(Not) Burning Down the House

El Granto is a bit of a tech nerd. He’s not quite Howard Wallowitz, but the man likes him some gadgets. Hell he even has a watch that receives his texts and emails.

I may not be the biggest techy, but when it comes to our home I really have been taken up with home tech. From the simplest touches such as our bathroom fan with a timer, to our IR repeater and of course to our Nest thermostat. I love them all. I want to turn our house into robot house. Bring it Jarvis.

While we’re not quite at the whole home automation level, we have just added three super cool new smart home additions.

Meet our Nest Protect Minions.

Nest Protect
Nest Protect

When I posted a pic of our install on Instagram I had quite a few questions asking what on earth these things are.
They’re awesome, that’s what.

They also happen to be super smart smoke/co2 detectors that help keep us safe whether we’re burning dinner (that never happens I swear) or fast asleep. They sense smoke and co and will give you vocal warnings when something goes wrong. There is two levels of warning. I like to call them “burnt the toast” and “the effing house is on fire!”. The former will let you know when things are a bit smokey and let you turn off the warning with a wave of your hand. The latter will tell you to get the hell out of your house and notify you via the Nest app to let you know your house is burning down.

It’s a bit hard for me to explain their awesomeness in prose alone, so I will let this video do all the hard work for me.

My favorite part has to be the “nite nite” check, when you turn out the lights for the night the system does a full check and a pulse of green light on all the Nest Protect units lets you know that everything is working and you can safely go to sleep. I also really like  that if the Nest Protect senses co2, it will talk to our Nest thermostat and tell it to shut off our gas furnace. Pretty darn cool.

The Nest Protect works with our Nest app, so everything is working together and updating you on one app.

We installed right before Christmas, and just like the Nest Thermostat install it was super easy.

Read and follow the simple instructions.

Read instructions kids
Read instructions kids

Scan the QR code on the back of the Nest Protect, enter in your settings and wait for it to sync itself.

Nest Protect doin its thing
Nest Protect doin’ its thing

Then attach it to the ceiling and pop it into place.

Installing Nest Protect
Installing Nest Protect in the basement

After all of them are installed (we have one in our basement, one on the main floor and one on the second floor). You test the whole system and relax, cause your house is now way smarter than you are.

Nest Installed in (scary) basement
Nest Installed in (scary) basement

The current weather has put the system through its paces. We were able to check on the system and up the heat during the ice storm & cold snap to make sure the dog wasn’t freezing, and neither were our pipes. We also had the peace of mind that the house was safe, and we could also use it to check and see if we had power when most of the city was dark.

Are they worth the price? I say yes! And if you’re in Canada and don’t already have a CO detector, as of Jan 1, 2014 it became law that you have to have one. So get a co detector!

*BTW We really truly have no affiliation with Nest, we just love their stuff.

Earth Day

It’s Earth Day today! In honor of Earth Day my office participated in Clean Toronto Together last Friday. We spend 20 minutes cleaning up the public spaces around the office, and what a difference it makes. My lunchtime parkette is no longer habitat for beer bottles and soda cans, and there’s no longer grocery bags trapped in the shrubs and bushes.  Its great to see some progress, but sadly it will be exactly the same next spring.


I think we all need to pay a bit more respect to the planet we call home, and I am talking every day, not just on earth day. So what can you do to save some energy, and maybe even some money around your home and DIY projects?

Insulate! In older homes there is very little (or sometimes no) insulation in the walls. In the winter you are essentially heating the outside, and in the summer you are air conditioning it. If you are opening up your walls, take the time to install a good quality insulation. Remember the higher the “R” value the more insulating its going to be. Consider spray foam, which also works as a moisture barrier. While you’re at it, take a good look at your house and fill any exterior gaps with caulking.

Smart Thermostats: Use a smart thermostat to optimize your energy usage. We have a Nest, and LOVE it. It has an auto sensing feature that knows if you’ve not been in the house for a while, and will turn the heat down. It will also utilizes the wasted energy from your ac unit. We have seen our energy bills go down, which is good for our pocketbooks and the environment.

A screen shot of my Nest thermostat app on my iPhone.
A screen shot of my Nest thermostat app on my iPhone.

