A not-so-handy homeowner's review of the Nest Thermostat E

Installation

Thermostats are fairly simple as far as home systems go. Assuming that you have a reasonably modern furnace, the wiring will essentially be a one-to-one procedure. Thermostats rely on a series of small gauge wires to carry power and send signals to your furnace. The wires are labeled in the thermostat and you’ll find the same (or similar) labels on the control board of your thermostat. In all likelihood, you’re replacing an existing thermostat. So, installation is simply a matter of transitioning the wires from your old thermostat to the equivalent terminals of the Nest.

Nest provides a supremely helpful compatibility checker to help with installation process. By entering the wiring of your existing thermostat, it can tell you whether or not the Nest is likely to be compatible with your home. It will also generate you a wiring diagram tailored specifically to your configuration.

Nest’s technical support team is also quite helpful. I encountered a complication in my installation (discussed later) and required some assistance. Their techs were quite thorough in troubleshooting and diagnosing the issue. They gave me the information that I needed to continue and even called back a couple of days later to check in.

The C-wire

There’s one gotcha in the installation of smart thermostats. They’re quite a bit more sophisticated than your basic digital thermostat. Their sensors, display, and wifi all demand quite a bit more power. An internal battery, which is charged by drawing power from the thermostat wires, supports the Nest. For certain homes, this may be insufficient and may cause the thermostat to malfunction.

My home is about 75 years old but it’s furnace is relatively new. I was replacing a simple, battery-powered, thermostat. In the wall, I found 18/2 thermostat wire (a bundle of 2 wires, red and white). The Nest compatibility checker indicated that my configuration was compatible but this was not the case. My Nest was unable to draw enough power to both charge itself and send a signal to the furnace. The result was that the Nest remained powered but was unable to turn on the heat.

After spending time with Nest’s technical support team, I came to learn about the common wire (or c-wire in thermostat parlance). This wire provides power to a thermostat to support more sophisticated features. Unfortunately, with only 18/2 wire in the wall, I didn’t have a spare to connect to the c-wire terminal. My fix was to replace the wire in the wall with 18/5, which gave me an extra wire for delivering the necessary power to the thermostat.

I am disappointed that Nest’s compatibility checker downplays the potential necessity for a c-wire. It indicated that my configuration was adequate with little more than a passing reference to a common wire. A Google search reveals that this is a more common trouble spot than the documentation would have you believe.

Scheduling

Nest boasts an automatic scheduling feature that is capable of learning your daily routine and adjusting your temperatures accordingly. It monitors your settings over its first couple of weeks in your home and hones in on what it believes to be the optimal climate settings.

On the face of it, this is pretty cool tech. In practice, it’s much less useful. If your routine is well established, it’s far simpler to define a schedule up front. (Nest’s interface for defining a schedule is far nicer than any simple digital thermostat.) Furthermore, if your schedule is irregular, it’s learning mechanism is unable to discern an accurate configuration. For example, my wife and I work from home but on an inconsistent schedule and that threw the system for a loop.

This is a feature that works better in marketing material than it does in practice.

Home/Away assist

If energy efficiency is your interest, Nest’s Home/Away assist feature takes the cake. Using a combination of the thermostats sensors and the geo-fencing capabilities of your phone, the Nest is able to determine if you are away from your home and adjust the climate to a more economical temperature. Family accounts can link more than one phone to your account and your thermostat’s activity can be monitored in the Nest’s history.

The savings are quite apparent with this feature enabled.

Connectivity

Integration is a boon of IoT. As a smart thermostat, Nest is obviously wifi-enabled. However, its integration with other devices is what really makes it attractive. Nest is compatible with most smart speakers and a host of other devices, making it a nice addition to any smart home.

Voice, as a user interface, has worked its way into the mainstream. AI personal assistants continue to saturate the market. I find myself more and more compelled to speak to my devices (whether or not they are capable). It’s such a natural mode of interaction.

On those cold New England nights, you can take the “chill” out of “Netflix and chill” without lifting a finger: Alexa, set the temperature to 70 degrees.

Nest Thermostat vs. Nest Thermostat E

So far, the discussion has centered around features true of both the Nest Thermostat and the Nest Thermostat E.  I do this intentionally because the key features of the Nest are available in both flavors.

However, the Nest Thermostat E is $80 cheaper than original Nest model. The only real difference is in the display. Where the standard thermostat offers a “high-res” display, the E uses a simple (but still attractive) frosted glass display. This makes the E a great value. We purchased an E model with a $100 rebate from our local utility company, which brought the price within reaching distance of simple digital thermostats!

Takeaway

With its easy installation, emphasis on usability, and a myriad of integration points, the Nest Thermostat E is a great upgrade for anyone looking to monitor and optimize their home climate systems. The lower price tag of this model springs the device from the luxury market, making it accessible to the everyday homeowner.

 

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