A Preliminary Review of the Nest

Three weekends ago my new Nest thermostat arrived. Its announcement a couple months back generated a lot of interest (see this NY Times review for a sample), and definitely piqued my interest, too. As soon as I heard about it, I knew that I had to have one.

As you probably know, we split our time between NYC and Brewster, an hour north of the city. Ten or more years ago I installed programmable thermostats in the Brewster house, and set them to automatically heat or cool the house according to our regular comings and goings. The problem, as you’d expect, is that we don’t always keep the same schedule, and sometimes are out of sync with the thermostats’ programming. When we leave for an extended period of time, we have to be sure to lock in a temperature setting that overrides the programming; but then when we return the house will invariably be stuck at the wrong temperature. This is merely uncomfortable in the summer, but when we get home late on a winter evening, we’ll all be shivering trying to fall asleep in a 50° house. The flip side, of course, is that if we leave the thermostats on their pre-set programs, but then don’t go home at the expected time, we’ll be heating or cooling an empty house.

The solution to this problem has always been an internet-connected thermostat. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one that cost less than $350, required some kind of controller in addition to the thermostat itself, was wired, was butt-ugly, or had an interface that was so clunky I couldn’t possibly trust it…or all of the above. At about $250 for the Nest, I signed up on the wait list as soon as I verified that my wiring was compatible. What follows is a quick run-through of its installation in our home.



Once the thermostat is installed, it gets its power from the wires that it’s plugged into—a very nice touch (my old thermostat needed as AA battery). It then boots up and asks you for some simple and clearly-worded setup information. You select your answers on the screen by rotating the metal bezel, and choose your selection by pressing (clicking) it. Though not as responsive as an average smartphone, it’s pretty intuitive and shouldn’t be offputting to anyone technically adept enough to connect the Nest’s wiring.

In the setup process, it connects to your home WiFi network and downloads its firmware from the net. Finally, about 1/2 hour after the box was opened, you are able to set the temperature with the Nest. Simply rotate the bezel to select a temperature. Alternately, you can click the bezel to toggle the Home and Away modes to temperatures that you chose during the setup procedure or to change any of its settings.

The Nest also has a motion sensor; it dims its screen when not in use, but lights up when you approach it. This way, you can see the current temperature and the target temperature without touching the device. By far its coolest feature, however, is its internet connection. Through the website or with an app on your i-device, you can toggle the Home/Away state of the thermostat or override its current temperature setting as if you were physically adjusting the settings. For my use, this is a huge boon, and should save me considerable money in my heating bills this winter. (Probably not enough to offset the cost of the Nest, but that’s fine. I mostly bought it for the convenience).

Finally, I should also say that the web interface to the nest provides for access to your Nest’s scheduling and learning. Though these are highly-touted features of the Nest, I have yet to use them and can’t really comment on how well they do or do not work. But even without these features, I am already a happy customer.

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