Divorcing the Nest thermostat
February 23, 2015 8:43 AM   Subscribe

The Nest thermostat, as described by usability expert Kara Pernice: "When I turned the dial to increase the heat to 66 degrees, rather than responding by making the house warmer . . . the next day the house temperature plummeted to a punishing 50 degrees. So I pull on another sweater and mittens and a hat. Indoors. And I wait until my thermostat decides that I am worthy of radiant warmth."

She concludes, "I have decided to divorce my Nest. I’ll remove it from my wall, unceremoniously and with no fanfare. In its stead my fiancé will install a not-so-pretty, 35-dollar programmable thermostat we’ll pick up somewhere, probably using a discount coupon."
posted by mark7570 (120 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nest always seemed like it was more "hey look at me, I have TECHNOLOGY" sort of thing than something actually useful to me.

A seven day programmable thermostat would cover 90% of what nest does for a fraction of the cost.
posted by Ferreous at 8:48 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


There was this google plus rant/video (from a google employee) last week. #InternetofAnnoyingThings
posted by Catblack at 8:49 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This was really hard to read.

That said, I could never justify $400 on thermostats for my two zone house, so I just bought two $35 programmables and I love them.

I AM considering something for the upstairs that has remote sensors for rooms with closed doors, since those tend to get colder. Anyone try that method?
posted by selfnoise at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2015


I've never understood this desire to automate homes. Light switches and thermostats are amazingly simple to operate. There is no way to improve them that will make them simpler.
posted by bhnyc at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2015 [29 favorites]


Aw man, I was really going to go to bat for getting a Nest thermostat when we move into our new house in March, but the things she talks about here would be the exactly the kind of problems Shepherd and I would most likely have. (Lamentably, I get cold super easy so living under the temperatures I would have originally set up and when I get really cold and if it doesn't comply would make me stabby.)

If my husband is reading this, you were right!
posted by Kitteh at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2015


FOOL-ISH HU-MAN! NEST CAN-NOT FAIL! ONLY MEAT IS WRONG! GO IN-TO THE COLD UN-TIL YOU AP-PRE-CI-ATE NEST!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2015 [48 favorites]


I've never even seen a Nest, so I'm curious: are these valid complaints or are these the complaints of somebody who bought something expensive and didn't learn how to use it?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:52 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


All of you who have a Nest thermostat and love it, keep it coming. (I really really want one.)
posted by Kitteh at 8:53 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think this critique is fair. The learning part of the Nest does not work well for a lot of people. Neither does the home/away sensor. The thing guesses wrong a lot, and when it does it's infuriating. In exactly the emotional way this essay describes. I've made peace with mine by disabling all the learning features. It works well in that mode.

Other than the learning, the Nest is a great product. Thermostats are not generally made for consumers to install; Nest does a great job with the out-of-the-box experience. The web interface is good. The mobile interface is good. The primary dial UI is good. And the $250 price is fair given the quality. I just wish it could do multi-zone systems in some reasonable way.

OTOH, the smugness around Nest is insufferable. I'm particularly baffled that they market it as an energy saving thermostat, but then the marketing images show some Californian heating their house to 72°.
posted by Nelson at 8:53 AM on February 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


I've been learning more about User Experience Design in my work, and though this may be a bad example of someone dealing with a product correctly, it's (to me) a decent example of the things designers don't always take into account when they're designing something. Feeling stupid, feeling powerless, and feeling annoyed are all valid things to take into account when wondering what your users experience when they interact with your product.
posted by xingcat at 8:57 AM on February 23, 2015 [30 favorites]


Seconding xingcat. Surely there's a spectrum of experiences that users have had with the Nest, many of them positive, given the device's popularity. But from a detailed writeup of one person's negative experience, I don't think it's fair to conclude that the user is stupid. Maybe there's something to learn in her remarks that could actually improve future versions of the device?
posted by mark7570 at 9:02 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Look at this amazing cashew nut on my plate. It is viscerally compelling, at once disgustingly brown and curved like a poorly excised tumor and still evoking the natural environment from whence it came.

My body behaviorally compels me to eat it, my hunger overpowering my desire to just sit and look at it a moment longer.

Upon reflection, I realize I ate too much.
posted by Poldo at 9:03 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've never understood this desire to automate homes.

Well, while I too think the level of automation provided by Nest is overkill, I can report from personal experience that having a basic programmable that brings the heat down a bit while you're at work weekdays and/or sleeping every night, without you having to remember every damn time, can save a bit of money (and presumably also non-renewable resources).
posted by aught at 9:06 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Next you people will be saying Google Now isn't a miracle of machine learning.
posted by benzenedream at 9:06 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have one. I installed it because I'm rarely at the house, and in winter, there is the occasional freeze.

Like the commenter above me, I have no negatives to report. I can check on my house temp from wherever I am in the world, at whatever time, and, except for one device-wide outage last year, have had no problems whatsoever.

Kara Pernice's rant leaves me wondering about her credentials as a 'usability expert'. I'm not sure what qualifies one to use that job description, but if something as simple and no-fuss as the Nest befuddles her to the degree that she requires a 'divorce' from it, I fear for her safety and sanity if she tries own something as complex and choice-laden as a microwave or a blender.
posted by grounded at 9:06 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've never even seen a Nest, so I'm curious: are these valid complaints or are these the complaints of somebody who bought something expensive and didn't learn how to use it?

The writer didn't learn how to use it.

I found the image of "no easy way to adjust the temperature in the phone app" ridiculous. You tap the black circle with the temperature displayed in it. Has this person ever used an iPhone?
posted by Fleebnork at 9:08 AM on February 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


It seems like there is one actual complaint here, and that the rest is just how that one complaint affected her feelings toward it.
posted by smackfu at 9:09 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think this may be a more common complaint. We live in a profoundly digital time. We expect what we want, when we want from our world. The problem with that is heating and cooling in most systems is a profoundly analog situation. This is not something that makes sense to many users. It can lead to frustration because a system while functioning as designed may not appear to be doing what the user actually wants.
In some cases this is due to physical system constraints. Anti recycle timers and temperature offsets come to mind. The second is that thermal comfort is a highly subjective target. Humidity,activity level and the presence or lack of radiant heat sources can all add up to make a person feel radically different at the same air temperature.
That having been said the device needs to explain to it's user in a clear way what it is doing and most importantly why. That seems to be the area where users are having problems from my read of the article.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 9:10 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


(I mean, the section on how Boston is cold and the thermometer is not empathetic enough is almost a parody of a usability expert.)
posted by smackfu at 9:11 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


To read this article is to watch a free-floating argument search for a reason to exist.
posted by aramaic at 9:11 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


That was painful to try and read -- mostly because of how it was written.

We have two Nest thermostats, and love them, but we have never used the learning/behavioural feature of the Nest, in part because the primary thermostat is located in an area where only cats will kick off the motion sensor, and we don't want the cats controlling our lives any more than they do already. Also, I just never really saw the point -- our lives are not so rigid that a thermostat is really going to be able to predict all the changes to day to day plans.

Without the learning feature, I still find it worth it, as it is much, much easier to set use than our old programmable, and I adore the ability to change the time the temperature will kick on or off remotely, if I have to work late, or it looks like I might get home early, or if I am stuck on the T in a blizzard for the rest of eternity. I don't regret my Nest at all.

On the other hand, we also have three Nest Protects in the house, and I can't say I am as enthusiastic about them. In fact, they are currently on probation, and I might have to suck it up and replace them with ordinary smoke detectors, because when you are on a train, with no easy/quick way home, and one of those things sends you a false alarm that your house is on fire, it's a cardiac event. They are way too sensitive to dust and things that normal smoke detectors ignore.
posted by instead of three wishes at 9:12 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


50F is ridiculous, no one should have to put up with that. But Jimmy Carter's sweater advice was good advice, darn it.

I'll never understand how a simple appeal to personal responsibility and rugged individualism, an appeal to do what your parents and grandparents would have done, became a right-wing punchline. So backwards.

I haven't used a Nest, but if that screenshot is really how you adjust the weekly schedule, then I'm pretty sympathetic. It's stupid to restrict the user to a tiny fraction of an already small touch screen to do the most fiddly, detail-oriented task the system involves. This is a cardinal sin, all too common in touch-screen apps and games. Designers need to use the interactive real estate they've got very productively, because they absolutely do not have enough of it and never will.

So I find it pretty credible that there are other design howlers, too.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:12 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've had one for a year and a half with no problems, have reduced bills and have a lot of data to work with to make other improvements in efficiency. I really have no idea what this lady is talking about.
posted by mike_bling at 9:13 AM on February 23, 2015


I have a halfway solution--a programmable thermostat with a wifi interface, but without the AI learning, home sensor, weather adapting, or pleasant full-color interface. It was about $85 after a $15 state rebate. Setup was a little complex. I'm really, really happy with it. Turning the heat up from bed or the couch is the best. It's good during long trips to know that your heat is still going and your pipes and pets aren't going to freeze. It's also really nice to be able to kick on the HVAC fan mode to drown out my upstairs neighbors are arguing.

