As our homes continue trending toward complete connectivity and automation, we often forget about one of the first smart devices to receive an upgrade: the thermostat. Those new to the smart home market may ask whether or not it’s worth it to get a smart thermostat. How much of a difference does a connected thermostat really make?
Perhaps the most well-recognized smart thermostat on the market today is the Nest thermostat
This connected device offers plenty of features and methods to help make your heating and cooling systems more efficient while saving you money on your heating and cooling bill.
So without further ado, let’s dive into what the Nest thermostat is and how it works.
Contents (Jump to)
What Is the Nest Thermostat?
When people think about the Nest thermostat, their first thought might be that it is a device purchased and owned by Google. However, something interesting to note is that the company that brought us the Nest device was actually founded by a pair of ex-Apple engineers. You can see Apple’s influence on the interface and design of the device itself.
The thermostat is in the shape of a traditional round-dial device that you might find in older houses. It goes the opposite direction of the boxy, square-shaped programmable thermostats that inundated homes in the late 20th century.
If you’re interested in the Nest thermostat, then you know that it’s commonly referred to as a learning thermostat. While it’s true that programmable thermostats will save you money, you still have to program them and make sure they’re set to specific temperatures at certain times.
The Nest, on the other hand, doesn’t require manual programming. It learns your routines and behaviors just by hanging on the wall. When you change the temperature in your home, the Nest instinctively makes adjustments and adapts. These adjustments help save your money on your heating and cooling bill.
While the idea of a smart thermostat is appealing, the cost of one is nearly five times that of a simple and cheap programmable thermostat. Is the $250 price tag of a Nest justified with all of its smart features? Of course, the answer to that question depends on how much importance you place on saving time and money.
To give you a better idea of whether or not the Nest is right for you, let’s visit how to install the device, how to set it up, and how it works.
For the vast majority, installing a Nest thermostat is simple. You remove your old thermostat from the wall, swap out the wires from the old terminals to the new ones, then place the Nest itself onto the wall.
If you live in an older house, you might discover that you need to do some patchwork or painting when you remove the old thermostat. More than likely, this work will take longer than the actual installation of the Nest thermostat.
As long as you’re comfortable with performing simple do-it-yourself projects around your house, you should have no trouble with installing your Nest thermostat. It’s essentially marking the wires, stripping and cleaning the wire tips, then reconnecting them to the correct spots on the Nest.
Once you have the wires in the right place, all you have to do is snap them into place, then put the Nest on top of the base. When you see the screen light up, just follow the instructions as it guides you through the setup process. You’ll connect your Nest to your WiFi network, choose your fuel type (electric, gas, etc.), what type of furnace is in your home, and any other pertinent information.
If you aren’t comfortable with this type of work, or you feel like you need some more information, Nest offers plenty of additional guides and video tutorials. After reviewing more documentation and you still don’t feel like you can get the job done, be sure to contact an HVAC specialist. On Nest’s website, you can find a Nest-certified specialist to come and install the device for you.
When everything is installed, and you’ve gone through the setup process, you can access the device through a variety of methods. One way is through your browser by visiting home.nest.com. If you prefer to use your smartphone, you can also access your Nest via the Android/iOS mobile application.
Thankfully, the user interface is the same across both the web control panel and the mobile applications. This means you don’t have to worry about whether or not the guide or screenshots you’re viewing will apply since they’re all the same.
Programming and Configuration
Perhaps one of the most significant pain points of the old school programmable thermostats was the programming part. You had to memorize various button combinations, it took a ridiculous amount of time to complete, and after fifteen minutes of mundane poking, you feel like you haven’t really accomplished anything of significance.
If you want to set a schedule with your Nest thermostat, you can, but Nest recommends that you don’t mess with it unless you absolutely need to. One of the great things about the Nest is that once you install it, the thermostat starts tracking as people come and go in your house. You don’t need to worry about programming it because the device learns the behaviors within your home.
