Nest – The Learning Thermostat

One of the things that has annoyed me for a long time is my thermostat.  For something that is so critical to my creature comfort and is such an obvious energy user it really is a ‘dumb’ device.  Well, that’s not entirely true because while we have a ‘programmable’ thermostat but it isn’t very friendly or easy to use.

It’s very hard to read since, like every thermostat I’ve ever owned, it’s in a dimly lit part of the hallway, it has tiny buttons, and to program it you need to find the tiny  piece of paper covered in tiny script and learn how to program the thing.  Programming is like reading, understanding hieroglyphics and programming in assembler language (my apologies to those that understand both hieroglyphics and assembler!).  There HAS to be a better way.

Enter Nest, the Learning Thermostat from Nest Labs (www.nest.com).  It promises to be the iPod of thermostats and save your money by making your thermostat smarter and simpler to use.  So far it’s too early to tell if it will save our household any money (the weather is comfortable without heat or air conditioning this week) it is definitely easier to use because it has a gorgeous interface and anyone familiar with an iPod will certainly be able to figure this thermostat out.

At $249 it seems a little steep but considering all that it does I think that’s a good price.  Considering that a high end programmable thermostat can be roughly $100 it doesn’t seem that expensive, in my opinion.  I’m sure there are plenty of people that would balk at the price but if you can save a little money each year because you can actually use it?  I think it’s worth it.  If you feel differently, please leave a comment.

Our household has been an Apple stronghold for many years.  The initial experience with unpacking the Nest is very much like unpacking an Apple product.  The Nest comes with easy to understand instructions and includes stickers to put on your existing wiring and even a multi-tip screw driver to uninstall and install your new thermostat.  It really is an all inclusive kit.

I found installation to be pretty easy and it took me less than 30 minutes.  The initial power up and setup was easy to understand and follow.  Using the dial interface to connect to my wireless network is a little tedious but since you only have to do it once it’s not so bad (assuming you only have to do it once).

Here is where my story deviates a little.  My Nest came with firmware 1.1.3 installed and while it connected to my wireless network it never was able to connect to the outside world to download updates and get weather updates.  After fiddling around with the Nest and my wireless router (and Airport Extreme) I called Tech Support.

I found the Tech Support people very knowledgeable, and personable, and they definitely knew what they were doing.  Unfortunately I was trying to get this done in amongst other work so my tech support was really over the period of 3 phone calls and in each case the gentlemen I talked to were very helpful and very apologetic for the problems I was having and were obviously keeping notes in my ticket since the last Tech finally hit upon the fact that the firmware was still at version 1.1.3.

The final result was that I had to disconnect my Nest from the mounting and plug it via micro USB into my Mac where it appeared as a regular removable drive.  The technician directed me to a URL to download version 1.2 of the firmware and copy that file to the Nest drive and then plug it back in to the Nest base.

Sadly this didn’t take the first time and the unit never restarted on its own.  I was able to restart it, restore it to factory conditions and do the upgrade process again and it worked.  As soon as I connected to my network it connected to the Nest servers and it even let me know it was connected to my account (the techs had input my serial number) with no work from me!

So now my Nest is working and I can control it via my iPhone or iPad even while I’m on the road!  It has some nice energy tracking functions on it that I hope will pay for itself in the next year or so.  It also has a learning mode that will be interesting to see how well that works.  Currently it’s warm enough so the furnace won’t come on but not hot enough for the AC to come on either.

A few other observations:  The display is gorgeous and easy to figure out.  It has no battery and simply uses the power from the existing wiring which is quite different than any other thermostat I’ve ever owned (with the exception of the most simple ones).

My installation experience was quite good minus the firmware problem.  If you have any sort of physical skills you should be able to do it yourself.  If you are not exceptionally tech savvy getting it connected to your network might be problematic but otherwise it ‘s simple enough.  I have to give the tech support folks kudos as they were very polite throughout the entire process and said that the network settings were often the cause of tech support issues.

Have you had any experience with a Nest Thermostat yet?  What can you share about installation and setup?

8 thoughts on “Nest – The Learning Thermostat

  1. mine came in today. haven’t installed it yet. will probably over the weekend. depending on the size compared to the existing one, I might have to do a little spackling where the old one was. I have a fairly large one now.

  2. Fascinating. The differences between the countries are amazing.

    249$ for a single thermostat??? A thermostat with a battery? A thermostat that needs electricity? What about the 20 other thermostats in a house/apartment? Why can’t you simply program the heating itself?

    • You need to read up the history on the Nest website. It’s a multi-purpose approach. People want to use programmable thermostats to make their energy usage more efficient. Heating isn’t so bad but air conditioning is very costly (electricity wise). So programming your house so the temperatures are realistic while you’re away is a huge cost benefit. If the available thermostats are hard to use most people don’t bother to use them then and simply put them at a single temperature which wastes energy.

  3. We have also troubles to update our nest device to 2.0. We are in a continuous loop and always come back at version 1.04 when the installation is finished. Could you help us with this problem? You still have the download link that you have received from Nest’s people?

  4. The problem is that Nest don’t give support to non-USA customers because the Nest is only for sale in the USA. Any tips for us?

    • Ah. Didn’t think about that. Well, hopefully I don’t get into too much trouble with this.

      I have the 1.2 update and it’s available at http://dl.dropbox.com/u/24111541/Nest-Learning-Thermostat-1.2_diamond.tar. Take the faceplate off the Nest, and then plug it in to your computer via a USB cable (this is an odd sized USB cable so you might have to go buy one) which will mount it to your computer. Simply copy the tar file to the USB drive and eject it and put it back on the mount.

      One word of warning: it took me two times to do this and the second time I reset the Nest to factory conditions and THEN did the above steps. After that it came up right away. Then it should update normally but after that I can’t really help much.

  5. Dear Bob,

    We have downloaded this file, you can delete your previous post and the one I have just written and that you are reading now.

    Regards
    Bram

Comments are closed.