Cozy Up with the Nest Learning Thermostat

by Barrett

Ahhh… Family vacation paradise.  Your worries melt away.  Hey, wait a minute.  How’s your house handling the summer without you?  Can your 1950s-era thermostat handle the heat?

Ahhh… Family vacation paradise. Your worries melt away. Hey, wait a minute. How’s your house handling the summer without you? Can your 1950s-era thermostat handle the heat?

I’ve been on vacation, getting away from it all…

  • A little time to recharge
  • Fun in the surf with the family
  • And a lingering worry about how my empty house was handling the wrath of Mother Nature

D’oh!

Over the better part of a week, my house endured the final days of a blistering heat wave with August humidity levels, and then torrential rains, and finally a blustery 20-degree drop in temperature.

Can someone check to see if the planet is still sitting correctly on its axis?

In the old days, I would head out for a July vacation and stage my house to go ‘au naturel’…
I’d simply turn off the AC and crack open all the windows to normalize the inside temperature to match up with the reasonable 80s of a summer day.
Then, the house would cool down at night and start the cycle again from the low 70s.

But recently, that scenario would have easily produced a Venus-like environment complete with soggy hardwood floors.
(Not that there are any known hardwood floors off-world!)

So this time, I shut the windows, set my old-school, manual thermostat to 85 degrees and hoped my air conditioning unit would get a few breaks in the 95+ degree weather to prevent it from blowing up and burning down the block.
(slight paranoid fantasy…)

As you might expect, when we got home, the house was still standing.
And it wasn’t even that hot inside, because of the anomalous cool-down to 70 degrees that afternoon.

Technology Can Save your Vacation Zen
But when you’re on vacation, you’re not supposed to let unnecessary worry rattle your brain, right?

Can’t today’s technology eliminate this type of concern and let you focus on more important questions like whether your three year old is wearing enough sunscreen?

If only you could be in two places at once…
…or at least have some level of Wi-Fi remote access into your house…

Well, you can.
Your intelligent house is closer than you think…

Baby Cam for your Inner Baby
My home tech already gives a limited view into my house from afar, courtesy of my Foscam IP Baby Cam I’ve still got set up in my son’s room.

Please don’t tell anyone, but while on an important hermit crab hunt at the beach with my son, I simultaneously peered into his empty room via my iPhone Foscam app and derived some satisfaction to see that all his toys were happily hanging out and had not yet melted.

I could also rotate the camera about to survey just outside the room.
(“Yup, looks like the bathroom is still there.”)

That said, this limited, real-time view offered a morsel of satisfaction supporting the probability my house was not in crisis.

But I still didn’t know the temperature inside.
Next time I could place a thermometer in front of the Foscam, but that still won’t give me the power to do anything about the data.

Time to Say Goodbye to the 1950s
The problem is my house still has its
Honeywell non-programmable thermostat using technology from the 1950s.

Old Honeywell Thermostat
It works, but so does my chimney.

Certainly a programmable thermostat would be a step in the right direction.
They’re a dime a dozen today. I’ve used them before, and they certainly increase your degree of control.
But it feels like yesterday’s solution.

Plus, you’ve got to worry what happens if you’re not around when the battery dies.
You don’t want your house becoming Ice Station Zebra.

In this age of ‘smart homes,’ I want some remote control over my house’s bio-signs.

(Hold on…. my iPhone is ringing…)

“HAL?”

“Hello, Barrett.”

“Why are you calling? How’s the house?”

“Happy as can be.”

“Are the pod bay doors closed?”

“Yes.”

“What’s the temperature?”

“Temperature is steady at 78 degrees.
Stop worrying…”

“That’s too hot. Make it 77 degrees.”

“If you insist.
Now, go back to your vacation.”

“Thanks, HAL.”

…Yeah, something like that.

The Nest Learning Thermostat
The good news is you don’t need a HAL 9000 computer to remotely monitor and adjust your home’s temperature…

Ever hear of Nest?

It’s a popular learning thermostat created in 2011 by
two former Apple engineers.
It connects to your Wi-Fi network and you can control it remotely with an app on your smartphone.

The second generation Nest came out last October and sports a thinner profile and even greater compatibility with home heating and cooling systems.

It possesses the smarts to observe your energy habits and begin mimicking them.
After about a week of watching you raise and lower the temperature, it essentially programs itself!

It can even sense when you’re not at home and automatically switch to an ‘Auto Away’ mode.

It pulls power from its low voltage wiring to recharge the onboard battery… so you don’t have to worry about it running out of juice.

Plus it looks really slick!
Nest

(It’s a cross between a thin hockey puck and an iPod, right?)

Better still, it’s designed to save you money on your energy bill.
Nest claims it will pay for itself in less than two years.
How green is that?!

But there’s one huge downside:
It’s wicked expensive – $249!

Have you gotten off the floor yet?
Good, because Nest is apparently quite awesome.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
All that said, some reviewers on Amazon have complained the Nest sometimes locks up.

That would be bad.

Your next vacation might go something like this…

“HAL, turn on the air conditioning. It’s too hot.”

“I’m sorry, Barrett. I can’t do that. You know how important it is to conserve energy.”

“HAL, I’m not going to argue with you. Cool the house down!”

“Goodbye, Barrett.”

Click.

Many who’ve written about their Nest problems seem to share some common compatibility issues with their HVAC systems.
The Nest 2 claims to work with 95% of all low voltage systems out there.

The naysayers may just be part of a very vocal 5%.

And though there is some competition out there,
(ecobee Thermostat, Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat)
Nest is clearly the ‘best-known’ choice in this new environmental management space.

Compatibility Check
Truth be told, I’ve been secretly coveting a Nest since the second-generation version came out. But the price kept holding me back.

Not to be deterred, my subconscious kept building its case, waiting for an
‘tech-istential crisis’ to erupt on the other side of my brain.

Now it had a hat-trick to work with:

  • Protect my house from internal disaster
  • Help save the environment
  • Return some cash to my wallet from lower energy costs

My left and right brains have finally agreed…
It’s time.

But before I pulled the trigger, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t among the unfortunate 5%.

Nest’s friendly website offers a ‘compatibility check’ where you can list the colored wires attached to your old thermostat, and Nest tells you if you’re good to go!

You’ve got to first check under the hood.
Here are the wires running my old Honeywell thermostat: Rh, Rc, G, Y, W

Thermostat Wiring
The prognosis:
I’m cleared for Nest ownership!

Nest Concierge Service
The next question was whether I could actually connect up a Nest all on my own.

While Nest encourages you to install its thermostat yourself and provides online training, they also sell a Concierge Service for $119.
That means a professional installer shows up to do it for you.

But it seems really straightforward…
Just disconnect several wires and reconnect them to the Nest. How hard can that be?
(famous last words)

So I’ve decided to handle the project solo…

Looking to Beat the Price
Yes, I’ve looked around to see if the Nest can be had for less than its $249 list price.
But much like Apple products, Nest doesn’t seem to ever go on sale.

However, if you’re lucky enough to live in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, you can get a $100 rebate on a Nest purchase from National Grid!
(And there are a few other energy providers around offering Nest rebates.)

The Countdown Begins
So my newest technology project is ready for launch!

The Mission:

  • Install and remotely access my intelligent Nest.
    Check!
  • Never worry again about having to manually adjust the temperature.
    Roger that!!
  • Have the coolest thermostat on the block!
    (just kidding)
    (not really)
  • Enjoy my next vacation… worry free.
    Engage!!!

CLICK…

My Nest is on its way from Amazon Prime!

Next time on At Home with Tech…
Installing my new Nest!

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