The Nest Learning Thermostat is a device that needs very little introduction. Most people have heard of it, or seen it at the store. If you don’t know the capabilities of the Nest thermostat, on the surface, it would look like a fancy, overpriced thermostat. We’ll start with a brief history.
Back in the fall of 2011, something happened that revolutionized the way people thought about their homes’ appliances. Nest Labs, a startup company founded by two ex-Apple engineers, found its way to prominence by introducing a product that aimed to improve upon the simplest of devices- the thermostat. Before SmartThings attempted to connect your home to the internet, Nest connected you to your home– the internet was just a way for Nest to accomplish that. The Nest Learning Thermostat was a big breakthrough in consumer-friendly internet-connected technology, and for good reason.
The Nest Learning Thermostat is simple to set up, and easier to use. It allows you to adjust your home’s temperature in a variety of ways: automatically by detecting your presence, by learning your schedule, based on a programmed schedule that you set, remotely through your phone’s app, or, of course, manually at the thermostat itself. Now I’ll admit- I was a little skeptical when a $250 WiFi-enabled thermostat hit the market. Why would I want to spend that kind of money when I could get something for $30 that would essentially do the same thing?
Our old Honeywell 7-day programmable thermostat.
The Nest Learning Thermostat is the best smart home thermostat on the market. It's reliable, feature-packed, and easy to use. Its $250 price tag seems a little steep, but it's actually priced similarly to other comparable smart thermostats. Smart home integration is one of the Nest Thermostat's most persuasive reasons to buy- it's compatible with over a hundred other products. If you're in the market for a smart home thermostat, I recommend taking a look at the Nest Learning Thermostat.
It’s easy. The Nest is a programmable thermostat that’s easy to program, unlike our old 7-day programmable Honeywell thermostat (TH2110D1009). Whenever my wife or I needed to make any programming changes, we literally had to break out the instruction manual. The Nest isn’t like that (having a vibrant color display with guided setup instructions definitely helps). In fact, you could probably install, configure, and use the Nest Learning Thermostat without even reading the rest of this article. But $250 for ease of use isn’t what Nest is selling. This thermostat has a few tricks up its sleeve that really sets it apart from the digital thermostats of the last decade.
Auto-Away and Eco Mode. To start with, Nest uses near and far activity sensors to detect if a person is at home or not. This allows it to learn your work schedule, and automatically adjust the temperature of your house so you’re not wasting money and energy by heating or cooling an unoccupied home. When the Nest senses that you’re away for a while, it will go into Eco mode. You will tell the Nest which temperatures you want to use for Eco mode during setup. Basically, Eco mode will allow the temperature to rise to your upper threshold before cooling will resume. If you’re heating, this allows the temperature to drop to your lower threshold before the heater will kick on again.
Safety Temperatures. The Nest thermostat comes with built-in temperature protection. Even if you turn your Nest off, it will still maintain “safety temperatures”. Safety temperatures are extreme highs and lows that ensure your pipes won’t burst from freezing or your pets won’t suffer in extreme heat. By default, only the low safety temperature is set, but you’ll have the option to adjust both during setup.
Time-to-temperature. The Nest thermostat is also capable of giving you estimates on how long it will take your system to reach its target temperature. Although the Nest will learn your regular schedule, this is a handy feature for those times when you’re operating outside of that schedule, such as vacation, to let you know how soon you should start your thermostat so that you can arrive home to a comfortable temperature. You can do this right from your mobile phone through the Nest app!
Sunblock. Another nifty feature is what Nest calls “Sunblock”. This is not a feature I use due to the location of my thermostat, but I can see how it could help some people, depending on how your home was built. It uses a light sensor to determine if the thermostat is exposed to direct sunlight, and it will compensate for temperature variations caused by the sun. Be aware this feature only activates if the sunlight causes the Nest to heat up. Very smart!
Filter Reminders. Have trouble keeping up with the last time you replaced your air filters? No problem, Nest has you covered. You can set up automatic filter reminders, which will give you an alert on the Nest as well as in the app. Keep in mind that this feature is not based on a set time period. Instead, Nest uses your system’s fan runtime to estimate when you should change your filter. This has the potential to save you money on air filters.
