Five Ways a Smart Thermostat Will Be Useful for Your Business

Smart thermostats have a lot of features and look nice, but do they do anything valuable? When I recommend them during my work in the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program
, it’s for more of these reasons than just the ComEd Smart Thermostat Rebate

1. Reducing Your Energy Bill

Heat loss is a non-linear function – that means when it’s cold outside, more heat leaks out of your building when it’s 72° than when it’s 58°. The opposite is true in the summertime. So, leaving your building to the elements when you’re not using it will save you money. An intelligent thermostat can sense occupancy and follow a pre-programmed schedule, allowing you to tell it when you use your space and letting it learn how often you stick to that predetermined schedule. When it senses you aren’t around, it will lay off the heat or cool and save you some money.

It’s worth noting that a perfectly programmed programmable thermostat will save just as much as a Nest or Ecobee thermostat. The difference is that programmable thermostats need to be adjusted based on the season, and I don’t come across many business owners to find the time to do so. If you’re on a budget, put in the work – it’s the most cost-effective solution.

2. Giving You Control

If you manage multiple properties (franchisees, real estate managers, corporations, governments, etc.) you can’t manually control the setting of every thermostat in every building across your portfolio. Many (possibly all) smart thermostats come with built-in software that allows you to display operations and diagnostics on a central dashboard that you can look at on a computer or phone. The value here is that you can see the operation of all your heating/cooling systems instantly and succinctly. You can compare energy management strategies or make sure one rogue employee or tenant isn’t overriding a thermostat and costing you money.

I think if you have 5 or more buildings to manage, or the buildings are far enough apart that monitoring these systems in-person isn’t practical, this is a useful feature and is often overlooked.

3. Convenience

An intelligent thermostat saves you energy by turning off when it senses your buildings are unoccupied, but it also makes your life a bit better by anticipating when you will arrive and heating or cooling ahead of time. This is the reason I personally switched to a smart thermostat; the fact that it would automatically reduce temperature while I sleep and then reheat my apartment in anticipation of me waking up is so nice. (Now I have radiators – boooo!)

This is particularly valuable for low-use, high-volume rooms… church sanctuaries anyone? Rather than showing up 2 hours early to turn on your heating system, you can schedule services into your thermostat and it will automatically bring the room to a comfortable temperature in preparation. The same concept can be adapted to a gymnasium, theaters, conference rooms, exhibition halls, etc. Not applicable to everyone, but if it does apply, don’t overlook the value here.

4. Aesthetics

If you are into design, or care about atmosphere to enhance your brand and build top-line revenue, you might find a smart thermostat is a sleek centerpiece for your interior. I can’t recommend much here since my sense of style is about equivalent to an alpaca.

You’ll pay a premium to look good, but when has that ever stopped you before!

5. Preparing You For The Future

The wave of “smart” products is in its infancy, I assure you. Soon, your microwave will talk to your sink, which will just be finishing a conversation with your lightbulbs. Everything is going to be interconnected and something will need to be the central hub for you to interact with all of these fancy gadgets. It will likely either be something voice-based that you can yell at across the room, or it will be your thermostat, which you can easily walk up to and adjust.

They say old dogs can’t learn new tricks, so you may be better off learning how this stuff works now rather than waiting 5 years to figure it out. By then, it may be too late, and you’ve already boxed yourself into being an old dog. I certainly don’t think this is a good reason to go out of your way and get a smart thermostat, but it may be just enough to push you over the edge if you’re on the fence.

Are Smart Power Strips Worth the Money?

Really there are two questions here:plugs

  • Is it worth the money to replace all of my existing power strips with smart power strips?
  • If I’m already buying a power strip, is it worth paying for a smart power strip over a regular power strip?

Let’s start with the second, because it’s the easiest. Smart power strips won’t cost you any more than a regular strip. They’ll both hover around 10-15 bucks. It’s going to vary depending on where your buying, but these are approximates. So yah, if you’re going to be out of pocket for a new strip anyway, get the one that is going to pay for itself.

The first question is more complicated, and will depend on your specific case. Put simply, a smart power strip saves you more money when more things are plugged into it. They also save you more money when the things plugged in draw a lot of power. Here are some hypothetical examples:

With only 1 laptop plugged into a smart power strip, you’ll offset about 16 watts of power when used properly. Over a year that will accumulate to 68 kWh, which will cost different amounts in different parts of the country. Here in Chicago, with electricity rates averaging $.11 per kWh, that amounts to $7.69 in energy savings. If you spent $15 to replace your power strip, you won’t be getting that money back for 2 years.

