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?