Two weeks with a Nest Thermostat

I replaced a perfectly good programmable thermostat with one ridiculously more expensive. But was it worth it?

Nest
By Phil Nickinson on 12 May 2014 04:53 pm
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"It cost how much?"

That's not exactly an uncommon phrase in my house. Only this time, my wife wasn't asking about some phone or tablet I brought home — and promptly placed next to all the other phones and tablets I'd previously brought home. This time it was a futuristic-looking thermostat.

On Jan. 13, Google announced that it bought Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. What's good for Google is good for Android Central, I imagine. But not having quite that much cash on hand, we settled for buying one single, solitary Nest thermostat for the not-so-low price of $249.

Part of the selling point of Nest is that it learns your heating and cooling habits and adjusts itself accordingly to save you money. That's a long-term play, and the idea is that Nest's high price is recouped in a year or two.

So we can't speak to any long-term savings just yet. But for those who are thinking about getting into the connected-home game with a Nest, we can offer up a couple weeks' worth of experience and advice.

Installing Nest

Nest

Every home is different, but installing Nest was, for me, almost enjoyable.

Getting a Nest onto your wall and working with your central heating and air (which, this Southerner has to remember, is not a given in every house in the U.S.) turned out to almost be an enjoyable experience. I've swapped out thermostats before, and stiff electrical wires and tiny screws and be a pretty major pain. The Nest handled all this with ease.

But let's back up. Chances are your current thermostat has some sort of rectangular footprint, much larger than the round Nest. You might have to do some painting, or some sort of minor wall surgery. I got away with having to having to patch one screw hole (the Nest covers a second), and a little touch-up work. The Nest base has a built-in level (nice touch) and needed just a couple screws. I used some wall anchors for good measure.

NestIf things get weird, Nest includes a couple options. One is a plate for mounting directly to an electrical box. The other is a larger, rectangular plastic back that can cover any major cosmetic issues on the wall. It's not pretty, though, and you never really see it in any of Nest's promo materials.

As far as the wiring goes, I did a little homework before jumping in to all this. Nest has a nice compatibility checker, and you can email them a picture of your current system to get a better look. (I did so, just to try it, and got a response back in about a day.)

And now is the time when we mention if you're not comfortable with this sort of electrical work, get help from a licensed electrician. And Nest is more than willing to help you find someone.

Reworking the wiring — I'd image this will be the most daunting part for some — was a snap, but I had it all labeled from the last swap I did. Nest uses those spring-loaded clips to hold the wires in place — press in to release, let go to clamp down, which is an order of magnitude better than those tiny screw locks. My setup didn't have any issues keeping the unit charged — Nest has an internal battery to sips off the connected power. But, again, read the instructions. Maybe more than once.

All in all? It took about 20 minutes to swap out my (perfectly good) old thermostat for a brand-new Nest after work one evening. Your mileage may vary, of course.

So how's the Nest look?

Nest

Now that our Nest is up, we've reached issue No. 1: The Nest might be too nice for your wall. (It's also a fingerprint magnet — not something I've had to worry about with pervious thermostats.)

There's a decent chance that Nest actually will be too nice for your wall.

Nest's promo pictures are gorgeous. They're perfectly lit, with a perfect surface on which to display the thermostat. My basic wallboard in a stylish semi-gloss brown, a few dings and the scars of thermostats past? It's pretty dark in that corner of my living room. Not exactly a showroom. (And it's a nightmare to take pictures of.)

Still, Nest makes it look better.

The design really is beautiful, especially when you put it next to, well, just about any other thermostat — even other high-end, Wifi-connected models. It's exactly what you'd expect from a team led by the designer of the original iPod. The color LCD display (320x320, if you were wondering) beats the pants off the monochrome display you're used to.

Nest looks and feels like a $249 Thermostat should.

