Smart Home Series: Nest Learning Thermostat

Smart Home Series: Nest Learning Thermostat

Follow Elijah as he upgrades to a smart home! This is part 2 of the series and follows part 1: Linksys WRT 1900ACS WiFi Router. Every week, a new device will be selected, purchased, installed and evaluated for your consideration.

Bottom Line

The Nest Learning Thermostat is a solid addition to any smart home. Integration with Alexa, although immature as a technology, is novel and heading down the right path. The price point, ease of installation and simplicity of use all make this an excellent choice for the choosy consumer. Better yet, the Nest promises to pay for itself over time with smart energy changes.

Unboxing

The Nest comes in an easy-to-open custom packaging. All of the pieces of the thermostat are stacked neatly through the middle of the package. Since the Nest is built to accommodate many types of ventilation systems, sorting through what you need for your installation can be a bit of a hassle.

Perhaps the most disheartening feature of the thermostat is the almost deliberately cautious tone found through all the documentation. I purchased this device fully intending to perform the entire installation myself, but seeing huge warnings on the front and back of everything in the box made me feel less secure in my abilities. Spoiler alert: I still installed it myself anyway, and can recommend you consider it before springing for professional installation.

Installation

After reading through the instructions several times, I began the installation process. While the device appears daunting to hook up, my thermostat system was quite simple to understand after ignoring all of the 'extra' instructions meant for other types of systems.

For the novice, a combination of several color-coded wires, depending on your system, control things such as the fan, heat, air conditioning and humidifier. Each of these wires is attached to the appropriate spot on the thermostat so that instructions can be issued to the ventilation system. Accidentally swapping wires, which could potentially also cause electrical problems, could mean your heat and air conditioning are reversed until corrected.

My system in particular looked something like this: A green wire for the ground, and red, black and white cables that managed the air conditioner, furnace and power. These cables were plugged into receptacles bearing the first letter of their color; for example, the white wire was plugged into 'W' and the green wire was plugged into 'G'. Easy enough!

After yanking the old thermostat off the wall and replacing it with the included (optional) Nest backplate, I slid the back of the thermostat over the wires, slid the bare ends of each wire into the appropriate labelled port, and hoped for the best. I must admit, I was worried that things wouldn't work. After all, I had four wires plugged into a thermostat that looks like it can hold a dozen. Not to mention, my old thermostat had just 'R' for red, but the Nest has several variations like 'Rc' and 'Rh'. Turns out, this wasn't a problem. Upon attaching the face of the thermostat, it was clear what I was missing.

Nest Thermostat Wiring Wizard

The Nest visualized the wires I had plugged in and described what they were each used for. Seeing that I had all major components of my ventilation system covered, I felt a bit relieved. Moving on past this screen, the Nest walked me through testing each function to make sure everything was in order. Total time spent reading instructions and doubting myself: 30 minutes. Total actual install time: 15 minutes.

Performance

After a quick account setup and app download, I was able to connect my Nest to the existing Amazon Alexa infrastructure in the house. Here, I learned that Nest can track your phone to determine when you are out of the house to lower your energy bills. Small things like this keep popping up the more I learn about the Nest, and each one is a nice little surprise that makes me feel even better about my purchase.

Setting the thermostat to a comfortable temperature range is easy. You can change settings from your phone, from the thermostat itself or through an Alexa voice command. While not yet very robust, the Alexa voice commands do their job. My only gripe is the specific syntax required to activate a Nest command. You have to refer to the Nest by it's location in the house. If you ask Alexa "What's the temperature," you will receive the forecast. If you ask "What's the Nest temperature," you will also receive the forecast. The correct phrase is "what's the temperature in [living room]/[hallway]/[family room]?" Although, since that command is not yet supported, you won't get very far. At the moment, you are limited to adjusting temperatures only if controlling your Nest via Alexa.

Nest Scheduling

The best feature of the Nest, on the other hand, doesn't involve Alexa at all. The Nest is a 'Learning Thermostat,' which means that it learns your preferences and habits each season and schedules temperature changes around them. For instance, if both members of your house work from 9 to 5, Nest will notice that both of your phones are always out of the house at that time and use less energy to maintain household temperatures until it anticipates you back. You can set these schedules manually or let the Nest automatically create them over the course of a couple weeks. After the schedule is established, there is an energy saving app in the Nest menu that will detail exactly how much you have saved since your purchase. Stay tuned for my personal updates once my thermostat catches up to my lifestyle!

Future Updates

Nest and Amazon appear to be consistently rolling out additional integration functionality. My personal favorite upcoming voice commands are "It's too hot," and "It's too cold." These phrases are easy to remember, you could program the Nests reaction appropriately, and it shows that Amazon and Nest both care about actually improving the smart home industry by listening to customers. One confusingly missing feature, the ability to tell the current indoor temperature, bears no mention from the manufacturer.

Final Thoughts

Although a $250 initial investment seems a bit steep for a new thermostat, the additional functionality and appeal added to your home will certainly pay for itself several times over. In fact, I suspect that the impression the Nest will leave on prospective home buyers will improve the perceived value of your house as a whole.

This thermostat is a great addition to people already considering upgrading to a smart home. Although the best Nest features work well without Alexa, integration is only getting better as the technology leaves its infancy.

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