The Nest Thermostat, The GOOD, The BAD, and The UGLY

The whole Nest thing is like a controversial book or movie that upgrades our awareness and makes us better for the time invested. Nest is the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) dream-stat with the best marketing-side manners to date. The DIY market has always patronized the Home Depots and Lowes from the day they bought their first house and the DIY market has never belonged to any distributor or contractor, but the potential of Nest to impact our markets beyond the DIYs bears conspiracy, I mean, considerable attention. Although, a twenty dollar Starbucks card goes to the first person who correctly identifies the third largest stock holder in Nest in the comments section. Hint, ( he clams to have invented the internet, and is all about convenient, I mean, inconvenient truths).

Now for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

GOOD: Cost is the almighty force that drives a good, better, and best offering, whether in cars or televisions, or universities or hair salons, and economics will prevail in the selection of a thermostat — unless there is a greater tax or rebate incentive offered, or it becomes mandatory ( as in the government makes you, wonder which savvy investor will make billions off of little round thermostats if this happens) for a smart device to link energy information from each residence to the utilities for grid management.

We all benefit by the great smart thermostat race and there is no dis-inventing the Nest. Disruptive technology will never, and should never, go away. Honeywell, Ecobee ( with it’s gorgeous color display), and the others have equal if not better thermostats but lack the style and marketing wizardry of Nest. Is there any doubt that Nest pulled off the greatest product launch the HVAC industry has ever seen? To all the traditional thermostat manufacturers, Wake up! Having a great product is not enough, the market wants some sizzle with that steak. So hire some long haired social marketing media types and get in the game. Figure out how to make your product cool….like Nest.

BAD: Initially, I thought Honeywell would be much better off spending their patent infringement lawsuit money on R&D, but after witnessing such a swift and successful deployment to the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) market: Nest is now being sold at the 363 Apple Shops nationwide, and has a serious installation partner with Service Experts with their 110 locations across the US, along with Best Buy and Lowes, I am not sure what they should do. I do know they better not ignore Nest. Nest is a serious competitor, and now that Nest has called Honeywell a troll, Nest needs to be taken very seriously. The Honeywell Redlink is a proven commodity, with a much richer feature set… but how to get the market place to covet the RedLink the way they do the Nest?

UGLY: Tony Fadell wanted Nest to have the same level of rigor and quality as iPod. Well he captured our imagination with the coolest looking thermostat ever, he got the packaging right, he was spot on with marketing, he made energy saving thermostats (at least his) a status symbol but unlike the IPOD there are serious design concerns with the Nest. Instead of a full blown power supply the Nest powers their stat with a power stealing scheme that takes power from the unit. This works in most cases but most DIY-ers are not prepared to deal with these types of installation issues and this can cause expensive equipment damage and reek havoc on equipment like boilers. And of course there is the whole debate about how the thermostat learns your habits so you don’t need to program it, this is a conversation for another post, but one has only to delve into how occupancy sensors work to realize this is probably better in theory than in practice. Are we all really buying that it is that hard to set up a thermostat?

Mr. Fadell’s motivation is a piece of the massively large and lucrative thermostat market ( who can blame him for that?) and his concept is to make it an end-to-end channel, which means Nest to consumer. This means total dependence for all products and services from Nest. The app and music-minded “Nester” is completely unaware of the pain to follow. I am sorry Nest but you are no Apple. My bet is once the infatuation wears off, the smart money is not going to tolerate being told how we buy our HVAC products and who can work on them.

UGLIER: There is no implied consent to share information in the cloud when a Nest is purchased, but surely this valuable information is destined to be aggregated and sold. How is that to be managed?

Will Nest become the tool of Big Brother instead of Smart Meters? You laugh, but watch this video, it might change your mind about the use of your personal data.

There is a much larger agenda behind the Nest noise. It is a web-enabled, wireless, zigbee, smart phone, that takes advantage of cloud computing, and it is prepared for the smart grid. Mesh networking is probably not far off in the product offering. If the Nest wants into the smart thermostat market, and in time, Nest will build its way into the specified and commercial markets, it needs to adopt open systems, open standards, and allow for integration options

Clint says stay tuned! There are some interesting developments behind the curtain that I will be posting about. And please make sure you read about the Nest backstory on Controltrends, make sure to read the comments, in that many have shared their experiences with the Nest.

