I am excited to launch a new series of blog posts and videos which will provide information on a variety of automation technologies and give my perspective from having worked with these technologies in my own life and home over a period of time. Technologies in this series will span home automation, personal automation and more (with a few surprises along the way if all goes according to plan). The goal for “By Example” posts like this are to give one geek’s personal experiences with a product or technology in as much of a step-by-step example as possible.

Please note, as with all of my blog posts these represent my personal experiences and opinions of these automation technologies and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.

Let’s get started! The first automation by example article will cover the Nest Thermostat. I currently have two Generation 2 Nest Thermostats in my home (one for the upstairs and one for the downstairs). I have been using these for several years now.

For all automation technologies, there are four key pillars to consider:

  • Simplicity: Is it easy to install and easy to use on a daily basis?
  • Consistency: Does it do what it’s supposed to do all of the time? Are the user experiences consistent?
  • Transparency: Is it easy to tell exactly what it is doing both now and historically?
  • Impact: Does having this automation in place positive impact the user? For automation to be useful it needs to change behavior of the user. This score represents the impact to a daily life of the user by having this automation in place.

As part of this blog series I will rate each technology on a 1-10 scale based upon my experiences working with the technology.

Please note, the goal of this blog post is not to provide information on the ROI (return on investment) for any of the technologies involved. This blog post is focused on providing an example of how these technologies work in a real world environment.

 

Installation

Installation of these was pretty straightforward with the exception of one wiring challenge which we ran into. To install them, see the directions provided with the device or Nest’s video at: https://youtu.be/H2PWdzYuiqc

One Geek’s experience: I recommend configuring your Nest for both heating and cooling when you install it. When I installed my Nest I configured it only for cooling as we were in the middle of summer. It was working well, but when winter came and I added the heat option to the Nest. Unfortunately, while I had wired the Nest correctly for cooling, I had not wired it correctly for heating. The result was my air conditioning starting at 2:00 in the morning when the house needed to be heated instead. To deal with the situation we put the Nest into away and revisited the wiring to find what I had done incorrectly during the installation.

These even look good once they are in place. Example of my one of my two are shown below:

 

User Experience

Device: The device is visually intuitive – when it’s cooling its blue…

And when it’s heating it’s more of red/orange color.

(This occurs across all user experiences including the device, the mobile applications the website. An example of the Android app when heating is shown below)

You can easily change yourself from home to away (or vice-versa), see the current temperature, see energy usage information, see the current schedule, or make changes to your settings for the device.

Mobile: Android

The Android version of the mobile application is extremely functional. The top level view provide the status of your Nest devices at a glance including the current temperature outside, temperature ranges on your nest devices and status of your Nest protects (if you have them, we’ll come back to these in another blog post).

From the app you can see details related to each Nest thermostat.

You can easily do things such as determine your heating and cooling history:

And you can see and adjust your schedule for that particular thermostat (it’s much easier to do on the full web version however).

Mobile: iPad

The iPad version of the Nest application is equally functional to the Android experience. The top level view provide the status of your Nest devices at a glance including the current temperature outside, temperature ranges on your nest devices and status of your Nest Protects.

From the app you can see details related to each Nest thermostat.

You can easily do things such as determine your heating and cooling history:

And you can see and adjust your schedule for that particular thermostat (as with the Android version it’s much easier to do on the full web version however).

Windows Application:

The “Nest Manager” application provides a Windows application for control of the Nest. While this is the newest of the app’s that I’ve added I am seeing consistency in what can be accomplished in it with what can be done in the Android and iPad versions of the app.

Website:

The website provides full functionality and is equally visually intuitive (note the clouds in the background to indicate that it’s cloudy outside – subtle and a great touch!)

I’ve found it easier to set the schedules on the web site and to do some of the more advanced configurations.

 

Daily Life

We have had the Nest thermostats for several years now and it has become part of the family at this point in time. It automatically handles the temperatures in our house for us and keeps track of when we are home and when we are away from the house.

Wireless outages: When the wireless goes down the Nest continues to function but cannot communicate with Nest to get updates from the mobile apps or the website. It continues with its existing programming and visually notifies you on the device that it has lost internet connectivity. Once the wireless network is back online it re-picks up the wireless network and goes back to functioning as normal.

Power outages: When the power goes down the Nest goes down as well of course (as does heating and air conditioning most likely). Once power is restored the Nest devices reboot it re-establish connection with the wireless network and goes back to work.

So… What does the green leaf mean? “A Leaf appears when you have adjusted Nest to an energy-saving temperature.

In your monthly report from Nest you also can see how stats for the number of Leafs and such as shown below:

 

Support

I have not needed to call support for Nest since I purchased their products. Their online information (https://nest.com/support/thermostat/) has been sufficient.

 

Benefits

So what are the benefits to having the Nest thermostat in place?

  • Decreased energy usage: We have been able to maintain a more constant temperature range in the house and decrease the amount of money spent on heating and cooling.
  • Increased energy usage awareness: The built-in historical reporting gives information how much time is spent on heating and cooling for each Nest thermostat. Nest also provides a monthly summary report giving information on how average Nest homes did in 2015, a comparison of hour usage for the current month versus the previous month and an explanation of factors which impact that usage (each of these shown below).

 

Heating and cooling costs for our house can range as high as 62% of our total electrical costs in the summer months in Texas:

 

Integration

Nest has an integration with a large variety of devices (several of which I will be creating by example blog posts about). The full list is available at: https://workswith.nest.com/category/all

Nest also provides an API with an introduction at: https://developer.nest.com/documentation/cloud/nest-api-intro, and full documentation at https://developer.nest.com/documentation. There is a Nest labs area at GitHub for things like authentication code and application samples at: https://github.com/nestlabs.

You can even integrate your Nest with Operations Manager as my friend Dieter did in his blog post series available at: http://scug.be/dieter/2014/02/19/nest-thermostat-monitoring-pack-part-i-how-did-i-get-data/

 

Recent Updates:

Family integration was added recently to give family members access to the Nest devices and to utilize cell phone to assist with determining when all family members are away from the home.

When you are home the Nest can determine this through the cell phone location.

 

Challenges & Recommendations

The Nest thermostat is not without its challenges. The following are the recommendations which I see which would further improve the simplicity and impact of the device:

  • Season configurations with different schedules: This is true especially for plans which offer free evenings and weekends for electricity. The Nest is extremely helpful as you can configure different temperature settings during the free electricity timeframes. Having different season schedules would allow the Nest to run different programs depending on what time of year it is. As an example, while I may want to super cool my house over the weekends while electricity is free I would not choose to do so during the winter.
  • Boundaries or governors on family accounts: While the family account functionality is really useful, it does give everyone in the family the ability to reprogram the Nest and what it does. Having a user level account on the Nest which has a governor would be an excellent addition as this would allow people to change the temperatures within a given range (say plus or minus 5 degrees from the existing schedule).
  • “Away” doesn’t always mean away: Away doesn’t always mean away is it can mean the windows are open. In the case that the windows are open this is fine from a Nest perspective as it doesn’t need to do anything but if away is being sent to other devices this may represent an issue as people would still be home but appearing to be away from the house.

 

How does I score this device for simplicity, consistency, transparency, and impact?

Simplicity: 9

Consistency: 10

Transparency: 10

Impact: 8

Total: 37 of 40

 

My summary: In a lot of ways Nest thermostat has set a high bar for what can be accomplished by automation in the home. It has taken what can be a complex task and made it simple and consistent while providing transparency for what it’s doing. It has had an impact on how we deal with the temperature in our house and has decreased our monthly energy costs through changing our behavior.

 

Additional Reference: