Nest Learning Thermostat Review

Automated Home reader Peter White reviews the new Nest thermostat that’s got everyone drooling.  So how does this Learning marvel compare to a ‘real’ home automation setup.  His conclusion may suprise you…

“A short background; I was controlling my heat & A/C (I’m in Texas) via Homeseer, and some Z-Wave (Wayne Dalton) thermostats. Many hours were spent setting up all sorts of conditional events in Homeseer, based on the time of day, the outside temperature and occupancy of the house.

This normally worked fairly well, generally ensuring that I wasn’t burning too much energy cooling or heating the house when it was empty, or full of sleeping people that would never know the difference ;-).   The problem, for me at least, was that Z-Wave has never been a perfect technology, and nor is Windows XP, the O/S that my aging Homeseer server happens to run.  On top of that, HS has recently started to crash, perhaps once a week, which not only means the house is a bit dark when people get home, but it means it’s cold, which is beyond SWMBO tolerance, who then makes me pay for it by turning everything up to the max.

So, enter Nest, which I noticed a few months ago, and registered for a couple of just before Christmas. They install very easily, the only issue being that my original stats were in a very low traffic area, so I repositioned them to somewhere more relevant, as they need to ‘see’ people every now and then to determine whether anyone’s home.

Nest Learning Thermostat Review

They’re handsome devices; you’ll read everywhere that the two guys that head up Nest are ex-Apple, from the iPod design team, and that’s easy to tell.  Using the stat is simple and intuitive. Compared to all my other fairly typical Texan-style ‘wall furniture’ they stick out a bit, both literally, and figuratively, as they’re obviously fairly modern.  Any of the family can get to them from a PC, tablet or phone, and it seems to have learned our schedules fairly well. Checking now on my iPhone, both floors are set to auto-away, which means I’m not heating an empty house (it’s forced-air heating, so not terribly efficient, but it is very quick when compared to radiators or UFH, so in my case it is not more efficient to maintain a constant temp).

Overall, I’m a fan. I’d love for them to bring out a house alarm, as programming that required a brain the size of a melon, and ideally one that’s stuck in the 70’s, since the interface is so clunky.  I’m all but done with Z-Wave, it needs almost as much TLC as X-10, and that was never meant to be the case.  I’m not particularly an Apple fan, but, I am a fan of stuff that ‘just works’. In that category I include iPods/iPads/phones, Sonos and now Nest.  I have plenty of other technology at home and work that occupies my time, so I’m all for a few gadgets that require no maintenance.

It’s not perfect though.  A couple of weeks ago, Nest pushed out an update that mysteriously caused the stat’s to try to connect to a server that was unreachable, eventually draining the battery (even though it receives 24v power from the HVAC). You can read all about it on their Facebook page, depending on your point of view this is either scary and Big-Brotherish (not my pov), or a daft mistake made by a young but rapidly growing company (my pov). Either way, they fessed up eventually.  There are occasional connectivity issues as well, as can be seen from one of the screenshot below.

Nest Learning Thermostat Review

There’s also a lot more intelligence they could build into the algorithms, which I assume will feature in a future update.  An obvious one, considering that the stat knows both the outside temperature, and how long it takes to reach a specific temperature, would be to define the temperature you want at a certain time, i.e. at 7pm, the temperature should be at 72f, as opposed to how it currently works, where it starts trying to get to 72f at 7pm.

Nest Learning ThermostatFor many American houses, Nest will save a fortune.  Most of them either have a stat where you can set one temperature, or, perhaps a 5 or 7 day programmable, but the odds of anyone actually having set it correctly are low.  My average electricity bill (pre-Nest) in the summer tops $500 per month (based on around $0.08 per Kw/h), and that’s close to half of many of the people I work with.   For me, it’s now doing almost exactly what my Homeseer / Z-Wave stats were doing, except it took about 10 mins to set up (rather than 10 hours), it looks cool, anyone can use it, and it’s reliable.

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7 Comments on "Nest Learning Thermostat Review"

  1. James Molinaro | February 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm |

    With respect to Peter White, this reads more like a problem with your technology/Hardware choice rather than Z-wave itself.

    I have a few Trane Thermostats located in less than ideal locations as well. My solution was to tie-in my motion sensors so if they do not register movement the HVAC zone shuts down after XX time. Took all of 30 minutes to setup with Vera2 and I did not have to rewire/relocate my thermostat.

  2. any news on a UK version?

  3. My issue with the Z-Wave stats wasn’t to do with the location (I also have Z-Wave motion sensors), it was, as you say, to do with the technology in general.

    Homeseer is, IMHO, way overdue for a complete refresh. As each month passes, it’s becoming further and further removed from a typical consumer, and maybe that’s where they want to go with it, but it’s a dangerous strategy. Z-Wave, judging from my experience and many forums, is slightly better than X10, but it still screws up, a lot. Maybe that’s more to do with Homeseer, or my PC, but either way, the whole thing just is not robust enough for me, and I dread ever having to rebuild my HS PC.

    So my new strategy is just to go best of breed for each function, rather than a jack of all trades. For me, that means Sonos for audio, Nest for HVAC, AppleTV for video. Centralite (probably) for lights, and I’m undecided on security so far. I’m not looking to move for a couple of years, so there’s still time for all of this to change, or at least mature.

  4. Cute thermostat.

    I do like the idea of AI on the thermostat but would prefer it to be self contained such that it could run without the internet connection.

    The technology does exists for this today.

    I like the design and for the Ipod/Iphone/Ipad generation of I-this and that it will work well for them.

    Personally though I would prefer a bit more “closed” system not dependant on a wireless transport to the internet or any “cloud” dependant OS.

    That said most folks only internet access is only via their Ipads/Iphones and don’t mind paying monthly fees associated with their widget use / transport use. Same folks would gladly pay a widget monthly service fee to control their “at home” HVAC.

    That’s me though.

    The thermostat will do well with the I-this and that crowd.

  5. This is the most concise and amazing review I’ve ever read! Thanks, Mr. White for your honest and entertaining review. Your “SWMBO” must be very lucky.

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