196: Too Automated? Matt’s Smart Net Zero Home


On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined we’re talking about Matt’s new-tech smart home solutions to unnecessary energy burn… and to just be cool. Did Matt go too far?  Or not enough?

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, Supercharging a Net Zero Home – Ultimate Smart Home Tour https://youtu.be/0QH7-v2I7kU?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7FwYRnWkpCSkAeFOzrgh5h

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On today’s episode of Still to be Determined, we’re going to be talking about Matt’s new tech solutions to unnecessary energy burn and his experience with things that are just kind of cool. Hey everybody, as usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids, including the recently released The Sinister Secrets of Singe.

I say recently released, it’s actually six months ago. So like everything being relative. Recent, it is my most recent book, uh, but six months ago means we are now also six months from book two coming out. I’m finishing that up right now and I’ve already seen some cover art and I’ve seen some interior art and I’m very excited about it.

So I’ll be sharing more about that in the future. For now, we’ll focus on what brought me here, which is the other guy, my brother, Matt. Matt, as you all know, is that Matt from Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives. And it’s his videos on that channel that got us started on this channel with our discussion.

So thank you everybody for joining us. And Matt, how are you doing today? I’m doing great. It’s,

uh, it’s fun to be podcasting again because we’ve taken a couple weeks off, uh, because of the holidays and stuff like that. So it’s, it’s good to be back.

Yeah. We are in US holiday season mode here. And just last week, it feels like it was four months ago, but last week was Thanksgiving and we just saw each other.

We just saw each other. For the first time in a long time, we saw each other along with our parents and the whole family was together. And we’re going to be talking today about Matt’s most recent video, which is from November 28th, 2023, supercharging a net zero home, ultimate smart. Home Tour. And I segue directly into that title because having seen each other just recently for my first visit to said home, I was in this house.

I saw some of this stuff in action and some of it is so background you don’t even know it’s happening. I would mention just like, just throwing these things out here. These are some of the things that Matt talked about in his video. Uh, air scrubbing. Like you’re not even aware of it happening in the background.

He’s got air filters throughout the home, which is fine, but also the overall air system, the things like a humid bathroom suddenly kicking in and venting the air out. You’re not really conscious of some of this stuff, and it’s pretty fascinating. Other things? You’ll be sitting in the late afternoon at the dining room table and the shades will come down or you’ll be sitting there early morning and the shades will go up and it is kind of delightfully futuristic.

It’s a little, it’s, it’s neat to see the rooms. Adjusting for overall comfort without your having to take action. It’s also fascinating to watch Matt and his wife’s cat respond to these automated processes, because from the cat’s perspective, these are just things that happen in the world. So that lovely.

Square of sun that is beaming into the dining room floor. Well, when that disappears, the cat just moves a little bit to say like, well, where’s the next nearest sunshine? I’ll go find that. And CO2 detectors, which at first my partner was like, that clock is wildly wrong. And that wasn’t the clock. It was giving a readout of 800 something or others of CO2 in the air and, uh, my partner couldn’t get over it and couldn’t get over the desire to have the same thing.

So we’re probably going to get something similar for our apartment. It is a, these are minor things that anybody could do, but having seen it all in what effectively starts to feel like, and this is not me, like I’m not teasing Matt by using this term. It almost comes across as a model home. It all, it’s got a quality to it, which is like somebody’s gone in and created a home with all of these things as a showroom for all these things.

And it is, uh, Just from a design perspective, the house is a lovely house and it is extremely comforting and a warm and cozy environment to hang out in. That all to the side, just the tech aspects of the home, I think it’s really a remarkable showroom for these kinds of things. And so, let’s get into the conversation from the video and follow some of, uh, the topics that Matt brings up.

I wanted to mention You have one quick shot in your video of your internet connection. Oh yeah,

my network closet.

Compared to mine, my home internet setup is, I have Verizon’s cell based internet network, so About a year ago, I think it was, maybe less, I finally had enough of the New York City cable monopolies.

Oh yeah, if you live in this neighborhood, that’s your cable company. If you live across the street, that’s your cable company. And the service is terrible for both, so it doesn’t matter where you live. And I moved to Verizon’s, which is effectively, it looks like a large white shoebox. And my internet service is provided through the cell network, and I’ve been very happy with that.

My connection looks like a white shoebox with a cable that comes out of it and plugs into another thing. And that’s it. And then I go on to my computer or I go on to my PlayStation and I go beep beep borp and everybody’s happy. And Matt shows a shot of his internet connection. And I couldn’t help but think if you pulled the camera back a little bit, there would be several refrigerator sized computers with big spinning wheels and teams of scientists and white coats, feeding cards into a machine and like Hmm.