UNBELIEVABLE: (I verified this with Sarah Conner) In the year 2021, thermostats have been replaced by the Nest Domestic Constable, a smart device, affectionately known as Al, sold at the Apple store and Best Buy, that reports who is home, when they got there and what they ate. It includes energy saving features like: reporting that the mother left the water running while she brushed her teeth and that father fell asleep with the TV on. This family was sentenced to six months in green prison.

Orwell and Huxley are rolling in their graves. Please tell me what you think in comments and email this to a friend, just hit the last button on the right over the about the author box.

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69 Responses

  1. OH! Sorry! Great article. This is about as unbiased and fair a commentary on the Nest thermostat I have read. As an HVAC professional, I am already telling contractors how to soothe the heartaches consumers who have bought the Nest will experience.

  2. “We all benefit by the great smart thermostat race and there is no dis-inventing the Nest. Disruptive technology will never, and should never, go away.”
    I couldn’t agree more…shaking the tree always brings more fruit to the consumer.
    “Are we all really buying that it is that hard to set up a thermostat?”
    Yes…I am! If you spend the time required to learn a thermostat it’s not so bad…but not many take the time.
    “This works in most cases but most DIY-ers are not prepared to deal with these types of installation issues and this can cause expensive equipment damage and reek havoc on equipment like boilers.”
    Power Stealing stats have been around for many years and have worked rather well, really not sure what the issue would be here.
    I see this influx of savvy technology as being all good, if our industry doesn’t have the ability to take us to the next step than we need to welcome in the entity that does! Service Experts is embracing what they see as a very attractive product and getting their share of involvement.

  3. Robin, Congratulations you win the $20 Starbucks Card. Please send me address you would like card sent to equist@mac.com. Thanks for your comments and for being a Controltrends fan

  4. I’m not an HVAC professional but a consumer. I bought the nest a lowes. I’ve changed light fixtures and ceiling fans myself. Why do you consider the Nest a bigger threat than the 20 other aftermarket thermostats? For me installation was dead simple with instructions geared to the DIYer (integrated level) with instructions written by somebody that speaks English as a first language. Add the Nest to your instal options and the world won’t end. The product is beautiful and works as advertised.

  5. I completely agree with Andrew. I have to say I sense more of the “industry” objection here to the Nest than any real objection.

    The loudest of this being the “power” issue. Is this real? I mean really? I’ve looked at a lot of reviews and forums before purchasing the Nest for my home (which is why I’m here reading your site, and I do appreciate how helpful it is) and didn’t see any evidence of this from real consumers.

    Andrew said it best, I think. Add the Nest to your available options. Customers that call you out for service won’t stop calling just because you can provide them with a Nest. Hell, they will likely appreciate you turning them on to an effective thermostat that is “cool” too.

  6. Personally, I think you’re full of crap. The nest looks great, installs easily, tracks the temperature better than any T-stat I have ever owned and with a few tools on the website to better analyze the data, has the potential to be everything you could want or need. I was amazed, the first heat cycle ran over by 3 degrees. I was ready to pack it up and take it back, I spent big money because I wanted something that would eliminate the big temp swing in my new high efficiency gas boiler and this was a dud. But I read that it takes a couple cycles and Nest will learn and compensate for the over-run. Next heating cycle was almost dead on the money and it has only gotten better. I am overjoyed with the purchase. Don’t care who the investors are, just glad somebody did. Everything from the time I picked up the box said quality. I appreciate a product that does what it says and even the packaging said “we did this right”. I can’t imagine how anyone could see this as less than a quality product. Maybe if I was the honeywell distributor. Makes me wonder about the motivation of some of the comments… Even Al Gore could see the value.