Using the Nest

Setting up the nest felt a little weird. You've got to connect it to your home Wifi — using the equivalent of a click-wheel for inputting a complex password is not fun — and then left it update its software. That can take a few minutes, so sit back and relax. After that, you're led through the setup questions. They include things like:

  • What's your ZIP code? (Nest looks up the weather, so it has an idea of what it's like outside versus what it should be like inside.)
  • Set date and time and zip code.
  • What kind of home are you in?
  • What room is your Nest in?
  • Do you have more than one Nest? (They can talk to each other.)
  • What kind of AC/heating unit do you have? (If you don't know, ask.)
  • What are the upper and lower temperatures you want to allow the home to reach?

You know, stuff like that. This definitely is a smart thermostat.

Perhaps the biggest change for us has been the Nest's thermometer, which seems to be a degree or so lower than our old one. (Which also matched the indoor/outdoor weather unit that is next to it.) So we feel a little weird turning up the thermostat a couple degrees higher than we're used to, and at times the house has felt a tad warm — but it's also been a pretty cold winter, so that could explain the difference.

Otherwise, we've largely left the Nest to its own devices, to learn our habits. And in that respect, it's working great. It knows when nobody's home, and lets the temperature drift accordingly — no having to program it, or remember to turn the program on. It recognizes when someone's home — like when my eldest daughter gets home from school — even if they don't have a connected smartphone. That's good stuff.

Controlling your Nest when you're not home

As easy as it's been not touching the Nest and just letting it do it's thing, it's just about as easy to mess with it every damned minute of the day. You've got a few options.

First is with Nest's web interface. There you see a representation of your Nest. Want to turn up the heat before you leave the office for home? Go for it. Did auto-away somehow not turn itself on? You can take care of that here. Every setting on the Nest is available in the web interface.

Nest Android app

And the same goes for Nest's smartphone apps, too. There are official Android and iOS apps for Nest, and an unofficial app for Windows Phone. There's complete feature parity between the web interface and the apps. What you can do on one, you can do on the other. And the apps are as well-designed and easy to use as the Nest itself.

You were surprised?

The bottom line — is Nest worth the money?

Nest and Honeywell

Look, Nest is an expensive toy. There most certainly are cheaper options. I played with a few in stores. But none of them is Nest.

I'm reminded a bit of defunct Nexus Q — a very well-designed device that was lacking in function. It looked and felt like the $300 product it was, but it didn't act like it. Nest doesn't have that problem. It looks, feels and behaves like a premium product. A little flashy? Yeah. You kind of feel like you're showing off. But maybe that's not the worst thing in the world.

Can you heat and cool your home with a lesser thermostat? Sure. But face it — Nest is cool.

While I'm waiting on the first few power bills to see if I'm saving any money, I did find some short-term validation. We've got an annual maintenance plan on our unit at home, which we just had replaced last fall. Our usual technician came by to do his thing, and I asked him to make sure I'd set things up properly. (Remember that it only me 20 minutes to do so.) He found one wire that didn't get seated properly — it was for the emergency heat setting, which we never use anyway. I'll take that.

We haven't touched on the privacy issue. Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion. There are any number of reasons it did so — hardware, engineering or, everyone's favorite theory, the data of what's going on inside a home. I'm not going to tell you whether you should worry about that — you'll have to make up your own mind. But Nest CEO Tony Fadell has said that any changes to the privacy policy would be transparent, and opt-in, meaning that nothing should change without you changing it.

Actions certainly speak louder than words, though. We're in the early days of the connected home still. But this much is clear, after even just two short weeks with Nest — this is a product done right. And if you can cough up the dough, well worth the price.

Reader comments

Two weeks with a Nest Thermostat

20 Comments

Do we know if they have any plans to improve Nest's performance with multi-zone homes? As I understand it, you'd have to buy a separate $250 unit for each zone as it stands now. That seems like they'd be pricing themselves out of the large home market.