I'm sure I would have loved the Nest, too, if I had a spare $150 when I moved into my new place. But I wouldn't switch now. Definitely worth the extra $60 or so beyond a regular programmable thermostat.
posted by almostmanda at 9:14 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I really don't have an opinion on the Nest one way or the other, but I hated the linked post.

The gist of the whole thing was that the Nest started off as a cool gizmo that had neat new features, but the author discovered that the long-term features worked poorly enough to overcome the initial positive impression.

It's perfectly clear that having a thermostat that doesn't actually set the temperature the way you tell it to is a negative for almost all cases, and there's no need to go into the "emotional building blocks of design" to understand why it would drive a person crazy.
posted by Ickster at 9:15 AM on February 23, 2015


Just out of curiosity- how hard is it to hack into these things? Can I go into someone's Nest remotely and figure out when they will and won't likely be home? Can I change temperatures in someone else's house?

(And all those remote cameras and text notifications I hear ads about (Hey! You can look to see if your kids are home!)- same thing. How hard are they to access by someone with ill intent?)
posted by small_ruminant at 9:18 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a basic programmable thermostat and love it. Once in a while it would be great to control it remotely (such as when returning from a long trip) but I can't see a need to the other features of the Nest, nor would I like to try and help my mother in law control it when she visits.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:19 AM on February 23, 2015


that having a thermostat that doesn't actually set the temperature the way you tell it to is a negative for almost all cases,

I think the point people are making is that hers must be broken if it's not doing that.
posted by smackfu at 9:19 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is the opposite of my Nest experience, although I did have some issues in the first winter caused by old heating equipment running too often and dropping the voltage to the control wire, which the thermostat uses to charge its battery, resulting in a dead thermostat. Once that was resolved, all was fine.

For those considering such a purchase, here are my gripes with the article. The first thing I'd recommend doing is setting up a minimum and maximum temperature for the home. After that, figure out if it can tell when you're away correctly -- if it's in an out-of-reach area, it's not going to be able to guess. If it guesses you're gone when you're not, then turn off auto-away. Supposedly she turned the heat up, and the furnace didn't immediately come on but displayed a "time to heat."

The "time to heat" is something I personally have never had issues with, but it's a learning feature and gets better at guessing with time. It doesn't mean the system is going to not go to the temperature you requested -- it's just an indicator of how long it may take to get to that temperature. If the system didn't immediately kick on, then it's possible there's something misconfigured or you have some kind of equipment that doesn't blast the system every time you turn it up by a few degrees (like two-stage heating). If you tell that sucker to make the house warm, it makes the house warm. Full stop. However, if it thinks you're away, it might have stopped heating and gone back to the minimal temperature setting. That doesn't really correspond with her account, but again, she gives no details of the type of system she has.

Honestly, I haven't adjusted the thermostat in my home by more than a couple degrees in months, and that was when I was home at a time when I typically would be at work. Recently I linked up another device to start pre-heating (or pre-cooling) my home when I leave work, automatically. Which works!
posted by mikeh at 9:20 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've thought about getting one of these smart thermostats that changes the setpoint according to some opaque algorithm, but then I compare the cost savings with the average cost of divorce.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:20 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Programming the Nest is a little tedious, but on the web interface you can copy a day's program and paste it into another day. If dragging "several tiny little circles" around to program the device is "like Linux," then setting the time on a VCR must have been like writing assembly code.
posted by exogenous at 9:23 AM on February 23, 2015 [17 favorites]


The Nest thermostats might be awesome – and from the weird design-tech bullshit in the main link, it's hard to tell – but judging from the link Catblack posted above, the Nest smoke detectors are hideously bad. Why would you even design a smoke alarm that alternately can and can't be "hushed"? And why would you make a function whereby it declares that it "CAN'T BE HUSHED HERE"? The guy trying to deal with it seems rational and straightforward enough, too. He's not griping about design; he's just trying to stop the damned alarm from going off.
posted by koeselitz at 9:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know if this is the case because I've never even considered getting a Nest*, but if it truly doesn't have a readily accessible, obvious manual override feature that a first-time user can reliably operate, I'd call it badly designed.

I don't care how useful and reliable its other features are. If a machine doesn't fuck off when I tell it to, I don't want it in my home.

* And I have a deep affection for "its old, utilitarian-looking predecessor," assuming she's talking about the iconic round Honeywell style thermostat. That was designed by Henry Dreyfus, the industrial designer who was also responsible for many classic telephone designs, including the Model 500 desk phone and the Princess. Familiarity breeds contempt, I guess, truly great design is often taken for granted simply because it seems obvious in retrospect, but that utilitarian-looking thermostat is a masterpiece.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


There is no way to improve them that will make them simpler.

Really? No way at all? Like the lights going out when I leave the house is not an improvement?
posted by Cosine at 9:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


there's no need to go into the "emotional building blocks of design" to understand why it would drive a person crazy.

It's on a site for a UI design consultation group. The jargon might be annoying, but it's not inappropriate or out of place.
posted by almostmanda at 9:26 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


If a machine doesn't fuck off when I tell it to, I don't want it in my home.

Actually it is very easy to tell it to fuck off either on the device itself, or from the mobile app, or the web interface.
posted by exogenous at 9:26 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is fucking ridiculous. I don't even know where to start. I've had one for years and it's been perfectly fine. You want heat, you turn the knob, just like every other thermostat in existence. These complaints don't make any sense.

You're probably happy with Top Stories while she wants Most Recent.
posted by srboisvert at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


if it truly doesn't have a readily accessible, obvious manual override feature that a first-time user can reliably operate, I'd call it badly designed.

You turn the dial to set the temperature, it goes to that temperature for a while before going back to your normal schedule. Pretty straightforward and what people want in most cases. It also is smart enough to tell you that it will take a while to get to that temperature since furnaces aren't instant. Which is pretty much what she says it told her after she manually overrode it: "in 1 hour and 20 minutes 66 degrees until 10:00PM."
posted by smackfu at 9:29 AM on February 23, 2015


I mean, the schedule option in the application could be a little less clunky, but it's more visual across the week than most other thermostats I've seen, and you really only need to tweak it once in a great while.

You can tell them damn thing to fuck off, but the problem the writer probably had is that, given some default settings, you might have to tell it to do so again later. Because the Nest's primary function, if you don't override a few default settings, is to run your equipment as little as possible, and in the most efficient way. The traditional thermostat, if you set it to 66 degrees, will keep your house at 66 degrees. Forever, or at least until the season changes and you need cooling.

Also worth noting the "until 10PM" part of her complaint is due to the fact she probably told the damn thing to go to a certain temperature at 10PM.
posted by mikeh at 9:30 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


having just bought a nest, and just had a row about it the other day i can see two sides to this argument. I don't think the author is stupid, but it does seem to me that perhaps she's deliberately playing dumb to be devil's advocate.

"When I turned the dial to increase the heat to 66 degrees, rather than responding by making the house warmer, or by informing me that it is now working toward this, it read, "in 1 hour and 20 minutes 66 degrees until 10:00PM.”

That message might seem confusing, and perhaps Nest could reword it - but it certainly isn't the nest refusing to heat her home. It's saying that she's turned the temperature up and the Nest thinks it's going to take 1 hour and 20 minutes until the house reaches the requested temperature. And then it's going to maintain that temperature until 10pm, when the schedule says that it should change. That's pretty much exactly the behaviour she'd get from an old-fashioned thermostat only it's giving her more feedback (perhaps confusingly worded though).

The thermostat itself works great, and does exactly what it's told as far as I can tell. If you want to alter the schedule that it's learned you can just look at it on the website or the app and edit it - I've no idea why she's unable to use the tablet app to edit it. Everyone i've shown the app to (none of them user experience designers) has understood immediately.

On the other hand things like the message discussed above are a bit confusing for a new user. And I found people had other difficulties using it that were unrelated to the thermostat and more caused by lack of understanding of how heating systems in general work - for instance people seem to think that by turning it up higher the house will heat up quicker - they don't understand that the boiler is basically just "on" or "off". Nest could probably do with a quick explanation of these things in its manual.

Having said all that, if the author of the article is serious about what she's written then I don't think there's anything Nest could do to change her mind, either she's being deliberately contrarian, or else she has completely misunderstood some fundamental things about the interface which 90% of the population seem to find simple, or else (possibly the most likely) she simply has a faulty boiler and it's nothing to do with the Nest.
posted by silence at 9:31 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Moved into a new (to me) condo. It had an ancient "programmable" thermostat that I could not figure out, no longer had online documentation and the cover had been broken off.