HVAC System Alerts. Besides HVAC preventive maintenance, Nest also has the ability to provide basic monitoring of your HVAC system, looking for signs of trouble before something catastrophic happens. It will give you an alert if it thinks something needs your attention. Although this is a neat idea, it’s also been spotty in my opinion. Oftentimes, I will get alerts that my furnace appears to be short-cycling, but I haven’t found any evidence of this being the case.
Thermostat Lock. Have you ever had a guest make themselves at home in your house, and adjust the temperature to their liking? You can avoid those uncomfortable conversations of improper guest etiquette by setting up a temperature lock on your Nest thermostat. You tell the Nest what temperatures you want the HVAC system to operate within, and it does the rest. This feature also locks the settings menu and requires you to input a PIN to access the locked settings.
Nest Leaf and Nest Home Report. Nest uses the Leaf icon to let you know when you’re saving energy. You’ll see it in the app and on the thermostat itself. Once a month, Nest will email you a report to let you know how much energy you used, what caused the change in energy usage, and it even compares your energy usage to other Nest users in your area.
Time of Savings. If you live in an area where energy rates vary based on peak usage, you can sign up for Time of Savings with Nest. This shares your energy cost with Nest, and you can set up your Nest to save you money during these peak usage times. I’m not 100% sure of the details, since this feature doesn’t apply to me, but it is advertised on Nest’s website .
Zoned systems and vacation homes. Nest will work with zoned systems, as long as your wiring meets the requirements. You may need a common wire for the zone controller to work with Nest, so be sure to do some research before you dive in with the Nest Learning Thermostat. In fact, I have a zoned system and Nest works fine with it. I liked the first Nest we bought so much, I decided to install one upstairs as well.
Not only can you install multiple Nests in one home, but you can also set up multiple homes within the Nest app. This is good news for anyone that wants to use Nest in more than one residence.
Integration. Arguably one of the best features of the Nest thermostat is the sheer amount of compatibility with other smart home devices. In fact, the Nest website lists over 100 “Works With Nest” products and services- everything ranging from IFTTT (IF This Then That) to Philips Hue to Samsung Smart Home to Sleep Number smart beds! The one glaring omission is the lack of integration with SmartThings , which is a real disappointment.
Requirements & Installation
Honeywell vertical thermostat vs. Nest. Note the wiring diagram on the old thermostat before removing.
If you don’t have some sort of crazy setup, installation is a breeze, especially if your old thermostat has the terminals labeled. Nest will only work on 20-30 VAC systems. It will not work on millivolt or high voltage systems, including 120/240 VAC. If you’re not sure what the voltage is, use a multimeter to check it. Also, you’ll need to know some basic information about your system, such as whether you have a gas or electric furnace. You can always go back and change this information after setup. Nest has a compatibility checker on their website to help ensure the Nest thermostat will work with your system (you’ll need to remove the cover on your existing thermostat and note the wiring to use it).
One thing to be aware of is that Nest does offer a “Pro” setup, but specifically states this is for complex systems involving whole-home humidifiers/dehumidifiers and dual fuel systems. Most homes will not fall under this category. If you otherwise just don’t feel like you could install the thermostat yourself, a Nest Pro will cost anywhere from $99-$250 for a basic installation, and $200-$300 for an advanced installation. You can find more information about the Pro Setup here .
Use the terminal labels that Nest includes in the box to mark your wires before disconnecting anything. At a minimum, you should have R, G, W, and Y wires. R is your power wire, G is your fan wire, W is your heating wire, and Y is your cooling wire. You may have more, like a C wire. This would be your common wire. You probably don’t have every wire that Nest includes with the terminal labels. If you only have one R wire, it won’t matter if you use the Rc or Rh terminal. This is my situation- I chose the Rc terminal, but either should work fine. If you have W2 or Y2 wires, you have a multi-stage system and you should wire accordingly.
The Nest thermostat ships with wire markers in the box.