I have been looking at this, but putting the "cool" factor aside (pun intended) I'd like to see some serious comparison statistics so I could answer: exactly how much could it save me each year? How long will it take to recoup the cost of it? What's nests expected life expectancy? So I can make an educated assessment before I shell out all that dough on a thermostat.

I'm probably on week three with my Nest, and thus far I'm very happy with it. The only problem, which resolved itself was keeping the thing powered up and connected to wifi. Here in Chicagoland we're just about ready to switch to cooling season, so it's another process to set the appropriate values into the unit. Yes, it's pricy, but the convenience of accessing it from anywhere is undeniable.

It would be nice if I could zone it better and integrate it with the other home automation gizmos I have (or will have). As a stand alone device it's the cat's pajamas.

I really want to get a nest for my house, but you re right it will look out of place on my wall.

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It would be nice if Google updated the setup software to input the WiFi configuration information from your connected smart phone like the Chromecast.

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With only proprietary access (no z-wave or other tech) I simply can't justify it. If something like a micasaverde Vera could control or simply monitor it (haven't checked), I would give it greater value

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Like mine. Works well. While I'm not sure it's helping to save money.. it does make me much more aware of how, when, and if I'm heating or cooling my home. That is worth it to me..

I'm waiting for further integration, I want everything controlled from one central app...hope it comes sooner rather than later.

Seems like a good looking device with easy install. Like the article suggests though the cost seems prohibitive. When programmable thermostats can basically function as the neat can, its hard to justify the cost. But don't get me wrong, would be nice to have, very top of the line looking

I've been very interested in Nest products, but I'm leery of spending so much money on a thermostat after having finally come to terms with the fact that I was spending obscene $$ on Nest smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, only to find out they were recalled due to safety concerns. For that kind of money, I want to know it works and that its safe.

I have the Nest smoke detectors and want to get this. I figure it is the best future proof device in its field as Google will keep it front and centre and the standard going forward.
Now to sneak the cost by my wife...

I work in the HVAC industry in Canada and we sell both the Honeywell wi-fi and the Ecobee t-stats. I have the Ecobee in my house set up for my Geothermal system. The app for the Ecobee is a simple mirror of the thermostat user interface and that should suit most home owners if they want to turn on the heat/cool or change the temperature before going to the home or cottage. In our very cold winters, there is no saving with whatever system you use to heat your house by lowering your temperature at night and then resetting it to your desired temp in the morning as the energy required to put it back up there surpasses what was saved during the night. I don't like the look of the Nest because it reminds me of the old mercury filled t-stats of years gone by. What I love about the Ecobee (and i don't know if the Nest gives out this info) is the usage information via the website to be able to compare how often my system is on and what heating stage is being used plus a very good comparison with the past year, month per month. Plus, with the geothermal system, I can see what my ground water temperatures are during the year. Now, I haven't tried one so I would be open to it but from what I've seen so far, and from what I know being in the industry, most people wouldn't use a lot of the features on this, even if they are very cool.

This would be the kind of toy I'd buy. Because it's cool but also feels like a useful tool, which would make a great excuse for buying something this expensive. I love gadgets I can play with, and this seems to be saving money in the end as well. However it wouldn't fit in my house at all (autumn colours, no blue anywhere) I still think it would beat the small round white thermometer we have now. Thanks for the wonderful review, Phil. I love your point of view that most people can relate to.

The biggest issue with this, is that if I buy one, I will want to buy another 6 for the other thermostats at home.... aaaand divorce papers will come right after that... $1.750 only in thermostats!.... Actually, I would divorce myself.

I want one but need to wait until I have a apartment of house I feel it would be worth having it in.

I am very happy with my purchase. We set the temperature settings and looked at the app and programming for the first few days. I was most surprised that the Nest thermostat set itself to auto away when no one was in the house. We hardly look at the app now. Set it and forget it! Gotta love it! Now I will compare what our total heating costs will be next year compared to last year.