Thermostats are just one of many household items that can be boldly upgraded in the recent push for home automation and interconnection. Should you buy a smart thermostat? Read on as we review the Nest Learning Thermostat and let you know what we think after three months of living with it.
What is a Nest Learning Thermostat?
Nest Learning Thermostat is the creation of Nest Labs, a Palo Alto-based home automation company founded by former Apple engineers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers (it’s no coincidence that Nest has a complex system hidden under a very simple interface. So is the iPod’ esk way). The company was later acquired by Google and is now owned by Google.
It is shaped like an upgraded version of the traditional round dial thermostat and eschews the box shape of late 20th century programmable thermostats (and later smart thermostat designs that retained the large rectangular shape).
Among all the features available on Nest, the most advertised feature, which is part of its very name, is the learning aspect. Programmable thermostats save money, there’s no doubt about it, but they don’t save money if you never program them or use the home function to cancel programming all the time. With Nest, there is no need to manually program the device because it learns your routine by simply hanging it on the wall, and even when the program changes on the fly (like you spend an entire Saturday in the city’s festival center), Nest automatically adapts and saves money on heating and cooling. when you are away from home.
This all sounds pretty great, but you can buy a cheap (though annoying to program) programmable thermostat for $50. Do the smart aspects of the Nest justify its $250 price tag? We installed one (along with the Nest Protect Smart Smoke Detector) three months ago. Let’s take a look at the installation process, the initial setup and the learning phase, and what we have to say about living with a learning thermostat after a hard cold winter and a slow onset of spring.
In most cases, Nest installation is as simple as taking the old thermostat off the wall and swapping out the wire from the old terminals to the new terminals on Nest’s handy base plate. We spent more time fixing the holes in the old and larger thermostat and painting its old footprint (previous homeowners just painted around the thermostat leaving a lovely mid-century paint job) than actually attaching the Nest base plate and connecting the wires.
RELATED:How to install and set up a nest thermostat
If you’re happy with simple homemade projects and trust yourself to label the wires, clean/stripping the wire lugs and reinstall them in the right places, then it really is as easy as installing a new media center receiver or the like. You simply remove the old thermostat, memorize which wires go to which terminals on your old thermostat, and then insert those wires into the appropriate terminals on the base of the socket, which are visible attached to the wall with the wires installed in the photo above.
After inserting the wires, you simply attach the socket directly to the base and then follow the instructions on the screen. These instructions will help you connect the device to your local Wi-Fi network, choose your fuel source (gas, electricity, oil, etc.), stove type, etc.
What seems like a do-it-yourself walk in the park to us may not feel like it, so we encourage you to check out our full setup guide and watch this simple Nest setup video to measure your comfort level. If you’re not happy with the physical setup of the device or the setup process, both can be done by an HVAC technician (and you can even find a Nest certified technician through the Nest website).
Once you’ve installed Nest, you can access the device by going to home.nest.com and logging into your Nest account, or through the official iOS/Android smartphone apps. We’ll take a closer look at them in a minute. The user interface is fortunately the same in both the mobile apps and the web control panel, so let’s consider all the screenshots and the features they demonstrate as interchangeable.
Socket programming and setup
You know what we hated most about our old programmable thermostat? Even if you memorized the arcane and numerous button combinations needed to program the device, it still took a significant amount of time to reprogram it, which meant you were left standing in your living room feeling like losing your hands poking at it for 15 minutes. minutes or longer any time you wish to do any significant reprogramming.
With Nest you you can set a schedule if you want, but we recommend that you don’t even bother unless it’s necessary. You see, right after installation, Nest starts tracking when people come and go in your home. You don’t even have to think about setting up the program because it quickly learns that after 8 am everyone is at work or school, that the first kids get off the bus and enter the house around 3:30 pm, and by 10 pm everyone is in bed. He’ll have general activity levels at home throughout the week, and you wouldn’t even have to fiddle with the «what time do we actually leave the house every morning?» game because she’s already figured it out for you.
