ADVERTISEMENT
Plugged In

Plugged In

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

Living with the Nest thermostat #1 - installation and the first couple of weeks

|

Several months ago, I got a Nest thermostat. Last month, I overcame my laziness and decided to swap out our “normal” programmable thermostat with the Nest. Follow along as I document what it’s like having a thermostat that connects to the internet, learns your behavior, and notifies you when you are saving energy. Read other entries here.

If you're not familiar with it, the Nest is a geeky thermostat from the brain behind the original iPod, that learns your behavior. It's an attempt to bring some sexiness to a device that's pretty boring and technologically outdated. It's a beautiful device and a lot of fun to use (when was the last time you said that about your thermostat?).

The Nest - a thermostat for the rest of us?

The Nest connects to the Internet, allowing you to control the temperature from the web or your phone/tablet, and check up on your temperature settings and other stats. It also makes a great thermostat for the couch potato. Change the temperature from the couch? Yes, please.

The idea is straightforward: you set the thermostat to any temperature as you normally would while the Nest keeps track of every adjustment you make, slowly learning your behavior and comfort level (it pulls weather info from the Internet). Instead of having to program a programmable thermostat, which hardly anyone actually does, the Nest will eventually do it for you.

Installation

For being mechanical engineers, my housemate and I are astonishingly inept at tasks that involve drilling holes properly and mounting things on the wall (oh, the garage drywall shelf incident of 2008!). So of course, we picked the absolute worst time to install the Nest. It's been well over 100F in Austin this summer, which mean the obvious time to cut the power to your house (including, and most definitely, the A/C units!) and fumble with wires, screwdrivers, and a drill is in the middle of the afternoon.

The actual installation went smoothly, minus a misjudged drill bit diameter and a stripped wall mount. The four wires that control the compressor, fan, heater, and provide electricity hooked right up to the Nest, and once the power was back on, it booted right up.

When it first turned on, I half expected the Nest to greet me with "Hello, Dave", a la HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Instead, we waited through a 15 minute sequence of software updates, reboots, and more reboots. Finally, after entering in our ZIP code and other settings, we were able to set the thing to cool the house back off. I suppose that's on par with most gadgets now.

Your experience will probably be better because, well, we're just not too good at these types of things.

Learning

According to the website, the Nest will learn your patterns in about a week. That sounds about right. We installed ours before having a bunch of people over for the Olympics, so there was an outlier temperature setting in there from the beginning, but we were able to purge that (more on that in a second).

We've been running the Nest for two weeks now, so I have a little bit to share about it. I pulled up our temperature schedule on Nest.com:

You can log in to Nest.com and view a schedule of your temperatures.

You can see that we normally keep the house around 79F. The Nest has done a pretty good job of figuring out our desired temperatures, but it's not perfect. I would actually like to set the temperature a little warmer in the afternoon during the peak hours (~3pm to ~7pm). To do that, I added another temperature point of 81F at 3pm on each weekday, which should be good until the evening when the Nest will cool it off to around 78F or 79F. I also noticed a few stray 75F set points on Saturday and Sunday evenings, so I went ahead and moved those back up to 79F.

You can also teach the Nest by adding or changing your temperature schedule.

It's all pretty fun. Without seeing the temperatures laid out this way, I would have little information about what our A/C has been doing during the day, or during the night.

As you're setting temperatures, the Nest provides feedback about settings that will save you energy by displaying a little green leaf. So, when I set the temperature up from 75F earlier, the green leaf showed up to let me know I was doing a Good Thing.

Another super smart feature I have noticed is the Time to Temperature notification. Over time, the Nest figures out about how long it takes to cool your house, and will let you know about how long to expect to cool (or heat, I suppose) your house to a given temperature. As you'd expect, changing the temperature only several degrees, as opposed to five or more, takes less time and saves more energy. But without seeing it displayed, you might still be tempted to crank the temperature way down to cool the house off quickly. When I got home this afternoon, I set the A/C down to 79F from 81F, and Nest told me it would take 45 minutes.

Anyways, I'll have more to share about the Nest next week. There are some other cool stats available on the website that I want to look into after we've logged some more time with it. I'm interested to see how the new weekend temperatures work out for us.

Let me know if there's anything you want me to check out while I'm messing around with the Nest.

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

Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

Email this Article

X