Last week was half term, so feeling the need to see the coast, we packed the family in the car and headed off to a wet and windy Wales. We turned the heating off, as we always do because we didn't want to waste energy and money heating an empty house. The guinea pigs will just have to huddle in the hay.
We had a great time, but soon it was time to head home. By the time we arrived back, the outside temperature was down to 4 degrees, and so when we entered the house, it was freezing.
I quickly ran upstairs and knocked the heating on, but it was still cold by the time we got the kids to bed.
Now, this is definitely a #firstworldproblem, but we also live in an age where everything is connected. But this didn't really hit me until I spoke to a friend of mine who lives a few doors away. They'd also been away, but on their way home, they switched on their heating from their mobile phone.
What's more, they didn't actually have to do anything, their heating turned itself on when they were on their way back home. What is this wizardry I hear you ask!
For some time now I've been using a couple of great websites that allow you to join web-connected applications and "things" together. These are IFTTT (If This Then That) and Zapier. IFTTT is completely free; Zapier has a free level, but both differ in their offerings slightly. I'm going to concentrate on IFTTT for this article because it's probably the easiest one to use.
I've used IFTTT for years, ever since it first arrived on the scene, but mostly for mundane things like social sharing. For example, when I write a blog, it automatically gets sent to LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook so I don't have to share them myself. It's like a little helper is waiting for me to finish, and then it does the jobs which, to be frank, I'm too busy to do.
But we've spoken in the past about "The Internet of Things", these are items in the house, office and car that are also connected to the Internet. It's not just websites and social media anymore, it's actual physical objects, including kettles, fridges and thermostats.
The thermostat that my friend was using is the "Nest" which is owned by Google, and I’ve spoken about it in a recent blog. It looks cool:
It's actually a "learning" thermostat, so it can begin to save you money a week or two after you install it. It does this by sensing how you use your heating, when you go out and when you come back in.
For example, your house is probably empty for part of the day. Everyone goes off to school or work and so if you leave the heating on, you get a nice warm house full of nobody.
If you remember to turn it off, then you return to a cold house.
But, the Nest knows when you're in, and it knows when you're out. It also works out that you always go out at a certain time each day and return at a particular time, too. So, it turns off the heating when you leave, and turns it back on again in time to warm the house ready for your return. It's smart.
When you go on holiday, though, you are breaking the pattern, so that's when you can do some ingenious stuff.
My friend could have set his thermostat when he left his holiday home, but what if he forgot? You have a lot of things to think about when you're packing the car, so there's every chance you'll forget to switch on the heating.
This is where IFTTT comes in.
It has a number of "triggers". These are actions where if something happens, it'll do something else. If "this" happens then do "that".
In my friends case, he set up a trigger to fire when he drove into a particular town. This town was about 50 miles from his home, and he knew he'd be passing through. So, when his phone indicated that he'd got there, it triggered his heating to switch on.
And that's just one of the ways in which you can trigger it. You can, for example, set it to turn on if the outside temperature goes below a certain level. It bases this on Yahoo weather. If it gets too hot, you could set it to turn on the air conditioning, the options really are endless.
And the Benefit?
Obviously, convenience is the primary benefit here. It means we don't have to arrive home to a cold house, but the more pressing issue is cost. With the cost of heating a home going up year-on-year, it makes sense only to keep it warm when there's somebody in it. And given that these devices aren't too expensive, you can probably get your money back in less than a year.