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Nest Thermostat Review: the Consumer-friendly Thermostat


When the Nest Thermostat came out back in 2011, their consumer-targeted campaigns put thermostats on the map. For the first time, people started to look at those white rectangular boxes hanging on their walls, and realize they looked kind of obsolete in a world where touchscreens were being placed on vehicles, inspection cameras, and even smart refrigerators.

And why shouldn’t their thermostats be as cool looking as their iPods? Two former Apple execs seemed to grasp this—but beyond just looking cool, the big claim of Nest was the intuitive ease of use it provided—all while saving you money.

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And while that’s certainly an issue we’ll address in part, the bigger issue (at least for our readers) is whether or not mechanical companies should embrace this new technology, or if it’s a profit-sucking fad that’s best left alone. Before you weigh in, we’ll just say upfront that after interviewing Pros and researching the market, we’d recommend the former approach. Since a large percentage of thermostats are sold along with HVAC unit installations, this could end up being a potentially important device to understand and explain to your company’s clients.

How Does the Nest Thermostat Work?

If the Nest thermostat oversteps anywhere it may be where it claims bold energy savings averaging as much as $173/year. That’s the amount wasted, they claim, by 89% of programmable thermostats that are too complex for most consumers to properly use and program. In effect, they are instead treated as “set and forget” devices whose features go largely unused. These numbers are certainly up for debate, but the founding principle is undoubtedly true—most people do not adequately program their thermostats. Like VCRs back in the ’80s, these little white boxes are intimidating, and consumers opt to simply ignore a majority of the available features.

Nest thermostat cooling eco

Simplicity Redefined

The big deal with the Nest thermostat, and why your customers may be very attracted to it, is that (unlike that VCR) the Nest virtually programs itself. When used properly, they claim you can save up to 20% on your heating and cooling bill. The Nest thermostat has light and motion-tracking sensors that scan everything within a 150-degree angle to detect activity in the room. It also has three temperature sensors and a WiFi connection to get weather data from your local area via the Internet.

With these combined abilities the Nest can tell whether you’re home and set a schedule for your HVAC system. It adjusts the temperatures accordingly based on your initial settings and manages “Auto-away” times when it ascertains that the home is unoccupied during parts of the day.

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All of this information, or at least the results of it, are available on the unit itself in addition to the web-app and free iOS/Android apps that link directly to the device. Know you’re coming home early? You can simply call up the app and drop the temperature before you leave the office or airport. Want to check in on your schedule or get an energy report? Open up a browser or app, and you can do that, too.

And to add to all of that is the fact that the Nest is becoming so ubiquitous you can pick one up at your local Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse. It may not be quite an impulse buy, but for some it’s getting close.

Are You Missing an Opportunity?

Some of the biggest complaints regarding the Nest thermostat come from professional HVAC technicians and business owners who feel that allowing customers the opportunity to mess with their thermostats is a recipe for disaster. But the bigger point is this: people are excited about thermostats. For the first time in…I don’t know…EVER. People are talking about a thermostat.

I mean, let that sink in a bit.

You have (at least) two kinds of residential clients. First, they may not have heard of the Nest. You get to introduce them to a system that’s as smart as they want it to be. Whether they plan to use an app with it or not, the Nest is an intuitive way for them to handle their temperature settings. And it’s impressive. The second kind of client is the one who knows about Nest and will be tremendously unimpressed by that plain white box you spec’d with their new HVAC system. They may even ask about it. Give them the option to upgrade to a smart thermostat. If they were born after 1970 this is going to be something that will appeal to them—and your knowledge of the product might just set your bid apart from the competition.

Some Considerations

Now, there are potential issues with the Nest thermostat that could be of some concern. For one, it costs $249. That’s a lot of money for a thermostat, so you may want to offer it as an upgrade as opposed to rolling it into the proposal (so that you don’t come in at a higher price than your competition). Nest also only allows single wires for each terminal point, relying on internal sensing to properly jump connections as needed. This can present problems for certain installations and may turn what would be a familiar and simple install with a known thermostat into a more complex endeavor.

Nest thermostat base options

Nest thermostat heatingPotential Issues

Another potential issue with the Nest is that, as a thermostat, the Nest presents additional considerations for warranty support since it’s a rather expensive product. You will need a plan to either have some spares around or be prepared to temporarily substitute a standard thermostat for your clients should the Nest require out-of-warranty service. The Nest thermostat has a two-year warranty (from date of purchase) on the 2nd generation models and a five-year warranty on the 1st generation models.

2nd Stage Heating

For those up north, the 2nd generation Nest thermostat doesn’t currently support using your auxiliary (2nd stage) heat source as emergency heat. Instead, Nest engages the 2nd stage heating when it’s needed to keep your home warm. You can manually turn on emergency heat using the Nest controls by setting a temperature threshold.

Lastly, on older systems where there is no path back to Common (the ‘C’ wire), the Nest may encounter issues keeping the internal lithium-ion battery charged. This has been addressed at length in documentation found online, but the bottom line is that you may need to do some finagling in order for it to function correctly.

Nest Thermostat Features

  • Schedule: Manual or automatic
  • Screen: 320×240 1.75″ LCD
  • Sensors: Temperature, humidity, activity and light
  • Battery: 3.7V Li-ion, 2.1 Wh (568 mAh)
  • Enclosure: Stainless steel
  • WiFi: 802.11/b/g/n
  • Dimensions: 3.2 x 3.2 x 1.26 in.
  • Includes: Trim kit, Screws, Screwdriver
  • Warranty: 2-year limited
  • Price: $185

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Final Thoughts

So the real question is: Are you going to ride the wave of excitement or spin your wheels convincing clients why the coolest thing to happen to thermostats since they were invented isn't really all that big a deal? While the Nest may not be perfect for every installation, it's certainly a candidate for your higher end or more tech-savvy clients who spend their day surrounded by other life-enhancing electronic gadgets. You want to educate yourself about it and gauge the level of interest of your clients so you can be relevant and ready for a potential up-sell opportunity. After all, if you can get your clients to be excited about their new HVAC system—you've accomplished something pretty special.

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