By Nick Buske
Do you remember the noise a record player makes when the needle quickly scratched across the vinyl disc, which some of us remember as an LP? Movies and TV shows effectively use this sound to call out a juxtaposed set of contrasting circumstances or statements. OK, now cue that noise in your head and let it roll after witnessing the following sentences: I own one of the all-time coolest pieces of consumer electronics. I bought it at Lowe’s Home Improvement Store. [Insert record scratching sound here.]
I can’t imagine those two statements ever again flying from my fingertips, yet they are justified in the case of the most high-tech, consumer-optimized thermostat produced to date, called Nest. Not only can you buy one at Lowe’s, you can also play with one at Lowe’s.
A thermostat? Really? How excited can one get about a household appliance? After all, this is a device whose sole utility is to control your indoor temperature. How ’bout if I mention that Nest can be added to a wi-fi network? Or if I slip in the fact that a smartphone can be used to control Nest from the bedroom, grocery store or India. And spending that $250 on it can actually save you hundreds?
Yeah, I hoped you might keep reading. When it comes to precisely controlling the modern home’s indoor temperature, historically there have been two options: the old-school thermostat where a physical switch is moved to the left or right to affect your personal comfort profile or, more recently, the digital thermostat, with which the desired temperature is dialed-in or pre-programmed. Chances are, you’ve got one or the other in your own home, and it works just fine. That is to say it performs today about as well as your cell phone of six years ago. Remember texting on that thing?
Just as your modern mobile has come to be a hand-held computer that happens to make phone calls, Nest is the evolution of thermostats, de-prioritizing the act of heating and cooling, and instead placing focus on when and why your home’s climate should fluctuate. It’s the first thermostat to learn from your preferences and, seemingly so, anticipates your home’s need for temperature regulation.
Before we jump into the tech, let’s start with Nest’s installation. There’s a reason I don’t write about home improvement: I’ve hardly improved my home in the ten years since it was built. I mean, I’ve improved the wi-fi reception by adding two more networked routers, but “keeping up with the Jones’s” just isn’t my bag—unless the Jones’s have four wi-fi routers.
I researched Nest’s installation well before purchase and felt confident in my DIY skills. I know how to turn off an electrical breaker, and I’m wicked good with a Phillips screwdriver. However, if you’ve even once electrocuted yourself while setting up your pre-lit Christmas tree, then call a licensed electrician. I watched all the installation videos at nest.com, so my smart thermostat was up and running in about 30 minutes. One thing’s for sure, the company’s website is your installation headquarters. The recently released second generation thermostat is compatible with 95 percent of all heating and cooling systems, and you’ll find that the website leaves no set-up questions unanswered.
Now, let’s get to the real fun—using Nest. Even lacking a single geeky bone in your body, there’s something awesome about putting a thermostat on your wi-fi network. Nest needs that connection to maintain communication with its Internet headquarters, where your interactions with the device are constantly monitored and analyzed. Link your thermostat with your Nest.com account and your home enters into its own age of enlightenment—climatically speaking.
From this point, there are two diverging paths of usage: with or without a smartphone. Without a smartphone, Nest will learn from and act on every manual adjustment to the thermostat. Within a week or so, it will get the gist of your routine based on every data point provided. Nest will learn workweek and weekend schedules. No need to pre-program it with what you think is your routine; it will just know.
For those times when the routine cycle is broken, Nest employs a proximity sensor to gauge when you’re at the office on a Saturday. If you haven’t walked past your thermostat in a while, it will cease and desist trying to keep your empty home a comfy home. Nest will even remind you to change your filters based on actual usage –not just because a calendar month has elapsed.
With the Nest app on your smartphone or tablet, the smart thermostat is pure genius. While much of the rote learning can be done with initially-frequent manual adjustment, it’s both the fine tuning and remote control through the app that further educates Nest. If 72 degrees at bedtime just isn’t cutting it as those chilly December nights roll in, then open the app and tap it up to 75. No need to scrounge around for bunny slippers to help you traverse the tiled hallway.
And if you’re leaving town when you realize that your air conditioner is not also on vacation, then use the Nest app to tell your thermostat that you’re away. It will disregard your previously learned schedule and maintain a user-selected set of high or low temperatures until you return.
The good folks at Nest claim you can save $6,000 over twenty years due to their product’s capacity to learn from your schedule and sense when you’re gone.
Even if they’re only 50 percent right, that’s a savings of $150 per year. I can’t think of any other high-tech consumer purchase that pays back its user. Well, at least not one that can be found on the end-cap display of the plunger and light-bulb aisle. For more technology reviews www.hightechdownlow.com or follow Nick on Twitter @hightechdownlow