05/29/2012 01:48 EDT | Updated 07/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Nest Learning Thermostat On Sale In Canada: Will Heating Cost Savings Follow?

TORONTO - Are Canadian homeowners ready to spring for a high-tech, premium-priced thermostat, just as they've embraced Apple's slick but pricey smartphones and tablets? Nest Learning Thermostat co-founder Tony Fadell — the lead designer of the iconic iPods and iPhones before leaving Apple in 2005 — thinks so.

On Tuesday, Nest announced it has started accepting orders for its US$249 thermostat in Canada, the first country outside the U.S. to get access to the buzzed-about product.

It's not called the iThermostat, but it might as well be.

The round thermostat has a colourful screen that's designed to stand out.

"It's very different from the beige plastic box that has been sitting on the wall for decades, that you ignore," Fadell said in an interview.

"We think of this as the thermostat for the iPhone generation."

The Nest is also designed to reduce energy bills — by as much as 20 per cent, the company claims — easily and without effort; even for consumers who already have a programmable thermostat.

"In the U.S. — and I know it's very similar in Canada — only 10 per cent of thermostats are actually programmed to save energy, because the user interface and the devices themselves are non-intuitive," he said.

"There's a new generation of people who appreciate higher-end products, they understand what they're buying and they understand the value that they bring."

The Nest doesn't need to be programmed and instead learns what temperatures owners like to keep their home at during different times. After a few days, the unit will be able to go on auto-pilot and automatically shift the temperature up and down, Fadell said.

It can also sense when the house is empty and turn down the furnace or air conditioner, or users can remotely make adjustments with a web browser or app. Nest also claims it can reduce air conditioner usage by up to 30 per cent by automatically turning off the unit a few minutes early and running the fan to circulate cold air.

Fadell said Canadians can easily save money by being smarter about their home energy usage. He noted that in the U.S., about 50 per cent of home energy costs are tied to heating and cooling. He cited a Natural Resources Canada stat suggesting the average is 64 per cent in Canada.

Even though a low-end thermostat can sell for around $20, Fadell said he's not concerned about being priced too high for most budgets.

"There are many people with very, very well designed products in their hands every day, all the other products they touch should be well designed — and those cost money to build," he said.

"We were never nervous about (price), we think in most cases in the U.S. it pays for itself in less than 12 months and it will continue saving energy for 10, 12 maybe 15 years.

"You spend (hundreds) on a cellphone every (three) years, why can't you spend $250 on a thermostat every 12 to 15?"