How To Install A Nest Learning Thermostat

Everywhere we turn these days there are things that need updating. Some just for aesthetic reasons. Some for functional. Some for both.

Enter our old timey, first floor thermostat in our office. We figured with our new furnace system it’d be a good time to update this to something more energy efficient.

We made the swap to a programmable thermostat in our first house, so this time around the tech geek in me begged Sherry to let us take this upgrade a step further – especially since so many of you have commented about loving your Nest. To my surprise, she agreed. And that’s how I found myself holding one of these babies.

But let me back up for a second. Nest is a “learning thermostat” that keeps a record of your habits (when you turn the heat or AC up, when you’re home or away, etc) and creates and adjusts a schedule for you. Meaning it can be even more intuitive than a typical programmable thermostat – and therefor can save you more money. It can even sense when you’re home (and turn itself down if you’re not). It was designed by people who helped make the iPhone, so it has a bunch of other cool features I’ll get into later. I’ve wanted one since they came out in 2010, but they’ve been priced fairly high. But with the recent release of their 2nd generation thermostat, prices on the 1st generation dropped…

In fact they dropped so much that I had trouble finding them. I finally found some across town at a Lowe’s about 30 minutes away. So I ran over there with a change of address coupon that we received after we moved.

We decided to buy two Nests since we have two systems (one upstairs and one downstairs). So with the reduced sale price, the additional $25 off from my coupon, and the 5% discount that I got for using my Lowe’s credit card (which the cashier was happy to give me despite it not working initially with the coupon) it took our price per unit down to $158. Still a lot for a thermostat, but considering the new ones are $249 it was a we-saved-$180-on-two-of-them victory. And the fact that our downstairs furnace was replaced by our home warranty helped us rationalize spending $300 after we saved around $5,000 on the new furnace.

Update: First generation Nests are now marked down on Amazon, so here’s an affiliate link to the same one we bought for anyone interested. 

As for the installation, I’ll admit it had me a little worried. I’d heard that it’s not compatible with all HVAC systems (and our upstairs unit is pretty old) and generally I worried about breaking this expensive little thermom-o-robot in the process.

I started downstairs. The first step was removing the old unit, which was pretty straight forward. First I pulled off the face. Then (with the power turned off at the breaker!) I unscrewed the inner plate so I could reveal all the wiring behind it. Nest kind of thought of everything, so they even included a small screwdriver that made this easier. (PS: Nest isn’t paying me to gush – they don’t even know we bought these – I’m just kind of in love with this thing).

Here’s the inside of our unit. It looks kind of like you’re about to defuse a bomb. But following the installation instructions eliminated just about any fear that this project was going to blow up in my face.

In addition to a handy installation video, they have this cool “Compatibility Check” online that helps guide you through how your wiring works (or doesn’t work) with Nest. Admittedly, I probably should’ve done this before I took so much trouble to buy the darn things…

But good news. We were compatible. And not only that, the instructions included a personalized guide for how I should connect my wires to the Nest unit. Seriously. If only all instruction manuals were this easy.

Also filed under “thought of everything:” the paper manual that came in the box included these wire labels so you wouldn’t risk confusing which red wire went where once everything was removed from the old unit. I didn’t use them since mine were so straight forward, but this still earned points in my tech-nerd handbook.

I detached all of my wires and then removed the last bit of the old unit from the wall.

Then I just slid the Nest base back in its place.

I was also crazy for the fact that there was a tiny little level built into the base so you could be sure it was hanging straight on your wall. Genius.

Then, based on my personalized wiring guide, I just popped my wires back in place using the little tabs. Super easy.

For the grand finale, I snapped the face into place and…

…turned the power back on. There were a few set-up steps to get Nest going, like telling it what type of heating we had and connecting it to our wi-fi. This was perhaps my only gripe with the whole thing – entering in a long alphanumeric password was a bit tedious. #firstworldproblems

The wi-fi is cool because it allows me to access our thermostats from my phone. Nest always touts this as a feature to use when you’re traveling so I didn’t think I’d find much use for it. But on the first night I found myself turning the AC up from bed because it was too hot in our bedroom. Yup. Felt like I was sleeping in my fancypants.

