When Nest first unveiled their smart thermostat, many gasped and asked “who will pay $250 for a thermostat?”.
When Google paid $3.2B for Nest, the doubters began to take notice and wondered what Google saw that they hadn’t.
What Nest have done here is taken a product that was seen as an inanimate piece of plastic which only served one purpose, and turned it into a beautifully engineered smart device that offers functions and possibilities well beyond the devices it replaces.
The fact it is redefining a category is probably no surprise when you take into account that the man behind Nest is also the man who was behind the first 18 generations of the iPod.
Smartphones have large glass displays that are as close to edge to edge as possible. They have bright colour screens and the more premium models have a steel body.
People associate the action of rotating a dial clockwise to turn it up and counterclockwise to turn it down.
You can see where I am going here. There are many elements of the Nest thermostat’s design that make it look and feel very familiar and natural to use.
The outer rim of the device is polished stainless steel and acts as a dial to higher or lower the temperature setpoint. The temperature setpoint and the current room temperature are displayed on a round colour screen.
At the bottom of the screen, lies a proximity switch which is used to wake the screen when there is movement in front of it and it is also used for presence detection. The combination of no movement in front of the thermostat, and some other learned factors, results in the Thermostat switching to away mode which drops the temperature setpoint to a default 10 degrees.
The model we get over here comes with a white backing plate that the Nest mounts to. In Ireland, most thermostats or programmers are either square or rectangular in shape, so the plate is used to cover up the unfinished or broken surfaces that will be left behind when you fit the round Nest to the wall. If you have a white wall it’s not really an issue. If you have any other colour on the wall, the large piece of white plastic detracts from the premium finish of the Nest.
Personally I would either look to mount it a different way without the need for the backing plate or you could use the optional desktop stand for the Nest (€35) and avoid going near the wall altogether.
That’s a minor quibble really. The Nest thermostat is eye catching and will add something to any room it is in.
There are several ways to purchase the Nest thermostat. It is available directly from Nest and other retailers such as Harvey Norman for €219.
It is also available from energy suppliers like Electric Ireland. The price for this method varies from free to €99 depending on whether you are a new or existing customer. If you avail of this method, you should do your own research into tariff pricing first as the price of the thermostat will inevitably be worked into it, in a similar fashion to smartphone contracts.
Depending on which option you choose, you will need to factor in the price of the unit being installed too. For example, if you purchased the unit in Harvey Norman, they offer a fitting service for €127. That would bring the overall price up to €346 so it’s worth keeping in mind.
What’s in the box?
As is the norm these days, everything is packaged immaculately and the thermostat is presented front and centre with the ancillaries hidden in behind.
You get a USB charger and cable, a couple of screws and bolts for mounting, the Heat Link and below this again the back plate which I mentioned above.
Nest recommend that you have their thermostat installed by a professional installer. There are so many different types of heating systems in homes across Ireland that it makes it difficult for a company like Nest to offer self install instructions without ending up in a whole world of customer support pain. We reviewed the Tado° thermostat a while back and it does a great job of offering detailed guides on how to install it yourself but the Nest thermostat can be a more complicated install depending on your setup.
I would only recommend installing the Nest thermostat yourself if you are electrically competent and understand how heating systems work. Other than that, get a professional to install it and don’t risk shocking yourself or destroying your new purchase!
We installed our review unit on a system that already had wired “Drayton Combi-Stat” thermostats in place.
An additional piece of equipment called the “Heat Link” also had to be installed. This small white plastic box is wired into the heating and acts as the link between the thermostat and the boiler and zone valves.
Most wired thermostats are supplied by 220 volts. The Nest Thermostat is powered by 12 volts. Once you’ve wired the Heat Link in, it will supply the Nest with 12 volts. This is one of the areas where a self install could go wrong if you were not completely sure of what you were doing. Supplying the Nest with 220 volts by accident would not end well.
In homes with multi zone heating, the actuated valves for each zone usually live in the hot press along with a wiring junction box where the valves and thermostats are supplied from. This is the location that the Heat Link will be installed so if your system is similar to this, it ill be hidden out of sight.
Once you identify the correct wiring for each piece of kit, the installation is pretty straight forward and took no more than 20 minutes. In total, you are probably looking at about 90 minutes from unboxing the thermostat to have everything in place, set up and running.
After a WiFi password was entered, the unit set about completing a firmware update which took about 12 minutes to finish. After that, setup was quite easy. Details about which room the thermostat was installed in, what type of heating system was in use and what the method of heat delivery was were entered in. If you have someone installing it, they’ll do all this for you but it easy to do yourself and only takes a few minutes to complete.
At this point you also need to install the Nest smartphone app, create an account and pair the hardware to it via a generated password.
UI & UX
As you walk by, or stand in front of the thermostat, the default screen that illuminates is the current temperature setpoint.Everything else is accessed by pressing the screen in. The whole unit acts like one large button which isn’t completely obvious at first. Once you’ve pressed the unit in, there is a satisfying ‘clunk’ and a circular rotating menu appears.
As with the hardware, the interface will feel very familiar and natural if you’ve ever used a smartphone. To select one of the 6 menu options you rotate the outer dial until the option you want is at the top and then you press the Nest to select it. It is all very straight forward to use and after a few minutes familiarising yourself with the menu layout, you should be up to speed.
Day to Day use
The main theory behind how the thermostat works is that it learns how and when you adjust your heating and then automates that process.
So for example, if you installed the thermostat in the upstairs zone of a house you might get up in the morning and set your heating to 20 degrees to warm the place up for a shower. When you get out of the shower you turn the heating down to 17. You head for work and leave the heating controls to a fixed schedule timer.
You return from work and head upstairs to get changed and turn the heating back up to 19. That evening before going to bed you change it again to 20 to warm the place up, before hopefully not forgetting to turn it back down to 15 before going to sleep.
Over the course of a week or so the Nest thermostat learns this pattern and starts to make these changes by itself, automating the process and saving you the hassle. If your schedule is more complicated than the example above and you make different changes on different days, it will also learn this and incorporate the changes into the overall schedule.
After a little while of making these changes manually, you notice that Nest starts doing it itself and your interactions with the thermostat starts to decrease.
In addition to this, the thermostat learns how long it takes to heat the zone it’s in to a required temperature so rather than just turning on the heating and waiting for a temperature to be reached before switching it off, the unit turns on the heating for the amount of time it knows it takes to reach the setpoint, therefore preventing the temperature from overshooting and wasting energy.
Learning how you heat your home and only heating it as required, rather than just heating the home on a fixed schedule each day like old systems, is how Nest can really save you money. This coupled with presence detection removes the need for such energy wasting fixed schedules and removes the worry about leaving the heating on by accident when you are not there or asleep!
You can view and edit the schedule that Nest creates from unit itself or via the app and web UI.
It’s worth reviewing the schedule it creates after maybe a week of use as there may have been a few occasions where you left the temperature turned up by accident or there were once offs which you don’t necessarily want to be repeated. It simple to remove unwanted schedules and you’ll soon have it tuned to your liking.
Based on your interactions with the unit, your schedule and if there is movement in front of the thermostat, it learns when you are away from your home and sets the thermostat to “Auto Away”. When activated, the temperature will be lowered to an adjustable energy saving setpoint, preventing an empty home from being heated but still maintaining it at a level so as to prevent frost damage. The mode will not activate at night if the thermostat is installed in a home rather than a business premises.
The green leaf which you can see in some of the images, appears when you have selected a temperature that is saving you energy. It is a simple but effective visual cue that encourages you to select a setpoint that makes the leaf appear.
App & Web UI
Both the app and the web interface are fairly minimalist in design but offer all of the settings options you’ll need. Of course you are able to adjust the temperature setpoint but they both also offer a better way of viewing and adjusting your current schedule and viewing your heating history.
For 99% of people, having this level of adjustment and information provided about your home heating will be far in excess of what they have available to them now and it really allows you to take full control of your system via a simple interface.
