Culture

3rd Generation 'Nest' Can Make Your Home Smarter in Just 20 Minutes

Nest has been on the forefront of “smart home” products since its first product, the Nest Thermostat, was launched in 2011. From there, Nest has been growing not only its product line, but also its products’ capabilities.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is a “smart” thermostat. It learns your behavior, such as when you are home, what temperatures you like, and minimum and maximum thresholds. It’s connected to the Internet so that it can pull in weather data, and you can also remotely control and monitor Nest from your smart phone. Nest will generate reports for you, providing information on when and how much energy you use. It will also offer suggestions for how to reduce energy costs, such as better management of temperatures while you are away at work. Nest even measures and monitors humidity levels in the house. Using Nest’s “Cool to Dry” feature, you can use your air conditioner to manage and lower humidity levels in your home.

All these features sound super cool (or scary if you think robots are going to take over the world), but how are they in practicality? Do they live up to the hype?

Nest Installation

First of all, the 3rd generation Nest Thermostat is incredibly easy to install. I had set aside an evening to remove my old thermostat and install Nest, but I was up and running in about 20 minutes. It was so easy, I second-guessed myself and reread the instruction manual front to back to try to find what step I skipped or messed-up. Fortunately for me, it really was that simple.

The installation process was very well thought out and thoroughly explained. Not only were the instructions easy to understand, but Nest included several tools to help with the installation. They provided a screwdriver designed to work with most thermostats (for uninstalling the old one) that could be flipped to work with the screws you use to install Nest. This screwdriver was actually really useful and had an easy-to-grip handle. It was not the typical Allen wrench-type stick you get with most most DIY projects and I even decided to keep it as a tool for around the house. The instructions also included stickers to help you mark which wires go where so they don’t get mixed up in the installation process. Finally, a bubble level is built into the back panel so you can hang the thermostat straight.

Nest thermostat installation

The final part of the installation was setting up the software. This was also a breeze. First, you need to connect to your wireless router. Nest will auto-detect your network and you just have to dial in the password. Once connected, Nest takes over and downloads any software updates it needs, then walks you through the remaining steps. Again, this setup process takes only a couple of minutes as you set minimums and maximums for temperatures, away preferences, and which features you want to use (such as Cool to Dry).

If you want, you can also download the mobile app. Just look for “Nest” in the app store (available for both iPhone and Android) and install. Set up a Nest account, and you will have your phone paired with your thermostat in minutes.

Overall, Nest is one of the easiest gadgets I have ever set up. Even the most non-tech savvy person could handle this installation.

Daily Use

Nest is simply a pleasure to use. The user interfaces are beautiful. Here are a few screen shots from the mobile app:

nest thermostat temp controls

nest options

nest thermostat Screenshot

The image in the upper left is the main thermostat reading. I have set the minimum temperature to 65 and the maximum at 75. The current temperature in the house is 68. The screen next to the first one is for setting “away temperatures.” The green leaf indicates a setting that will save energy. Finally, at the bottom is an energy history chart. During the weekdays (starting about about 8 a.m.), Nest sensed that we were away (the little house images indicates the start of being away). On Sunday and Monday night it was a bit cold, so the furnace ran intermittently to keep the house warm.  The numbers indicate a change in temperature setting. Blue is the threshold for the air conditioning and the orange is the minimum temperature the furnace needs to keep the house at. 

Most of my interaction with Nest has been through the mobile app. That, in large part, is due to convenience. If I want to raise or lower the temperature in the house, I just need to pull out my phone. It has been really great for those cold nights when I want to raise the temperature but not get out of bed (I am guilty of leaving my phone on the night stand).

The one feature I was most curious to see in action was the “Nest Sense.” This is the general name for Nest’s ability to learn. According to Nest’s website, “Independent studies showed that it saved people an average of 10-12% on heating bills and 15% on cooling bills.” Nest calculates that since 2011 this has resulted in a cumulative savings of 4 billion kWh of energy. It does take some time for it to learn a pattern and kick in. For me it was about a week before Nest started to predict when my wife and I leave the house. Right now, it is rather inconsistent in its “away setting.” That is, it thinks we are home more than we actually are. Nest has motion sensors to detect when you are home. I suspect our large Newfoundland dog named Lucy is being detected as a person in the house. In any case, that is much better than the set-it-and-forget-it style thermostat most homes have today, and dogs deserve to live in a comfortable house as well. So far, we have not had it think we are away when we are actually at home.

The Verdict

Many new tech gadgets don’t live up to the hype. A thermostat that learns to help you conserve energy sounds like it would be one of those products. However, in Nest’s case, it does live up to the hype. Nest was very easy to set up and manage, and it has an awesome mobile application to help you remotely control the temperature in the house. The learning part hasn’t shown to be the most accurate, but it is by far well and above having nothing. There really hasn’t been anything inconvenient about the 3rd generation Nest. Overall, it is pretty great. It retails at about $249, making it a very reasonable investment. As a bonus, check with your utilities provider because some will subsidize or even give you a Nest for free. It is convenient, makes your home more comfortable, and may even save you a few bucks each month on utilities. The 3rd generation Nest Thermostat is definitely worth checking out.