I got a Nest. Partially because I needed a new thermostat, partially because I wanted to be able to turn my forced air heat on and off from the bedroom. The learning stuff was secondary. Also I like gadgets

It's a mixed bag. I like the way it looks, and the operation of it is simple despite what this article claims. But probably 1/3 of the time when I try to adjust it remotely from my phone, it will say that it is "offline" which is stupid because I have great internet service and my phone is otherwise connecting beautifully.

Also, when in cooling (AC) mode, mine would -- every Sunday night around 9 -- set itself to cool to 50 degrees as mentioned in the article. Of course I never set the cooling that low, as it's preposterous and likely physically impossible to even achieve. But it happens every week.

The learning "schedule" is messed up too, in that, for instance, it suddenly jacked up the heat to 75 last night, which is something I have never once set it for.

The last point I have is that it lacks a remote thermometer. My condo builder brilliantly decided to mount the thermostat near the entryway, so the temperature difference is often way, way off between the bedroom and the rest of the unit.

I wouldn't get a second one, but it's not terrible I guess. Probably more useful for a larger, more evenly heated/cooled house vs. a 2 bedroom 2 bath condo.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:32 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe she's on the payroll of a Nest competitor?

I too wonder about the hacking/spying capabilities of things like this.
posted by emjaybee at 9:33 AM on February 23, 2015


I have three of them and love/hate them. I had to disable all of the scheduling stuff because it was incredibly annoying and didn't work very well for me. All three of mine are also inaccurate by at least 2 - 3 degrees, which is a fairly common complaint in reviews. The motion sensors are also unreliable, and there's no way to wake it up without adjusting the temperature or opening the menu system. There are some weird gotchas, like the fact that it has a battery that can occasionally run down, causing it to fail. I had to replace my wifi router with a different model because my old model was "one of a small handful" with which the Nest can't maintain a connection.

That said, I travel quite a bit for work, and I really like the ability to muck with the house temperature remotely. The auto-away stuff works pretty well.

Definitely not worth the money I've dumped into it.

There's absolutely no way I would trust a smoke detector built by this company.
posted by drklahn at 9:34 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've never understood this desire to automate homes. Light switches and thermostats are amazingly simple to operate. There is no way to improve them that will make them simpler.

I want the temperature to turn down after I fall asleep and up before I wake up. I want it warm until I leave for work, cool during the day to save energy, and warm again by the time I get home from work. This seems pretty basic. It's not required for life, but who *doesn't* want those things?
posted by maryr at 9:35 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


My nest works great. I installed it as part of a remodel after renting the house before we moved in, so I don't really know if it's saving us any money, but our monthly bills seem reasonably low to me.

We have natural gas furnace + heat pump, and for a while it had the "emergency heat" (which is thermostat-speak for "natural gas instead of heat pump") disabled, I guess by default. So when it got really cold out, the air coming out of our vents got correspondingly cold. Once I went digging and found that setting I set it to switch to emergency heat at like 45deg or something like that, and things have been great ever since.

I haven't had the false positive for away mode issue. But ours is located very centrally in our house.

As part of the remodel, we repainted all the interior walls. The painter set the thermostat to 90deg to help dry the paint, I guess? So the Nest learned we like things REALLY FREAKING HOT. I had to basically wipe the schedule and force it to re-learn everything, but I don't blame the Nest for that. Mrs. Jeffamaphone uses the iPhone app to do micro adjustments based on how she feels, but overall the learning aspect hasn't been too bad.

I dunno, I still like mine. I still recommend it.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:35 AM on February 23, 2015


Maybe she's on the payroll of a Nest competitor?

Why would you say that? It's a very serious charge.
posted by Nelson at 9:39 AM on February 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


> I don't know if this is the case because I've never even considered getting a Nest*, but if it truly doesn't have a readily accessible, obvious manual override feature that a first-time user can reliably operate, I'd call it badly designed.

It absolutely has that: you turn the dial up, just like an analog thermostat.

What analog thermostats never had to deal with, of course, is how to reconcile the manual override with its pre-programmed schedule. If the user turns the dial up to 74º at 8pm, and the thermostat knows it’s got something in its schedule that says “drop temperature to 68º at 10pm,” no problem — communicate to the user that the heat is being turned up, but that there’s a new rule that goes into effect at 10pm.

What if the user turns the dial up after 10pm? Safe to say that the user is telling the thermostat to cancel that 68º rule just this once. Easy enough.

What if the user turns the dial up at 9:56pm? There’s no obviously “right” choice to make at 9:56pm. I’d probably say that it should be interpreted as an override for the 10pm rule, but that 10pm rule is meant to last all night. So should it keep the temperature at 74º all night?

There was a big push in the US to install programmable thermostats in the 90s and 00s, the rationale being that they'd pay for themselves with the energy savings. Except the first generation of programmable thermostats were merely possible to program, if you had the patience to cycle through exhaustively long menus and look at an LCD display barely bigger than that of a digital watch. The usability on those was heinous, and Nest is a thousand times better.

Moreover, programming isn't for everyone. It presumes a daily/weekly routine that I'm sure many people have, but which is completely foreign to me. My Nest's “self-learning” schedule was just a codification of my girlfriend’s and my aberrant temperature whims, hence it had no value as a schedule. The scheduling is now turned off on ours. We like being able to adjust it without getting up, and we like that we can set it to away mode when we go on vacation and — if we’re diligent — flip it out of away mode before we get on the plane home, thus saving on energy costs without having to come home to a frigid house.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:40 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I looked at the Nest as we expanded our London terraced house, all new central heating with 11 radiators over 3 floors and underfloor heating in one room.

It didn't make sense. It makes more sense for an apartment.

The systems that allow multi-zone control, hot water control, underfloor heating (that has long ramp up times, cool down times etc.) are more compelling. I went with the Honeywell Evohome system. You can put a thermostatic valve on each radiator, control each room, or zone it into groups of rooms. Seemed much less gimmicky, and since Honeywell is part of Apple's homekit developer group I'm sure that it will keep evolving.
posted by C.A.S. at 9:42 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are some weird gotchas, like the fact that it has a battery that can occasionally run down, causing it to fail. I had to replace my wifi router with a different model because my old model was "one of a small handful" with which the Nest can't maintain a connection.

As a Minnesota resident (it was around -11 F./-24 C. this morning), my thermostat is something I care about. A minimal chance of failure is not in any way tolerable. For my purposes, these are the sorts of things that rule out a Nest before you even get to usability/control issues.

That said, I have a programmable thermostat that I installed a good 12 years ago or so that lets me do the warm in the morning/evening, cool at work and overnight schedule, with warm weekends, with 100% reliability. If I want to override it, it's easy to override. You can still get comparable models for less than $50.

The Nest smells like a Veblen good to me. If it makes some kind of statement, if it makes you feel better about yourself, great. I'm not judging--I overspend on certain things myself for "reasons"--I just choose to make a personal statement about my lifestyle in other extravagant ways.

Okay, maybe I'm judging a little.
posted by gimonca at 9:45 AM on February 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


We've had a nest for years. Pretty much no issues, it works great and has saved a bunch of energy. The learning seems to have worked well in our situation. We almost never have to mess with it.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:46 AM on February 23, 2015


The valid complaint at the root of her message is that the auto-programming and automatic detecting when you have left the house features of the Nest can be unreliable. It depends very heavily on the Nest's motion sensor seeing you walk past. If you don't walk past for a while, it is likely to conclude that you have left and adjust the temperature accordingly. It is also the case that the interface for adjusting the planned temperature changes is not a very well-designed UI.

I love ours, but we also have the Nest Protect smoke detectors which augment the motion detection of the thermostat, so it always knows when we are home or away with pretty good accuracy. I've still turned off the automatic learning and just set a relatively normal schedule of maintaining a comfortable temperature when we are awake and asleep. I set it to keep a warm temperature all day, but allow it to turn off the heat when it knows that we aren't home. If I think of it, I can turn it back on when I'm on the way home, otherwise I just deal with an hour or so of heating when I first get home.

Some of her complaints, like the inability to set the temp from her phone or her misunderstanding that the thermostat was refusing to heat for an hour and twenty minutes, rather than telling her that was how long it was going to take to reach her target temperature are simply factually incorrect.
posted by Lame_username at 9:47 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe she's on the payroll of a Nest competitor?

Cuckoo.com is going to be huge, HUGE I tell you.
posted by yoink at 9:48 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Bird jokes are best.
posted by maryr at 9:50 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: We don't want the cats controlling our lives any more than they do already.
posted by achrise at 9:51 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Ahh, finally, an excuse to explain the love/hate relationship I have with my Nest - which is to say, the Nest and I have now seemed to have reached a mutual understanding. After receiving the Nest as a very nice Christmas gift in 2013, it was a tough ride getting to that mutual understanding, the Nest being expensive and complex, going against all of the marketing claiming simplicity and (eventual) savings. Some of the complaints in the posted article are spurious (it's certainly easy enough to change the temperature in the app, and the Nest can certainly "just change the temperature" by turning the dial), many of them are valid, and the list is incomplete.