We purposely didn’t fiddle with manual programming or tweaks on the Nest for almost a month after we installed it to make sure this learning trick was all it was supposed to be. The nest immediately picked up on two important things: when we were at home and what temperature we liked. By the end of the first week, he already knew what time to turn on the heating in the morning, what temperature to keep during the day, and what time to turn the thermostat back on in the evening.
By simply adjusting the thermostat to our preferred comfort level several times a day (when you wake up, come home, and go to bed), the thermostat learns our preferences and automatically starts making adjustments. This screenshot of energy usage from early February shows how efficient it is and how well Nest communicates with the user.
On Thursday and Friday we were at home most of the day. On Saturday we were gone most of the day (but didn’t make any adjustments to the nest). It went into automatic shutdown mode and saved us a significant amount of energy. We also enjoyed the savings on Sunday, but we can tell the two entries apart with handy icons. The Saturday icon, a small house, indicates that the savings were due to the automatic shutdown feature. On Sunday, however, we were at home and savings occurred because the day was unusually warm. These kinds of simple indicators make it really easy to see when and where changes in your behavior (and the Nest’s help) are really making a difference.
Eventually, you may find yourself wanting to manually tweak or even override the schedule that Nest has learned. No problem. Unlike the huge pain and frantic button presses that an old-style programmable thermostat programs, you can simply open the Schedule feature in the control panel and set it up the way you want.
Once you get into the schedule, everything will be as easy as possible. You can easily adjust the temperature, create multiple temperature points, copy and paste existing entries, and otherwise it’s very easy to manipulate programming as if you were using a beautiful digital calendar.
We’re not going to lie, we hated the motley 1990s era button festival that was our old programmable thermostat so much that even if it was the only feature Nest offered (automatic programming through learning and simple web/app based programming) we all Would still buy this again. But that’s not the end of the feature set! Let’s take a look at the more advanced features lurking in the configuration menu.
Exploring advanced features
The great thing with Nest is simplicity. It has a simple interface (both hardware and software) and does a lot on your behalf, especially to take the hassle out of programming and managing your HVAC system.
However, this is definitely not a light on feature. Inside this small, glossy container, about the size of a hockey puck, is a small control center for heating, cooling, and humidity. There are several «How did I live without this» options in the «Thermostat Settings» menu.
This is where the heart of Nest’s learning and smart features lies, the Nest Sense system. If you open the Nest Sense menu, you’ll find entries for various Nest Sense features that really make Nest shine. Let’s go through them now.
Auto Away: we’ve already talked quite a lot about this feature. The Auto-Away feature allows Nest to adjust its heating and cooling needs based on whether your home is occupied or not. You tell him how cold it can be in winter or how hot it can be in summer, and every time he senses that you are not at home, he will override the thermostat on your behalf. You can turn this feature off if you have an urgent need, but it’s a great feature and has already saved us just as much. days for heating this winter.
Auto Schedule: Again, this is another feature that we have already talked about more than just a little bit. Auto-Schedule is a smart learning feature and if you turn it off Nest will stop learning your routine. Again, unless you have an urgent need to turn it off, we don’t recommend doing so. Auto-Away and Auto-Schedule are truly gems in the Nest system.
Occasionally: As the nest learns about your home and your heating and cooling system, it starts building an algorithm that determines how long it takes to heat and cool your home based on indoor and outdoor temperatures. This particular feature cannot be disabled (nor do you really want to disable it, as it makes the Nest better). With this feature, the Nest interface will tell you exactly how long it will take to heat or cool your home when you complete the setup. Turn the dial from 58F to 70F, for example, and it will say it will take about three hours and 40 minutes to adjust.
