Every year when autumn rolls around, I start to think about all the things that need to be done, like raking up the leaves, cleaning up the garden, and preparing myself for the crazy heating bills that inevitably start arriving when the weather turns cold. But this year I decided to get a jump on one of these things by checking out the Nest thermostat.
If you’ve seen the Nest in your home improvement store flyers, you’ll know at least one thing about it: it’s not cheap. (In fact, the $250 price tag has been known to drop a few jaws.) Why would you spend that kind of money on a home thermostat when it’s double…even quintuple the price of other programmable thermostats?
Despite the product’s high-tech pedigree – it was designed by a team with experience at Apple, Logitech and Sling – I admit that the price still rattled me whenever I stopped to think about it. But would that change after checking it out, in action?
First things first: The Nest isn’t just a “programmable” thermostat. Most thermostats provide some level of programmability, to allow you to turn the heat up and down automatically at certain times; instead, the Nest is a “learning” thermostat, which means it’ll remember your interactions with it and automatically set a schedule.
What does that mean? When you leave for work, you can turn it down, and then turn it back up when you get home, and it will remember this schedule. A week later, it will do those things automatically for you, based on what you’ve done through the week. Better yet, you’re not limited to the kinds of narrow windows that you might have in the typical programmable thermostat, such as requiring all weekdays to have the same setting; each day can have multiple independent temperature changes to match your actual schedule.
Nest also comes with an “Away” mode, which allows you to set minimum temperatures in the winter and maximum temperatures in summer. So when you set Nest to Away, it won’t heat or cool your house/business beyond those thresholds, to save you money. There’s also a sensor built right into Nest that will determine whether you’re in the house or not (provided it’s located in a central location with an unobstructed view), and you can choose to let Nest switch automatically into Away mode when there’s no activity in the house or business.
You may have noted that I’m saying “house or business”, and that’s because during initial setup you can choose whether the thermostat is located in a home or in a business. It’ll use your choice to make assumptions about when people will typically be present at that location, for better automatic heat/cooling settings. (Of course, your ability to put it into a business location will depend on what type of heating controls you have in your location; for a smaller business with individual heating/cooling units, Nest might be a great choice. If your heating and cooling is controlled at a central location at the building level, Nest probably won’t work for you.)
For me, setup for the Nest was quick and easy. The package comes with the main Nest unit (which is detachable), the interface unit that connects to your wiring, and plates that can be used to mount onto the wall if you need to cover up the mess left behind by a larger older thermostat. The package also comes with the tools you need to remove the old thermostat and install the new one.
Unlike many thermostats, which require you to hook and/or screw down your wiring, Nest uses a simple button release system, which means hooking up your wiring is as simple as depressing a button and inserting the wire. Simple.
Once the Nest is physically installed, you have to do a few things to set up the software component (such as the aforementioned step of telling Nest whether you’re at a home or business), and Nest will walk you through each step. During this setup process, you interact with the Nest itself by spinning the outer wheel to make a selection, and then depressing the unit to select. This was the clunkiest part of the setup. Spinning the outer wheel to input alphanumeric text was a little like entering data using an old iPod click-wheel: it looks slick but it takes forever.
During the setup process, you can choose to connect Nest to your wireless access point, and that’s where much of the power of Nest comes in.
Once your Nest is connected to the net (and once you set up a Nest account), you can monitor or control your thermostat from wherever you happen to be, using either a web browser or a mobile app. You’ll even get a regular email summary of your energy usage.
After downloading the Nest app onto my Galaxy Note 8, I was able to view my Nest’s current settings, and adjust the temperature (or switch it into Away mode). As the first week rolled on, I could see it the schedule filling in automatically based on the adjustments we made through the week…and I was able to readjust those manually from the app if I wanted to. I could change the schedule for the furnace fan, or simply set a one-time fan timer. I could take a look at the wiring connections to my furnace, and see what each of them actually did. And best of all, I could take a look at my energy usage history, and see how efficiently I was using energy. (The jury is still out on whether I’m doing a good job.)
After a few weeks of using Nest – and a few incidents where we had to switch the thermostat into Away mode after leaving the house – I am onboard…even with the higher price.
And it’s worth noting that Nest claims that it’ll typically save you enough money in energy savings that it’ll pay itself off within one or two years – obviously it’ll take me a bit more time to determine whether that’s true, but with the thought and detail that’s been put into the rest of the Nest experience…I’m not going to bet against it.