It says it takes a couple of weeks to learn your schedule, so we’ve yet to experience the beauty of that. But I’m especially grateful to have it in this house because we’re already finding that temperatures fluctuate a lot in here thanks to the intense afternoon sun we get. Hope you catch on quick, Nest-dog.

Oh, and part of me worried I’d regret not spending the extra dough to the 2nd generation version, but besides working with more HVAC systems (which isn’t an issue for us, luckily) the differences are apparently mostly cosmetic. The newer version is a little slimmer, doesn’t have the small grill at the bottom, and has a shinier side so it better reflects your wall color. Those all sound like nice-to-haves, but not worth the extra $180. So personally I’m glad we got the units we did. Perhaps I’ll bite my tongue when they release the 3rd generation that babysits your kids and folds your laundry too.

Oh, and before I end this lovefest (lovenest?) I have to share one more anecdote about installing it upstairs, where we had a less ancient thermostat already in place on the wall. I expected it to be the easier install, but when I went through the compatibility check I got this alert. Ruh roh. .

But I followed instructions and in like five minutes I was already getting off of the phone with a Nest representative who had looked at the photo I emailed and described how I should hook up my wires. Brilliant.

So I think overall it took me less than an hour to install both units – which is a miracle for any project where I’m also stopping to take blog photos. I couldn’t be happier.

Well, I could be a smidge happier I guess. Apparently a lot of localities offer rebates to reward Nest owners for making an energy efficient choice (Nest has a list of them here). Our area isn’t doing that yet, so after a few phone calls to our electric company and gas company I struck out at getting any sort of money back. Oh well, at least I’ll get a tiny write off for donating our old units to Habitat for Humanity (along with actually saving money by heating/cooling the house more efficiently).

Anyone else out there have a Nest? Got any tips for me? Or has anyone else made a tech-y upgrade lately? Wait, maybe forget that last question. Sherry probably doesn’t want you guys giving me any more ideas…


  1. Jennifer A says

    Welcome to the world of Nest! We have had one for about 18 months and LOVE LOVE LOVE IT! I esp. love it when I am headed home from work at an odd time, and can turn the heat/air on from the road and know when I get home the house will be a comfortable temperature! We actually tried the “learning” process, but in the end programmed in a schedule and then deviated from that – Esp. for the night time when it would randomly kick on and we ended up sweating in the middle of the night! good luck!

    • Teri says

      Pretty much a beta for Nest…we were one of the first after my husband read about them in his other Bible (WSJ). Use it at home and in our cabin–love them, and you will, too!

  2. Natalie C says

    We love our Nest. Just don’t be afraid to play with it! Though it “learns” there are still several setting you can utilize to either maximize comfort OR maximize your “green-ness.” Is green-ness a word?

  3. says

    Modern technology blows my mind on a regular basis! We are renting right now, so wiring isn’t really in the cards. Although, maybe the light switch remote you did in your old bedroom would be worth it… My man is notorious for hopping into bed without turning the light off! Do you think he would be insulted if it was his Christmas present? Haha.

    • says

      Haha, that is too funny….. Men!

      There’s just some things that my hubby does too that make me go ‘hmmm.’

      Example…. (Sorry John, this one’s for Sherry.)

      Lastnight, when hubby went into the City (next to our Town) I told him to go to Walmart and look for headphones for my oldest son for when he’s online playing (PS3). When he came home he said he didn’t go because, ….. wait for it…. he thought I’d be best if our son went with him to make sure he gets the ones that fit his head, wait! What, Really?

      My hubby should have just said…’you know hun, I took longer then expected at friends house, so therefore I didn’t feel like going to Walmart.’ — Yes, that’s exactly what I thought in my head when he was telling me his version.

      See, things that make me go ‘hmmm.’

      LOL ;)

      P.S. John, us wifies do really love our hubbys.

