I recently decided to purchase and install one of the new Nest Learning Thermostats in my home.
First, I have a confession to make. Even though I love gadgets and have made a career out of technology and engineering; I never programmed my VCR (the flashing 12:00 was a comforting sight), my fancy wristwatch is still set to the wrong time zone, and my programmable thermostat has always been set on “HOLD.” I am the embodiment of the adage, “The shoemaker’s kids are always barefoot.”
So when I read that the Nest was self-programming and needed no user intervention to set up a schedule, I decided that it was for me. The fact that it can also save money was an added bonus.
Check Your Heating/Cooling System PRIOR to purchase
I originally thought my old programmable thermostat was defective. The thermostat would occasionally lose its settings, the A/C would shut down unexpectedly, and cooling was intermittent. My first step was to replace the batteries. No improvement. Next, I checked the wiring. No trouble there. Since I have a two story house, with separate A/C units, I compared the thermostats. My downstairs thermostat had an intermittent “System” indicator. A quick web search didn’t show what the “system” indicator designated, so it was hard to tell if the thermostat was good or not. I could have swapped the upstairs and downstairs thermostats (or bought a $10.00 manual thermostat from Home Depot for testing), but since I had already decided to upgrade to the Nest thermostat, it wasn’t worth the trouble. I decided to order the Nest and get the A/C checked out by a professional while awaiting delivery.
Before ordering, I verified the Nest’s compatibility with my A/C system. The website has a very user friendly section that allows you to check your wiring to verify compatibility. You have the option of examining the wiring at the old thermostat, noting the colors and labels, then clicking the matching options on the compatibility web page. You will instantly see if your system will work with the Nest. Nest also offers the option of sending in a photo of your wiring and they will tell you if your system is compatible. My system was compatible and I ordered the Nest.
During the wait, I called an A/C repair company to perform a check out of my A/C system. In any case, you should have an annual checkup of your A/C system. To avoid surprises, I researched local A/C repair companies using Angie’s List. A local company with high ratings had an opening for the next day and I made the appointment. The technician found a bad start capacitor for the compressor. This was the cause of the intermittent problem which I had attributed to the old thermostat. The technician checked out both A/C units, replaced the defective capacitor, and verified operation of the two units. This visit cost about $200.00, which included the service call, purchase, and installation of the replacement capacitor. As is normal with the best businesses, he showed me the damaged capacitor before the replacement, and the new one after installation. He also verified the Freon level in both of my A/C units.
This solved the intermittent A/C problem and cleared the “System” indicator on the old thermostat. Now I was ready for the Nest upgrade.
Installing and Testing the Nest
The Nest has an internal battery that must be charged for normal operation. It will charge itself from your A/C system, but this can cause delays with the Network setup until the battery is fully charged, as the WiFi signal may be weak until the battery is at maximum charge. Therefore, prior to installation, I took the precaution of connecting the new Nest thermostat to my computer with a USB to mini-USB cable to allow the built in battery to charge quickly. Note that the cable is NOT included with the Nest package, it must be purchased separately. However, the cable is not required for installation; it just helps to charge the internal battery quickly.
Surprisingly enough, Windows 7 recognized the Nest and automatically installed driver software for the unit. Another indication that the Nest is well thought out and executed.
The physical installation went smoothly. First, I turned off the circuit breakers to both my A/C units. I then pulled the old thermostat, exposing the wires. I then disconnected the wires one by one; labeling each wire as it was removed, using the labels included with the Nest kit. I also took the precaution of covering the copper end of each wire with tape so that they could not make accidental contact.
There was a nasty hole where the old thermostat had been mounted. The Nest kit includes a set of different sized trim plates to allow mounting in different situations. I used the largest of the included mounting plates to cover the hole where the old thermostat was mounted. The included screwdriver, with interchangeable tips stored in the handle, was a big help as it kept everything required for the installation at hand.
The plastic mounting plates can be painted to match your wall, but the off white color of the mounting plate matched my walls well enough that I didn’t need to paint to match.
Due to my pre-charging the battery through the USB cable, the Nest’s built in WiFi was at maximum power and immediately found my home network. I had my network password written down so setting up the connection was easy, if somewhat tedious as it required scrolling through the alphabet using the Nest in “Safe Dial” mode.
Programming the set temperature was easy and quick. You also have the option of programming the “Away” temperatures. Once it goes into “Away” mode, the Nest will let the temperatures swing through a wider range than when someone is at home. The default for “Away” mode is from 50 degrees Fahrenheit to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I left my “Away” settings at the default level.
I also signed up for a Nest account and installed the Nest App on my iPad. This allows remote control of the Nest no matter where I am in the world. This is my favorite feature. The one drawback is that the connection is through Nest’s servers, and any problem there will keep you from accessing your Nest thermostat. This occurred a few times during my testing. However, this is not a deal breaker, as the Nest doesn’t require a constant Internet connection; it works fine on its own. The Internet connection is required to update the Nest’s software.
Nest advertises a new feature that will interest those who are intent on dropping their A/C bills. Airwave technology is a technique that allows the user to get the last bit of chilled air from the system. It works like this; there are two large motors in your standard A/C system, one for the fans and another for the compressor. The compressor uses the most energy. Nest figured a way to turn off the A/C’s compressor when your thermostat is near the correct temperature, but leave the circulation fans running. This allows the system to blow air across the condenser coils (which remain chilled for several minutes after the compressor is off) and transfer the last bit of heat from your house to the outside. The Nest is also smart enough to learn and adapt its “compressor off” time to maximize savings, while still cooling efficiently. They advertise that the Airwave technology can reduce compressor usage by up to 30%.
Is the Nest Worth Using?
From my experience, it is well worth the price. I have already seen substantial savings; both from the auto “Away” mode and the energy saving “Airwave” mode. My energy provider, NVEnergy, provides up to 24 months of electrical usage in a handy chart form. My history shows a decrease in average consumption. It’s hard to pin down an exact amount, as the utility rate has changed in the last year, as well as changes in our routines. My quick calculation shows a $10.00 to $15.00 per month savings. That would indicate to me that the savings will pay for the thermostat within a couple of years.
The other big saving is the auto “Away” mode. As a frequent traveler, there were many times over the last few years that I forgot to turn down my old thermostat when leaving on a trip. Now with the Nest, if only takes a few seconds to login and change the mode. Or you can wait for the sensor to automatically change the mode for you.
Problems Logging in to Your Nest Account
I did have some problems logging in to my Nest account while traveling outside the US with my iPad (WiFi only). Inside the US, no problems. But traveling overseas resulted in not being able to connect to the Nest server. I overcame this problem by using a VPN service to connect. I recommend highly StrongVPN (affiliate link). Connecting through StrongVPN gave me a stable connection to my Nest thermometer.
If you appreciate the information I have provided, please purchase your Nest thermometer through my affiliate link below: