The daily struggles of a non-technophile

I’m trying it hard to find a suitable word to describe myself these days. In the past I have considered myself a luddite, or techno-phobe, but in fact I have realised I embrace quite a lot of technology and systems, and therefore am quite willing to engage with lots of new things, (and have accidentally developed 8 or 9 e-learning courses and learning platforms) however I wouldn’t say that I love technology, and I’m often quite overwhelmed and intimidated by complex technology.

So I don’t know what word best describes me – feel free to suggest some new words I could try out!

This brings me to my latest problems….

Last year when my boiler died, I bought a Nest, which is a smart thermostat type of device. In theory, they will “learn” your habits, predict your heating needs, and save you money and energy, saving the planet and reducing your bills, etcetera.

Except after nearly a year of using it, I am forced to concede that this is utter bullshit.

First of all, whoever came up with the “smart learning mode” optimistically assumes that households have somehow resolved the “thermostat wars” that most of us are familiar with. You’ve all seen the jokes about dads ruling over the thermostat with an iron fist, while the rest of the family shiver and try to sneak past to turn it up.

In my case, I am currently sharing my home with a lovely flatmate from the Caribbean, who’s preferred resting temperature is about 9 degrees hotter than my comfort zone. So my poor “smart” thermostat has been attempting to set a schedule of an evening that goes (in degrees celcius) “18-26-20-25-17-21-15-21” after we each repeatedly adjust it up or down to meet our own preferences.

The computer is confused to say the freaking least.

I tried to go into the app and set a fixed schedule, like I had with my old, non-smart thermostat (something along the lines of set temperature to 20, set heating to come on from 6pm to 8pm etc). However because it’s in “learning” mode, it keeps trying to change the schedule that I set. Sometimes you decide it’s a bit cold so you turn it up, and it turns it straight back down again because “you usually don’t have it on at this time”.

So I recently went onto the Help site to figure out how to stop it from trying to learn from us!

Then came the next problem – my heating bills. In the past I just set my heating to come on for 2-3 hours in the evening, once the temperature hit a certain point it switched off, and the house stayed nice and warm most of the evening. I also had a boost button so I could turn it on for another hour here and there and it would turn itself off. My house is very well insulated, and in general I’m lucky to have extremely low bills.

The new thermostat, aside from all the learning and weirdness, doesn’t have a short-term boost function, so on several occasions one of us has turned the temperature up towards bedtime and forgotten to turn it down again, so it has stayed on all night (we woke up sweating). And so far my heating bills have been significantly higher than usual, and although in fairness, we have had a colder winter than last year, nevertheless I am unconvinced that this sexy device is actually saving me anything at all.

Then comes the “eco” functions. My boiler is supposedly “green” and the combination of boiler and Nest means that, in theory, it heats the house more slowly, somehow using less energy. So instead of my heating being on for an hour, getting to temperature, and then switching off, it will take 4 hours to get up to temperature when it comes on in the evening. I can’t see how having the boiler running for 4 hours instead of an hour is saving energy or money, and that might be why my bills have gone up too…

Now, in theory, if I set the thermostat to come on at 6pm, at 20 degrees, the “smart” function means that it will start “pre-heating” so rather than switching the heating on at 6, it will turn on at 3 or 4pm so that by 6pm the house is already at 20 degrees.

However I recently discovered that my Nest default was set to “eco-assist” mode, which means that when I leave the house, it recognises that my phone isn’t at home (therefore I am not at home) and it switches off. So instead of pre-heating, it stays off until I come home.

This has meant that on really cold days (which we’ve had recently), during the day the house cools down to 13 or 14 degrees, and rather than heating up at 6pm (or for 6pm so the house is warm when I get home) it won’t come on until it senses I am near the house. On several days of the week I have gym classes, or pottery classes, and don’t get home until 7pm, 8pm or sometimes 9pm.

This leaves my flatmate (and cats) very chilly and unsure of how to override the settings without the app and with all the “learning” complications, and by the time I come home at 8 or 9pm, it barely heats the house at all before it’s bedtime and we either have to leave it on overnight or go to bed cold, because of the “eco-friendly slow-heating” thing.

Coming home at 9pm to a house that is only 13 degrees inside in the winter is not fun!

So finally, I have gone onto the website, read a few help forums and guides, and (hopefully) switched off all the eco and smart functions – I’ve set it up on a schedule and we’ll see how it goes (and what it does to my bills!).

Maya’s adventures in smart technology has been a little bumpy, and it feels like total defeat to switch off all the functions that supposedly make it amazingly clever, but I can’t work out any other way around it. We shall see if dumbing down my technology helps at all….

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