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Nest thermostat reviewed: A smart device for all seasons

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Nest introduced its smart thermostat in October of last year only to find that there was greater initial demand for its product than originally thought. It has taken months for supply to catch up. The well designed, $249 device evokes images of an Apple(s aapl) product — not surprising since it was designed by the former chief architect at Apple — and promises to learn your heating and cooling habits. That should save money on utility bills and also alleviate the need for constant knob turning to adjust your home’s temperature.

Essentially, the Nest thermostat should look good when you see it and manage your environment automatically in the background. If that’s the case, the Nest should simply be forgotten once it learns your comfort zones. Does it achieve that goal? Yes, it does. In fact, it does it so well that I’ve had my review unit far longer than I should have because I haven’t needed to adjust the Nest in months.

Nest Installation is a snap

My home is relatively new; only about 8 years old and I had no problems installing the Nest. The wiring system is all color coded, so if your HVAC system is relatively modern — say from the last 20 years or so — I’m willing to bet that the Nest install will be relatively painless. All it all, it took about 15 minutes to screw the base plate to the wall, connect the wires and attach the Nest. The device has Wi-Fi built-in, which you connect to your home network at the time of installation. You can use the Nest with secured wireless networks.

Included with the Nest is a small screwdriver to assist with the installation. The base even has a built-in bubble level to ensure your Nest won’t be askew. And there are optional mounting plates, which you can paint, to cover up any holes from the prior thermostat. I used the largest one in my installation.

The old thermostat module I removed is also a smart, programmable device; I’ve been using it since 2010, even flipping on the heat from halfway round the world. More on which one I like better in a bit.

A thermostat can actually be sexy and fun to use

Most people don’t think “bling” when describing a thermostat, but the Nest is beautiful to see. It’s a round metal knob with a circular display on the front. That’s it. To navigate the Nest’s interface, you simply turn the wheel through menu options and push the Nest in to choose an option: Simple, effective and intuitive. You can manually adjust your temperature by turning the wheel. And the screen won’t waste energy by constantly displaying information.

Instead, the screen times out in a few minutes and automatically wakes up when it senses you nearby. Yes: there’s a motion detector in the Nest and it’s not just for the screen. When Nest senses you’re not at home, it can adjust the thermostat up or down to automatically save energy. When Nest “sees” you get home, it disables the Away mode. Other useful items on the display include a blue or red background when cooling or heating, respectively, the current temperature and a green leaf when you’re saving energy.

How smart is the Nest?

Unlike traditional programmable thermostats where you have to key in various temps, times and days, you simply set Nest manually throughout the day and evening for a few days. In about a week or less, the Nest learns your climate habits and tells you that you no longer need to adjust the thermostat. From then on, Nest handles it all.

You can manually modify your temperature at any time, of course, and Nest will keep learning from that interaction. But I found that I really didn’t have to adjust the thermostat much at all over time. Even better, the Nest app for iOS and Android(s goog) make it easy to remotely adjust the temp without even walking over to the Nest. Or you can log in at via a web browser to make the adjustment.

And that’s where the Nest really shines compared to my old smart thermostat. Because your thermostat is tied to a Nest account — via an email address — there’s no complex setup to get remote access to the Nest. In contrast, for me to remotely access my old device, I had to play with router tables, network configuration and punch a hole in my network firewall; all things that take away from the simplicity.

Does Nest save energy?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer, but I suspect so. My heat source is liquid propane in a 1,000 gallon tank and I can’t monitor the propane use at a very fine level. I can say that we went longer between propane fill-ups this past season. And our summer season has only just begun. You can view your Nest usage and schedule directly on the thermostat or in the app, however. It doesn’t show actual costs, but tells you the hours you spent heating or cooling, and if you saved any energy with little usage.

Additionally, the Nest team recently added a new cooling feature called Airwave that should save money. The theory is that your air conditioning keeps making cold air for 5 to 10 minutes after it shuts off. The Airwave feature takes advantage of that cool air by blowing it in the home after the A/C shuts down. As a result, your air conditioner could run a little less while still cooling the home.

Would I buy one?

Given that I already have a smart thermostat, you’d think I’d pass on the Nest. But after I return the review unit, I may spend the money on one anyway. There are pros and cons here for me, although I think most people would benefit from a Nest. Since I have a whole “smart home” project in mind, the Nest actually doesn’t fit it. Why? Because one of its strengths is a weakness in my home: It’s a standalone device. As a result, my home automation server can’t speak to the Nest and I can’t control it from the same app and framework used to control my lights, web-cams and doors.

