Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Nest Thermostat: No, Thank You.

Nest Thermostat Review: 2 out of 10

I bought a Nest thermostat, partly to learn about it from a professional standpoint, and partly because I was excited to try it out. People are raving about them.

Bottom line: after several days of trying it out and setting it up, I got so angry at it that I took it off the wall, put back the ancient one that it was replacing, boxed it up, and I'm returning it. I *never* return *anything*, so this is notable.

Nest Sucks at Being a Thermostat

The thing that's wrong with Nest is that it isn't very good at its basic function: being a thermostat. There are two things that it should do:
  1. Determine the temperature in the room, and the desired temperature, and try to make the room be the desired temperature.
  2. Turn the furnace on and off.
On the first point, yes, it kind of does that, but it doesn't show you the current temperature in the room -- only the desired temperature.  It knows the current temperature in the room, right? And every other thermostat on the market shows you both temperatures, right? So why is it that there is literally no way to see the current temperature in the room?  The only answer I can think of is: "design".  We didn't want to mess up the beautiful display by showing you two numbers, because that would look bad.  Right.  Good decision.

On the second point, turning the furnace on/off, the brand-new 3rd Generation Nest with a fresh software update ... fails miserably. The furnace runs for a while, then I think when the room temperature is just about the desired temperature, it starts to cycle the furnace on/off every 3- 4seconds, for quite a number of minutes. As a programmer, I'm pretty sure this is because the temperature sensor is not quite accurate enough, so when it's on the line between 68 and 69, let's say, it flips back and forth (maybe the temperature is 68.5643 and it rounds off to 68 then to 69 then back to 68 as the temperature fluctuates 0.001 degrees.

This is so basic to the functionality of a thermostat that they probably have internal brown-bag lunches on this topic at Honeywell, when you join the thermostat engineering group. Hysteresis, they call it. Except they don't seem to  have thermostat engineers at Nest, just "user experience designers."


Nest is Not That Helpful

Okay, it sucks at being a thermostat, but isn't it awesome as an Internet of Things poster child? Sort of. The app is nice, and it does show remote status pretty well, and remote control (except for that part about "what temperature is the room, anyway?). But it's focused on saving energy, which is great, but it is not very focused on making me warm on a cold day, which is the other reason for having a thermostat.


Nest has a feature they call Auto-Away, which uses the built-in motion sensor to decide whether or not you're home (a pretty good idea) and turns the furnace down when you're not around. This would be great, except for WHEN YOU ARE HOME, and just NOT IN FRONT OF THE THERMOSTAT.

Motion detector delays are pretty standard, right? Like your motion detector light fixture on your front porch. There's a switch on there to decide how long a delay you want.

Nest's Auto-Away feature has exactly one control: ON or OFF.  That's it.  You can't set the delay for how often you walk by the thermostat. It seems to have a really short one, like 10 minutes, after which it decides you aren't home and TURNS DOWN THE HEAT.  That is so completely not helpful, on a cold day.

When you find yourself getting out of your chair many times during a day and walking into the room with the thermostat in it and waving your arms, to try to make the heat go back on, you start to realize that the product is badly designed and implemented.

Remote Control

Which brings me to the last feature, the ability to control the furnace from someplace else. This is totally great, and works well.  AND YOU NEED IT, becuase you have to turn Auto-Away off, because it sucks and that's your only choice (ON or OFF). But if Auto-Away is off, then you have to turn it off remotely if you are Away, and forgot to turn the heat down.

Fail.  Epic fail, all in all, because it has all the ingredients of being awesome, but absolutely sucks at doing its basic job.

Shame on Google, for buying them and placing such high success value on a product which just really isn't awesome at all.


James Brasure said...

Hey Glenn, I couldn't agree more. Earlier this year I tried several smart thermostats by Nest and Ecobee. After many months of pulling my hair out, I finally gave up. I decided that smart thermostats are simply trying to be too smart, and they fail at performing their most basic task.

I eventually found the perfect thermostat for my needs: The Honeywell Prestige 2. It's a "dumb" thermostat that was released about 5 years ago, but it's modern enough to support Internet control.