  4. says

    I absolutely love our Nests. The very best part for me is the email they send you to tell you how you did on energy savings that month. They compare you to other people with similar weather and what not, so you can feel like a smarty-pants-I’m-so-green-I’m-glowing homeowner when you come up in the top 5% :)

  5. says

    How fancy! I like that you guys are tackling some of the more difficult, ‘technical’ DIYs lately–things most people might be nervous to attempt. I hope you’ll keep us updated on what your Nest learns about you!

    -Katie at AdventuringAtHome

    • Rachel says

      I agree!! I love how you guys make things that I thought were super-duper-scary sound not scary at all! :)

  6. Amy says

    It sounds cool to me and I am not super techy! But who wouldn’t want to be able to turn on the heat by phone when away……..when it’s Fall and suddenly chilly! Great post!

  7. says

    Our thermostat is set to 68 degrees 24/7 365 days a year, so there’d be nothing to learn at our house. We also know how to program our dumpy Honeywell in case we’re traveling. We’ll leave the fancy ferrari thermostats to everyone else!

    • Sarah says

      I could’ve written your post a month ago. Then I caved to my husband wanting a nest (we had a $25 coupon that eased the cost a bit) and I must tell you it is wonderful. It learns your habits and programs accordingly – it even has a motion detector feature if you want so if it doesn’t detect movement for a period of time it automatically go into “away” mode. Anyway. What it comes down to for me is comfort – it adjusts temperature according to humidity level! and energy savings – I’ve never been so excited for a power bill.

    • Jeanne says

      Do you have AC? 68 in the summer is too cool – put that temperature up and save yourself some money.

    • Kitty A. says

      I think I would waste a lot of money doing 68 all year. I tend to do heat around 64 daytime and 58 at night. AC is more like 76 during the day and 74 at night. I heed to look into one of these!

    • Nicole says

      there is someone here @ my house all the time. my husband works nights & he’s here sleeping during the day, my kids & I are here during the evening. I don’t thnk that he or my dogs would like it if it went off during the day while there was no movement. I’m w/ you, there’s nothing to learn here.

    • Christy says

      Seriously? That’s just wasteful. You must have money to burn if you can’t adjust to 65 in the winter and 70 in the summer. If you would let your Nest auto-adjust to when you are away (not just traveling, but even just running errands) and overnight, you would have the $200 paid for in no time. Then again, this is coming from someone whose Nest helped us save $400 last year – and both my husband and I work from home.

  8. CaseyAtterbury says

    We absolutely LOVE our Nest! Its like a little game to us to check our energy usage on the app! We LOVE the days that we show ‘no usage!’

  9. Cait says

    Wait til I show my hubby this post…he already loves the Nest and can’t wait to get one. Fellow tech-guy!

  10. Allie W says

    We love our Nest too! We’ve had ours for about 18 months as well. One of my favorite features is the monthly updates that you receive from Nest. They let you know how your usage compares to the rest of the country (how many leaves you saved), and then tell you why you saved as many as you did. Could be because of the weather, more hours spent on auto away, etc. It’s great for helping you learn how to save more energy. We probably have saved 10-30% off our monthly bills since switching over!

  11. Kim says

    So jealous! I’ve been in love with the nest since I first heard about them. I thought my tech loving hubby would love it too, but he thinks it’s just a silly more expensive programmable thermostat. I’ve tried telling him its much more than that.
    Please give us an update in a few months, once you’ve lived with it and its adjusted to your preferences.

  12. Lulu says

    It gets a bit tiring reading your continual justifications for why you spent money on something, or how you only bought it because it was such a good deal. I would much rather read about spending more on something good quality and future proof.

    • Sue says

      As someone who hates to pay full price for anything, I’m interested in hearing about the deals. It also sounds like this thermostat is good quality and will last long into the future. Hope you have a better day, Lulu!

    • Angel says

      I love reading about deals and coupons! I am at a point in my life right now (like many people) that I can typically only buy something “quality” if I scout out a good deal. Thanks for posting J&S, I hope there is more!

