I Bought a Nest Thermostat

I mentioned I’d bought a Nest. I sacrificed a relaxing lunch to install it. They asked me to take a survey. and I thought I’d sacrifice another lunch to answer them and tell you guys about it too. They had a “anything else?” field where I could write whatever. I did discover somewhat disappointing things and a lack of information I feel Nest-as-a-business is missing.

  1. There’s an energy usage warning given about Nest’s “range” mode with no other explanation.
  2. Its thermostat is heavily affected by your hand and breath when messing with Nest for more than a minute, which causes undesirable behavior.
  3. The company appears to be missing an opportunity to get me to buy other HVAC equipment and installation services through their site.

Here’s my response:

I was disappointed with two things: First was the all-or-nothing schedule or range setting strikes me as odd. I thought, “What about it may use more energy?” I wonder if a future software update could be more flexible – a hybrid of the two with “best-it-can-manage” power savings. That is, maybe two ranges and a preferred value within that range? A “heat if really low” and a “cool if really high”. The system then tries to stay close to your preferred temp for the time of day. An audible alert with a visible icon (and a push notification to iDevices) could let the user know an energy-versus-comfort decision needs to be made. If no answer after a user-choosible length of time, the system chooses efficiency.
This would be environmental control heaven.

The other disappointing thing was that, after standing there playing with Nest for more than a minute or so, its thermometer read significantly higher. Not surprising once it happens but it takes *quite some time* for it to get back to the actual room temp. All the while, as the weather happens to be here, this causes it to crank the AC the whole time, getting it significantly cooler in here than I’d asked. “So stop standing there playing with it,” you say, childishly. The only possible geek-to-geek response is, “You want me to NOT obsessively fondle my new electronic toy?” In any case, could this be solved by watching for a sudden rise in temp that coincides with manual input? Lock out any cooling (or don’t turn the heat off in heating mode) but rather infer the remaining cycle based on its history, computed from the time the input-and-temp-rise coincident was noted.

I’d also like more information (as someone new to fussing over my HVAC system’s efficiency and automation) on what kind of equipment I could add to my HVAC system that Nest could control. I purchased a new home for its older architectural charm. It’s a home automation blank canvas. I’m interested in installing things like an automatic damper system with multiple nests to help balance things out more evenly. This home seems like it should have two zones already, given its layout. We’ll be refinishing the full basement next year and that would add at least one more zone. It’d be great to get a consumer-targeted HVAC primer on those possibilities and others I didn’t even know existed. I want a PREMIUM air system over time. Help!

That’s really it. That’s all the negativity I can muster. Even Matt approves, despite the Nest’s “well-fed” price tag.

It was pretty easy to figure out overall. My favorite feature is that it can be set to activate its UI when you get near it. Whether I walk up to it to read or adjust – it comes to life when I get close to it. I found I have to slightly exaggerate my movements sometimes to get it to activate, then other times it’d come on as I walked down the hall. I suppose proximity sensors in general can be dimwitted at times. Least harmful are iPhones not sleeping the touch screen when we put them up to our heads. Whoops – what did I do, drop the call, mute something, face-mash numbers – what? On the dreaded end of this spectrum are those evil infrared-sensing, auto-flush, water-cannons labeled “toilets” in public restrooms and office buildings. Impishly, they won’t flush when you want them to. They prefer to wait to use some random movement as an opportunity to unleash the apparently-combustion-fueled power flush. Suddenly the urine and feces of many other people and, more plentifully, your own, becomes a brisk spring gully-washer. Depending on your eliminatory progress at the time, something gets up-showered: a) you and the toilet stall or b) your asshole. I tend to think the Nest’s issues here are far more benign even than those of the iPhone. At least the nest isn’t still on the line listening with crystal clarity at you making a fool of yourself as you repeat  “Are you still there? Hello?” then begin cursing in a God-angering way.

Regarding installation, I’m no stranger to thermostat wires but I’m no expert either. The replacement of my existing thermostat with the Nest was easy enough that I recall thinking my tech-nervous mother could do it if she was determined. It took me somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes from opening the box to rounding up my laser level for the optional plate (needed for the existing hole in the plaster) and having the Nest basically configured.

Of course when we find new and interesting things, we must fondle them. So I fondled it, pushing, twisting, etc. This gave rise to a hot and overstimulated thermostat, causing the second issue I mentioned. The request for more consumer-targeted “look what we could do if your system had this…” information was sincere. For many people (home and small business owners alike), Nest’s web site is perfectly positioned to be a portal to consumer ventilation system upgrades, all controlled by a device nearly as polished as if Apple had made “iThermostat 4G” sans Siri.

Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with it as a device. I only have a brief history of gas and electricity consumption in this house pre-Nest but I’ll be interested to see whatever it can tell me about our energy consumption.

Josh