It has several nice features:
• It's not smart. You simply set the temperature, and it tries to maintain it.
• It has a color LCD display, with a reasonable UI.
• It has a remote sensor/remote control that you can carry around your house.
• It has an outdoor sensor, so you can see the outdoor temperature.
• If you buy the Honeywell RedLink Gateway you can control the temperature from your smartphone or computer
• There is an optional portable button that lets you change between Home/Away/Vacation at the push of a button. (Put that near your entry door.)

Anyway, good luck with your thermostat quest. I know exactly how you feel. I'll take an old thermostat over Nest or Ecobee any day.

Ann said...

Thanks, Glenn! Super helpful. Please post reviews on any other products you are using, too. I mean it! Your descriptions are way better than any marketing goop or instructions. Your big picture mixed with the details makes complete sense.

Ian McCullough said...

Nest must have really botched it with the v3, because I have a V2, and I have none of the problems you're talking about. When the temp is more than a degree or two off the set temp, it shows me the current temp as a call out on the scale. Here's a picture:


It's currently 69degF, the nest is set to 73 and it even tells me how long it's going to take to get there. As for the hysteresis, there must be some problem with you setup, because if anything, I feel like the shut off could happen sooner with mine, but I only occasionally notice that in the summer with the AC.

For me, the real problem with Nest is that they were bought by Google, and I don't trust them not to use the Nest to collect data about me... when I go on vacation, when I'm home sick from work, etc. It's just kind of creepy.

David Cardinal said...

I can only imagine the joy we'd have trying to use it with our radiant heat system (although I've read that some people have made it work).

Matt Prater (not the place kicker) said...

I have a hydrionic (New England for baseboard radiant) system with three zones. The Nests each call a circulator pump. Works fine. I can see the current temperature and the set point, as well as time to set point.

The schedule isn't the most intelligent thing I've dealt with. For example, it will store sequential set points of the same value. I don't know enough about automatic controls to know whether there's a good excuse for this, but if there is, why not hide the second one?

I like the nest. Our consumption is down, and the house is generally comfortable. I have all 2nd gen.

David Graham said...

You should cross-post to Medium. You have informed opinions. Share your insights with a much wider audience.

sirshannon said...

"it doesn't show you the current temperature in the room"
See the 65 in the image you added to this post? That is the current temperature of the room.

So I didn't bother readin the rest.

Glenn Reid said...

A couple comment say that it does show the current temperature. Sorry, it doesn't. I spent several hours experimenting and testing this. Tt shows some previous temperature from some indeterminate point in the past, but over a period of hours, as the furnace changes the temperature in the room, the Nest updates nothing, and the "previous" temperature is further in the past, and further fictional, as to becoming meaningless. In their photo, the "65" would seem to be current room temperature, it's just that ... it's not. ( *think* it is the temperature at the time you adjust it. It also doesn't update the time until you achieve the set temperature. It said "2+ hours" for 2+ hours, then suddenly it would be the target temperature. It never adjusted either the 63 or the time estimate.

Given that this is all a thermostat really has to do correctly, it is pretty useless.

Canon Shots Photography said...

My Nest was very pretty to look at and it came lit up every time I walked past! These were its best features. I bought it at Best Buy had it installed by a professional AC company. A couple of days ago I had to call for service because my compressor was not coming on. The service guy said the base of my Nest had gone bad. He told me he sees this a lot. This is a local company that I have been doing business with for years so I trust them. $250 later I had them install a Sensi internet thermostat that seems to be working fine. I took the nest back to Best Buy but they told me my Premier Pro status 45 day return policy expired 3 days ago and advised me to contact nest. I asked them if they could just throw it in the trash and cut up my Best Buy credit card for me and they did and let me walk out of the store. They said they do not have an arrangement with nest to offer a defective refund or store credit. I thought I pay more thorough my brick and mortar store because there are here to support me. Nest lost a customer right along with Best Buy. All in all it cost me $400 to plus the $250 for the new thermostat. Wanted to share my story so maybe you won't have the same experience.

Unknown said...