Early activation: this feature, unlike nearly all other Nest features, is not environmentally friendly. It is, however, very cool. The Early Start feature combines the thermostat schedule with the knowledge gained from the Time to Temperature feature. Thus, he knows exactly when to start working to reach the optimum temperature. So if you told Nest (or Nest found out) that you came home from work at 5 pm and wanted the house to be 70F, he would know exactly how early to start heating or cooling the house to reach the optimum temperature. when you walked in the door. It’s not exactly energy efficient (since it regulates the temperature while you’re sleeping or away), but it’s very cool, and it’s exactly the kind of feature we’ve come to expect from a smart thermostat.
Cool to Dry: Cool to Dry uses your home’s air conditioner as a dehumidifier to remove moisture from your home and keep things more comfortable in hot, humid weather. Obviously, using an air conditioner is not cheap or environmentally friendly, but it does the job and makes your work more comfortable. This feature is different from a simple old room cooling air conditioning system as it also takes into account the indoor humidity level of the house with a sensor in the nest, so it will work even if the room is cooled to the appropriate level but the humidity is high.
Sunscreen: Early iterations of The Nest had problems with direct sunlight causing temperature readings to skew. To be fair to the Nest, this would mess up the readings for any thermostat, and putting the thermostat in direct sunlight is a terrible plan. However, if you have a thermostat located in direct sunlight and don’t want to move and rewire it, this feature will allow the socket to adjust to the problem.
Leaf: Leaf is another feature like Time-to-Temp that is always on. The Leaf system helps you make eco-friendly and money-saving choices. Every feature in the nest that saves money has a little leaf icon. The leaf turns green when you’re saving fuel/money and dims when you’re not. In addition, a Leaf icon appears on the face of the socket when the thermostat is put into energy saving mode to indicate that you are saving money and using eco-friendly mode.
air wave: Airwave is another great smart thermostat feature, The Future is Now! Traditional thermostats only turn on the oven fan when the air conditioner is running. When the air conditioner stops, the fan stops. The Airwave feature keeps the fan running for some time after the air conditioner is no longer running to help distribute cooler air throughout the home. How’s the idea of using a fan for such purposes? Nest’s main settings menu also has a fan timer feature that allows you to run the fan for X amount of time (or schedule it to run every Y minutes for X amount of time).
Before we leave the feature list, there is one more handy feature. If you have a whole house humidifier like we do, Nest doubles as a humidifier and will use local interior readings combined with average outdoor humidity for your zip code to automatically adjust indoor humidity. If you currently have a manual humidistat, this is an incredible improvement over your old system. Even if you have a new hygrostat with an external probe, it’s still a huge improvement since the problems you might have with a probe (sun exposure, snow burial, etc.) no longer apply.
Addition of a Nest with Protection
While the focus of this article is Nest itself, we also installed Nest Protect ($99) shortly after we installed Nest. Nest Protect is an intelligent smoke and carbon monoxide detector that works with the Nest thermostat.
In addition to smoke and carbon monoxide detection, the Nest Protect also serves as an extension to the Nest Sense system and will function as an additional input for the auto-off feature. If you have a large house, or even if the Nest is in a less used room in your house, it can be very useful to add this to the protection box. Because our Nest is located in our living room (a room with fairly little traffic), we found that the presence of the Guard at the top of the home’s main staircase significantly increased the accuracy of the home/away feature because the staircase saw much more traffic than in the living room.
In addition to being a simple system expansion, the Nest Protect has become the most enjoyable smoke detection system we’ve ever come across. Between beeps, not only does the normal alarm sound, but natural language text is entered, such as «There is smoke in the hallway» or «There is carbon monoxide in the living room.» If you have more than one protection, this alert and natural language input is passed to all of them, so no matter where you are in the house, the alerts are clear and informative. In addition, these alerts are sent to your smartphone and emergency phone, and saved to the web control panel for review.