Energy Efficient Appliances: Appliances can be a big suck of energy. If you have an old “beer” fridge in the garage or an ancient dryer, you may be costing yourself an awful lot to run those appliances. Look at Energy Star models and ensure you recycle your appliances in the proper manner.

Re-purpose when possible: I know everyone loves new things, but if something is in good shape, an it’s just not the style you like, why throw it out? Can you give it a coat of paint, add new hardware or fix a broken piece to make it new again? If not, maybe someone else can. Consider donating to the ReStore, or local thrift shop. If you need the cash, try selling it in Craigslist or Kijiji. One mans junk is another mans treasure. Heck, Rona has created a line of paint made from recycled paint.

We reclaimed several hundred bricks from this dumpster that was headed for landfill
We reclaimed several hundred bricks from this dumpster that was headed for landfill

Buy local: This seems simple but it makes a huge difference. Why buy fruits & vegetables that have been trucked here from Mexico when you can buy from a farmer down the street? My city (Toronto) has an excellent array of farmers markets, which we love visiting (especially in the summer and harvest months). Its also great to support local businesses as you’re investing in your community. Also remember to buy only what you’re going to consume. Make a meal plan ahead of time and stick to it. There’s nothing worse than throwing out half the food in your fridge come garbage day.

Grow your own! You can get a lot of return from a small square foot garden or even a few pots on a patio. Grow the items you regularly use, and you’ll get so much enjoyment and use out of them. It really is the best feeling to go pick something from your garden for that nights meal (and it saves you a trip to the grocery store!) If your city allows it, you can go buck wild and get your own chickens like Karen.

A jalapeno pepper from last years vegetable garden
A jalapeno pepper from last years vegetable garden

I think we can all do things in a bit more conscientious manner each day.  You dont have to give up your home and live in a yurt, but you can also not be the guy who pours paint down the sewer (Yep, we’ve really seen a guy do that.)

Get your hippie on!

Nest: Day One: Install

El Granto here. My first post on Storefront Life and it’s about something really cool (and hot)!

We’re really consistent with our thermostat settings. We always have it on program and rarely change the settings (unless we’re in the yard enjoying our Friday libations with friends then we shut the AC off to have some quiet).

But when a friend showed me the Nest learning thermostat I saw real potential.

This thing learns your routine and sets it’s self accordingly. Cools or warms the house in the right amount of time before you get home and even takes outside weather and previous cooling/heating times in to account in getting to the right temperature in preparation for you to return. It even knows when you’ve left the house and switches its self to away mode if you’re gone long enough.

I fell in love. But the price was too rich for my blood. Poo.

Enter a good great friend who wanted to repay a favor (actually the same friend who introduced me to the Nest and knew how I felt about it).

All of a sudden I get an email stating that my Nest order has been received and to expect my new thermostat in a few days. I first had a moment… “WTF!? Waaaaaait a minute… Have I been shopping online in my sleep again?!” Then I realized what my buddy had done and I was ecstatic! There was definitely some man hugging and maybe a tear.

Fast forward a few anxious days and my (oops our) new Nest arrived!


I couldn’t wait! As soon as Kristen got home I set her to dog watching and started the install.

I already knew that the Nest was compatible with our system because we have a newer HVAC installation (thanks in part to the Holmes crew). This is something you will have to check though. Last thing you want to do is dish out almost $300 to find out you bought a really fancy looking $300 paper weight.

Step One: TURN OFF THE BREAKER TO YOUR HEATING, AC, AND THERMOSTAT! Whenever you’re dealing with anything hard wired always turn off the breakers! Safety first! Now remove the old thermostat. It’s probably just screwed right in to the drywall without anchors or anything because no one expects you to be swinging on the thermostat like crazy monkeys save that for the light fixtures. Your new Nest comes with convenient little labels to stick to your old wires to ensure you don’t forget what goes where. They have strange code letters like Rh, W1 and, O/B. Use the included screwdriver to remove your old thermostat. This thing is handy and a great include to the Nest package. It’s so handy it’s earned its self a spot right beside my computer for future office related screwdriver needs (removing cases, drives and the occasional deep nasal scratching).