  7. I’ve had two Nests in my house and put one in my daughter’s house. It was about as hard to install as your socks. The bulk of the time spent installing it had to do with repairing the walls (the previous owners had painted around old stat). The “power drain”. Seriously? Ridiculous. For me, it’s easier than trying to remind my daughter to change a bunch of AA cell batteries and then having to go through the indignity of reprogramming the stupid thing after every battery failure.

    Nest has continued to update their software – even after the launch of the second generation unit.

    As far as financially, the Nest has paid for itself already. My daughter’s cooling bill (during arguably the hottest summer in the Bay Area) dropped $80 a month purely because she can control her thermostat from her iPhone as she disembarks from the train. By the time she gets home, the house is cool. In my case, my A/C bills have dropped and my heat has dropped with an improvement in comfort.

    Unless you’ve had a Nest, and lived with it, please reserve judgement. You doing a disservice to your readers.

  8. I am a homeowner who purchased and installed a Nest thermostat. I am also a self professed gadget addict and computer nerd. I became interested in a new thermostat following an emergency replacement of my gas furnace over the christmas holiday. The gentleman who handled the changeover was a local professional with over 20 years experience and a great reputation in my town. I was not disappointed when my 20+ year old gas furnace was replaced with a modern 95% efficiency 2 stage variable speed unit.
    Being a geek (30+ years software engineer), I have an integrated automation system in my home tied to the thermostat, security system and lighting controls. The HVAC professional was unfamiliar with the thermostat (an HAI RC80 single stage communicating) which didn’t surprise me since this is a very small niche market. He assured me that I could keep the stat and set the furnace to control the staging, which was the way all of his installs were configured. He indicated that he could sell me a $400.00 VisionPro (!!!) thermostat, but that it wouldn’t be worth it. He didn’t recommend 2 stage thermostats as they are unnecessary complexity.

    That struck me as strange, so I went to the internet to research the “state of the art”. I concluded that I needed a 2 stage thermostat, and that it would be worth forsaking the smart phone control that I had , for “smarter” management of the 2 stage heating for a more comfortable home.
    You cannot google for thermostat information without being absolutely barraged with all the glowing press and positive reviews surrounding the Nest. The only ones it seems who don’t like it are the professional HVAC people, and Honeywell. That makes it really tough to make an objective decision. The important stuff to me is:

    SmartPhone access. Saved me a lot of grief because I only knew about the failed furnace though a text message I got from my automation system. I was out of town for the holidays, and this little message saved me many dollars of damage by informing me of the low temperature situation before it became a disaster.

    2 Stage heating management. The house should be more comfortable by using the low fire longer by distributing the heat longer and more evenly.

    3. all the other programming features everyone takes for granted now.

    Cool ‘gadget’ features are a plus, but not strictly necessary. Integration with other systems is nice too.
    There are actually only a handful of devices that fit that bill, and I chose the Nest based on the glowing reviews, ready availability from Home Depot and their generous return policy that would allow me assess it’s suitability with relatively low risk. Plus it is the ‘coolest’ looking of all of the devices. After one month, my impression is:

    It does NOT save me money. I have used setback programming for a long time.
    ‘Learning’ a schedule takes longer and is more error prone than simply setting up a schedule.
    It does not have any ‘hold’ feature, never mind a ‘hold until’ as the Honeywell does.
    It supports humidifier OR dehumidifier, but not both.
    It uses the internet for outdoor temp. Not a sensor. That is often out by 5 or more degrees (C). Non-Pro Honeywell stats have no outdoor temp sensors either.
    It does not have fan circulation modes or schedules. Neither do non-Pro Honeywell.
    It does not support HRV operation. Neither do any non-Pro Honeywell.
    Automatic Away mode only works if the stat is located in a high traffic area. Not the case in my home. I had to disable that feature, because it kept turning my heat down, thinking I was away.
    Setback recovery is not very smart. Limited to one hour preheat time which is not enough to recover a large setback (6 degrees C). Also runs low fire for more than an hour before turning on high fire, arriving at target temperature 30+ minutes late.
    Hard to read. actual temperature is tiny and hard to find. Those large numbers are the setpoint, which most people already know.
    Unreliable without a ‘C’ wire. I have one, so it was not an issue, but I would not consider using anything beyond a basic cheap stat without one. Honeywell at least comes right out and states that the ‘C’ wire is required. Many other folks have found out after the fact that they needed one.
    I like the energy reports, but it costs what it costs to keep the home comfortable.
    I do like the look of it. It is the nicest looking of all.