I had had one of those $30 Home Depot programmables on the wall since the mid-aughts. For years, we went through the same cycle - I programmed it to change to a series of temperatures that were both efficient and safe (but not necessarily comfortable) for both humans and animals living in our house, and if anyone wanted to change the temperature, they could use the override feature of the little plastic box to adjust it for a couple of hours. This worked fine for years and years, except when the 9V battery in the thermostat died every year or two, after which I'd have to spend an hour reprogramming the thing. It wasn't a bad setup, but then the plastic on the thermostat turned that awful yellow old electronics turn - like a classic Mac that had been sitting in a closet since 1984 - and became a weird eyesore on the white wall in the hallway. It wasn't worth $250 for me to replace, but I can't say I wasn't excited about unwrapping that lovely Nest.

The first thing I learned about the Nest is that 1) it has a rechargeable battery, 2) it relies on your HVAC system to charge it, and 3) if your HVAC system doesn't have a wire that provides continual power, as many don't, the Nest will continually turn your HVAC system on and off quickly in order to try and recharge the battery, like a power-stealing equivalent of jiggling the handle on a leaky toilet.

The second thing I learned about the Nest is that this is a really dumb system that doesn't work well for obvious reasons.

The Nest was able to only steal enough power from our system to keep itself operating for a mere couple of days after which it would just start acting weird, and features would disappear. First, online control would stop working. Then, it would stop turning on when you approached it. Finally, it would just die and stop working entirely, after which you would have to take it off the wall and connect it to your computer to recharge it.

At no time did it just tell me that it wasn't getting enough power from our HVAC. That would have been fine. Instead, it just acted weird. As a savvy troubleshooter, I tried to look through the Technical Info section of the thermostat to see whether it was able to draw power at all (it seemingly was), and got information how much power it was drawing and how the wires were connected and what the wi-fi strength was, but in no place on Nest's web site did they tell you specifically how much power the Nest needed to draw from your system in order to work reliably.

This appears to have changed a little bit - there's a little more info on the site than when I installed it - but there's still a lack of specifics, and I figured out what was going on from accumulating information from a series of forum posts, and realized that despite having a very simple and semi-modern HVAC system, I would have to engage in something Nest said was a very rare circumstance but, based on my experience and the wealth of forum posts, isn't rare at all - I had to add a common (C) wire to provide continuous power to the Nest.

After disassembling my HVAC system, finding a terminal for a common (C) wire, a trip to the hardware store and a couple of sweaty hours fishing wire through the mysterious crevices of my 20s-era home and connecting up the common wire, I had a Nest that would actually function without unceremoniously dying.

Thus, the Nest's learning process began. The Nest learned quickly. The Nest began adjusting the temperature in our house in incoherent ways. With a combination of a dog who was almost always in the house and my wife and I working from home or my daughter coming home from school at different times each day, the Nest would rarely go into auto-away, and would repeatedly adjust the temperature in a way that may have happened on a previous day but almost certainly was totally inappropriate for the situation at hand. We'd hear our HVAC system kick in and groan, having to reach for a computer or phone to re-adjust the Nest.

It quickly became clear that the auto-learn function on the Nest was 1) annoying the hell out of all of us and 2) using more energy then my $30 yellowed mid-aughts Home Depot thermostat was.

But despite a very bad first month and a half or so, this story doesn't end badly. I turned off the learning function of the thermostat, set a series of "reference" temperatures for the Nest to adjust itself to every few hours, and so now it works very similarly to that $30 thermostat - it holds the temperature in a safe and efficient place. We adjust it if we want to, and it sets back to the reference temperature after a few hours, and everything runs cheaply and efficiently. Harmony released a feature integrating our TV remotes with the Nest, which is very neat. The Nest still looks great on our wall, and I'm confident it will for many years. The ability to adjust the thermostat from any place in our house with a laptop or phone or remote is really very nice.

There are still things I don't like about it: I'd love to have a clock on the main screen (how hard would that be?) and I'd love to be able to restrict the IP ranges that can auto-authenticate with my Nest account so that someone who guesses my (strong) password can't screw with the heat from miles away. Plus, when I wrote Nest a very nice letter asking them to provide more technical information about the necessary voltage ranges from each type of connector so that troubleshooting would be easier for other customers (as mine seemed to have been in spec in general despite the power stealing problems I described above), I got blown off, and was asked to post information to the forum.

So, it remains on my wall, and my feelings remain mixed. But I'll tell you this: after this experience, there's no possible way I'm going to buy those Nest smoke detectors. Way up on the ceiling, that yellowed plastic of our $30 Home Depot ones doesn't bother me quite as much.
posted by eschatfische at 9:59 AM on February 23, 2015 [29 favorites]


I thought I remembered hearing that you could pair it with a Bluetooth or WiFi device that you're likely to have on you, like your smartphone, and it could use that to supplement the motion detector for determining whether or not you're home. Is that actually a thing, or am I mis-remembering something that was a proposed feature but never implemented?
posted by radwolf76 at 10:02 AM on February 23, 2015


We installed ours in December, so still pretty new to it, but so far, so good. It has learned to turn the temperature down around our usual bedtime, though our varying times to get up confuses it a bit -- no biggie, we just turn it on by twisting the knob. We quite like it. It will be interesting to see how it handles the seasonal change and how it will deal with the AC during the summer.

(also, got ours on sale at Loews for less than $200 -- and Nstar till give us another $100 in a mail-in-rebate, so net cost will be less than $100 -- not sure I would have paid full price -- but I'm cheap).
posted by AwkwardPause at 10:03 AM on February 23, 2015


I have 6 Nest thermostats controlling 6 separate zones and they work fine. The problem she's running into is that she never took the time to learn how it works. Even for the simple things, like "it doesn’t seem possible to change the temperature at all using the iPhone app." (It is, my wife has an iPhone and does it all the time.) Or "Using the app on my tablet, it’s not easy to touch, tap, and drag to adjust the dots in the schedule." (If you click on one of the dots, it opens up a larger interface where it's easy to adjust.)

The reason it's a little more complicated is because you have three different control systems functioning. The programmable thermostat gives you a 7-day, 24 hour calendar where you can set both high temps (which will start the AC if the temp goes that high) and low temps (heater). You ALSO have the Auto-Scheduler, which is Nest's attempt to learn your occupancy patterns and temp preferences. Try it, if it doesn't get in your way (as it did for the author of the article), it will operate most efficiently and save you money. If it is causing issues, turn it odd. FINALLY, you have Auto-away, which uses a motion sensor built into the thermostat to reduce heating/cooling if no one is in the room (or walks by the thermostat within a few hours).

To change the temperature, turn the dial counter-clockwise and the low temp number (heat) will get larger. Press the thermostat face and it becomes a dial where you set the exact temp you want. Press it again and you're done. Do the same thing starting with a clockwise rotation to adjust the AC. Whatever temperature you set, it will stay there until one of the three control systems mentioned above causes it to change.

I like it because the Auto-away function alone saves me a LOT of money. I like the look of it. I like changing schedules on my phone or my laptop. I like that all six Nests show up on the home page when I log in, along with the settings and red or blue colors to indicate if the heater or AC is engaged. I like that it sends me a monthly report showing both my own usage versus last month, how much of that change is attributable to the weather, and how I compare to other Nest users. I like that when we get a big storm and I'm away from home, I can check to see if we have power at the house by logging into Nest.

Is it perfect? No. The UI is a bit clunky, and there's no ability to save a temperature profile (e.g. "guest" for when we have someone staying over and don't want to let the temp in the upstairs bedroom drop to 60F overnight). You can't schedule with start and end dates. But overall, I'm very satisfied with it and the whole system paid for itself (versus a $35 programmable) in about 8 months (Auto-Scheduler and Auto-away savings).
posted by JParker at 10:03 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I really, really wanted to try Nest. My brother in law has a couple and likes them, and we were moving into a new house and the contractor asked us if we had a thermostat preference.

But the installation proved to be impossible: even after conversations with the contractor, my taking photos of the furnace connectors and emailing them, and extensive documentation about the HVAC units, Nest tech support couldn't give me a straight answer about whether they would work properly or not. There was a particular failure mode that I was worried about, where the Nest would pulse the furnace on and off to draw power for itself instead of using the COM wire, and no one was willing to promise that wouldn't happen. (On preview, exactly what eschatfische describes in the 3rd para of his essay above.)