Our old and yucky and stupid thermostat.
Remove the old thermostat and use Nest’s nifty stickers.
The awesome Nest screwdriver (yes that’s Kristen’s hand not mine, mine are all calloused and hairy and manly not dainty like a princesses).

Step Two: Make preparations to patch the holes from your old thermostat and find out that your spackle has turned hard as stone.

This spackle is no good 🙁

Step Three: Mad dash to the hardware store with the dog in tow to get there before it closes to aquire new spackle. I picked up DAP spackle because we had such good results from the caulking. (As a side note: I love spackling. I find it so much fun and I get very excited when I get to do it. It’s the little things I know.) This stuff is cool because it goes on pink and turns white when it’s ready to sand and paint. Two applications and sands left the old holes invisible. (Also don’t forget to be so excited about getting to spackle something that you don’t take pictures of this part for your blog.)

Step Four: Pull the wires through the Nest base plate and screw it to the wall. As Kristen is the paint master we chose to paint around the Nest after install allowing the spackle to set a little longer. The base plate includes a handy built in spirit level so you can’t install it crooked! Ingenious! Last thing you want is for your thermostat to be unlevel as many depend on being so to do their job. Use your new screwdriver!

Step Five: Hook up your new Nest. Using your reference stickers just plug in your wires to their new homes and snap that sucker on to his/her base plate (his/her to be explained soon).

Nest base plate
Base plate, spirit level and screwdriver. A trifecta of awesome product design.
Wires hooked up! Ready to go!

Now just flip those breakers back on!

Your nest will run through a few seconds of boot up and then scan for WiFi. That’s right this little beauty hooks right up to your WiFi for everything from weather reporting to firmware updates. Yep Firmware updates! This means that the Nest team can add new features to your Nest without you having to do anything! Ladies and gentlemen it’s 2012!

Stick in your WiFi credentials and tell the nest where you live this allows the Nest to get weather updates so it knows if it’s hot or cold out. If it’s an abnormally hot day your nest will turn its self on earlier because it knows that it will take longer for your house to cool before you get home. So smart!

Got WiFi?

The setup will take you through several steps like setting your away margin (fancy terms!). This is the acceptable levels that your house can be at during your away time. Because our little red devil is home all day we set ours to between 16c and 25c. That’s not too cold in the winter and not too hot in the summer. We know that our house will never reach those temperatures though because of the awesome insulation job that the Holmes crew did. You also get to NAME your thermostat. It’s a little funny but the name shows up in the app (available for iPhone and Android. Sorry BlackBerry users!) and that’s just cool. Being that I was doing the setup I had to take the chance to put some nerd in to one of the coolest things in my house so I named my our Nest Jarvis after Tony Stark’s computer in the Iron Man movies (also real life butler in the comics but you’ve got to admit this thing looks like it’s straight out of Iron Man).

Welcome home Jarvis.

After this Jarvis went in to learning mode.

During learning mode I THINK it’s best to keep your temperature changes to a minimal and on a schedule. So when we wake up I go downstairs to feed the dog and turn the AC to 22c. Then when we leave we turn Jarvis to away. When I get home I turn Jarvis back on and set the temp to 22c. Then when we head up to bed we turn Jarvis down to 21c (we like it cold while we sleep). Jarvis learned quickly the first few days of having him and had a vague schedule right from day two. But then we messed it all up by going on vacation during his learning phase and setting him to away for seven days. We’ll be switching him back to learning mode so he can reset to a proper schedule on our next work day.

Now get your wife to paint around the unit and go have a beer.

This whole install (including emergency hardware store visit took about 45 minutes!)

The idea is that your Nest will learn when we’re coming and going and will think for us about our home temperature and we’ll only have to change it under circumstances that are different to our normal routine.

More to come about our adventures with Jarvis!

Nest thermostat installed
Jarvis awaiting instruction.


Nest Learning Thermostat: Nest.com

Tools Used:
Nest screwdriver, DAP Spackle, Spackling trowel, Sand paper, Paint

Difficulty Level (on a scale of 1-5):

One out of five

Total Cost: $0! ($250 USD + delivery in actuality)