Yes. Writing things on clipboards. Uh, and then you’d start hearing that kind of 1960s, it’s a big box of blue cables with blinking lights and data in the background. Yeah. And Geordi laforge off to the other side. It was a. Striking shot of a home internet system and Mason Godat jumped into the comments to say Is there a video planned about your home server?

I know it’s not exactly what your channel is known for. He went on from that, but I think that that really distills it down to the key point of his question. Would you ever visit home internet? I think I know the answer, but I’ll let you explain.

Uh. Undecided? No, I’m not going to do a deep dive of any of that stuff.

Um, it’s, it’s a little too niche, a little too geeky, a little too nerdy for the videos that I typically make. It’s a little out of the wheelhouse, but I’ve been toying around with just starting to make videos every once in a while about this stuff and putting them up on like just a Matt Ferrell channel where I can just put up stuff like this.

Uh, cause I did get a lot of people saying, Oh, I want to know more about that. Or I want to know about this. And it’s like, it’s stuff that would not fit undecided. So I am thinking about. So, um, a deeper dive on some of this because my, a lot of people refer to it as a homelab. That, that shot is my homelab.

It’s got servers in there. It’s got network. It’s got security camera. Uh, the NVRs is what’s called is in there. And like, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s in there that goes beyond just getting internet connections to the house. Um, so it’s a very complicated. Geeky, just scream at the top of your lungs, nerd, at the top of your lungs as you can.

Uh, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s overkill for what you typically need for a house. I wouldn’t say, hey, this is what you need to do. It’s like, it’s not what you need to do. It’s what, it’s what I did because I run a business for my house and there were certain things I wanted to be able to do. So I had to kind of.

Go a step beyond what somebody typically would have

to do. Yeah, my expectation of your response was right in that vein, mainly because for me, I know the background of why you have the level of service you have, and it’s because you’re running a home business. So, the amount of Bandwidth that Matt requires required a moving up to a tier of internet service and probably a setup that goes beyond what other people have.

Um, but I would also say there is, if you’re currently in the market for titles for a spinoff channel. In that vein of what you just talked about, may I humbly suggest in the same spirit as Undecided with Matt Ferrell, go with HodgePodge with Matt Ferrell.

And I would invite listeners and viewers, if you have a better suggestion than HodgePodge, jump into the comments and let Matt know who knows what he might use with your suggestions. Other comments on this one related to, I mean, everybody has an opinion. Um, not everybody has facts and data, and we live in an era where opinion is happily shared.

Even without the facts and data. So there was a lot of commentary around, well, I think you made a mistake with geothermal.

I’m, I want to just like raise that as an issue, like air source heat pumps versus geothermal. And we’ve talked about this before, but I want to give you an opportunity in this episode, the back and forth, the debate you may have had internally, like which one is going to be right for me? Why did you go the direction you went?

Because the. Largest number of comments around this that I saw related to geothermal may be harder to repair. It’s going to be more expensive out the gate and your benefits, your cost benefit over time isn’t going to be that great. So it was a lot of like dollar signs that I saw feeding into this and I want to give you an opportunity to talk about are those dollar sign assumptions from commenters.

Accurate. And were those the only considerations that you made about the system you were going to use?

Those dollar sign comments, taken out of context, they’re not inaccurate out of context, but in context they are. Um, and the reason, reason I say that is, it’s, it’s what I say about solar. You have to do you have to set goals of like, what are my goals that I want to get out of this system or this house?

Like, what are your goals that you’re trying to achieve? And then you use that to assess whether something is worth it or not for you. And whether geothermal is worth it for me or not, it has nothing to do with some random person in their house. And they may think what I did was stupid, but guess what?

Your goals are not my goals. So that’s where the divide happens. Um, so for me, it was not just dollar signs. The comment about it’s more expensive to repair. No, it’s not. Um, if something has gone seriously wrong with your geothermal system, it may have been a bad installation. It may have been something that was wrong with the way they drilled the well and the type of, uh, whatever, uh, whether it’s water or glycol, whatever they’re putting into the system.

Maybe was screwed up. Something was wrong with it. It could have been a bad installation, which is why those installation, those repair costs are high. The heat pump itself that’s in that room, my mechanical room is no more difficult to repair than any other heat pump. So it’s like the, the ground loop could last on average, you know, 80 to a hundred years.

