Hands-On With the Nest Learning Thermostat, Part I

Nest Mac Observer Hands On

We here at TMO have followed the Nest Learning Thermostat since its introduction late last year. Produced by Nest Labs, a company founded in 2010 by former Apple SVP and iPod creator Tony Fadell, the Nest is a digital home thermostat that “learns” the best way to balance comfort and energy efficiency over time.

After suffering through the July heat in the United States, and seeing our energy bill this month, we decided it was time to find out if the Nest lived up to its promises. Could this sexy, networked, “smart” thermostat really save us money?

The folks at Nest Labs agreed to lend us a review unit to find out but, unlike other product reviews, this one is going to take quite a bit longer. That’s because Nest not only takes several weeks to learn how a home’s inhabitants prefer their climate, it takes many months to adequately compare energy usage with similar temperatures the year before.

As a result, this may be TMO’s longest product review ever. Today in Part I, we’ll show you how we installed the Nest and then, quite a few months down the road, once we’ve gathered enough data to make a judgement on Nest’s effectiveness, we’ll have Part II.

So let’s dive on in to the coolest (zing!) thermostat we’ve ever seen.

Packaging & Box Contents 

The Nest’s iPod heritage is clearly evident from the beginning. The packaging is clean and simple and, while not as streamlined as Apple’s packaging today, definitely reminds us of opening our first iPod.

Nest Learning Thermostat Box

Nest Learning Thermostat Box 

Nest includes everything you need to install it yourself in almost all configurations. Clockwise from the upper left is the installation guide, the thermostat face, a screwdriver, mounting screws, the wall plate, additional mounting screws for attaching Nest to an electrical box, a mounting plate for an electrical box installation, and two optional cover plates to hide any wall damage behind your old thermostat.

Nest Learning Thermostat Contents



UPDATE: We neglected to mention that we turned off the air conditioning and furnace power at our circuit breaker box before beginning the installation. This is an important safety tip and something that Nest emphasizes in its installation guide. Safety first!

With all of our parts accounted for, we turned our attention to the existing thermostat, in our case a basic Honeywell model.

Nest Learning Thermostat Old Unit

We removed the face to reveal the connection wires. Each installation will be different, but Nest’s compatibility guide helps you determine which wires you need.

Nest Learning Thermostat Old Wires

Before removing any wires from the old thermostat, use the wire sticker labels included with the Nest to label each wire carefully. Once all the labels are applied, you can remove the wall plate.

Nest Learning Thermostat Wire Labels

Nest Learning Thermostat Wire Labels Applied

Now you’ll need to determine if you need to use a cover plate. If so, pick the applicable size, feed the connection wires through the opening in the middle, and then attach the Nest wall plate and cover plate to the wall with the included screws. Nest includes a handy built-in bubble level to make mounting easier.

Nest Learning Thermostat Attach to Wall

Once the plate and cover are secure, begin to connect the wires to their corresponding holes. The connection is made with a spring-loaded tab, so it’s as easy as pushing down on the right tab, sliding the bare wire into the opening, and letting go of the tab. Once all of the connections have been made, carefully push any excess wire back into the wall opening so that the face cover can attach properly to the wall plate.

Nest Learning Thermostat Wires Attached

The Nest has two connections on the back, a mini USB connection for manual updates and troubleshooting, and a proprietary connector that attaches to the wall plate and provides power and temperature control.

Nest Learning Thermostat Back

Carefully snap the Nest into the wall plate and within a few moment it will power on.

Nest Learning Thermostat Connected

The Nest can be connected to your home wireless network, which allows for remote monitoring and control, weather forecasts, and software updates. Once connected to the network, Nest will walk you through the setup process with a series of questions that let it know how you plan to use the thermostat and, in general, what range of temperatures you prefer.

Nest Learning Thermostat Equipment

Nest Learning Thermostat Setup Questions

Nest Learning Thermostat Location

Nest Learning Thermostat Temp Range

Nest Learning Thermostat Setup Complete

Altogether, installation was very easy and took about 10 minutes. Your mileage may vary, however, depending on the configuration, location, and wiring of your existing thermostat.

Once installation is complete, head to your computer and create a Nest account. This free account will give you remote web and app access to your thermostat and provide you with energy usage analysis and alerts.

Nest Website


First Impressions

In the roughly day and a half that we’ve had the Nest thus far, we’ve really enjoyed it. Setting the temperature is simple and easy and the remote web and app interface has already come in handy: it was a bit hot in the house last night so I simply grabbed my iPhone from the bedside table, launched the free Nest Mobile app, and turned on the air conditioning.

Nest Mobile App

I’m not saying that I’m lazy and, without Nest, wouldn’t have gotten out of bed, gone downstairs, and lowered the temperature from the thermostat myself…wait, I guess I’m saying exactly that.

But convenience is only part of Nest’s promised benefit. Smart energy usage is what Nest Labs hopes will really set the Nest apart from other home automation thermostat solutions.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, however, it will take many months to gauge and evaluate the Nest’s performance in this regard. We’ll therefore use the Nest to keep temperatures comfortable, within the same range that we set with our old thermostat, and report back to you in Part II on whether Nest saved us energy and money.

Until then, stay cool!