Disconnect power by switching off the appropriate breaker. Most thermostat covers either just snap off, or there will be a screw on the bottom that you need to remove first. Once your wires are labeled, remove them from the old thermostat. Unscrew the old thermostat from the drywall. Now is the time to make any drywall repairs or paint, due to the fact that the Nest is one of the few round thermostats on the market. Take your time and do it right!
Repair the drywall and repaint if necessary.
The Nest Learning Thermostat comes with a wallplate adapter, but I didn’t use it. Honestly, I didn’t like the look of it, but you might need it. The Nest comes with a convenient level built in. Once you are happy with the placement, go ahead and secure it to the wall.
Mount the thermostat using the provided screws.
Next, insert each wire into the appropriate terminal slot. Press down on the outer edge of each terminal to open the slot, insert the wire, and release.
Ensure the wires are properly inserted.
Now, just line up the pins on the Nest display (Nest logo at the top), and press it inwards until you hear it snap in. Turn the power back on. That’s it! Your new Nest thermostat is now installed and ready to set up.
Once your Nest boots up, it’s time to set it up. You’ll be greeted by a color display that will walk you through everything. You’ll need to provide the Nest with your WiFi password so it can obtain software updates. Yes, a smart thermostat will periodically install software updates for security reasons as well as to provide users with new features.
Next the guided setup will want to know about your HVAC system. Particularly, you will need to know your heating setup. You’ll be asked the following two questions with the choices listed for each question.
What is the fuel source for your heating?
- Propane (LP)
- I don’t know
What type of heating do you have?
- Forced air
- In-floor radiant
- Elec. baseboard
Once you finish the guided setup and the Nest knows about your home’s HVAC system, it’s time to tie the thermostat to the app. Although you could just operate the thermostat locally and enjoy the Nest Sense features, most people will want to access their thermostat remotely as well. To do this, you’ll need a Nest account. If you don’t have one yet, you can do it now. You can sign up in the app or online at http://home.nest.com . Next, you’ll need an entry key. On the thermostat, press the ring in, then turn the ring to scroll to “Settings”. You’ll see “Nest Account”. Push the ring in once it’s highlighted to select it. Select “Get Entry Key”. It’s easiest to add your product from within the app. In the Nest app, tap on the “Add” button. Choose your Nest thermostat, follow the on-screen prompts, and type in the key shown on the thermostat. If you are adding a second thermostat or already use the Nest app for a different product such as the Nest Cam, it’s a little different. From the app home screen, tap on the gear icon in the upper right. Scroll down to “Add product”. Select the Nest Learning Thermostat as the product you want to add, then follow the on-screen instructions and type in the key.
You can view the official Nest installation video by clicking here .
Nest app features & walkthrough
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
Tapping #2 takes you to your specific Nest product. Other Nest products may show up here too.
Tap #3 to view your app messages, to change account settings, to get support information, or to add another home.
Tapping #4 opens specific settings for the home you set up.
Let’s start by tapping the large home icon.
To manually switch from Home to Away mode, tap the corresponding icon. The green ring shows the active mode.
Go back to the main screen for a minute. Notice the background. It will change with the weather and time of day. Here Nest indicates it’s a partly cloudy night.
You may also see your thermostat change colors. Orange means the heat is on, and blue indicates the A/C is running.
Here’s the main screen on a cloudy morning. The mode is set to Away, and both of my thermostats are in Eco mode. Tap on the thermostat.
In Eco mode, you’ll see 3 numbers on the graph. #1 is the coldest Nest will let the temperature get before heating.
#2 is the warmest it will get before Nest will begin to cool.
#3 is the current temperature.
When heating or cooling, you’ll only see one number (the current temperature, and then a larger tick mark to indicate the target temperature).
You may also see the time to temperature. It’ll say something like “IN 2+ HR” to let you know the target will be reached in 2 hours.
#4 indicates Nest’s current mode.
#5 allows you to adjust the temperature.
#6 gives you a humidity reading, and swiping left will give you the current outside temperature.
#7 is your controls for mode and fan, Nest’s learned schedule (you can manually adjust it too), and your HVAC system’s history.