However, imagine a pretty common case where a workstation has a desktop computer, monitor, and personal printer plugged into the same power strip. When asleep, a desktop computer draws 21 watts, a monitor draws 1.4 watts, and a printer draws 5.3 watts, for a total of 27.7 watts. Using the same assumptions of usage, that will add up to 121 kWh and $13.30 of savings. So you’re looking at a 1.1 year payback.

It’s up to you to make up your mind as to whether it’s worth investing into something that has a 1.1 year payback. As a rule of thumb, anything less than a 1.5 year payback is what I find the market aligning in being an appealing payback. But I understand that saving $13 per year isn’t all that exciting, certainly not to go out of your way to get a new power strip. However, you are managing a school, library, or office with many, many computer stations, those savings add up to something more exciting.

In summary, my answer for the first question is split down the middle. If the payback is reasonable and you have a lot of power strips to change over, then you should go for it. But if you are looking to replace one or two power strips, you’ll find some more exciting opportunities forenergy savings in your lighting, refrigeration, or HVAC equipment.

Phantom Power Drain Is a Real Monster

Electricity is impossible to see, so it’s difficult to figure out how much is being used when you turn on lights or play video games. In fact, you even waste a little electricity when that stuff is off.

Many household appliances, electronics, and even some light fixtures operate in a standby mode when they are off. In this mode, appliances will still draw a slight amount of power. For example, energy vampires like TVs and game consoles often have a standby light to remind you that they still exist. Drawing a little power also “keeps the engine warm” so to speak, and allows these electronics to boot up to full operation more quickly. For example, my Xbox asked me if I would like it to go into standby instead of turning off so that it would boot a few seconds faster. (Obviously I declined!)

To stop this phantom power drain is simple – cut it off! You can unplug devices or plug them into a power strip and turn off the strip. Both actions cut the device off from the grid and truly turn them off. But that requires work and saving the planet just isn’t worth it. Instead, a smart power strip is going to automate this process for you. That’s right – hold my beer, it’s time to save the environment!

A smart power strip works the same way a normal power strip works; it has several outlets, a surge protector, and a short power extender.

The difference is that it also has the ability to sense whether or not electricity is flowing through the outlets and will cut itself off from the grid if it senses that everything is turned off. Simply put, if you turn something off and it’s plugged into a smart power strip, like this Tier 1 Advanced Power strip by Tricklestar, it will turn all the way off and you stop paying for it.

If you want to learn how much you can save, check out our other blog post, or do some research and run some calculations yourself. This will help you do that.

What Is the Cost of a Smart Thermostat?

We’ll compare two big name smart thermostat brands. While there are options outside of what I’m mentioning, they will likely fall in line with the pricing of the models I will discuss.

Nest comes in two varieties, Nest and Nest E. The standard version will give you a broader color palette to choose from and a crisper display, but is otherwise identical to the economy version. They will run you $249 and $169 respectively.

Ecobee comes in four varieties (3 residential and 1 commercial), ecobee4, ecobee3, Smart SI, and EMS SI.

The Ecobee4 matches the Nest at $249 (though ecobee comes with a remote sensor). The Ecobee3 is a later version and besides being out of date, is otherwise identical to the 4th gen. The Smart SI on the other hand lacks the sleek design and comes with fewer built-in features than the Ecobee3. Despite this, at $179, it will cost you more. Probably best to pass on this one.

While your choice will ultimately come down to which smart home company you want to pledge allegiance to (Nest is part of the Google suite, and Ecobee compatible with Amazon’s Alexa), my vote for best value is the Ecobee4. And this is coming from a guy who installed his own Nest. In my opinion, the remote sensors that work with the Ecobee are more than just cool. They are practical for optimizing comfort and efficiency. In addition, I think Amazon sits comfortably poised to dominate the voice-activated world and I would bet on any hardware that incorporates their OS.

The Installation

Good news here – you can probably do this yourself. The Nest is incredibly easy and intuitive to set up. So long as you can match colors and patterns, pulling that old thermostat off the wall and fiddling with the wires is actually not very difficult. (I’m color blind and I managed!)

Ecobees are similar in set-up but prefer to draw their power from their own designated hard line instead of stealing from the HVAC system. Doing so will give the thermostat more reliability, but if you don’t know how to run new C wire down from your HVAC unit to your thermostat, you’ll really want to call a professional. Hiring a pro will cost you $100 on a good day but can push you past $200. It’s a bummer, but you can’t do it and it needs to be worth the installer’s time.

The Set-Up

There’s no physical cost here, but you’ll be spending precious time to get everything hooked up to your wi-fi, set your preferences, and tweak the scheduling. A basic set-up is going to take you 15 minutes, but a deep dive to really set your comfort preferences and occupancy schedule may take an hour or so.

However, even if all you do is hook the thermostat to the internet, it will eventually program itself. It’ll just be a slightly bumpier road as it learns your behaviors.