So, alas, no Nest. The contractor got fancy programmable touchscreen Honeywell units that each advertised a WiFi network (???) until I dug into the user-hostile settings interface to shut them up. Sigh.

Then a couple of months later Google bought Nest, and I was happy not to have any Google-connected cameras in my house after all.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:04 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


The writer is on crack. You just turn the knob and it sets the temperature. It's really easy to use. The Nest thermostat is great and well worth the money.

It's the Nest smoke alarms that have problems : they have a tendency to go off for no reason at all in an empty house, so you get a bogus message on your phone at work telling you your house is on fire.
posted by w0mbat at 10:06 AM on February 23, 2015


Do Nest owners recommend switching from a modern programmable Honneywell thermostat to a Nest? We aren't out of town much and have a pretty predictable schedule due to our work and kid care schedules so I'm skeptical. However, my wife has a $300 credit at the Apple store that can't be used on iPhones, iPads, or anything else we really want.
posted by Area Man at 10:06 AM on February 23, 2015


Due to a bad edit of my post, I should clarify that while Nest claims that the vast majority of HVAC systems won't require the addition of a common (C) wire, my experience and the many, many people complaining about it in various forums indicates that this is a far more common situation that Nest wants to admit.
posted by eschatfische at 10:07 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've never understood this desire to automate homes.

Well, at five o'clock, I want my bath to begin filling with hot water.

At six, seven, eight o'clock, I want the dinner dishes manipulated like magic.

At nine o'clock, I want my bed warmed by hidden circuits.

At 10 o'clock, I want the house to begin to die.
posted by maxsparber at 10:12 AM on February 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


At six, seven, eight o'clock, I want the dinner dishes manipulated like magic.

I am now imagining an annoying "linking rings" act that prevents me from getting dinner on the table. Also, sawing the tureen in half was interesting the first time, but every night?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:14 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


We have two Nests in a small two-story house and they've been really good for us, especially with the auto-away features (though when I'm sick and lounging on the sofa, I do get those false away positives). Our local electricity provider has offered a rebate for controlling demand during heat spikes in the hot Austin summer in some years, so we've made almost as much back in rebates as the Nests originally cost.

The scheduling interface is difficult to use, although the ability to copy and paste a day's schedule makes it a little less painful than it might be. But if you can't change the temperature at the wall unit or control the thermostat from the phone, you should RTFM. It's not that hard.

(While I like my Nests, should they wear out, I will definitely look at other options. The tech in this product area has improved across the board since we upgraded last and I'm not keen on Google, though I don't think they're spying on me. It's more that we're all-Apple and I don't want a thermostat that's incompatible with whatever home automation tech that Apple ends up going with.)
posted by immlass at 10:15 AM on February 23, 2015


Do Nest owners recommend switching from a modern programmable Honneywell thermostat to a Nest?

I don't. I bought one for my parents, but they had to remove it after six months because it gave them so many problems. They had an HVAC guy come out to work on their system after about the 6th time it gave out. He told them he makes a lot of money on removing Nest thermostats from people's homes. I am finally content with mine, but only after completely disabling all of the NestSense features (automatic scheduling, etc). I only use it for auto-away and remote temperature control.

JParker, though he seems happy with his, describes one of the problems pretty well-- there's a dynamic system of scheduling, auto-away, and self-adjustment that is very complicated, and the thermostat is ill-equipped to figure out the relationship between them. I constantly ran into situations where I would manually adjust the temperature only to have the thermostat decide that I didn't really want to do that about 20 minutes later. My experience is close to TFA-- NestSense meant that my house was a completely random temperature at any given time, and I didn't have as much influence over that temperature as the Nest did.

FWIW, I spent a fair amount of time reading reviews, and it seems that people have more trouble with recent models than they did with the older models. I've read a fair number of reviews where people mention that they've purchased a second Nest, or a replacement, and have had many more problems with the newer devices. I don't know if this is due to a change in hardware, or something else, but it seemed a common complaint around the time I installed mine in 2013.
posted by drklahn at 10:20 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, this person is either really stupid, or really desperate for attention. I've had a Nest for 4-5 years. I can't tell if it saves me a dime, but being able to manage it via an iphone is worth every penny. They (and the website) are so user friendly it's almost unimaginable to ever go to anything else. We had a programmable thermostat before this that was inscrutable and essentially enslaved us with it's lack of usability.
posted by docpops at 10:21 AM on February 23, 2015


I don't want a Nest, I just want my programmable thermostat to have an internet connection so I can turn down the heat if I decide to stay out after work. I used to work in an office where the lights had a motion sensor. It's kind of hilarious that someone has to wave their arms or get up and walk around the office to keep the light on, but it's actually a good way to be reminded to get out of the chair and move. But I don't want to do that with the thermostat.

In any case, those of you who want a Nest? Looks like there's a used one available.
posted by theora55 at 10:25 AM on February 23, 2015


I've only had a Nest Protect for 2 months and a Nest thermostat for 1, so maybe I'm not the best to opine on the subject yet. I find our Nest Protect is way LESS over-sensitive than the smoke detector it replaced. The old one went off almost every time I cooked, and as someone who is 5' tall in a high-ceiling'd apartment, shutting it off was a pain in the ass involving large step ladders and freaked-out pets. I'm really excited about being able to silence the Nest Protect with my phone, but it hasn't alerted due to my cooking yet -- already an improvement!

I don't find the Nest thermostat interface any more confusing than a typical programmable thermostat, personally. I also understand how temporarily adjusting the temperature works both in terms of the time it will take to reach that temperature and that it's only overriding the current scheduled temperature block -- just like any programmable one I've ever used. So far, despite being located in a hallway away from much of our living space, the auto-away has worked nicely to turn down the temp when we go out on weekends, complementing the schedule we put in for our regular 9-5 work week.

Then again, the difference we have set in temperature for home (66 degrees) and away (64 degrees) is minimal for the benefit of our pets, so the Nest failing to properly detect whether I'm home wouldn't have any significant effect aside from my nose getting cold which I really hate.
posted by misskaz at 10:28 AM on February 23, 2015


I'd love to watch this reviewer try to work the HVAC units in my apartment. About a dozen buttons with no more than one word each, no scheduling, no clock, no iphone app. Oh and the two units in different rooms behave subtly differently to the same inputs, don't talk to each other and did I mention can't be scheduled in any meaningful way?
posted by Skorgu at 10:31 AM on February 23, 2015


Skorgu- great point. Though it has issues, it's far easier to use than the standard LCD button-mess that is the older programmable thermostats.

Has anyone else had the Nest set the AC to 50 degrees for no reason? Mine does every Sunday if its in cooling mode. Completely loony.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:34 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


And being perpetually cold is not just a little nuisance; it’s one of the basic, physiological needs in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Great writing. Aiee.
posted by blue t-shirt at 10:36 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


From a usability standpoint there is one obvious complaint with the app: if you have only a single house, and a single Nest contained therein, you still have to select the single Nest in order to manipulate it. If you have the Nest selected and you want to set the thing to "Away," you have to deselect the Nest in order to set Away, which is a state of your home and not a state of any individual device. It's a weird enforcement of a distinction that maybe makes sense in the context of a multi-device home, or a user who has multiple homes configured. I'd categorize it as a stupid choice not to Do What I Mean in what I have to assume is a common scenario (one house, one Nest), but once you get past that weird insistence on a particular operating mode*, the UI is more or less intuitive.

I'm also a vi user, so, y'know, your experience with modal interfaces may vary.

And you can also copy and paste schedule configurations from one day to another in the app, not just on the web. Press and hold the day indicator and copy/paste actions will be in the context menu that pops up. It's not as discoverable as it should be, but the feature is definitely there and I have used it.
posted by fedward at 10:37 AM on February 23, 2015


We have a programmable thermostat that we don't program, because my wife's work schedule is convoluted and doesn't entirely mesh with mine. There are at most 5 hours on a given day (and usually less) in which the house isn't occupied by at least one human. Meanwhile there are pets, including two aquariums, so we don't want it to vary too much.

Our AC takes so long to cool the house down from hot that it would be counterproductive to let it relax a few degrees while nobody's home.
posted by Foosnark at 10:45 AM on February 23, 2015


> First of all, Google can probably operationally tell whether you're home or not without you purchasing a Nest.

Me? Maybe, but they'd have to work at it. (No Android devices, no persistent cookies, Netflix streams only show when kids are home, ...) I'm sure if they actively tried they could do so easily enough, of course, but why would they bother?

> Secondly, there are no cameras inside the Nest.

My bad - should have said motion sensors.

My point stands, though - my disillusionment with Google has grown to the point that I'd be very very hesitant to sign up for something that could, in principle, lead to them having more data on me (maybe, at some future point, the terms of service promise they won't be evil, I know).
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:48 AM on February 23, 2015


I've always been interested in having a Nest thermostat (we have Nest Protect's already), but knew, for sure, the auto-away learning will not work for us; the primary rooms we spend our time in do not have visibility for any of the Nest devices.

