Why I No Longer Use Nest Auto-Away

What exactly is Auto-Away and Nest Sense?

For those unfamiliar, the Nest Learning Thermostat includes a feature called Auto-Away. Auto-away is a mode that the Nest thermostat enters when it detects that your home has become empty.

Auto-Away relies on another Nest feature called Nest Sense. Nest Sense relies on a motion sensor on the front of the thermostat. If the sensor doesn't detect motion after a period of time, Nest Sense considers the house to be empty and will enable Auto-Away. Conversely, if Auto-Away is engaged and the sensor picks up activity, Auto-Away will be turned off and the Nest will resume to usual operation.

Nest Sense has an interesting capability. It will calibrate itself over time. If it enables Auto-Away and then, later realizes through user intervention that it was wrong, it will wait for a longer period of inactivity next time before enabling Auto-Away. Similarly, if it feels that it's generally right, it will decrease the period of inactivity required before enabling Auto-Away. Nest has previously reported that this inactivity timer can range from as short as 15 minutes all the way to 2 hours.

Nest Sense and the Auto-Away feature was failing me at my home.

For one, I work from home some days. In the winter, I frequently would come to realize that the house was getting cold because Auto-Away had activated without me knowing. Second, I am in and out of the house quite a bit, without a set schedule. I didn't like that it would take up to 2 hours for Auto-Away to turn off my furnace each time I left my house. My furnace is underpowered for the size of my house. In the dead of winter, it often works pretty hard to keep the house cold. It's more likely than not, at any given point during the day, that the furnace is running. If I leave, that's potentially 2 extra hours of burning natural gas.

This was frustrating. I had ran out and purchased a $250 thermostat in hopes of reducing my utility bill and also automating the climate control of my home. It seemed like I was close with Nest, but this Nest Sense / motion sensor business just wasn't cutting it. I considered other sensor options:

  • Turn off the thermostat when I lock the front door: My housemate likes to keep the front door locked when she's home during the day for security, so this isn't an option.
  • Turn off the thermostat when the garage door opens/closes: It'd be difficult to know whether a car is leaving or arriving.
  • Tether off of the home/away status of some other smart device at home: Somewhat by choice, I've kept most of my house 'dumb'. No good options here either.
  • Rely on phone technology to determine if I'm home: Now we're talking!

I came across a discussion thread regarding this issue on the Nest Community site. I learned that many users were having the same problem as me. Nest even has an official page addressing the issue. It turns out I'm not so unique after all! Some solutions were proposed. One member had created a PHP or Python script to continually check for their mobile phone's MAC address on their wireless home router, but as mobile phones often 'sleep' when not in use, it was tough to verify if the phone was reachable or not. Other shoestring solutions were proposed, but generally also lacked reliability or only worked for tracking a single person in the house, not the whole family.


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Skylark Is Born. Farewell Auto-Away!

After some discussion with a friend and former business partner of mine, we decided to build what has become Skylark. We'd use geofencing technology which is battery efficient and we'd create triggers that changed the Nest when you came home or left. We built the solution, spent a fair (bordering on unfair) amount of time refining the behavior of the app and account for edge cases, and then shared it with the world.

The result is that Skylark adds a much more reliable sensor to the Nest thermostat. Instead of the Nest looking for motion and correlating that to whether someone is home or not, Skylark actually knows and adjusts the Nest accordingly. 

Every month or so, we receive a support request from a Skylark user along the lines of "Skylark is working great, but Nest Auto-Away is still getting confused. It's thinking the house is empty when it's not. How can I avoid Auto-Away from turning on when I'm still at home?". The answer is so obvious that it can be easy to gloss over. Just disable Auto-Away. With a better way of detecting your location, there's no need for the less accurate method to stay around and play the occasional tug-of-war.

 

Why isn't geolocation built into Nest?

This is a long standing question posed from the Nest Community. I'm also surprised that they haven't done this yet. If I had to make a guess, I would say that they believe a feature based on geolocation works against their philosophy of the "learning" thermostat. A great deal of marketing energy has been put into Nest as a learning thermostat. If you're using geolocation all of a sudden, your learning thermostat isn't learning. It's following commands instead. Again, this is just speculation and I'm not sure it has legs to stand on.