    In the end, I returned the Nest for $250 and replaced with a Honeywell wifi (8580) that was on sale for $110. It gives me everything I was getting from the Nest except for the cool looks and the energy reports. I can live without that for $140, and I get the ‘Hold until…’ feature for less money. It still is not the system I wanted to put in, but it serves my current needs.

    I believe Nest will address most of their issues at some point, but I am not going to wait on features that may or may not appear at some unknown time in the future. I live in the software industry so I know about feature promises, design priorities and the obstacles to timely mass releases. So I did not drink the ‘Nest Kool-aid’ for now, but I may return depending on how things unfold in future.

    Still, it does give us a glimpse of the tremendous possibilities that lay ahead. It has made an impact on the industry and the marketplace and should open our eyes to the changing landscape. I believe Nest has captured the imagination of the public more than anything, and that it is well within the realm of the ‘major players’ to do likewise.

    Knowing what I know now, my first choice would be a Honeywell Prestige IAQ comfort system with Redlink gateway, and I would pay more than the price of a Nest for it, but I would not have known of it’s existence were it not for the exhaustive research I had undertaken on my own. Nor do I want to pay $600+ (assuming based on $400 for the most basic VisionPro) to a contractor just because it is the only place I can get it. I will gladly pay the contractor for his time and expertise should I need it, but not the much higher markup that goes along with getting a better control system. Nest is successfully infiltrating this void in the market, and taking a (slightly less) sizable markup along with it.

    Nest has proven that homeowners can and do successfully install their own thermostats. It is technical, but it is not Rocket Science. HVAC design, installation, maintenance, troubleshooting,
    and repair IS rocket science (to me anyway), and is rightly the domain of the trained professional.

    There is already a glut of low end and mid level stuff in the big box DIY stores. Why can’t we buy better stuff there too? Are we all incapable of handling it?

    I realize I am probably a lot more anal than most, but I truly believe Honeywell makes a superior thermostat. They need to make the stuff more visible and more accessible at a more reasonable price. If they did that, I am sure they would not feel the need to sue the ‘new guys’ out of existence.

    If you are still reading this, I want to thank you for letting me vent.

  9. Murray,

    Very good comments and content! Thanks. The thermostat competition keeps going strong. Honeywell is offering a web-based service that makes their wifi thermostats incredibly accessible and easy to use and there’s a free iPhone App that gives you temperature, humidity, and outside air temperature for each thermostat, as well as setpoint and override control!

  10. This “review” (ahem…’blog entry’) is so diametrically opposed to the success and customer satisfaction of this product that the mere fact that it is SO negative makes me want to buy one.
    At what point in the product’s success will the author recant this position? Will Honeywell, Hunter and Leviton (**snicker**) produce similar designs? Truth be told, they will. There will be patent blood, but their survival is contingent upon better design.
    And this issue is indeed about design; nothing more. The days of the almond-colored button boxes and green gel-screens are numbered if not over.
    Someone raised the benchmark on design and UI. No one hates the fact that it was someone from Apple more than myself. But the legacy ‘plumber’s-crack’ vendors need to meet the new benchmark.

  11. Meow. Sometimes facts matter and this story has almost none.

    Let me give you a little hint. You could listen to music on your phone and surf the web on the phone before the iPhone. The iPhone put all the product development pieces together in the right way…. and BOOM. The NEST has done the best at doing that too in the area to date.

    This story is written by someone who seems to have no experience in product development.

    Also…. guess what…. people can learn a lot more from your credit card and phone records data then they could ever learn from any data taken from your thermostat.

