Last winter, I purchased two Nest Learning Thermostats for our house. At $250 a piece, they are not cheap. Fortunately, each of them qualify for a $100 rebate from my electric company (rebates vary by company and by state). At $150, they are a lot more affordable. Even better, I got an extremely rare discounted price of $229 on Amazon, which combined with 5% rewards on my Chase Freedom card for that quarter. When all was said and done, they cost me around $120 a piece.
At that $120 price, I could justify adding a little design, especially if was going to save me money over my previous non-programmable thermostat. (What were the previous owners thinking?)
I recently read a study that said you should get the bad news out first and finish with the good news. I’m going to give that a shot here, because the bad news is fairly mild.
The Disadvantage with NEST
Last winter we were renovating our home to add air conditioning, when I saw the deal on the NEST and jumped on it. (Side rant: I have no idea what the “genius” building our house was thinking 20 years ago when he decided not to include central air. New England summers can get extremely hot and humid.) Because our house lacks the ducts used for central air, the renovation was a bit of interesting mixture of technologies.
In the attic we have a typical central air system that blows the cool air down to the second floor. On the first floor we have ductless mini-split air conditioning (they go by many names, I’m not sure what it is officially called). This Frankenstein monster of an air condition system has its advantages… different cooling zones. We mostly spend our time upstairs sleeping, so we only have to cool it down some of the time. When we are downstairs, we can cool the room we are in through the ductless mini-splits.
It’s perfect, except for the fact, that mini-splits don’t work with a thermostat. Every brand of ductless air condition has it’s own proprietary technology. So while they come with fancy remote controls that can seemingly do everything… they can’t talk with my NEST. Only the upstairs, the “real” central air (for lack of a better term), can do that.
In practice this limitation isn’t actually that bad. With the upstairs on NEST it knows to cool down at night. The fancy remotes with our mini-splits downstairs are in the room with us making that easy to control. It’s just disappointing that it isn’t all tied together.
The Big Advantages with NEST
I was tempted to write about how awesome NEST is after the first month. I stopped myself realizing that the review would be better if I’ve used it for months. Not coincidentally, October is a good time to thinking about programmable thermostats. Winter is coming (I couldn’t resist).
The first thing that most people will say is that a simple programmable thermostat will give you 80% of the advantages at 20% of the cost. I would completely agree with that. I’d just say that some programmable thermostats are very complex and their screens aren’t terrible user interfaces. Setting different schedules for a weekend vs. a weekday does get difficult. I also don’t need another device that doesn’t understand daylight savings time.
The NEST is different in that it observes how you control it over time and programs itself based on your actions. If you don’t like how it sets itself up, the web interface for adjusting it is far more user friendly than the cheap characters on most programmable thermostats.
The programming itself is one of the biggest draws, but there are some other useful features. The NEST realizes when you are not home (I’m scared to learn out how) and puts itself it in Auto-Away mode, conserving energy. There is of course the obligatory NEST application for most smart phones. It gives you all the features on the thermostat itself, but for the most part you’d use it to raise and lower the temperature remotely.
Finally, NEST gives you monthly reports that allow you to compare your use against others in your state and the United States overall. It might not seem like much, but I set it as a goal to be in the top 80 percentile… and most months I’ve been able to do it.
Quality Control Problems Slip In?
One of NEST’s selling points is that the average person can install it themselves in a few minutes. However, since I had the aforementioned air conditioning system renovation, it was easy to say, “Can you put these NEST thermostats in too?” Upon installation, the installer told me that one of them was defective.
I took his word for it and got a replacement from Amazon, with zero hassle. They even paid for shipping both ways. The installer had no problem with the replacement.
I’m hesitant to say that there’s a quality control problem. Thousands of reviewers on Amazon don’t seem to think so. It may be a case where I got the one bad one in a million, or maybe my installer did something wrong. In any case, I mention it more for how Amazon took care of the issue quick and easy, than to point out a problem with NEST.
Does the NEST Save You Money?
According to Energy Star, programmable thermostats will likely save you $180 per year. The question is whether a NEST will save you more to offset the cost of the product itself. I can see a NEST saving an extra $25 a year through it’s features such as Auto-Away and smart phone access. That’s just my estimate. If you don’t live in a state with a rebate, it may take a 6 years for it to pay for itself. When you add in the convenience of programming, the monthly reports, and the aesthetics, I think the NEST adds a lot of intangibles that provide a lot of value.
I wish I could say that NEST saved me $X, but with the addition of the air conditioning system, I knew my expenses were going to go up in the summer. Also the switch from a non-programmable to a programmable thermostat was going to yield some savings, but savings that aren’t unique to NESTs features in general. I don’t feel I could make an apples-to-apples comparison, so I’ll simply avoid a comparison altogether.
There are cheaper Wifi thermostats out there, but I stand by the value of NEST. You can price-compare to try to find a bargain on NEST, but like the pricing of Apple products, it will be a long time coming… if ever. They simply stick at their price. Yes, at the beginning I mentioned that I got a discount, but I hadn’t seen one before or since… a span of a few years now.
Given my experience with the return, I highly recommend buying the Nest Learning Thermostats at Amazon, if you decide it is right for you.