The Bottom Line

If you go the absolute most economical route

  1. You’ll choose the Nest E,
  2. You’ll Install it yourself,
  3. And you’ll let it program itself.

You’ll pay $169 and about 30 minutes of your time.

If you want the best,

  1. You’ll choose a Nest or Ecobee4,
  2. You’ll let a pro install it,
  3. And you’ll pour extra time into programming it.

You’ll pay $349 – $449 and about 1 hour of your time.

Respect Is a Powerful Discipline That You Aren’t Fully Embracing

I haven’t see a lot of content on respect in the business world. Empathy, hustle, equality get plenty of coverage, but I think we need to flesh out what respect is beyond the obvious “it’s good.” Ultimately, if you embrace respect as a tool in your EQ toolkit, you will unlock your potential to make genuine connections with other people, which is the key to “manufacturing” luck.

Let’s start with the fundamentals. Here is my definition: understanding the true value of something and treating it as such. And my definition of luck: an instance in which the context around a person allows him/her to achieve something that an individual without that context could not achieve

So when we say that we have tremendous respect for a mentor, we mean that we truly understand the value of their influence on ourselves. When we respect our parents, we mean we value the sacrifice they made to raise us, feed us, shelter us, and love us. Disrespect is the opposite. Showing someone disrespect means that we do not value them, as a master might treat a slave or a country might treat an enemy in war time. (Look at wartime propaganda and how the messages often describe enemies as animals to dehumanize them and strip them of their intrinsic value.

But it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it… There are over 7 billion people on the planet, 300 million if we’re thinking local. No one has the mental capacity to reflect on and determine the value of so many people. So it’s simpler (dare I say a shortcut) to lump people together into two groups, an inner circle and the others. It’s a ubiquitous quality of human nature. Look anywhere: black, white, male, female, democratic, republican, gay, straight, well dressed, casual, athletic, overweight, young, old… These divisions exist solely because one group disrespects the other.

Disrespect comes about in two ways though and we need to make that distinction. First is through understanding, that is if we don’t understand something’s value, we may not treat it appropriately. The second is through treatment, when someone understands your value but doesn’t acknowledge it, or antagonizes you anyway. We’ve all been on the receiving end of that mistreatment. But the ugly truth is, no matter who you are, we are actively grouping people we interact with into categories of the inner circle and the others.

So let’s attack understanding. You disrespect your coworkers because they are difficult to work with. Do you understand what their jobs are, what their obstacles are, what their ambitions are, what brings them fulfillment? Now are they really that different? You disrespect your parents because they don’t let you do things and stifle your creativity. But do you understand their sacrifices, their wisdom about what it takes to earn a living and find happiness, what mistakes they made along their journey? Now are they really that unfair? Once you’ve asked those questions and you understand that context, now you can start to behave in a way that aligns with their narrative. That’s how you turn disrespect into respect.

And it turns out, you’ll be much better off. Because what do you think happens when Elizabeth gets a promotion, she needs a #2, and you’re her only coworker that understands her and treats her with respect. What do think happens when you tell your spouse of a deep ambition of yours and before he can even offer a response you have already addressed his concerns because you respect how he wants to live his life. The answer is good things happen to you. Most people call that lucky. It’s actually the direct result of mutual respect. (Scientifically proven in fact. Check out chapter 2 of Eric Barker’s “Barking up the Wrong Tree.”)

To understand this better, notice that the key word in my definition of luck is context. You and I don’t have control over many of the variables around context, and let’s not discredit the immensely difficult circumstances many people need to overcome, but one thing we can control is how much exposure we have to context. I dig into the stories of success people constantly, it’s my obsession, and everyone tells the same story. If it weren’t for their willingness to talk to new people, collaborate on new things, or explore new ideas, the lucky breaks they got would never have come their way. Deploying respect daily is a tangible way for you to broaden your context and manufacture your own luck. As Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, “karma is practical.”

As a final point, let’s also identify that it’s okay to disrespect people or things that present zero value. Negative thoughts, abusive relationships, air pollution are a few things that I identify as having zero value and I don’t respect them. It’s all about building your context, right? It’s like gravity – build a life on the right values and that’s what you’ll attract.

If you found this reflection valuable to you, I have one last request for you. I believe that your greatest miscalculation is of the value you place on the planet. Value the earth. Understand all that it has given you. Understand that it is your greatest asset and treat it that way. Audit your business, your organization, your life and eliminate all of the waste you can. If you do this, not only will you see real, perpetual cost savings, but you will insulate yourself from the inevitable end of our linear economy.

If you don’t know where to start or don’t know how to balance sustainability with your other goals, I completely respect that, and I can help.