    • Peggy says

      To each his own, Lulu. Maybe you have more money than others and if you choose to spend for quality…good for you. Doesn’t sound to me like YHL takes the cheap way out. They find quality at bargain prices. Yeah for them. And if you are tired of reading the blog, I say pick and choose.

    • says

      Sometimes help from others like this couple have helped others get amazing deals on items.

      Sometimes it helps to know some of those people too!

      You’d be surprised how much you save by avoiding the retail stores and going directly to the dealers that sell off to those stores (I actually feel sick to my tummy on certain big ticketed items. I’m talking $25,000.00 plus.)…. But, again, that’s when ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ comes into play.

      Sometimes it just doesn’t hurt a bit to sit and listen or read (in this case) so we too can get an awesome deal.

    • Ammie says

      If there is one thing I’ve learned from YHL, it’s that you should save your pennies and invest in things that are good quality and things that are going to last.

      BTW Lulu, nobody is forcing you to read…close the browser if you don’t like it, unless of course that’s a bit tiring.

    • Lisa says

      I agree with Sue… I hate paying full price for something and I love hearing how as true DIY-ers, you get something done for less. It’s helpful to know your budget breakdown and how you were able to make it work for you. Also, we’re hoping to buy out first home soon, so it’s really helpful for me to read all about the money bleed that happens when you first buy a home.

      As I read this post, I thought again about why I tune in every day- witty writing, helpful and informational, savvy design that is real and accessible. Love me some YHL!!!!

    • Dee says

      I feel I have actually learned the very thing that Lulu is talking about from Sherry & John. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend more on quality or on something that’s important to you.

    • Mandolyn says

      Lulu, if you’d rather read something else, then go somewhere else.

      YHL, I LOVED today’s post. Thanks for all your time and effort to share your experiences with others (like myself) making similar decisions with their homes.

    • Sarah says

      I too am willing to pay full price for something really worth it, but I feel like you guys share when you make those kinds of decisions as well! I love when you post about the deals you get because it reminds me to check for coupons before I hit the store!! Even 5% off on something that is $200 is $10–that’s a frozen yogurt treat for our family of 3!

    • says

      Wow! Really? Like the others said, go elsewhere if this isn’t your cup of tea. While I miss more of the decorating/kid project posts, I realize this is where they are in their lives. I understand their focus is getting the new house how they want it, which involves updating things that may have nothing to do with me. That said, I do love the way they ‘save their pennies’ and do splurging the smart way.

      Don’t stress over comments like these…you’re obviously doing something right ;)

    • Donita says

      Loved this post and love your blog. THANK YOU, for sharing how you get quality products for great buys. J & S, you rock!!!

    • Liv says

      Except for the fact that it’s not a ‘DIY diary’, it’s a full time job for two people. Normal people don’t go through houses like they’re underwear and have an endless cycle of pillows and knick knacks to move around rooms.

      Normal people also don’t complain about spending huge amounts of money when other people have paid for most of it (roof, furnace, etc).

    • Hillary says

      I agree on this one. I like hearing about what you paid for a project and what deals/coupons you used, but this time (in addition to those things) I got a defensive vibe, like you were justifying the expense to us readers. No need to justify! If you want or need new thermostats, get them at whatever price works for you. The Nests seem really perfect for your situation. Looking forward to an update after you’ve lived with them a while.

    • Kristin says

      I so appreciate these tips and the fact that you are money conscious just like me! Love every single thing about your blog, YHL!!

    • Ryan says

      Lulu, nobody is forcing you to read the blog. Also, not only is Nest “something good quality” it is also quite “future proof.”

      Excerpt from article linked below: the Nest team recognizes that thermostats are not an item that people frequently replace and they continue to make all software updates work on all generations of the thermostat. This “future-proof” methodology helps early adopters avoid the buyer’s remorse that frequently plagues the technophiles. It also means that if your system is compatible with the first generation, there is no reason not to save the $50 or so dollars.

  13. Riki says


    I have wanted a Nest forever but alas, it is not compatible with our system. I almost cried when I realized this (first world problems, I know). We even already have a programmable thermostat but the Nest is just so darn slick.

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