I’m going to be dead and buried by the time that thing is going to need to be replaced

Um, so when you look at the average costs of repairs, geothermal is not out of line. Um, upfront costs, yes, way more expensive to install this, but I was designing a house for the next 30 years, a long term house. And over that long period of time, this system, when you calculate the numbers, does come out ahead dollar sign wise.

But that’s not the only reason I did this. I did this because. Geothermal is more adaptable to cold climates than air source. Even though air source does a fantastic job in cold climates, I don’t have to worry about that. It’s the, the ground is always 50 degrees. My loop system temperature is going to be very consistent.

The house is going to run cheaper and more evenly over the course of time. So it’s like there was a comfort level that we did it this way too. Um, we didn’t want to put. Like, many split big wall warts all over the house. We wanted something that was the central air. So it’s like there’s all these things that you have to factor into why you want to do what you want to do.

It’s not just about dollars. It’s also about comfort and what your long term goals are.

There were also a lot of comments, and again, it very often boiled down to dollar signs, um, around putting in things like the automated shutters, the automated Blinds. Yeah. Yeah. The, the use of the Apple watch tracking on your home so that you have lights and equipment turn on and off as you are entering and leaving.

Uh, the very, very background things that you’re supposed to like kind of forget are happening. Yep. There were commenters who were saying, like, okay, doing that because it’s cool or fun makes sense, but to talk about it from a dollar’s perspective doesn’t make sense because the amount of the cost of that tech, you’re probably not going to recoup it.

And I want to give you an opportunity to say, like, First of all, is that even your goal? To recoup the cost of those things? Right. And also, if it is, do you have an estimate of how long it might take if you’re saving Oh God. 25 percent on your heating bill because you have automatic shutters? How long would that take for you?

Let’s, you just use those numbers just flat. Like, it, assume you are absolutely going to save 25 percent on your heating bill. How long will it take for those blinds?

So I didn’t bother to calculate that for my specific instance for the shades because they’re never going to recoup their costs. I never thought they were. That’s not why I did it. Had nothing. The cost savings was not why I did that. And I thought it was kind of clear in the video. I kind of made the point of like, you know.

It’s just freaking cool. It’s like, I did the shades because I’ve just always wanted automatic shades. And then there’s this side benefit that kind of comes along with it of it helps to be a little more energy efficient, which helps the house as a whole. So I was not looking at it from a dollar sign perspective.

I was looking at it from a, a quality of life and comfort. And then also maybe if I shave off a few kilowatts here and there, you know, watt, watt hours here and there. It’s going to help my energy use, which means my solar panel production will go a little further. That’s why I did it. It’s electric on the cake.

Yeah, correct. So I’m looking at it from when I evaluated my house, what I was trying to design, I was designing based on an energy budget. Like, okay, I’m putting a solar panel around here and I’m going to produce about this amount over the course of the year, which averages to about this much a month. So I want to kind of keep my energy use below this many kilowatt hours a month.

So I’m looking at it from energy budget, not a dollar budget. So it’s like when I was looking at that. The shades, it’s like, yeah, this is kind of expensive, the ones I got, but it was cool and I liked it, and it’s going to save a little bit of energy here and there, so it’s like, that’s great. Helps my energy budget a little bit.

So it’s not dollars. Um, the other stuff, like smart outlets, um, the Apple watch tracking stuff is dirt cheap. So anybody that says it’s not worth the money, it’s like, you can pick up smart outlets for like 1. 8 to 10 bucks, like really cheap ones. Uh, the little beacon trackers I’m using for my Apple Watch, which I, I didn’t buy the Apple Watch for energy savings, but it’s like, I’m using it as a tracker.

Um, the little devices I got that are around my house, they were like seven bucks each. Like these like little, it’s like, that’s not about, come on, they’re going to last forever. So it’s, it’s one of those, I can’t really calculate like when they would pay themselves off. And part of the reason I can’t calculate that is I didn’t care to.

It’s like, that’s not why I was doing it. It’s more about that energy budget, not the dollar

budget. Yeah. So you’re talking about it being as much about the experience and convenience. As much as life, any choice is about energy savings. Um, correct. Correct. Yeah. I’m thinking about in, in our family, I know a family member who at a certain time of day is always like, no, I got to go around the house and I got to close all the shades because I don’t want, as that gets darker outside, I don’t want people being able to see inside the house.

Yes. Like knowing that that is happening, regardless of whether you’re home. is a positive experience. And like I said, the charm of knowing when you walk into a dining room that the beautiful morning sunlight is going to be coming in. Is nice. It’s a nice thing to know that like, Oh, you slept in, but you walk into that dining room and the blinds are up and it’s like inviting and cozy.

And it feels like a charming place to be. It’s more of that experience than anything else.

