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.

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…






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