If This Then That & Works with Nest
“Works with Nest” is a programme that encourages manufacturers of other equipment to build in compatibility with Nest products so they can cross communicate. Companies such as Philips are on board with their smart lighting brand Hue, as are Jawbone, Logitech and Pebble to name just a few. A complete list can be found here. Building compatibility into the products allows them to act as inputs or outputs and perform different tasks based on this. For example, a Jawbone wristband would know when you wake up and could adjust the temperature setpoint to suit this.
Nest also sell a Smoke + CO alarm and they purchased Dropcam some time back who produce networked cameras, all of which work together with the Nest thermostat and the other “Works with Nest” products.
In the past, the inability of home automation products to cross communicate reliably has been a major limiting factor and Nest are looking to tackle the issue head on with this programme. You can expect to see more and more companies deliver compatible products but there is still a long way to go before everyone uses a common protocol, or infact even agrees on what that protocol may be.
One service that is going a long way to finding a common ground for all these connected devices is If This Then That (ifttt.com). If This Then That allows you to create recipes where a certain input results in an output being issued to a device. For example you could create a recipe so when the Nest thermostat switches to Auto Away mode, it turns off all your Philips Hue lights or you could create one that based on your location sets your thermostat to a certain level so your home is warm when you return.
Depending on how many devices you have that are compatible, there is a huge amount of possibilities. IFTTT have also recently launched a new app called “Do” which allows you perform actions at the click of a button rather than waiting for an input to trigger them.
It is really simple to set all this up and there are loads of recipes to browse that other people have created and which you are free to use.
Is it for you?
Like I said when I reviewed the Tado° smart thermostat, it should be. Due to the initial outlay, there has been a perception among some that these devices are luxury purchase. I don’t agree with that at all.
Yes, people could perform a lot of the tasks that the Nest thermostat does themselves, but history has shown us that people generally don’t and sit back while energy is being wasted every day. It is only in recent times that we have seen products hit the market that are easy to install and use and just work. While networked cameras and smart lights may join the luxury purchase category, a device which can save you money on what is one of the most expensive utility bills for many, should be a no brainer in my opinion.
At €219 the Nest thermostat is one of the cheapest options on the market and there are “free” options available from energy providers if you’re willing to go down that road.
If you are the type of person who has their heating currently set to come on 3 or 4 times a day on a fixed schedule, the Nest thermostat will start saving you money nearly straight away. Even if you are someone who’s on top of their heating schedule and makes regular changes, the Nest will automate the process for you and adds remote functions via the app or web.
There are other options available on the Irish market such as climote and Tado° that share the same concept but offer their own features and way of doing things, so be sure to do your research and see which one would suit your needs best.
There are 2 limitations as such when considering the Nest thermostat. The first is that there is no way to control hot water generation in your home using it. This may happen in the future but for now it is only designed to control the temperature in whichever zone it is placed.
The next limitation is if you have multiple heating zones in your home such as upstairs and downstairs, you will need a Nest thermostat for each zone which will increase the cost. You could do this on a phased basis or only replace one. It is not a requirement of the Nest system, just something to keep note of. You can use a Nest in one zone and an old thermostat in another without issue but you’ll only have the smart functions in the zone where the nest is fitted.
If you do install more than one in your home, they will work together and share information to provide optimal heating.
When reviewing devices like this you often get into the justification for making the purchase rather than just reviewing the piece of kit for what it is. That’s for good reason though as people want to rationalise that for themselves.
The Nest thermostat is beautifully engineered and manufactured to a very high level. The unit has a premium feel to it and the materials used should see it stand the test of time. On a very basic level, for many they will be replacing a square piece of “dumb” plastic that wouldn’t look out of place in the 1950’s, with something that looks right at home with the most modern smartphones or tablets and is a fully signed up member of the Internet of Things.
But good looks is only one small part of it. As we’ve outlined above, the Nest thermostat brings many “smart” features to the table while also saving you time and money.
From our time with it so far, we’ve been left impressed and once you understand its limitations, we’d be happy to recommend it for almost any home.