For instance, if everyone has left the house by eight o’clock in the morning, the Nest learns that and adjusts the heating and cooling. It will learn that the kids get home around 3:45 and that everyone is in bed by ten o’clock. Within a week or two, the thermostat will learn when activity in your home occurs, and you won’t even have to mess with programming it.
If you let the thermostat learn, then it’s doing what it does best. It will determine when you’re home, and what temperature you like. Based on your behaviors, the Nest will turn on the heat or air at certain times of the day. If you’re not home, the device will automatically let the house warm up or cool down (depending on the season) and help you save on your energy bills.
Really all you need to do is adjust the Nest a few times a day. Change it to your preferred comfort level so it can learn your preferences as it goes. No need for complicated or convoluted programming or schedules. Just change it when you need to, and the Nest thermostat will make the appropriate adjustments.
When you leave for the day, the Nest goes into Auto-Away mode, which saves a lot of energy. This is a great feature. You don’t have to worry about changing the temperature when you come and go, or adhering to some predetermined schedule. You can come and go as you please, and the Nest will quickly identify when you have left your house via your cell phone.
Every once in a while you might discover that you have to manually adjust or override the temperature at which your Nest is set. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem. You don’t have to push a bunch of buttons or remember a particular program. Just push the thermostat in, make the adjustment, and the Nest will change the temperature for you.
The reality is that those clunky, button-happy programmable thermostats of the 1990s were a pain in the rear, and it’s very nice to move away from them and onto something much simpler and sleeker.
Of course, the Nest is much more than just a one-trick pony. Let’s take a look at some of the more advanced features this smart thermostat has to offer.
The thing that sets the Nest apart from other smart thermostats is its simplicity. Both its software and hardware have easy to use interfaces, and you don’t have to deal with a lot of tedious programming in order to manage and control your HVAC system.
However, that doesn’t mean the Nest doesn’t offer a variety of features. Just the opposite actually. This hockey-puck-sized device is jam-packed with plenty of options including humidity, cooling, and heating management.
Located in the Thermostat Settings menu on the Nest, you’ll discover plenty of options that will make you wonder how you managed to live so long without them. These are great features to explore and really get to the heart of the Nest’s smart capabilities.
The Nest’s Sense system is where you’ll discover the various capabilities of your smart thermostat. These features really make you Nest shine, so let’s take a look at some of them.
The Airwave feature is a pretty nice option that the Nest smart thermostat provides. Typical thermostats only run your fan while the air conditioner is running. If the AC shuts off, so does the fan. With the Nest, the fan continues to run for a period of time to help distribute cool air around your house.
If you like the idea of having your fan run a little longer to help cool our home, the Nest settings also include a Fan Timer function. With this function, you can have the fan run for a specified period at a particular time of day.
We’ve already talked a little about Auto-Away in the preceding section, however, let’s visit it again just to cover our bases. Nest’s Auto-Away feature enables the thermostat to adjust the heat or air in your home based on if you are at home or away. You can set the temperature to stay above a certain temperature in the winter and below a certain temperature in the summer, even when you’ve left the house.
And if you don’t feel like this feature is beneficial, you can always turn it off. It is a great option to have though and can save you a lot of energy during the hotter and colder months.
Another feature we briefly touched on is the Auto-Schedule feature. This smart learning feature will learn your routine and change the temperature based on the behaviors of you and others in your house. However, the recommendation remains that you leave this feature on unless you have a very specific reason for not needing it. Auto-Schedule is what makes the Nest the smart learning thermostat it is.
Cool to Dry
When hot and humid weather strikes, the Cool to Dry feature is nice to have. This setting uses the air conditioner in your home as a dehumidifier to get rid of the humidity. Of course continually running your air conditioner isn’t ideal; however, it does make your home much more comfortable when it’s humid out.
Keep in mind that the Cool to Dry feature runs the AC for various reasons. It will run the air to cool down the room; however, it will also use its built-in sensor to run when the humidity in the room is high. It’ll do this even if the room is already cool.