Swipe back and forth between inside humidity and outside temperature.
The Nest app leaves no doubt as to what it’s doing. The entire screen will change colors to indicate heating and cooling. In this screenshot, Nest has reached it’s temperature, which is why you don’t see the current temperature on the circular temperature graph.
To change the Nest’s mode manually, tap here.
A flyout opens showing you the available modes. Tap the one you want.
To control your fan, tap here.
Another flyout opens. You can choose to start the fan for a specific length of time by swiping left and right. Tap “Start” once you’ve chosen your time. Your choices for times are 15/30/45 minutes and 1/2/4/8/12 hours.
Tap on “Schedule”.
Once you’ve had your Nest Learning Thermostat for a few days, it will automatically build a schedule similar to this. Tap on any day of the week.
Here you can see a better view. Swipe left and right to scroll to the next day of the week. If you’re not happy with Nest’s automatic schedule, you can change it here by adding or removing a setpoint, or by adjusting an existing setpoint. Tap on “Add” or “Remove”.
A graph appears. If you tapped “Add”, simply tap the intersection of the time (X-axis) and the temperature (Y-axis) to add your new setpoint. If you tapped “Remove”, just tap on the setpoint you want to remove. To adjust an existing setpoint, tap and hold the setpoint you want to change. Dragging vertically will adjust the temperature for that setpoint, and dragging horizontally will change the time of the setpoint. Go back to the previous screen.
Tap on “History”.
You’ll see an overview of your energy usage. The icons on the right will help you determine why your system was either on or off. Nest gives weather conditions (the cloud icon), manual adjustment (the person icon), and Home/Away Assist (the home icon) as reasons for quickly determining energy usage. Tap on any day of the week for more details.
The detailed view will show you exactly when your system turned on and off, as well as the temperature it was maintaining at the time. You’ll also see the same icons as on the previous screen.
Go back to the previous screen and tap the gear icon.
Tap on “Where” to choose your thermostat’s location. Helpful if you have more than one thermostat, such as a zoned system.
You can also choose to give your thermostat a name using the “Label” field.
Go back to thermostat settings. Tap on “Home/Away Assist”.
Here you can choose whether or not to use Home/Away Assist. Honestly, I can’t think of any advantages to turning it off. Eco Temperatures are the hottest and coldest you want to let your home get when you’re away. This allows you to save energy by not heating or cooling an unoccupied residence.
Use the slider bar to set your upper and lower Eco Temperatures.
Go back to thermostat settings. Tap on “Nest Sense”.
You’ll see all the capabilities of the Nest Learning Thermostat here, starting with Auto-Schedule. Simply put, if you want the Nest to learn your schedule and automatically adjust the temperature, keep this toggled on. It’s enabled by default and should help you save energy, as indicated by the Nest Leaf.
Time-to-Temp will give you an estimate of how long it will take to reach your target temperature. This can be useful information if you want to have your home at a specific temperature when you arrive if you’ve been away on vacation with your system turned off.
Tap on “Early-On” to learn more about it and enable or disable it.
Early-On makes sure that the temperature is where you tell it to be, when you tell it to be there to ensure maximum comfort. This could be useful if your home is inefficient or otherwise takes a long time to reach the target temperature.
Enabling Early-On will use more energy and you’ll lose your Nest Leaf. If you turn it on, you’ll need to choose a maximum time you’d like Nest to “preheat” when heating (options are 0/1/2/3/4/5 hrs). This option is disabled by default.
Go back to Nest Sense settings. Tapping on “Cool to Dry” will give you the toggle to enable or disable it. It lowers humidity by running the A/C. This uses more energy and you’ll lose your Nest Leaf. It’s disabled by default.
Sunblock helps if your thermostat is exposed to direct sunlight that causes the air around the thermostat to heat up. This would cause the thermostat to think it’s hotter than it really is, and your home’s temperature could suffer as a result. Keep in mind that ambient light won’t affect Sunblock.
The Nest Leaf is Nest’s way of showing that you are saving energy, and thus, money. Whenever you see it, you are being more efficient.