  12. I bought The Nest because of what I read about how Nest handles radiant heating. Even though my boiler is only 3 years old, the nest wouldn’t work with it. We had to hire a heating professional and he couldn’t make it work. I’m guessing the problem was the lack of a ‘c’ wire. we only had a white wire and a black wire. Anyhow, long story short, we had to get a honeywell ($70). What a massive disappointment. I was looking forward to seeing my energy usage, and I was looking forward to having a thermostat that would finally work on a radiant heating system. It took the heating professional 2 hours to determine he couldn’t hook it up. I’ll bet he’s going to charge about the same amount as it cost to buy The Nest 🙁

  13. I consider it dishonest to perpetuate myths, even about Al Gore, who never stated anything about inventing the Internet. The transcript is easily found from the interview that the political opposition distorted so grossly.

  14. Okay, but Gore said he “created the internet” and the Dictionary meaning of create:
    Definition of CREATE transitive verb
    1: to bring into existence
    2a : to invest with a new form, office, or rank
    b : to produce or bring about by a course of action or behavior
    3: cause, occasion
    4 a : to produce through imaginative skill
    b : design intransitive verb
    1: to make or bring into existence something new
    2: to set up a scoring opportunity in basketball

  15. [Compared to my colleagues…] During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.” —From the transcript
    And the truth is, like him or not, more than any other politician on earth, Al Gore spearheaded (took the initiative in) the creation of the public internet your blog exists on. Go ahead and trash him for imperfect phrasing in a live interview.
    As someone who just tested the Nest for the last three days, and has no issues with setting up other programmable thermostats, I believe conspiracy theories don’t serve to frame a device I would recommend in many homes and small offices. I found imperfections, but the design of most consumer thermostats should be embarrassing to their creators. Just as previous smartphones were in many ways shamed by the iPhone. The Nest will improve, and your hyperbolic critique will be dust in the wind. Dust. Wind. Dude.

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  18. Although the original article is now a little dated, I absolutely love the discussion. Nearly all comments have merit for one reason or another but I have just one hole to poke in this boat. And it rotates around the concept that a single point of information in a distributed hvac system (read one stat in a hallway or ??) will provide the necessary data to satisfy all the conditions that exist in a residential structure of multiple exposures, varying build quality and occupancy differentials. A single stat cannot keep everyone happy for all these reasons. As an engineering type that included a few years in the hvac distribution and manufacturing industry with major brands beginning in the 1970’s, many consumers are now intelligent enough to understand that geeks and nerds will, sooner or later, force the technology to a different level of use. While residential dealer programs are consumer oriented and meant to fit the old adage that 80% of the market is where the money is at so just focus on that, the larger portion of my career at that time was in the industrial and commercial side of the industry. That niche where if you are not pushing the front edge of the current level of control technology as well as the energy heavy side such as VFD (variable frequency drives) as an example, and systems integration with full diagnostics to combat extremely expensive down-times in highly automated silicon production for semiconductor and solar products, survival is questionable. The last couple of decades have been the side of the controls industry that makes all this possible, the electronic chips, sensors, memory and other related hardware side. While the Nest and the newer Honeywell’s are great examples of the use of these technologies, they still miss the point that, just as in a hospital, office building, school, adult care center or anywhere the loads vary, just like the sun moving from East to West and the wind decides to blow, those conditions make it impossible to satisfy all areas let alone the occupancy variables for clean conditioned environmentally and energy sensitive needs. If your design theory is flawed with misconceptions from the beginning, your end result will be flawed also. Numbers are numbers, learn to use them or they use you. Engineering 101.
    Central residential systems are inherently flawed and count on the merging of the conditions to keep the 80% happy. Try that in a clean room or a school. Point is that I prefer a localized control with centralized energy management capabilities. Much more efficient and loads are more likely to be smaller allowing better use of sizing techniques that result in a drastically reduced energy bill whether you are using natural gas, electric or one of our multi-sourced systems we now offer. A single stat is still a major compromise no matter how smart it is. The convenience of being able to monitor the temperature or turn on the system to pre-cool o pre-heat prior to arrival is outstanding. Having to heat or cool an entire structure while use is primarily in one room during the daytime is still a design flaw anyway you look at it. Point of use saves abuse. Our scaled energy management control system takes the best of proven industrial application engineering and making if user friendly, affordable, easily upgraded/integrated and not outside the DIY market. We take pride in our approach. It takes the best of what we are discussing about the best of single stat’s and spreads the love around. If the vulture capitalists were not so interested in raping and pillaging, you would be able to have the seen the future of what is coming next. Your pad, tablet or phone is merely your key to making the next possible. Thanks to Apple and it’s iPhone, Samsung and the other guys taking the scaling of technology to a new level. We do the same thing and they can all be part of our and your world without big brother overseeing all you do. Cleared for approach on 35R. Throttle back, flaps, gear down, nose up and butter it in.