To somewhat contradict myself, I do see a happy marriage between geolocation technologies and the Nest. If the Nest could simply use geolocation as another sensor, another indicator of the house being empty or someone arriving home, it could use this data point to build its learned schedule. Perhaps we'd find that our schedules aren't so irregular after all. Perhaps the Nest could surprise us by turning the heat or cooling on a little in advance, even before we're on our approach home, and make us believe that the house never was hot or cold in the first place. Now that's appealing.

Until then, or if that day never comes, there's Skylark. And with the recent integration of Skylark with IFTTT, it's an added bonus that I can automatically turn off the lights when I leave the house. 


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Announcing IFTTT & Skylark

Many of you have asked to use Skylark and IFTTT together and, today, we're taking the first step forward: you can now create IFTTT recipes using Skylark triggers.

IFTTT stands for "IF This, Then That" and is a service that connects your favorite devices, apps, and websites with simple rules called 'recipes'. Paired with Skylark geo location technology, IFTTT becomes aware of who is home and who isn't, and equally useful, when the house is occupied and when it is empty. 

Here are some fun examples of how you can use IFTTT with Skylark:

  1. Make sure all doors are locked when the last person leaves home.
  2. Send a notification when your significant other or a child arrives home.
  3. Turn on a few initial lights in the house whenever someone arrives home.
  4. Start automated home cleaning tasks like a robo-vacuum, laundry, or dishwasher when the house becomes empty.
  5. Use Skylark for the office. Notify co-workers on Slack as fellow employees arrive or depart.

To get started:

  1. Sign in to IFTTT.com
  2. Activate the Skylark channel
  3. Start using existing recipes or create your own

Have a great idea for Skylark and IFTTT? Share it with us!

IFTTT Recipe: When the house is empty, turn off all lights. connects skylark to philips-hue IFTTT Recipe: Notify me when someone arrives home connects skylark to if-notifications

New Nest Learning Thermostat 3.0 Released

Today, Nest Labs has released the latest and greatest version of their Nest Learning Thermostat, version 3. Nest touts this release as their thinnest, smartest, and most beautiful release to date. 

Notably, changes include:

  • A thinner physical chassis, allowing the thermostat to protrude less from the wall than previous versions.
  • A 40% larger, higher resolution display that is easier to read at a distance
  • Upgraded software
  • Farsight technology: The thermostat screen will now illuminate whenever it detects motion in the room. Earlier versions only illuminate when they detect motion immediately in front of them.
  • Additional safety features that provide advanced notice of possible problems with your heating system.

The Nest Learning Thermostat 3.0 has an MSRP of $249, the same price we've seen previous models sell for. The previous 2.0 model is noted to be for sale for $199 at select retailers while their supplies last.

The Nest Learning Thermostat 3.0 still does not include geofencing technologies. Be sure to pair the Skylark app with Nest 3.0 for total hands-off home temperature management.

Skylark Now With Honeywell WiFi Support

 

Over the past two months, we've conducted an extensive beta testing program to work out all of the bugs and make sure that Skylark supports Honeywell thermostats in the way that makes the most sense. Thanks to our excellent beta testers, we're proud to announce that as of today, we now support Honeywell WiFi thermostats.

We've found that almost every Honeywell WiFi thermostat under the sun works with Skylark. The one exception is the Honeywell Lyric, which already has an app with some geofencing capabilities. If you are unsure whether your thermostat is supported, download Skylark and take advantage of the two week free trial.

Since Honeywell doesn't have a "Home" and "Away" function, Skylark allows you to specify a minimum and maximum temperature for while you are away. Skylark will put your Honeywell thermostat in permanent hold mode, making sure your home stays within the temperature range you specified. Upon returning home, permanent hold will be ended and your thermostat will follow its usual programmed schedule.

 

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APPLE WATCH INTEGRATED

 

If you've got an Apple Watch you'll be pleased to know that you can use it to interact with Skylark!

 

UNDO FEATURE IMPROVED

 

We've been meaning to refine the Undo feature in Skylark. Starting with version 3.1.0, if you undo while leaving your inner radius, you will not be asked again if you'd like to undo when leaving your outer radius. Undoing is also more straightforward for multi-user homes. If you use undo, it will not affect how other devices perceive your current home/away status.