Nest does a great job of providing features that are both handy and environmentally friendly. Its Early On feature is definitely helpful, but not environmentally friendly. The Early On setting uses the Nest’s schedule along with the information it has gained through the Time-to-Temp feature, which we’ll talk about later.
Using this data, the Nest knows precisely when to turn on in order to get to the optimum temperature. For instance, if everyone is home by 4 PM, and you want it to be 73 by that time, the Nest knows precisely what time to turn on, so everyone arrives to a nice cool home.
It’s not the most energy efficient feature as it makes adjustments to the temperate when you’re away or while you’re sleeping, however, it is nice to have. It’s precisely the type of option you would expect if you had a smart thermostat in your home.
Like the Time-to-Temp feature, the Leaf setting is always on. With the Leaf system, Nest helps you to make smart and energy efficient choices. If you’re using a feature with your Nest and you see the Leaf icon, it means you’re using a function that can save you energy and money.
If you’re in the process of saving money/fuel, then the Leaf will turn green on the display. If you are not, then it will show up as a dim icon. Additionally, if the Leaf icon appears on the face of your Nest thermostat when you adjust the settings into an energy saving mode.
Some of the earlier versions of the Nest smart thermostat had problems if the device was in the line of direct sunlight. The temperature readings would be skewed which would result in the thermostat thinking it was hotter in the house than it really was. Of course, this would be the case with nearly any thermostat placed in direct sunlight.
While placing your thermostat where it is hit by sunlight is a poor decision, perhaps you have no other option since that’s where the old thermostat was wired. If that’s the case, Nest seeks to take care of that problem with its Sunblock feature. The thermostat adjusts for the problem, so your home stays at the temperature you want.
Time to Temp
This feature is helpful in case you’re curious about how long it will take your home to get to a specific temperature. The Nest learns how your home operates and as it does, it develops an algorithm that can tell it how long it takes to heat or cool your home.
You can’t disable the Time to Temp feature, but even if you could, would you want to? Thanks to the Time to Temp feature, any time you make an adjustment to the temperature, the Nest will automatically show you how long it takes to reach the new temperature.
Last on the feature list is a nice feature that is tucked away within the Nest settings. If you happen to have a humidifier for your entire house, you can use the Nest as a humidistat. It will take the average outdoor temperature and combine that information with current indoor readings and adjust your humidity accordingly.
Is the Nest Worth It?
Is it worth it to install a Nest smart thermostat? The short answer for homeowners is yes. In just a few short months you’ll notice savings in energy which translates directly to money in your pocket. Upgrading to a Nest thermostat from an older model is a smart decision.
The issue you’ll find with programmable thermostats is that you simply won’t use it. This is a problem that Nest wants to avoid as much as possible. These older thermostats are a nuisance to program, a pain to create a schedule for, and more often than not, you’ll just use the Vacation or Home button to set the temperature.
Even if you’re the type of user who is diligent in making adjustments, the truth is you wouldn’t come close to the energy savings that you’ll get with the Nest thermostat. There are times when you leave your home, and the Nest automatically makes an adjustment for you. It’s not something you would have thought to do with a programmable thermostat.
Great Thermostat with Great Technology
When it comes to technology, the purpose behind it should be to make your life easier and reduce friction in your day-to-day activities. This is exactly what the Nest does for your home. We all know that we’re supposed to do what we can to save energy. One of the easiest ways we can do so is by reducing the amount of energy we use for heating and cooling. Even with good habits, it would be difficult for people to do so on a regular basis. Thanks to the Nest, it’s one way to reduce your consumption without much effort on your part.
The Nest smart thermostat is easy to use, convenient and makes you interested in how your heating and cooling system behaves. It makes you pause and think about ways you can save energy in your own home. You’ll find yourself interacting with it on a much regular basis than you ever did with your old programmable thermostat. Without a doubt, the Nest is definitely a product worth buying.
Further read, The Best Nest Thermostat Deals
Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn’t have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!