Still, the simplicity of the device may trump this particular issue. And most consumers don’t already have a home automation system to integrate with a thermostat, so all in all, it’s likely not a problem for you. I’m on the fence for now, but chances are the good looks of the Nest will get the better of me and I’ll retire my old smart thermostat for a better looking, younger model.

31 Responses to “Nest thermostat reviewed: A smart device for all seasons”

  1. jefftaylor71

    Kevin, you mentioned you are working on a “smart home” project. Any advice or suggestions on where to start for a “smart home”? Seems there are multiple competing products/systems on the market, all which appear to me to be very niche.

  2. Steven Spinnaker

    I’ve read complaints about the unit loosing all programming after an update and battery failure as the unit tried to reconnect to wifi.
    The concerns are especially relevant in areas that get freezing temps and those living in extremely hot climates. To think if this unit looses the programming pipes could burst and pets could die inside extremely hot homes.

    Have these issues/concerns been addressed/fixed.

  3. I just learned about this device today and could use some guidance. I have a 2k sq foot bilevel with 1 thermostat for AC and a 3 zone oil hot water heat system.

    I live in upstate NY and use the AC roughly May-Sept. I can live without the downstairs zone having a Nest, since it’s basically office/workout space.

    So I’m looking at a $750 outlay for 3 Nests. Do you think it will be worth it in energy savings? Pretty sure it will be on the AC, especially because of the compressor shut off feature. Just not as sure it will be worth it on the heating side.

  4. Bruce Cassler

    How does Nest handle the heat pump/electric heat combination? …or can it? There is no outside thermostat which tells my system to switch to electric heat when it’s below freezing.

  5. Kevin,
    I have one furnace and one air conditioner but 2 thermostats. Can I use a Nest to replace each thermostat? I need two thermostats because of the size and configuration of the house. Thank you, Donna

  6. Joshua Bova

    The Apple doesn’t fall far… (sorry, too easy). Nest has recently made a very Apple-esque move by completely eliminating all 3rd party integration with their hardware.

    I own a home technology company; we work with a couple different home automation platforms and Nest has piqued the interest of some of my clients. In response, we worked with another company to develop a driver that allowed our platform to have two-way communication with the Nest thermostats using the customer’s local network. This enabled control of the thermostats through our system’s touchscreens and other interfaces. The cost to the customer is about the same as the communicating thermostats that are manufactured by the automation company but let’s face it, Nest looks awesome and does something way cooler. I was excited about being able to offer this to my customers and even though I would lose the margin on the thermostats a happy customer is clearly worth more than a few dollars. But since this move I am now faced with a choice and I can tell you that Nest will lose out every time because of this.

  7. Just came across this review and actually just came across the nest yesterday in a Lowes ad. My question is this: Is it compatible to a new 2-stage heat pump with humidty control?

  8. Since the Nest predicts how long it will take to reach the set temperature and displays it on the thermostat – at least as of version 2.1 of the software – it should be an easy matter to add optional target time anticipation for those who want it (we don’t)…

  9. I actually consider the lack of target time anticipation to be an advantage. We prefer to have our system change temperatures at specific times and this suits that well (there is a sound reason why we do this but I’ll not go in to it here). My previous thermostat, a Honeywell Chronotherm III, had the anticipation feature and we turned it off (fortunately, it was switchable). Hopefully, should Nest add anticipation in the future, they will also make it a user selectable option.

  10. alterigo

    Kevin: I think it would be more honest for you to post this as a “Nest Installation Review.” You admit to not intending to keep the unit (sounds like it was a loaner…some conflict, no?), you don’t run it for extended periods of time, you don’t comment on other extensive use experiences of the product (see and how they compare to yours, etc. etc. I’m all for product innovation, and Nest is a fantastic entrant in the hum-drum home thermostat arena. But let’s agree that product reviews on devices such as this should be a bit more thorough than your weekend-long experiment.

    • I appreciate the feedback. I’ve actually been using the Nest for several months, not a weekend. It has run full time since the install back in February. The intelligence of it has made it generally hands free for those months: I haven’t had to adjust it very much over that time. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear when sharing my experiences. Also: I’m not sure why having a “loaner” is a conflict. It’s quite common for devices to be loaned out for review purposes and we then must return them.