Airwave helps save energy by cutting off the A/C compressor early, and then using the fan to push out the remainder of the cold air through the ductwork. It’s just another way the Nest Learning Thermostat helps you save!
Go back to thermostat settings. Tap on “Fan”.
Here you can choose to manually run your fan on a schedule. This could allow you to save energy by running just the fan instead of the A/C or heat at certain times, like when you’re asleep. Also, if you have a well-insulated home running the fan would allow you to circulate air without the HVAC compressor or furnace turning on.
Go back to thermostat settings and tap on “Equipment”.
Tap on “Wiring”.
You’ll see this nice wiring diagram of your system, which could be useful for troubleshooting. The Nest Learning Thermostat will test for these wires in two ways- mechanically (is there a wire on the terminal?) and electrically (is there a signal on the wire?). Nest may have trouble detecting your wires if you have stranded wire or the wire size is outside of 18-22 AWG.
Go back to equipment settings and tap on either “Heat source” or “Heat type”. You aren’t allowed to change these settings from the app, only from the Nest thermostat itself. This will be done during setup, but if you aren’t sure and skip this step, you can always come back here later to supply Nest with the correct information.
Go back to equipment settings. Tap on “Air filter reminder”.
This is one of the best features, at least to me. Instead of racking your brain trying to remember the last time you replaced your air filter(s), have the Nest thermostat do it for you! Tap on “Last changed”.
Obviously, depending on the time of year, this menu will change. The Nest thermostat cannot automatically determine if your air filters have been changed, so you’ll need to tell it when you do replace them. If you forget to reset your reminder, either from the app or from the thermostat, you won’t get any more reminders. You’ll see the reminders in both the app and on the thermostat when it’s time to replace the filters. The air filter reminder is not based on time, it’s based on how much the system runs. So don’t be surprised if you don’t get a reminder at exactly 3 months.
Go back to equipment settings and tap on “Safety Temperatures”.
Safety Temperatures are a handy feature, especially if you have a vacation or summer home. Even if the Nest thermostat is off, it will kick on your HVAC system at extreme temperatures. By default, only the heating safety temperature is set, but you can set the cooling to turn on as well. The idea is to keep pipes from freezing and bursting in the winter, but you can also apply the cooling safety temperature to meet your application.
Go back to thermostat settings and tap on “Technical info”.
There’s some useful information here, such as software revision, MAC/IP addresses, and battery voltage. I’ve never had a problem with either of my Nest thermostats (both are 3rd generation), but some people have had battery issues that will cause the Nest to fail to control the HVAC system. Battery voltage should always be higher than 3.6V.
Go back to thermostat settings. Tap on “Temperature units” to toggle between Celsius and Farenheit.
Next, tap on “Lock”.
Lock does exactly what it sounds like, it locks the thermostat settings and prevents temperature changes outside of a range you specify. You’ll need to create a 4-digit PIN, and will use this to access the settings until you decide you no longer need the lock.
Go back to your thermostat settings. There’s an option to remove the Nest Learning Thermostat from your account. This might be necessary if you need to replace your thermostat down the road.
Go back to the app’s home screen and tap the gear icon in the upper right to open your home’s settings.
From this menu tap on “Home info”.
Tap on “Name” to give your home a name. I prefer the non-descriptive “Home”.
Next, tap on “About” to give Nest some additional information about your home. This will help Nest estimate energy usage. None of this information is required for the Nest to operate. In fact, until I decided to write this tutorial, most of this information had been missing.
Tap on “Type”.
Choose the type of dwelling that best describes your home.
Go back to “About” settings. Tap on “Number of thermostats” to select the appropriate quantity.
Ensure you include the non-Nest thermostats too.
Go back to “About” settings and tap on “Construction”.
Select the decade your house was built or renovated, if you know it. If not, you should be able to get these records from your county clerk’s website or local office, or just leave it blank.
The final additional information you can provide Nest is the size of your home in square footage. Tap on “Size”.
Enter your home’s size.
Go back to “Home info” settings. Tap on “Address” to let Nest know where you live.