I might relate it to like Why did you buy those shoes or that sweater? Like why? It’s like, you bought these pair of shoes, which cost 15 more than that pair of shoes. And that pair of shoes have been just as comfortable as that one.

Why’d you get that pair? It’s because it made you happy. You liked it. It felt, you know, you like the way they look, the way they feel. You’re willing to pay a little extra money here or there. It’s like, that’s kind of how I looked at this. It’s like, okay, yeah, I pay a little extra money for that, that nice to have, but it’s something I wanted to spend my money on and have some fun with.

And at the end of the video, I did state, you know, like. I don’t use what I did as an example of you need to do all this stuff because I went bonkers on my house and I do not advocate that for anybody at all. I just kind of looked at it as maybe there’s some inspiration here for you and there are very affordable ways to do some of what I did.

Out there. So it’s like, there’s a lot of great options and I was just hoping to kind of inspire ideas for

people in that vein of not everybody doing the same thing, but sometimes getting a similar result. I wanted to share this comment as our last comment of the episode from Henry Perry, who jumped in to say, hi, Matt, great show.

Just a question. Why did you not use roll shutters for the outside of your windows? It’s pretty much standard equipment on German homes. As my bedrooms all face South, they help immensely during the summer and at night, if you enjoy a dark room. And I was like. Exterior roll shutters, I was like, I was like, I’ve never seen them in the U S.

So I Googled it and saw some images. I just Googled roll shutters, Germany, and lots of pretty pictures of German houses that have these, they look just like. A single blind that comes down on the outside of the house. And I was like, I can understand the logic of it’s going to be protecting the window from certain types of weather.

It’s going to be insulating on the outside immediately from the sunlight. So the, the heat of the sun won’t be coming through the glass. And then hitting an interior blank blind, it’ll be being blocked on the exterior. So I’m like, Oh, there’s probably a lot of logical things to it, but the U S we just, I have never seen them.

And I wonder, you might see them as

hurricane shades, like hurricane things like down in Florida where they’re more like a steel shutter that goes down. Right. That that’s what you typically

say. Yeah. Right. I’m just curious. In your home building experience, did you see anything in materials that they were like, we could do this, or you found it just in your research as available in the U S that are more globally utilized, but not utilized in the U S and what were the prices and efficiencies behind those things that you said?

Nah, that’s not gonna, that’s not gonna work out for me.

Well, the exterior shutters is one of the exterior roller shade system is one of the ones that I did come across. So not common here. So for me it was just like a nope, kind of put it off to the side, right? It would look odd in my neighborhood.

Nobody’s ever done that before around here. So it’s kind of like, and also it’s not really necessary. I don’t think it’s necessary for my house, so it’s just put to the side. It’s a really interesting technique. Um, another one that is starting to kind of bubble up around more is they’re like. Awnings that go on the outside of the house over a window, but the way they’re designed is really clever because they don’t move.

Um, and they’re not completely shading the window. Imagine an awning shape that kind of comes out and then it’s kind of got like panels that are angled. So it lets light through, but it only lets light through at a specific

angle. Right. So Venetian, sort of like a Venetian blind roof. Right. So you adjust

it to get it set up.

And then what ends up happening is over the course of the summer, it’s shading the window, but as the sun gets lower in the sky, it’s letting light through because of the way you’ve got them angled. Really clever. So you set it up once and then you kind of just like leave it. And it just Take care of itself over the course of a year.

It’s really neat. That’s

a class. The big brains on Brad sort of moment. That’s just like, I mean, like somebody is just like, Hey, you know what? What if we just use some slats and angle them at this direction? Wouldn’t that be great? Everybody just like, Look at this guy. So we did, we did consider

that, but it was like, aesthetically, uh, my wife, Sue, she was like, kind of like, eh, I don’t like the way those look.

Um, and then I was considering the automated shades. And so it was kind of like, Oh, I got the automated shades. We don’t really need the thing on the outside of the house. So it’s like, that’s the reason we sidestepped it. But that is, I’m seeing that offered a little bit more and more around here. Um, I wish more people would do it because it’s such a no brainer.

Nothing mechanical

about it. It’s really cool. Very interesting. So thank you everybody for your comments. Uh, they really drive the content of the show and leave any comments about what we’ve just talked about. Did you have any other questions that you wanted us to follow up on? Any other thoughts on Matts

future home building experience, we’d love to hear from you. And don’t forget also, if you have other questions about things from Matt’s main channel, Undecided, you can drop those in the comments here. We will see them. We will talk about them and they even have an impact on the programming that he puts together on his main channel.

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