Easy, and remote, programming is highly appealing though. Is it worth it with the auto-away stuff disabled?
posted by Bovine Love at 10:52 AM on February 23, 2015


I put in a nest thermostat two years ago. It works fine, the remote access works fine, and the learning features have saved us money — about $100 a month during the winter. It seems clear the writer of the linked piece is being deliberately thick, either to get you to drive clickthroughs or ad impressions, or because she was paid for the article. Who knows which and it doesn't really matter, anyway, since the technology works well enough that most people are happy.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:52 AM on February 23, 2015


Easy, and remote, programming is highly appealing though. Is it worth it with the auto-away stuff disabled?
posted by Bovine Love at 10:52 AM on February 23 [+] [!]


I think so. I may be alone in this, but another great feature is the ability to kill the AC function when I'm outside and don't want the drone of the unit drowning out conversation and don't want to get up to go in the house. It also saves a lot of hassle when one of the kids cranks it up to 76 because they're "freezing to death" while wearing shorts. Instead of a lecture I just casually knock it back to 68 from my iPhone while taking another nice long pull from my Sierra Nevada.
posted by docpops at 11:05 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Put me down with the rest of the Nest owners who are happy with their unit and baffled by the article. I've had it for a few years now, and have no complaints. The auto-learn does fairly well, but isn't perfect. The scheduling is a little awkward on the iPhone/iPad app, but much easier on the website. I'd highly recommend using the website for initial setup, and then any further little tweaks can be handled easily enough in the app. One really nice feature is the ability to copy and paste entire days' schedules -- set up your schedule for Monday, and you can paste it onto Tuesday through Friday.

My only complaint (which I haven't seen mentioned here) is that the Nest app on my iPhone and iPad forces me to log in with email address and password every single time I open it, which is generally quite a hassle just to bump the temperature up a degree. This login requirement is so inconvenient that I can't believe they would have designed it that way -- I assume it saves your login credentials by default, but for some reason mine got confused and doesn't do that. This belief is reinforced by the fact that nobody else here has mentioned the same complaint.

Regardless, I get around it by making use of the fact that the Nest has an API and is so easy to integrate with other systems like IFTTT. I happen to also have a Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home universal remote, which supports the Nest as one of the devices that can be managed. The Harmony has its own iPhone/iPad app, which DOES support auto-log-in, so my particular workaround is to just use the Harmony app to adjust the Nest. This works well enough, but I'd love to figure out how to just be able to use the actual Nest app without having to log in every time.

But other than that relatively minor concern, we're very happy with the Nest. TFA's complaints are pretty unfounded.
posted by TheCowGod at 11:27 AM on February 23, 2015


Another thing I love about the Nest: Data! I'm a total nerd, and so after a little bit of poking around with the Nest API, I wrote some scripts to poll it, and I set up some graphs in Cacti to let me graph various useful bits of data from my Nest. For example: One week and one year.
posted by TheCowGod at 11:37 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I want the temperature to turn down after I fall asleep and up before I wake up. I want it warm until I leave for work, cool during the day to save energy, and warm again by the time I get home from work. This seems pretty basic. It's not required for life, but who *doesn't* want those things?

And you can get all that with a basic $25 programmable thermostat.

I realize that some people just really like having expensive electronic geegaws, but if you want art, buy art and support an artist, not an overpriced appliance.
posted by JackFlash at 11:38 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


About the battery thing: the battery is a backup, meant to keep things working during power outages. It charges from one of the wires that comes from your furnace. If you do not wire it correctly, the battery will die. I had my furnace people come out and wire it for me because I was confused as to the proper wiring for the heat pump, and I made sure to interrogate him on that point. He was very familiar with this issue, and I have never had a problem with the battery, and we've made it through power outages just fine.

As a software engineer who builds user interfaces for a living it was obvious to me how to use the UI on the device, the app, and the website. It may not be obvious to everyone. But anything that tries to let you use these different tools for controlling the thing is going to be better than the old Honeywell single line LCD interface.

Mrs. Jeffamaphone had three or four installed at her office as well. They never had any issues with them either, which is why we got one at home.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:47 AM on February 23, 2015


the real irony of the Nest is that, even if you have the latest high-efficiency gas furnace, the electronics controlling combustion in your furnace could probably have gone up into space with the Voyager probe. That may be an exaggeration; your fancy furnace probably could have gone up with the first space shuttle. I happen to have a fancy variable combustion furnace made by your favorite tartan clad scotsman and combustion is managed by a relatively ancient industrial microcontroller...

I mean, the level of engineering is indicated by the fact that they put said control board underneath the rubber gasketed water waste pipes so that when said gaskets leak, it goes directly onto the control board. (the only amusing thing about having my furnace suddenly take out a circuit in my house when it was 0 degrees F last winter was the local repair guy, with a thick Boston accent, talking to the company tech support, who appear to be entirely good ole' boys from Georgia.)

which is to say that the place where having a sophisticated truly programmable microcontroller isn't in your thermostat but in your furnace itself, hence the absurdity of having to have multiple 'Nests' if your heating system has multiple zones. being able to finely control combustion, taking in at least the exterior temperature, and then modulating for 'zones' in the house is the key to actually getting energy savings. the conclusion you can draw from this thread is that if you disable all of the learning and presence sensor "features" of your Nest, it makes a decent internet controllable programmable thermostat... but would you have paid $250 for something like that and would Google have paid $1 billion?

I think that more or less sums up what 'Silicon Valley' innovation amounts to...
posted by ennui.bz at 11:50 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


My experience with the old thermostats is exactly the same as eschatfische. I installed the 7 day programmable, set up a guess at a program for the fall/winter and all that would last until summer where I would shut off the heat. By the next fall, the batteries would be dead and I'd have to reprogram the damn thing again or accept the energy wasting defaults. And when I inevitably guess wrong on schedule, both results were awful: too much heat when not needed (waste of money) or too little heat when it was needed (leading to temporary override which ran too long).

Mind you, this thermostat (at the time) was the best that typical engineering would offer compared to your typical Honeywell with a day/night schedule.

And here's the really funny thing. When we bought the house, the monthly budget for heating was around $127 (ie, using the gas company's year round payment plan). We increased the size of the house by nearly double, improved insulation vastly, and installed a much more efficient gas furnace. At the end of all that, the heating bill was level with the crappy thermostat.

We moved to a house built largely to our design which has roughly the same square footage, although it has more useful space. I insisted on 3 zones, one for each floor and a Nest for each. Now, this isn't apples to apples, since the house is certainly tighter than the old one and because Mrs. Plinth is home much more often, but the most expensive gas bill has been $127, as opposed to the monthly bill. Were the thermostats responsible, as opposed to the construction? Hard to say, but between the two we have saved enough to pay for the thermostats several times over.

Like many others here, I'm also puzzled by the authors issues, but then again, I work in software and the the number of times I've had to write "can't reproduce" on a bug report is vast.

TFA is also missing the obligatory, "I contacted support and they blamed me/screwed me over."
posted by plinth at 11:55 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I live in the Detroit area. Anyone who's lived here can tell you that it can get very, very cold in the winter and very, very hot in the summer. After trying, and discarding, several programmable thermostats, I finally settled on an old Honeywell stat. It has a coil of metal that reacts to changes in temperature by expanding or contracting thereby making an electrical contact that turns on/off my furnace. I did the maths and found that the "old" stat saved me about $200.00 a year in heating costs versus the newer "eco-friendly" units. If you still feel the need to have your home completely programmable, I suggest checking out this story by Ray Bradbury.
posted by TDavis at 12:26 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Paging mallory ortberg: Texts with A Nest Protect, go
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:43 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


grounded: Kara Pernice's rant leaves me wondering about her credentials as a 'usability expert'.

Since she doesn't once mention Nest's accessibility, either pro or con, I'll go with "Things that start with 'Fuck no,'" for $500, Alex.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:51 PM on February 23, 2015


I did the maths and found that the "old" stat saved me about $200.00 a year in heating costs versus the newer "eco-friendly" units.

TDavis, how do you figure it saved you money? There had to be some input into those maths, and you must have a theory on why your costs are lower now.
posted by Bovine Love at 12:54 PM on February 23, 2015


I got a Nest a couple of years ago. Everything was fine in the beginning, however at some point in the last 12 months the software that handles automatic scheduling seems to have gotten totally screwed up. We've had to turn all the automatic/learning features off and use it in a very bare bones mode. It is very disapointing.
posted by humanfont at 1:07 PM on February 23, 2015


I have a Nest in the office and 5 Nests at home. My office was in "learning mode" for over 6 months (8am to 6pm M-F you dumbass!!) before I finally set the schedule. I was getting tired of hearing the heat/AC kick in only when I walked past it in the morning. I like my environment to be comfortable when I arrive, not 2 hours later.