Go back to “Home info” settings and tap on “Energy programs”.
Nest is partnered with select energy companies. Some of these companies will give you a Nest thermostat free of charge. It’s definitely worth checking out, although these offers won’t apply to most people.
Go back to “Home info” settings. Tapping on “Home Wi-Fi help” will open a browser window to Nest’s website to help you with common problems. This will give you instructions on what to do if you change your Wi-Fi password or buy a new router. Nest even helps you troubleshoot your Wi-Fi connection!
Go back to your home’s settings menu. Tap on “Family”.
Nest understands the concept of users, so that each family member will be able to use Home/Away Assist geofencing with their mobile phones. To invite a family member, tap on “Add a family member” and follow the on-screen instructions. Then have the family member accept the invitation. You can add up to 10 family members.
Go back to your home’s settings menu and tap on “Contacts”.
Tap the appropriate contact. This will pop up another screen where you can enter the emergency contact info. If a Nest device detects an emergency, it will send you an alert that you can tap to call the phone number of your contact. “Other” would be a neighbor or another family member close by. I think this is geared more towards the Nest Protect. Not too helpful if you only have a Nest thermostat, but it’s there if you want to use it.
Go back to your home’s settings menu. Tap on “Home/Away Assist”.
Here you can toggle between the “Home” and “Away” icons to see what you set your thermostat to do for each scenario. Tap on a thermostat to go to that thermostat’s “Eco Temperature” settings page.
Go back to the “Home/Away Assist” menu and tap on “What decides if you’re home”.
This where you enable your phone to work with Nest geofencing. You can only add one phone per user. The app is smart enough to know which phone you’re using to access the app, making it easy if you switch mobile phones.
If you’re switching phones, you’ll get a prompt warning you that it will use the new phone. If you want to use your old device’s location again, you’ll have to sign in to the Nest app on the old phone and do this all over again.
Of course, you will need to approve the new app permissions, at least on Android.
Go back to your home’s settings menu and tap on “Notifications”.
Tapping on any thermostat will take you back to that thermostat’s settings for the air filter reminder.
Go back to “Notifications” settings. Tap on “Nest Home Report”.
If you don’t want to receive a monthly email from Nest about your energy usage, you can toggle it off here to disable the Nest Home Report.
Go back to your home’s settings menu. Tap on “Spaces”.
This page is geared more towards the Nest Cam, which I don’t use. I also don’t have Spaces turned on. It looks like a way to group Nest devices by location in your home, kind of like SmartThings does with Rooms.
Go back to your home’s settings menu. If you want to add a new Nest product, simply tap on “Add product”.
Like other smart home device manufacturers, Nest makes adding devices easy by using on-screen instructions. Very simple.
Go back to your home’s settings menu. I’m not going to cover it, just pointing out that it’s there. Nest adds a link to their online store if you want to buy a Nest product directly from them.
Go back to the app’s home screen. Tap on the arrow next to “Nest” to open another menu.
Here you can view your messages, change your account information and password, get support, or add another home to your account.
Tap on “Messages”.
Nest isn’t shy about sending you alerts and other messages. You may hear from your Nest thermostat frequently.
Go back to the previous menu and tap on “Account”.
Tap on “Manage account” to change your name, email address, password, or to delete your account. You can also view Nest’s legal disclosure here.
Go back to your account settings and tap on “Emails from Nest”.
If you want to opt out of emails about new features or products, toggle it off. Nest is pretty good about not flooding your email pushing their products.
Go back to your account settings. Tapping on “Phone location” simply takes you back to the same menu we saw under Home/Away Assist, allowing you to use your mobile phone for geofencing.
Go back to your account settings. Tap on “Works with Nest”.
If you have other smart devices in your home that are compatible with Nest, you’ll see them here. You can also revoke their permission to access your Nest.
Go back to your account settings. You can sign out of your Nest account altogether from here.
Go back to the previous menu. Any time you need help installing, setting up, or operating your Nest product you can tap “Support” to go their website.
Finally, if you have more than one home and have Nest devices in each one, you can set up an additional home by clicking the “+” sign in the upper right corner.