  11. I can upgrade my home automation system with a remotely controllable thermostat. However, it is not nearly as powerful as the Nest, and there’s an extra $10 per month service fee. So, for me, the inconvenience of separate apps is outweighed by having a more powerful solution that’s cheaper in the long run.

  12. mstromberg7

    I’ve been considering the Nest but, I have a two story house with two systems and two thermostats.

    I have to buy two Nests, right?

    • Troy Widgren

      Yes, you’d need two thermostats as the Nest hasn’t reached the technology readiness level to clone itself via nano-technology…yet.

  13. I really want to get a Nest, as I’m kind of an enthusiast of these types of devices and I know one of the founders. That said, I’m living in San Diego these days and simply don’t touch the thermostat except for 2 times per year for AC – other than that, the temp in the house is nearly perfect. Is there any reason to get a device for mild, nice climates?

  14. I wonder how the Nest would deal with a situation like mine, where my wife and I are off by 2 to 3 degrees in terms of where we want the thermostat set (mainly in the summer) and so the thermostat gets adjusted by one or the other us almost hourly? Could we end up with a schizophrenic Nest?

    • Troy Widgren

      Nest is not meant for everyone and every situation. I believe the video and the information that they provide clearly states this. For your situation, you’d probably just stick to a dumb thermostat.

  15. For the past 2 years or so I’ve been using the WiFi thermostat from HomeDepot (manuf: Filtrete, model: 3M-50), this thing has been great, they have a very active forum and have released an API to talk to the device. It looks and acts like a normal thermostat and even has a filter change notification. Not as sexy but a really nice product. I don’t know if they have an Android interface but they have ios and a web interface.
    Even better, my wife likes it.

  16. Good review Kevin. I’ve patiently waited for your review as we often see eye to eye on product evaluations. I too am considering the Nest and have the same automation concerns as you. I started with an ever expanding Insteon system after you took the plunge, and it’s been a learning experience ever since. I would love to have the “one app to rule them all” system but it may not matter. If the Nest does well with learning you really shouldn’t have to adjust very often, plus the reporting structure you demonstrated looks better than what I’ve been able to see with my iSY based system. As mentioned, you can create awesome interaction in automation but you have to love tweaking the system and not quite as plug and play. Thanks again!

  17. systemsplanet has a much more comprehensive solution..and a better value imho
    I saved $300 the first year by identifying power hungry appliances

  18. Dave Zatz

    75 is too hot, save a little less energy. Aren’t you all solar anyway? ;)

    We’re close to signing onto a new house… and think I’ll want two Nest units. It’s a bit of a splurge, but they’re sexy and will handle our dual zones better than the existing programmable Honeywells. I don’t have the same home automation concerns, as I’m not yet convinced I need to go down that path. Hm.

  19. Jonathan

    I’m interested in the Nest but it would have to integrate with my home automation system. From what I’ve read the Nest folks are unwilling so far to open their API to interact with other systems. Hopefully this will change, but as things stand it’s a stand alone device.

  20. Prospective buyers should understand that even heating systems from the past 20 years may not be wired in a way friendly to the Nest, and that Nest’s little quiz that helps would-be buyers assess compatibility won’t catch all potential problems.

    Example: My Nest sort of works with my 10-year-old forced air heating system, but because the system puts out insufficient power through the ‘common’ wire the Nest will expend its battery and lose WiFi connection while it charges up again. Fixing it with a new zoning board would cost hundreds of dollars.

    They should also understand that while the Nest can tell you how long it will take to reach a target temperature, it apparently can’t use this information to have your house at target temperature by your requested schedule. So you set it to have the house at 68 degrees by 6 am and it STARTS heating the house at 6am. Really disappointing, especially since a $40 thermostat can handle this.

    On balance I like the Nest, but the annoyances should be considered when calculating the worth of a $250 thermostat.

    • All fair points, Paul, and every home is certainly wired differently. As far as the target temperature point, you’re right. But I see hope because the device can be upgraded through software far easier than most other thermostats, many of which have fixed programming.

      • You should probably add the target time deficiency to your review. Not everyone reads the comments and that’s a huge deficiency for an expensive product.

        If it can’t do that I wonder if it can adjust the spread between where the furnace turns off and then comes back on? (I can’t remember the term for that.) I had to switch thermostat brands to get that feature, but that too can be found in inexpensive models.

        Myself I don’t have a need for the Nest in that I don’t change the temperature a lot on my furnace. 60 degrees at night and 64 during daylight hours during the heating season in Seattle.