The 5 Nests at home do a terrible job of ramping up heat after being turned down for the night. They can't seem to calculate the time to heat at all and then utilize it later to meet a target temperature at the right time.

Moreover, while I was in transition from one house to another, I had to disconnect the old house completely because you can't have more than two locations on a Nest account. This has been something that people have been complaining about for years on their forums with no end in sight. Seems they can't change $location to > 2.

Result?

They're glorified (and admittedly pretty) thermostats with a fixed schedule now. I'd really like someone to hack the hell out of them and produce a firmware that could be easily tied into my home automation and security, and not send my usage patterns to Google.
posted by pashdown at 1:14 PM on February 23, 2015


I've been automating bits and pieces of my home with custom hardware (mostly XBee). Well, mostly instrumenting. Now I need some more pre-made hardware for things like door locks and -- possibly, though I could make it -- thermostats. I'd prefer not to be locked into a vendor. So, I've been looking at Z-Wave stuff, and using open z-wave library to run up some software. It looks like a lot of work, though. That nest sure is pretty. I could make something that functions as well (sans away), but would have a heck of a time getting it packaged up to look great in the dining room.
posted by Bovine Love at 1:22 PM on February 23, 2015


jeff-o-matic: "But probably 1/3 of the time when I try to adjust it remotely from my phone, it will say that it is "offline" which is stupid because I have great internet service and my phone is otherwise connecting beautifully. "

This is usually because of the way your HVAC system is wired; some systems send a small amount of power to the thermostat, using the battery only for backup; others rely totally on the thermostat's batteries. If yours is solely battery, on days when the heat (or AC) isn't needed for a long time, the Nest shuts down its wifi to save battery and only wakes itself up (and connects to the internet) when temperature changes to the point it needs to turn on. You can solve this by physically changing the dial, which wakes the Nest up; or by having your HVAC guy adding a power wire; or by telling it to run the blower fan for 15 minutes every couple of hours so it doesn't go into wifi-off sleep. Also see if your software is up to date -- this has improved considerably with the last couple of software updates. It's also more likely to happen with your furnace, especially in an older home, than with your A/C. (I have the same problem.)

I love my Nest -- although we did research it and thought about whether it would work well in our house with the motion sensors. The answer is yes, because our thermostat is in the center of our most-used room. If it were off in a hallway or in a hot corner of the house, it would be less useful. We did have to wipe its memory and let it "learn" all over again when we had some insulation added to the house, because it was a bit befuddled that the house was suddenly 5 degrees warmer, but it was fine once we told it to learn again.

Ours saves us significant money, especially on heating bills. We have it set so that it is constantly trying to cheat the temperature juuuuuuuuuust a little lower than we would normally have it. It's discovered that although we TELL it to go to night mode at 10 p.m., it can start cheating the temperature down around 8:30 (after the kids are in bed) and most of the time we don't notice and end up grabbing sweaters rather than realizing the heat is off. In the summer I force it to adhere more closely to my specific wishes, and it's no problem; it learns "heating" and "cooling" separately and you can tell it to "learn" on one season and not on the other.

Also when the Nest starts suddenly telling you crazy stuff (it will take two hours to raise your house's temperature one degree!) after working well for a long while, that is a good diagnostic that you have a problem with your HVAC.

Being able to turn up the heat from my frigid bed using my phone at 3 a.m. without having to get out of my nice warm bed is the most UNIMAGINABLY WONDERFUL luxury. But possibly you do not prefer to set your thermostats at 58 degrees overnight. PLUS my wimpy Floridian husband is much less wimpy about cold midwestern mornings now that the house starts heating itself up half an hour before he wakes up. Like a coffee machine!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:47 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I find it funny that the writer used the term "divorcing" here. I mean, I get with the advent of big data, and how machine intelligences now try to learn your habits, your relationship with these devices can get a lot more intimate.

People value tools as they become extensions of the mind, body and will. That might sound weird to say, maybe, but it is a reality as old as the first work of pottery that held life-giving water.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:47 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel like I'm obligated at this point, as mysteriously no one has, to point out that this is published by the Nielsen Norman Group, a creation of usability guru (with all that "guru" implies) Jakob Nielsen and other wunderkind of the usability world.

On one hand, he has been a strong proponent of usability throughout the years, including some of the salad days of early 2000s web design. On the other hand, if they had their way, every website would have no more complexity than the one this article is posted on, everything would be simplified to the point of ridiculosity, and we would probably see more of the "programatically determine the correct pixel offset of buttons on this website" type of experiments the Google collective thinks is the right way to go rather than human design.

I would love to see the alternative visual design/wording they'd use, because it would be ridiculous to the other extreme.
posted by mikeh at 1:51 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just out of curiosity- how hard is it to hack into these things? Can I go into someone's Nest remotely and figure out when they will and won't likely be home? Can I change temperatures in someone else's house?

I'm not aware of any documented "in the wild" attacks, but there have certainly been proof of concepts, and various elements of it have been shown to be insecure by researchers in the past.

There have already been very small scale documented uses of Nest for passive surveillance, and it has been suggested that Google's primary interest in paying $3.2 billion for Nest is for access to the data generated by its thermostats. Nest recently bought surveillance camera maker Dropcam, whose products can be integrated with Nest thermostats, and have been shown by researchers to be vulnerable. So, Google will very likely know when you're not home, minimally, and there's chance that someone else who really needed to could as well.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:53 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This would be more of a concern if the Nest actually could successfully detect when someone is home. As many in this thread have pointed out, the Nest is really terrible at it.
posted by humanfont at 2:13 PM on February 23, 2015


I've heard that the Nest thermostat gets better at detecting when someone is home if you also install their smoke alarms, as those have the required sensors too.
posted by w0mbat at 2:31 PM on February 23, 2015


Nest recently bought surveillance camera maker Dropcam, whose products can be integrated with Nest thermostats, and have been shown by researchers to be vulnerable.

This is probably the most important piece of the puzzle. Remotely jacking up the heat in someone's house is a moot point unless you can observe their initial bewilderment and sweaty discomfort.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:57 PM on February 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I have the smoke detectors and it doesn't seem to have much impact on how good the detection is.
posted by humanfont at 3:15 PM on February 23, 2015


Anyone here have the Ecobee or Honeywell Lyra (Lyric?)
posted by five fresh fish at 3:49 PM on February 23, 2015


This Nest review in the original post is pretty weird. I've had a Nest since they debuted, and I love it, even though it has died twice during very cold days (once a failed network update, another it lost all power by becoming unseated somehow), on the whole it's a dream kind of device, never getting in the way as long as you set it once to your schedule and let it work its magic.

I will say it really sucks for the first couple months. It's a device that works on predictive behavior and it needs to observe your patterns, but in the first two months it can make bad guesses when it doesn't have enough data, and suddenly jack up your heat or turn it way down for no apparent reason.

Now that I have something like three years of data on mine it works great. In Winter, every morning around 6:30am it starts heating the house as family members wake up, it warms up further around 8am when I start working in my office, and stays warm until about 9pm when it starts letting the house slowly dip into the nighttime low temp. On weekends everything shifts up by an hour or so since that's how we live. It works great, and if I happen to leave the house for an hour, it goes into away mode fairly quickly too.

I wish the first two months of it were less rocky though, if you happen to come home to a cold house, turn up the heat, for the next couple months it'll think "Oh I get it, the house owner wants it to be 75F at 2pm on a Thursday every week forever!" which is kind of dumb and usually requires loading the app/site to ignore those rare temp changes. This stuff happened frequently for me in the first month of using it, which gives a bad first impression to an expensive new device, but if you power through it, it does improve its predictability.

By the way, the same thing happens with any new TiVo you buy, since it doesn't know anything about you, it guesses based on your very first movements which lead to weird behavior until it gets more data months later.
posted by mathowie at 4:12 PM on February 23, 2015


Fleebnork:
The writer didn't learn how to use it.
It's actually more interesting than that because the easiest way to learn how to use a Nest is simply not to worry about it: turn the knob when you want a different temperature and it'll adjust pretty quickly. The writing is confused but it sounds like the problem was trying to treat it like a traditional device which has to be micromanaged while at the same time not completely micromanaging it.

I read that as a slightly different critique: here are clearly enough people who configure their systems into confusion that they either need to do a better job of exposing just what the learning system is doing and making it clear how it interacts with predefined schedules or make the learning system better so that fewer self-styled power-users feel compelled to fiddle with it.
posted by adamsc at 4:42 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Our small (Korean) apartment has a big brass radiator-like thing in the bathroom. You turn valves on it, to increase or decrease or start or stop the hot water underfloor heating flow to the various rooms (of which there are only 4 in total, so).