The Nest thermostat is just like those stupid water faucets in public restrooms. They are ultra water conserving but utterly useless.
For my household, on a cold winter day when I come in from blowing the snow off my driveway, I open the wood stove door and stuff the sucker full of logs. House warms up for a few hours then cools down. How is the Nest thermostat going to load my wood stove when I need it?
Nest is also way over priced. I can get a 7 day programmable thermostat on ebay for $20. That will do 99% of what the Nest does. The last 1% energy savings is not worth the extra $200.

Amy Hartwell said...

I just received my new Nest from Amazon. It is very easy to install and is easy to follow the basic set up. However, it runs the furnace for 40 seconds then shuts it off. The fan stays on and blows cold air. But the furnace burner will not stay lit.
I reinstalled my old thermostat and everything works as it should.

Is this a malfunctioning unit?


Keith Reuland said...

The Nest thermostat is an expense paper weight after several months. It cannot handle the electrical noise from power up and shutdown of the HVAC system. I have had approx. a dozen base plates burn up. When searching blogs about this, I found that I was far from alone. A heating base plate means a fire waiting to happen. Absolutely hands down a great smart thermostat for the first month or so if you're patient and let it learn. Put it to the test over time, and you'll find that the base plate cannot handle electrical noise/surges. It's written off as "you're home system" that needs repair. Why then does my Honeywell digital thermostat work fine and not burn up..? I use my old Honeywell digital thermostat as a backup when waiting for my Nest replacement each time. Something to be said about that... I am sooooo...frustrated I put up with it for so long. I should have bowed out in my warranty/refund period instead of trying to be patient with them...

Keith Reuland said...

My most recent challenge is that the A/C and heater both run at the same time. The only way to shut it off is to unplug all the wires from the base plate. I plug my Honeywell (non-smart thermostat) in, and viola it works fine. A $250 paperweight is not what I intended when I purchased it. I could have walked out in the front yard and brought in a rock that would do the same thing.

Anonymous said...

The room temperature is only displayed if it differs from the set temperature. And, the hysteresis is learned. The Nest works my HVAC system just as well as the programable Honeywell it replaced. Zero issues with it for the last year. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I just got home tonight (9:00 pm) after being away for approximately 10 hours. My house was so cold I thought my two year old furnace had broken down. When I checked the (nasty) NEST thermostat, it was registering at 16 degrees C. (61F)
How can this be considered an "energy saving" device? Seems to me it probably takes a lot more energy to warm up EVERYTHING in the house that got so cold while I was away rather than keeping everything at a steady temperature! Thanks for all the posts so I know it's not just me unable to program and definitely going back to the tried and true thermostat.

Rob Fasanello said...

I can't agree more. Next = sick children. It simply can't handle basic thermostat management. It's orange - all the time. It just doesn't work.

Unknown said...

I also installed the nest thinking its the best thing since...
Turns out is is the biggest hunk of junk. Never mind te issue of showing the temperature of the room in addition to the set temperature. It does allow remote setting which is a good feature.
BUT what good is all that if the battery dies and the nest goes silent after every 3 days, requiring to charge.
worst part is - I cant give it back.
I'm sending it back to Sundar Pichai, the CEO of google. let him choke on it.

Ren Jones said...

You're problem is primarily that you don't actually understand how the best works...

Firstly, it does show both temperatures, on the dial display. The set temperature is bigger but the current temperature is there.

Second, the away feature isn't motion based, it's based on your phone. If the thermostat isn't connected to wifi with your phone that feature isn't going to work properly, but otherwise I've had no issues with it. And if it *is* an issue it's a simple matter to turn the feature off and add a change in the schedule.

You can also adjust your away temperatures aka eco and set it to turn on in advance of your return based on your schedule. It does take more than a couple days to learn your schedule unless you set one up manually, but once it learns it, it's awesome.

The one and only complaint I have with my nest is if the weather on a particular day is weird and I want different temperatures from my normal schedule it reverts to the scheduled temperatures at each set time, which can be annoying as I don't want to actually change the schedule just because it's an unusually cool or warm day for the season.

However, I suspect those with newer more efficient homes would have less of a problem with that. Mine is over 90 years old and is generally uncomfortable regardless of season if the appropriate climate control is not running, even when the weather is mild enough that it really shouldn't be needed.