Like many of you, I've never really thought about anything as basic as my thermostat. As long as it stepped on the heater or air conditioning when I needed it, I was happy. That said, I'll admit that I was a bit intrigued reading about the Nest Learning Thermostat when it was announced in October 2011, but even then, the thought of buying one never really crossed my mind.
I followed Nest and the success they had with their connected thermostat over the past two years, and after I decided to replace all of the lightbulbs in my apartment with energy efficient LED units, I also decided this was going to be just as good at Time like everyone else to see exactly what the nest was about.
The Nest thermostat is currently in its second revision and has been in operation for a little over a year. When asked about a possible third generation unit, a representative from Nest's PR agency told me they had nothing to share on the matter and instead focused on Nest Protect. Because of me.
Knowing this, I was less concerned about buying something that was already a year old. And even if a new model was on the horizon, the Nest had to be better than the basic non-programmable Honeywell model I've been using for five years.
A quick check from Nest's online compatibility tester showed that my heating and cooling systems were indeed compatible with Nest's offering. Shortly thereafter, an order for the thermostat was placed.
Installation and setup
The nest arrived in a brown cardboard box with a simple clip-on cover. I half expected a bit more flare from the retail packaging of a product co-designed by former Apple engineers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, but then again, they may be confident enough about their product that they won't outbid users on the site need packing.
Inside the retail box you will find everything you need to get started, including the thermostat itself, the mounting base, all the necessary mounting hardware such as wall screws and optional steel plate screws, a screwdriver, a trim kit, an optional mounting bracket, and detailed installation instructions.
According to Nest, most users can install the thermostat themselves in 30 minutes or less. In addition to the included installation manual, Nest offers an installation video and a detailed PDF file on their website to walk you through the process. In the event that you don't feel like trying to tackle the project yourself, you can find a certified installer right on the company's website. Prices vary by company, of course, and almost every service provider in my area had to be contacted directly to get prices.
Instead of installing the device myself, I hired a friend with an electrical background to lend a hand. In retrospect, I could easily have done it myself, but something about working directly with electricity scares me.
After disconnecting power from the circuit breaker, we removed the old thermostat, connected four wires to the mounting base, attached the trim kit that came with it, and tucked in the nest. The trim kit will likely be a necessity for most users as I found a gaping hole in the wall after removing my standard thermostat. If you're building a new house or moving your thermostat controls, an installation with no cladding may be sufficient, otherwise the cladding piece will be needed.
Nest thoughtfully put a spirit level right on the submount to make sure you don't mess the installation for proper orientation. Nothing bothers me more than seeing something installed askew (think bumper stickers, window decals, framed photos) so having a level built in was a nice addition.
Once connected, the Nest will go into setup mode, where you can enter basic information such as heating and cooling settings, WiFi settings and location data. It is probably a good idea to check for a firmware update in Settings. Nest has been known to introduce them on occasion, and of course you'll want to start with the latest and greatest.
The nest has a handsome color display, although it is not touchable. Instead, the thermostat's outer metal ring is used to control everything. Turn the rotary control right or left to scroll through the menu options in the desired direction. To make a selection, simply push the dial towards the wall.
The display stays off to save power while you are not yet interacting with it. As you approach, the screen comes to life thanks to a built-in proximity sensor. The backlight corresponds to the system you are controlling at any given time – orange for heat, blue for air, or black if neither system is selected. Most of the menu options are either blue or white and are all tasteful and easy to read.
Another nice feature is the fact that the nest does not require batteries. Not that replacing the batteries in my old thermostat once a year or so was a hassle, but it's one less thing to worry about now.
After you've configured the Nest and connected it to your home Wi-Fi network, you can control the thermostat remotely from your computer, smartphone or tablet by either visiting the Nest website or downloading the app for your mobile device.
You need to give the nest a solid week to learn your habits, a feature known as the Nest Sense. The device contains three temperature sensors as well as a humidity sensor, with which you can measure the temperature in your house accurately.
I suspect most people work on a fairly routine schedule of waking up, going to work and coming home in the evening and repeating the process again the next day. The weekends are likely to be a crapshoot, but the good thing is that you can always manually adjust the temperatures as you see fit.
Once Nest learns your schedule, adjustments will be made on your behalf. For example, if you normally turn off the heating / air conditioning during the day during work, or turn it off completely, Nest will learn this behavior and save you from having to do it every day. A one-time change will not affect Nest's learned behavior. However, if you change the temperatures constantly for a few days in a row, it is automatically recorded and adjusted.
Another great thing about Nest Sense is that when you adjust the temperature, it gives you an estimate of how long it will take to get to the temperature you want.
The problem with many programmable thermostats on the market is that they can be so difficult and time consuming to set up and maintain that many people are tired of being fooled by manually setting temperatures again. Nest Sense effectively eliminates this nuisance.