It's weird how Korea is this palimpsest -- irruptions of new technology in unexpected places, big outcrops of utterly outdated technology in others. Modernization has not been a homogeneous process here.

I'm all about simplicity, though, so I'm happy with manually turning valves during the cold months and just letting the house just be at ambient temperatures (with fans when necessary) in the warm.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:15 PM on February 23, 2015


The "real" solution, to me, would be to have a robust home automation system, with a "home/not-home" switch at the door and a "good night/good morning" switch in the master bedroom. Add a decent-ish programming interface, probably something with a touchscreen and reminders about maintenance (time to change the filter/clean the ducts/have the unit serviced).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:33 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Properly functioning radiators fed by properly maintained neighborhood or city steam systems are very efficient and honestly the best.
posted by humanfont at 5:36 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I could make something that functions as well (sans away)

Passive infrared sensor for $10 and pretty simple to use (sounds like it should be on a separate power regulator though).

Depending on your habits, you can also get some decent occupancy signals from your router and a sound detector near your TV, not to mention light switches.
posted by ryanrs at 6:11 PM on February 23, 2015


>The problem she's running into is that she never took the time to learn how it works.

No usability discussion would be complete without this comment.

Usability in thermostats is an old problem. Programmable thermostats were kicked off the energy star program in the mid 2000s after research (using Amazon Mechanical Turk among others) found that most people didn't program them. Stats showed no energy savings.

The EPA, consulting with some behavioral economists, proposed a new certification process for programmable thermostats. Back in 2012, it was going to involve a first (AFAIK): an adversarial usability test. DoE would set a usability standard, and a 3rd party lab would evaluate vendors' products to see if X% could set a daily schedule, set away mode etc.

See the consultation here. Worth a scroll down if you're interested in the politics of home electronics.

In the latest draft they've abandoned ease of use and are proposing a data driven metric. So basically all energy star thermostats are going to require logging your home temperature and furnace runtime to the vendors servers for Energy Star validation. I was disappointed to hear this.
posted by anthill at 7:56 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Passive infrared sensor for $10 and pretty simple to use (sounds like it should be on a separate power regulator though).

Oh, occupancy is not that hard, over all; I've built motion sensing into several of my home-built sensors in the house, and plan to increase coverage so it would be fairly thorough. I could leverage that to do pretty decent occupancy detection. Not to mention, we'll eventually do BLE detection for the phones to tell when we are home.

The tricky bit is writing a good learning algorithm that makes patterns out of it all. You have to remove noise, but still learn at a sensible rate. Furthermore, unless you have previous records (which, actually, I could supply.....), you have to wait quite a bit to see if it is working, and how well. You would probably want to build a simulator to run algorithms. Then, you also need to have it learn the thermal characteristics of your house, as it has to lead temperature changes. Nest is a little smarter then your average one, but taking into account outdoor temperature for that calculation, but you could do that too.

But all in all, I can see a lot of hours of work in working up such an algorithm. And, honestly, our habits are pretty damn regular, so really a good schedule interface and some remote control for override is all that is really needed.
posted by Bovine Love at 8:14 PM on February 23, 2015


"in 1 hour and 20 minutes 66 degrees until 10:00PM.”
On the other hand things like the message discussed above are a bit confusing for a new user.
-- silence

Why didn't they just say "Set to 66 degrees until 10PM."
A simple rewording removes the confusion. I judge user interfaces on stuff like this.

The $35 thermostats can be hard or easy to program. Mine is easy to program. I need the battery because I don't have the power wire--which it looks like I'd have to have added if I used a Nest.

I can change the temperature, like the Nest, and it stays there until the next programming. Or I can shut off programming (one button) and it will stay where I set it. You really need both, and they both need to be simple enough that you can do it while sleepy and blurry eyed in the middle of the night when you find out your kid is throwing up and has a fever. (And in this case an 'away mode' needs to be just as easy to shut off).

Maybe the author's complaints are off, but there are plenty of more reasonable sounding complaints in this message board.
posted by eye of newt at 8:55 PM on February 23, 2015


> First of all, Google can probably operationally tell whether you're home or not without you purchasing a Nest.

Me? Maybe, but they'd have to work at it. (No Android devices, no persistent cookies, Netflix streams only show when kids are home, ...) I'm sure if they actively tried they could do so easily enough, of course, but why would they bother?
--RedOrGreen

Maybe you don't know how it works. Advertisers pay for information like this--so much money per person, the more information, the more money. It is pretty simple.

Back in the day I knew this guy who was head of the business software group at a large company back when the Internet was first becoming a thing who said "Why would anyone try logging onto our systems?" Your question immediately brought back the memory of him asking this question.
posted by eye of newt at 8:59 PM on February 23, 2015


We have a Nest. I am not the Holder of the Passwords, Keeper of the Intertube Account so my input is limited to tinkering with it when I'm too cold or too warm. Take all comments with a grain of salt:

- the interface is pleasing for my tiny lady hands
- I like being able to set a temperature range (unlike every other thermostat in rubbish rental properties)
- we live in an extremely variable climate and it's not very good at keeping up with temperature fluctuations
- I am a bit creeped out by the fact that Google now knows whether I'm home or out

In addition, our thermostat is inexplicably located by the front door. In a one-bedroom flat.
posted by averysmallcat at 9:26 PM on February 23, 2015


I can change the temperature, like the Nest, and it stays there until the next programming. Or I can shut off programming (one button) and it will stay where I set it. You really need both, and they both need to be simple enough that you can do it while sleepy and blurry eyed in the middle of the night when you find out your kid is throwing up and has a fever. (And in this case an 'away mode' needs to be just as easy to shut off).

I have a basic but easy to use programmable thermostat in my current place, but the one thing it is missing that the slightly fancier one in my old house had is a "vacation" setting, where you tell it that you will be away for five days so that it warms the house up on the afternoon of your return. There is something incredibly luxurious and welcoming about coming home to a warm house. The next one I buy will either have this feature or will have a way to control the temperature remotely.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:03 AM on February 24, 2015


eye of newt: Maybe you don't know how it works. Advertisers pay for information like this--so much money per person, the more information, the more money. It is pretty simple.

Oh, of course - I totally get that. It's just that I'm pretty far removed from their target consumer demographic, so it would seem like a waste of resources to specifically target me. More generic targeting wouldn't reveal whether I was home or not quite so easily. But meh - whatever they can sell to the next bigger sucker, I guess.

odinsdream: Nest royally fucked up with the C-wire thing. Clearly the unit should never be installed in that dumb vampire battery mode

Yes, I agree. The oddest thing was, when I was talking to customer support, they were so darn evasive about it. It's a new house, there's no existing thermostat, here are the wiring diagrams and spec sheets for the brand-new HVAC unit. "Oh, it's not on the list of compatible ones, but not on the known-bad list either. It should work. We don't understand the wiring diagram - does it have a green wire on the current thermostat?" They didn't even seem that intent on selling me on their product, and thus we have our current pair of dumb touchscreen Honeywells.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:10 AM on February 24, 2015


Every time I read about the Nest, I wish I could have the remote phone app controlled thermostat part and nothing else. We have highly irregular schedules here, and Nests still don't integrate with the evaporative cooler I'm hoping to install eventually. But being able to turn the heat down from bed and up before we get up in the morning would be awesome.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:15 AM on February 24, 2015


> I wish I could have the remote phone app controlled thermostat part and nothing else.

I don't recommend this in the slightest - we have the touchscreen version, and there's nothing particularly interesting or appealing about it - but the basic $99.98 Honeywell WiFi-enabled thermostats can be controlled via smartphone app. Yeah, that's quite a bit more than $35, but way less than $249.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:58 AM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh My God. I have been active on Metafilter since 2001 and a reader since early 2000. This post is the most pertinent to my interests, since I started reading. I am eating dinner under a wool blanket. In Houston. Because my f-ing Nest is being Hal and WILL NOT turn on. It just sweeps from 52 degrees to the desired 68 degrees, taunting me, taunting me.
And the very nice, lying people at the Nest helpdesk act like they've never seen this issue before.
posted by pomegranate at 3:43 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Pomegranate - I've been there. I bet your furnace has an error code and it's nothing to do with the Nest.
Try switching the furnace off and on again at the main fusebox to reset it. I eventually got tired of doing that to mine and had the furnace's ailing circuit board replaced.
posted by w0mbat at 2:24 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


No response. I fear pomegranate froze. I understand that freezing to death isn't a terrible way to pass on. Still, bit of a shame. Curse you, Nest!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:23 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


RedOrGreen, I did not know this was a feature. Thank you!
posted by deludingmyself at 8:37 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: the interface is pleasing for my tiny lady hands.
posted by maryr at 9:06 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


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