Lloyd is not a fan of smart thermostats. Or, at least, he thinks we should spend as much time talking about attic insulation as we do about fancy gadgetry.
But when he visited my leaky old North Carolina home, and I plied him with several whiskies, I do believe he did concede this point: It's easier and more immediately scalable to install $250 thermostats than it is to fully insulate and air seal a 1930s NC home. And if those homes see a 20% reduction in heating bills—like I did—then that's money well spent.
Fast forward to today and the case just got stronger: Nest just launched Nest Thermostat E, a smart thermostat with (almost) all the bells and whistles of its flashier older sibling, but—at $169—it's priced $80 cheaper thanks to plastic housing and a lower resolution screen.
CNET seems plenty impressed, noting that most of the cost savings come in materials, not functionality. It'll still learn your schedule. It'll still sense when you're away. It'll still allow remote access via your smart phone. And it still plays nicely with other "Works with Nest" products. (Even Lloyd likes the fact that thermostats and fans can now talk to each other!)
The only real downsides in terms of functionality, says CNET, are the facts that it doesn't sport Farsight—a feature that displays custom information like an analog clock or the weather forecast—and it also isn't compatible with quite as many systems as the fuller priced original.
Still, I've seen how smart thermostats can save significant energy and—more importantly—how easy they are to install. I suspect they will play an increasingly important role in coaching households on their energy consumption. And as prices drop, more people will be able to take advantage.