Nest Thermostat Installation

I purchased a Nest Learning Thermostat over the holidays for my parents to try out. I figured that the heating and cooling of their house would be a situation ripe for optimizing. Nothing says “Merry Christmas!” like “I just saved you $78.54 on your DWP bill.” It all sounded good in theory.

My folks politely declined.

Being the gadget person that I am, I decided to try the Nest out for myself. I assumed my apartment’s HVAC setup would be a cakewalk compared to the multi-unit multi-thermostat setup at my parents’ house. 1

Not knowing a single thing about how thermostats or HVAC units worked, I consulted Nest’s online compatibility tool to see if it would work for my situation. After getting the front panel of my existing thermostat off, I was presented with a row of wires and terminals.

After entering the appropriate wires into their tool, I was informed that both the 2nd Generation Nest (what I would be installing) as well as the 1st Generation Nest were compatible with my setup. They even provided me with a nifty wiring diagram (more on that later).

With the green light, I unpacked everything from the Nest box. The folks at Nest are big Apple fans, and it’s no surprise that this product is both produced and packaged in a similar style to Apple’s. Then again, the Nest is $250 so it makes sense that they would want to position their product and brand as premium.

With the fuses switched off I got to work, careful not to damage the old thermostat in case this mission didn’t pan out. The backplate provided with the nest fastened securely to the wall with the screws they provided and getting the wires in their respective terminals was easy.

After attaching the face of the unit onto the base and flipping the fuses back on, I couldn’t wait to see this thing in action. What seemed like 10 or 15 minutes went by as the Nest updated itself multiple times once it connected to my Wi-Fi network.

I went through a fair number of configuration steps, and then moved on to testing out the heating and cooling functionality. On “Cool” I heard the fan kick on, but the air was decidedly luke-warm. On “Heat” I got nada, zilch, nothing.

Uh oh.

The Nest website has a fair amount of canned support topics, however I had connected and configured everything to their specs so I was directed to phone support.

The CSR I spoke with was very polite and helpful, however after 15 minutes of adjusting the settings and wiring, he concluded that my system was incompatible with Nest.

Disappointed I began removing the Nest from the wall and replacing my original thermostat. After ensuring everything was in working order once again, I took to the interwebs hoping to find some last-ditch solace.

I started a thread on thermostatforums.com and some nice folks there helped me diagnose my issue. As it turns out, one of the wiring adjustments the Nest CSR had me go through was correct! However, the Nest (for unknown reasons) needs to be fully reset to truly absorb certain wiring changes. In retrospect, I’m surprised that the Nest CSR was unaware of this peculiarity.

I had finally gotten the Nest to pump out hot and cold air, and connected it with an account I created on Nest’s iOS app.

This meant I could now turn on the A/C or heat from bed. Or work. Or the car. Or (you know where).

It’s only been a day so I can’t comment on some of the smarter features that allow the Nest to intelligently control my system. It simply hasn’t had enough time to learn yet. However, I have some initial observations and impressions:

  • It looks great on the wall. The stainless bezel looks modern and sophisticated, and the screen is bright and crisp.
  • While interacting with the dial gives the impression that you’re touching something “high quality”, using it to accurately navigate the circular menus requires a little finesse.
  • The dial metaphor for selecting a temperature is very straightforward, however I have to wonder if showing a zoomed in arc-length would be more useful for indicating how close the current temperature is to your desired temperature.2
  • Frustratingly, the Nest iOS app and web app have additional information not available on the Nest itself, including outside temp and humidity.
  • Adjusting the temperature and mode from the web or iOS devices is really cool.
  • In theory, the leaf icon (which indicates you’ve set the thermostat to an energy conscious temperature) should save me money. Let’s see if I hunt for it like Prius hypermilers.
  • I can’t even begin to imagine all of the wiring and system permutations the Nest team has to account for. That said, I was a bit put off by the fact that the support staff told me my particular setup was incompatible with Nest, while an HVAC expert on a discussion forum was able to solve my problem.3

Is this thing worth $250? I can’t begin to asses that just yet. I can’t wait to see how a lot of these smart features pan out, particularly Airwave. This feature allows the nest to turn off the A/C unit and simply run the fan for cooling under certain circumstances.

Once my Nest has adequately learned the parameters of our apartment and our habits, and I have a few DWP bills in hand, I’ll report back.

  1. In retrospect, I suppose a proper gift would have been two Nests for my folks. Having one smart thermostat and one “dumb” thermostat would probably be a lot like having a modern washer but an ancient dryer.

  2. This may be a moot point however. From what I understand, once the Nest learns the size of your home and the relative strength/efficiency of your HVAC unit it will begin displaying time-based estimates for how long it will take to reach your desired temperature.

  3. Ironically by resetting the unit to factory defaults.