Thermostat of the Future… NEST v2 is Here Today!

For a number of years now we have been living with "central" A/C-Heating system in our home. Naturally, our place came with the generic thermostat that could only be controlled by standing in front of it and flicking the switch, (which is especially annoying at 3am when you're freezing). Last year at the CES show we learned of a high-tech gadget that potentially would save us the trouble and money (in the long run) so we made the hard decision to shell out $250 on the NEST (we looked for stores that allow full refund - just in case). Now, by the time we got the wind of the NEST the second generation was already in stores, so this review is based on NEST version 2.0 which is 20 percent slimmer and adds compatibility with 95 percent of low-voltage home HVAC systems, up from 75 percent.  

Meet the Nest Learning Thermostat

"NEST" - out -the - Box

Not to sound too pretensions but spending hundreds on a thermostat you expect to get your money's worth on everything from functionality and aesthetics to the user manual and the box it comes in. We are very happy to put in this review that the NEST version 2.0 was impressive and pleasing to take out of the box. The unit is nicely tucked into the small square box, includes a super awesome screwdriver tool, and fabulously easy instructions (with pictures) booklet. (see below image of all that is included in the price/package). nest3 The unit itself is sleek and cool looking, but we want to take a moment to give a special mention to the screwdriver. We loved the element of surprise at the novelty of that little screwdriver, which at the handle end holds 4 magnetic tips (allowing for quadruple functionality). All we can say is that after installing the NEST thermostat you never want to part with the screwdriver. It's silly to spend so much thought on this everyday tool that most of us have at home and the makers of the NEST didn't really need to even include it, but the fact that they did, makes you inadvertently appreciate the thermostat even more. nest5nest6

NEST Compatibility

NEST works with 95% of 24V heating and cooling systems, including gas, electric, forced air, heat pump, radiant, hot water, solar, and geothermal. It can control:
  • Heating: 1, 2 and 3 stages (W1, W2, W3)
  • Cooling: 1 and 2 stages (Y1, Y2)
  • Heat pump: with auxiliary and emergency heat (O/B, AUX, E)
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier (HUM, DEHUM)
  • Fan (G)
  • Power (C, Rh, Rc)
Adding a Common "C" wire not required in 99% of installations.

Hardware Installation

The installation may seem overwhelming but the makers of the NEST have really thought it all through, to the point of including all the hardware (screws + screwdriver, back plate - to cover old holes) and very clear step-by-step picture instructions. If you don't want to use the manual, there is an online Nest Compatibility Tool you can use to double-check your wire connections. In addition, if you are totally stumped as to what to do with all those wires, the NEST customer service team will help you if you send them a picture of your current set up. WARNING: Prior to any installation be sure to SWITCH OFF POWER for your protection. In addition, switching off power should avoid blowing a fuse. Adjust the temperature on your old? thermostat to make sure your system is off.CAUTION: Do not connect Nest to high voltage wires. Not sure? Contact Nest support. Old Thermostat Tip: Take a picture of the wires on your old thermostat to help you remember. Now, the actual physical mounting of the circular backing on to the wall is as simple as two screws, (if you opt out of using the rectangular frame- which we did). We just covered the old holes with a bit of spackle and paint. NEST Installation The final step is to click on the face of the thermostat. The unit will turn on immediately and you're ready for network connection and personal info inputs.

Network Connection

As soon as the unit clicks into the mounted base the face will light up. Navigating through the menu and setting it up is as simple as a turn of a dial, when you get to the selection you want just press down the face gently. To set up the Wi-Fi you need to find your network in the list of all those picked up by the signal and press the unit face down to select. When the unit connects to your home's Wi-Fi it will most likely do a software update, it only takes a few minutes so let it finish before you proceed setting up all other info.

Favorite Features

We have only had the Nest for a few weeks now and while it too soon to tell if it resulted in any monetary savings, there are a number of significant things that have made a difference to our household. The whole beauty of this thermostat is that you can connect to it remotely from your iPhone or Android (via a free app of course) and change the settings to your liking, -or override the temperature your spouse set up ;) ? ? The fact that the NEST studies your habits and tries to replicate them without you having to adjust it every day is absolutely brilliant. After two days it knew that we wanted the heat to kick in at 6am and get the house warm and cozy to 76 degrees by the time we get out of bed at 6:30am. Another "smart" feature is that the NEST learned how long it takes it to climb/descend to a certain temperature and it displays that in time. For example, if the current temperature is 72 degrees and you tell it to heat up to 75 degrees the NEST will display how long it will take for the house to reach a certain temperature, i.e. usually about 15min to rise 3-4 degrees. Fourth favorite feature is the simplicity of the controls. With our old thermostat we only used the cool/heat/fan modes, and never in 2 years were able to figure out how to set it to turn on/off at the certain hour. The NEST on the other hand felt natural when scrolling through the settings, schedules, and all the options. We haven't tried the auto-away feature yet, and our thermostat is not near a front door at all, but will be shocked if it disappointed us. The display itself saves energy, since it remains dark until someone walks by the sensor. It also looks cleaner on the wall (very modern and sleek, not a neon green on all the time light like the other thermostats). Sometimes we wave at it as we walk by since it greets us back by lighting up. Naturally it will save energy! We say "will" because we are still waiting for our first energy bill since we installed the Nest. But the fact that it can be set to eco-mode (with a green leaf lit up on the display), and it turns on/off based on previous settings, and doesn't keep blowing A/C after the desired temperate has been reached, all facts point to the saved dollars.

Hacking the NEST Thermostat

NEST does not provide an official API but a few unofficial projects sprung up to fill the void to allow you to monitor and control your NEST thermostat programmatically in a number of programming languages and environments such as Java, Ruby, PHP, and C#.  

Wrapping Up

The Good:
  • NEST installation is a snap. Excellent customer service.
  • Good looking, intuitive thermostat, super simple to use.
  • Learning features mean you don't have to program a schedule; it will figure out your schedule for you. Web and mobile apps are fantastic. I love changing the temperature from bed!
  • Nest also learns how long it takes a user to get home, adjusting the home's temperature accordingly so it's ready when they arrive. It factors weather conditions into this estimate as well.
  • Auto-away mode (thanks to motion detection) is quite handy and should help conserve energy.
The Bad:
  • Nest's official smartphone and web apps are excellent but currently only Android and Apple iOS apps are provided by NEST. There's no Windows Phone app.
  • It's a standalone device with no official APIs (application programming interface). As a result, my home server can't directly integrate with the NEST and I cannot control it using the same interface/framework used to control my security cams, lights, and doors.
  • Auto-away mode kicks in on occasion when you're there but just haven't walked past the Nest in a while.
  • Somewhat expensive: The Nest Learning Thermostat 2 retails for $249 at major retailers.
To sum it up this is very much a luxury item at first thought, but the money saved on energy bills (especially in California) may actually pay for it in a matter of months. We think someday smart thermostats will be a standard in every home with central A/C system, but for now we will definitely recommend the Nest Learning Thermostat. More: Nest Learning Thermostat - 2nd Generation T200577