In Praise of the Dumb Home

Bonapart House Interior

It's all so wonderful, the smart home where all of our appliances talk to each other and turn on and off automatically. Bosch wants to wire up our windows so that the Internet of things can close them if it starts raining. Dacor wants us to control our oven through a tablet computer. Matt Hickman shows us a wifi-connected Crock Pot.

Now Google is buying Nest Labs, with its thermostats and smoke detectors, hopping on the smart home bandwagon. One of the main justifications for the smart home is to save energy, and to increase comfort. But the Nest thermostat, as one example of a connected device, isn't the most effective way to do either.

the comfort kidney

© Comfort zone chart Victor Olyay

As Victor Olgyay noted exactly 50 years ago in his book Design with Climate, comfort is not determined by temperature alone, but by a combination of temperature, humidity and air movement. The Nest thermostat turns an air conditioner or furnace on or off, where you might be just as comfortable opening a window or turning on a fan. That's what you would do in a dumb home. Instead, the Nest causes you to use energy to do what used to be free.

passive house

© Wolf Passive Homes

Then there is the Passivhaus, or Passive House. It's pretty dumb. A Nest thermostat probably wouldn't do much good there because with 18" of insulation, and careful placement of high quality windows, you barely need to heat or cool it at all. A smart thermostat is going to be bored stupid.

Also, so much of what we call comfort depends on other circumstances, including what we are wearing. Until the smart thermostat connects to the Nest Cam and knows what you are wearing, it really won't know what it should be set at. Fortunately with google ownership that kind of technology and information sharing is right around the corner.