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  31. Everything important aside, best buy will be long gone by year 2021… On the other hand, I’d believe prognostication about futureshop. Haha

  32. I have a Nest previously but returned it for an Ecobee3 thermostat. The Ecobee3 is far superior than a nest with its beautiful touch screen and controls. The Ecobee3 has way more features than the Nest does like, Weather forecast, heat/cool staging, timers, Hold, buttons, sensors, and much more.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Nest is great product but the Ecobee3 at this point is a far superior thermostat. Im a network administrator/programmer and Im addicted to Home Automation. A couple gripe about the Nest are the lack control. There is NOT a “Hold” feature that will allow for a user to set the temperature to a desired temp and disregard the schedule/learning. You have to follow the schedule on a Nest, no hold feature. Also, no weather forecast. The Ecobee3 features a weather button that will display the current weather temp along with the 5 day forecast. And the main feature that sets the Ecobee3 at the top from the rest of the competition is the ability to add up to 32 remote sensors that can distinguish the temp in each room.

    Ecobbee3 has an Auto Home/Away feature like the Nest. The only thing that the Nest has and the Ecobee3 doesn’t, is the ability to Learn. Which is not a big deal to me because my schedule is not the same every single day.

  33. I like this thermostat, because: Auto-Away – This thermostat automatically change itself down when you want to save energy. This feature often works in 90% of homes (even it can work effectively in some places that you don’t pass on the way out the door).

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  38. Don’t buy a Nest thermostat! I purchased a nest three years ago and all I’ve had are problems! The back plate malfunctioned on a cold winters weekend and the temperature in my home plummeted to 40 degrees F. The outside temperature was -30 F.Fortunately we came home early and I installed the old thermostat to heat the home! When ever there’s a software update for the unit things go bad! Don’t buy this piece of crap! You will consume more energy and have lots of frustration! All hype and marketing. Piece of junk! .

  39. Hi. I spotted that Google had bought the rights to this a few years back and got suspicious that it was another harvesting vector for the inevitably A.I.
    I work in the architectural design world and seeing how big data, smart buildings, building information management BIM, WiFi and gps are all tracking our use of buildings “for our convenience” and for BREEAM green credentials, the almost aggressive insertion of the nest device and smoke detectors into homes and commercial properties is some spicy food for the conspiracy theorists.

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  41. If you want a confusing toy, get a nest. If you want a thermostat, get one, preferably a 50 year old design… where you set the temp when the heater comes on, when the air conditioner comes on, easy set up, done. Nest is technology for technology’s sake. It does not save money. It’s a pain to set up or redefine settings. It’s value is nil. Find an old, simple design and you will be much happier.

  42. The only thing that I think will put a lot of people off something like the Nest thermostat is that it would be daunting to install yourself. Not everyone is good at DIY (count me in that crowd). It will also be interesting to see if they’re still a ‘thing’ in a few years time when all homes and new boilers come with smart thermostats as standard.

    Good article by the way. Love the T2 reference.

  43. I had bought a Nest Thermostat and Hated it. First off One day the “C Wire”. went out and the entire house was freezing. Never happened with my old style Thermostat. It also used to drive me crazy adjusting the Temps to its own settings. I would program it back and it would do its own thing again. Way too technical for me. I could care less to go onto my phone and see how much energy the Furnace was using. If they would make these things much much easier to use then I would get one again. Technology is great when Simple but truly I went back to the old fashioned thermostat that I set, it never acts up and my life is simple and happy again. You can keep the Nest. It is not for me!

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