 

OTHER IMPROVEMENTS

 

We've patched various bugs to keep Skylark working reliably on all iOS devices. 

 

Start your 14-day free trial of Skylark for Nest & Honeywell Smart Thermostats

Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostat Beta Program

 

UPDATE (5/11/2015): Our beta program has begun and is no longer accepting new members. We hope to have honeywell functionality released to the public this month. Please stay tuned for further announcements!

When we started Skylark over a year ago, our goal was to add the sorely missed support for setting your Nest learning thermostat to home or away based on your location. With the help of our community, we've accomplished this in a reliable, automated manner.

 

WHY ADD HONEYWELL SUPPORT?

 

The more we personally used Skylark with our Nest thermostats, the more we realized that Skylark eliminates the need of the Nest learning technologies. For instance, we don't need Nest to learn our schedule (if that's even possible to do with our anti-schedules) when Skylark can definitively inform it when we are actually home or away. We don't need auto-away either. In fact, the limitations of auto-away may have been the reason we realized we needed Skylark in the first place.

For the household that wishes to purchase a location-aware (geofence supported) thermostat, it seems peculiar to buy a Nest when most of the unique features of the Nest will go unused once Skylark is enabled, right? 

With this in mind, we are expanding Skylark to work with lower-cost Wi-Fi enabled thermostats, like this Honeywell Wi-Fi 7 Day Programmable Thermostat. We've conducted internal testing for the last month and have found that combining the Honeywell thermostat with Skylark is an outstanding lower-cost solution.

 

JOIN OUR BETA

 

Starting today, we're opening our closed group Honeywell beta program. We're eager to get interested households on board to test the product at a larger scale before releasing to the public.

Are you interested? We have a few requirements:

  1. You have a Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostat other than the Lyric.

Actually, that's it! If you're interested in participating, please contact us and let us know that you'd like to be a part of our Honeywell beta program. 

We expect to have Honeywell integration publicly available by April or May 2015, so stay tuned!

New Features in Skylark 3.0.0!

 

We released Skylark 3.0 this month and wanted to take a moment to share all of the great new features included in this release. This is our biggest update yet with unique features most requested by our awesome customers, including Guest Mode, Swipe-to-Undo, and WiFi Home Lock!

 

GUEST MODE

 

Skylark works great when your entire household has it running on their devices, but what about those times when you have a visitor such as a baby sitter, out-of-town friend, or mother-in-law hanging around?  Guest Mode allows you to prevent Skylark from updating your Nest thermostat until a time and date you define.  This will keep your house warm (or cool) even though the permanent residents are out and about.

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SWIPE-TO-UNDO

 

Until iPhones are able to read our minds (that can't be too far away), Skylark is forced to make a couple of assumptions about your home or away-ness based upon regions.  For the most part, this works just great... until it doesn't.  A short walk around the neighborhood, a stop at a local market on the way home, or realizing your friend is still hanging out on your couch while you stepped out, all could result in your Nest being set to Home or Away inappropriately.  With Swipe-to-Undo, you simply left-swipe the Skylark home/away notification from your Lock Screen and tap 'Undo', and viola, you are back to your previous setting.  You don't even have to unlock your phone!

 

 

WiFI HOME LOCK

 

Region-based monitoring isn't perfect and sometimes, in certain geographies, the phone will tell Skylark that you left home when you haven't even moved (arrrgg!!).  For those customers that have this problem, WiFi Home Lock lets you easily select your home WiFi network so that whenever you are connected to it, Skylark will never set you to away.

 

 

UI IMPROVEMENTS

 

We gave the Skylark home screen a little facelift with a new Menu button with easy access to Settings, Guest Mode, and Feedback & Support.  We've also improved the way Skylark let's you know if there is a problem with sending an update to our server right from the home screen.  And for those missing the "Edit" button in the Registered Devices screen, we went ahead and added that :)

 

INCREASED RELIABILITY

 

Lots of little bug fixes and optimizations, including the way notifications are presented and handled. 

Keep the feedback coming: we're listening!  If you have any problems with Skylark whatsoever let us know, we are here to help!