A Smarter Smart Thermostat

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Energy efficiency is incredibly important and really, really boring. There are always going to be that small minority of people who just love to maximize their energy use, who know exactly how much air should be in their tires to improve gas mileage, who can calculate the most efficient thermostat setting. But those people are few and far between—and you’d probably want to avoid them anyway. What we really need is a home energy management system that is as automated and easy to use as something like TiVo. Unfortunately, electricity is delivered to our homes by utilities—perhaps the only companies with worse customer relations than the cable industry.

That’s where EcoFactor comes in. The five-year-old startup has developed a service that can automatically and continuously manage a home’s digitally connected thermostat, tweaking the settings throughout the day in a way that reduces energy waste while keeping the temperature comfortable. Through sophisticated algorithms that take into 24,000 bits of datas—accounting for outside temperature, the physical makeup of the house and input from the owner—EcoFactor plots an ideal path that cuts energy consumption whole maximizing heating and cooling. And best of all, the math happens behind the scenes—this is fire and forget energy efficiency. “Not many people are going to take the time to manage energy efficiency software and seek out nerdy charts and graphs,” says Scott Hublou, EcoFactor’s co-founder. “We can use the power of background computing and turn energy consumption into something that automatically optimizes to your behavior.”

The energy savings are real. In early trials, EcoFactor has shown that it can reduce home energy use by 17% compared to programmable but non-optimized thermostats. Reducing energy use cuts energy bills as well, by as much as $56 per month—after all, heating and cooling makes up at least half of most U.S. energy bills. Even better, the system works particularly well during unusually hot days, when utilities actively try to reduce energy consumption by some users to even out stress on the grid.

EcoFactor also keeps the sacrifice aspect of energy efficiency as low—or at least as customizable—as possible. “We don’t dictate the temperature, and you can keep it as comfortable as possible,” says Hublou. “If you want your house at 90F, we’ll give you the most energy-efficient 90F you can get.” And if you’re unhappy with the temperature, you can override EcoFactor’s software with a single button.

The challenge for EcoFactor will be distribution. The company works through service providers, including utilities, broadband providers and even security companies—anyone who already has access to the home. Of course, that means depending on companies that aren’t exactly known for their foresight. But the smarter smart thermostat that EcoFactor promises is still worth the wait.

Bryan Walsh is a senior writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bryanrwalsh. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME