research and respond - Gather information and do it. 

 I want to throw another concept into these three ideas: Let someone (or something) else deal with it. In the work-world we call this delegation. In a household it is similar to the chore list that is passed out every week. Regularly having someone else do the work assigned to you, is frowned upon.

 When dealing with household/office minutia, I can’t recommend it enough. Automating aspects of your home/office not only makes it so you don’t have to deal with items, but the beauty of it, is they are still being done. 

 I put this type of automation in the same category as auto-ship. Auto-ship is a great feature from many online companies that make it so you don’t need to remember to get a particular item from your grocery list. Imagine you have a product you take daily (vitamins are a good example). Rather than having to search through the vitamins in your local store every 30 days, you just get more vitamins shipped to you. Does it save money? Yes and No. No it doesn’t save cash flow, unless you find a great deal, which are out there for auto-shipped products, but for the sake of argument we will say they cost the same. What you do save is Time. One thing I have learned over and over again is that money is a renewable resource, time is not. If I can save 1 minute every 30 days for a year, there are 12 more minutes I can spend with my family. Is it a huge amount of time? No, but it all adds up. 

 With heating and cooling you can save both money and time, but you have to approach it on a longer term scale than your visit to the grocery store.


 Let’s attack the money side first. Old thermostats have one set point and they sit there all day either heating or cooling your home to that one temperature. If there are people in the house, you have it set to a comfortable level, you go to sleep and don’t change it, wake up the next day and leave for work, and still don’t change it. So your empty home is very comfortable all the time. This is a waste of energy. A better practice is when you are home, have it set to a comfortable setting and when you’re not, allow it to get warmer or colder, so that you aren’t heating or cooling an empty home. That would mean you need to change the thermostat multiple times a day, but if you did that you would save considerable cost on heating and cooling your home. 

 Sounds simple right? Who has time for all that interaction with a thermostat? I’ve now added a chore to your list of things to do that you would rather just delete if it were an email. The savings isn’t worth it, but if I made the savings automatic you’d be happy to take them, right?

 Now let’s talk about time. No one has time to fiddle with his or her thermostat on a daily basis. What we want to do is find a way to automate the process. We need a way to tell the thermostat if you’re home or if you’re not. 

 This feature is specific to smart thermostats. Two of the products that are out there are the Nest and Lyric. These two products are rather different. I won’t go into a full blown review of either, since there are lots of places to find that information. 


 The important aspect of why these thermostats save you money is based on automation. Nest either changes its settings from Home to Away based on sensing you in the house, schedule, or geo-location (w/Skylark). Lyric primarily automates based on geo-location. Geo-location means your thermostat knows where you are based on where your phone is. That way if you went down to the closest gas station it won’t change. On the other hand if you went camping this weekend, it would switch to away mode and it wouldn’t run the air conditioner the entire time you’re out of town.

 What is important is we wanted to make your home better. So how can using these thermostats make your home better? In a nutshell we are using them to reduce the cost of operating your home, along with automating a best practice for heating and cooling. There are other benefits, but these are the main ones.

 Now let’s look at cost [Nest & Lyric - $249]

 WOW! These thermostats are expensive! How in the world is that making a home better? As I mentioned we need to look longer down the road. We need to look at the ROI (Return on Investment). How quickly does the money you save from using a smart thermostat make up for the expensive nature of this particular technology? We need to look at the price it takes to heat and cool your home using your current behavior and compare to the new behavior. Typically it takes 2-2.5 years to make up the cost of a smart thermostat. After that time span the thermostat is simply saving you money each month. 

 This wasn’t like a set of GPS directions on how to improve your home, because I needed to share other aspects of technology adoption. Sometimes we need to step outside the box, and take a look at the overall technology impact.

 You will also find links below to help you purchase these units. If you have questions about installation or don’t feel comfortable replacing your existing thermostat, Tech Effect can help you replace your existing one, as well as train you on how to get the most from your new thermostat. 

To Buy the Nest

To Buy the Lyric

 If you’re worried about selling or moving to a different place, don’t worry you can easily put your old thermostat back in its place before you leave.