Plugged In

Plugged In

More than wires - exploring the connections between energy, environment, and our lives

Living with the Nest #3 - six months in


I’ve been using the Nest thermostat ($249) for a little over six months now. How has it been working out? Read on to find out.

The last time I wrote about the Nest was back in August 2012 - I haven’t written about it since then, because, well, I haven’t thought that much about it. This is partly by design, and partly because I am a nerd.

So what’s been going on in the last six months? Once I had it set up with what I thought would be good set points (around 78F when we’re home, which is usually only in the evenings, and at night, and 81F when we’re not home, which is usually during the day), I only had to give it a few nudges here and there. Nudging would happen usually when we had people over at the house; a lot of cooking and extra bodies tended to warm up the house.

Now that it’s winter (an exaggeration here in Austin, TX), the Nest has new set points to trigger the heater. The system is programmed to keep the house at 68F during the night and warm up to 71F at 6AM - right before we get up to get ready for work. At 9AM, the temperature is bumped down to 65F, because no one is home. There is minimal nudging because we were thoughtful about how to set the temperature.

Winter is coming.

Other than that, I don’t interact much with the Nest. I don’t wave my hand in front of it to see it light up (great party trick, by the way), or even check in using the app or website. The novelty of controlling my HVAC system via the Internet has worn off.

I think that the Nest is designed to be forgotten about. Once it learns your behavior, there is little need for you to interact with it. I like this about the Nest. When technology gets out of the way and does the heavy lifting for you - without you thinking about it - I think it’s a successful product.

But for me the Nest is overkill. My housemates and I were diligent about programming the Nest with our temperatures based on our schedules. There wasn’t much for the Nest to do because we gave it a solid foundation from the beginning. Had we not opened the app or bothered to set it at all, I might be surprised to realize that after a while, we wouldn’t be getting up to turn the knob. I'm think I would be served just as well by a wireless thermostat.

We also programmed our standard programmable thermostat (no WiFi) with the same schedule as the Nest. It controls the HVAC for the rear of the house. Same outcome, just not as fun or user friendly.

For those who have no idea what temperature to set at each hour of the day (or simply don’t care), the Nest is probably great. You can play around with it. It will learn what you like (and don’t). Programming the Nest is magnitudes simpler and more fun than a standard programmable thermostat you can pick up at Home Depot or Lowe’s. Being able to open up an app or a webpage is far easier than navigating through level after level of menus, all the while punching a one or two buttons, hoping that you did it correctly.

I still think the killer feature of the Nest is being able to see when you’re using energy to heat and cool your home, so I would recommend it on those grounds. But that information is only useful if someone does something with it.

Questions about the Nest? Shoot me an email.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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