If you have children or want to install the device in a public place like a company, you can activate a 4-digit PIN code to prevent anyone from manipulating the temperatures. That would be a lot more convenient than locking the controls behind a box like I've seen in countless stores.
Another useful feature is the nest sheet, an icon that appears when you make an energy efficient temperature change. For example, if you normally run your air conditioner at 73 ° F during the day, but want to manually set the air to a warmer temperature or turn it off completely, you will receive a sheet of paper as an indication that you are saving energy and ultimately money.
Nest keeps track of how many sheets (that's right, not sheets) you are making per month. This number is given in every monthly energy report. For some, collecting leafs can be a fun way to conserve energy – think of it as a game achievement.
Nest owners can also take advantage of Airwave, which the company describes as an exclusive software algorithm designed to automatically lower air conditioning costs. To understand how Airwave works, you need a basic understanding of the AC system in your home.
Your air conditioning system consists of two energy-consuming components: the compressor and the fan. The compressor uses a lot of energy while the fan uses very little electricity. While many thermostats simply reach a desired temperature and then turn off completely, the nest is different.
The compressor coils can remain cold for five to 10 minutes after turning off AC power. To take advantage of this, Airwave turns off your compressor when the system approaches the desired temperature, but keeps the fan running to bring the cold compressor coils to their maximum potential. All of this happens automatically once the relative humidity in your home reaches a certain level and things are set just right, so you can still get to the target temperature you want without using as much energy to do it.
Use, results and conclusion
I have been using the Nest for almost two months and without coming to the conclusion I can say that it is an excellent and well-rounded product in terms of both hardware and software.
I was originally attracted to the temptation to lower my monthly energy bill, but unfortunately I can't tell if it actually happens or not. This time a year ago I lived alone, but now with a friend who is there more often it means more cooking, more laundry and more energy consumption in general. Of course, I use more electricity and my bill is higher than it was a year ago.
To get a fairly accurate estimate of whether or not the nest is saving me a significant amount of money, I would need several months of usage data so that I could compare year to year with and without the nest based on my current living arrangement.
Since the energy consumption was not clear, the second important selling point for me was the ability to remotely control the thermostat via my smartphone. I can't count the number of times I have left home for an extended period of time and forgot to turn off the air conditioning / heating. There's no point in cooling or heating my pad when I'm not around and that's just money down the drain.
This is no longer a problem as I can set the thermostat anywhere I have an internet connection. This is useful for the situation mentioned above, but also for many others. For example, now that it's getting cold, it's nice to step on the heater a few minutes before I get home from running errands for the day.
Most of all, I just love being able to set the thermostat without having to get up. I like it very cold when I sleep at night, so I set the air to 64F before bed. The problem with that is that it is always freezing cold when I crawl out from under the covers in the morning. Not anymore – I just turn off the air conditioner when I wake up, turn on the heater, and wait a few minutes before getting up. Ahh, perfection!
When I started using the Nest, the mobile app was extremely lacking. It looked like the company just put something together overnight with just the most basic of controls. However, a recently released update fixed this issue and now the app looks great. Unfortunately, Nest didn't make it particularly clear how to access some settings, which has frustrated many users. The last update, released a few days ago, makes these features more visible.
I've always been curious how often the air conditioning is turned on at night when I sleep, especially in winter when it's already very cold outside. I now know the answer thanks to Nest's daily energy history reports, which can be accessed on the thermostat, mobile app, or online on the Nest website.
The energy report shows how much time was spent heating and / or cooling your home each day. If you take a closer look, you can see exactly when each system was turned on, how long it was running, and find out about any factors that could have influenced its usage that day (e.g. higher or lower temperatures than the average temperatures in of the region).
My only complaint about the energy history report is that it was only 10 days ago. It would be much more useful if Nest could at least provide a monthly breakdown, and preferably have your full energy history on display. With luck, this will be fixed in a future update.
All in all, I am happy with my Nest purchase. The device offers a level of convenience that was simply not possible with my simple Honeywell thermostat. Sure, there are other connected thermostats on the market, but even some that are priced in the same range as the Nest are nowhere near aesthetic. My living room looks like home.
I can't speak to the operation of other smart thermostats, but I can say the Nest is incredibly easy to use. After all, it programs itself automatically in the first week of use. How many other devices can say that?
Aside from the energy history limitations above, price is the only other measure likely to keep more people from buying a nest. At $ 250, it's way more expensive than a base thermostat or even a mid-range programmable device. But in my eyes this is another case where you get what you pay for, and the nest is a winner in my book.
Advantages: Slim design, easy to install, easy to use, learns your heating and cooling habits, can be controlled remotely via a smartphone or browser.
Disadvantage: The expensive energy history report only goes back 10 days.