Finally, Protect is a really fantastic behind-the-scenes feature that, without any hyperbole, could save your life. When Protect detects carbon monoxide, it also kills the heating system in the house at the same time, thanks to the connection with the Nest thermostat. Whereas a significant number of carbon monoxide-related deaths are caused by faulty combustion-based heating systems, this smart interaction between the detector and the oven means that even if you don’t hear the alarm or are unable to remove the likely source of carbon monoxide, it buys you precious time. .
Considering the extra functionality you get with Protect (fire detection, carbon monoxide detection, and the Nest Sense motion detection extension), it’s practically not a decision to buy a device if you have a home over a thousand square feet, if the thermostat is off-center, and /or if you need to upgrade/upgrade an existing smoke alarm.
After we saw how well it complements the Nest Sense features, as well as how easy it is to set up and how useful it is (compared to a traditional detector’s simple «mute» alarm), we’ve moved it all the way.
Is it worth it?
We installed a thermostat and a smoke detector, we’re three months into the experiment, and our wallet is $350 lighter ($249 for the Nest and $99 for the Protect). Was it worth it for us and is it worth switching to a smart thermostat?
Short answer: yes, for homeowners.
Without a doubt, switching from an old non-programmable thermostat to a programmable thermostat is a smart choice. The problem with programmable thermostats (a problem that Nest wants to avoid) is that people just don’t use them. They’re a pain to program, they’re a pain to set up, and more often than not, despite having a working, albeit clunky, programmable thermostat, people simply ditch it and use the Home button or Vacation setting to permanently set the temperature.
Even if the user diligently adjusts their manual thermostat or sets up a programmable thermostat, they need to constantly return to it in order to enjoy the same benefits that the automatic nest detection function provides. We’ll tell you right now that all those times in January and February The Nest figured out we were running errands or at the movies all night there were absolutely times when with any other thermostat we would never say «Oh yes we’re gonna for dinner? Let me dial the old thermostat until we get home.
Good technology reduces friction and that’s exactly what The Nest did for our family. All know what you should be doing to save energy, help the environment, and keep your heating and cooling costs down, but few people actually do it, and even those who have good habits with their thermostat will certainly religiously set their thermostat in a way. which nest can do it.
Based on our estimates and Nest’s estimates, the thermostat will pay for itself within two years. We’ll be honest with you though, even if it didn’t pay off in half the time, we’d probably still go ahead and install it simply because it turned out to be so convenient, so easy to use, and more importantly , it actually made us take care about what happens to our heating and cooling system. A product that not only reduces the friction of a previously frustrating task, but also makes you care about the task and want to interact with said product is definitely worth buying.
When is a Nest not worth investing in?
At the moment we can’t imagine a home without a smart thermostat, but there are plenty of people for whom The Nest just won’t be as great an upgrade as it is for us (or even possible). If you rent and can’t replace the thermostat, you’re out of luck. If you’re already very careful about monitoring and using your thermostat, you won’t necessarily see huge savings (but you’ll get the ability to remotely control your thermostat, path power consumption, and other perks). Finally, there are some people who just don’t want the components of their home to be connected to the internet, nor would they want their thermostat company (currently owned by Google) to know if they were at home or not. . While we don’t share these concerns, they certainly rule out buying a smart thermostat in such cases.
However, beyond these considerations, we had a hard time finding a reason why you wouldn’t want to upgrade.
Before we leave the topic, if you’re standing on the fence because of the expense, we strongly recommend that you call your local utility company and see if there’s an energy saving discount available for nest installation. The nest is suitable for programmable thermostat/wi-fi discounts in many places (our local utility offers a $50 discount for anyone who upgrades from a standard thermostat to a smart thermostat), and when searching for more information on discounts, we even found some utility companies in the US offer a free Nest thermostat. For example, Reliant Energy has a partnership with Nest and all customers who sign up for their learning and conservation plan get a free thermostat. A little extra research can save you anywhere from a few dollars to the full cost of an upgrade.
Any experience with the Nest thermostat or other SmartHome upgrades? Join us on the How-To Geek forum and share your knowledge.