Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Nest Learning Thermostat Explained

The Nest range of "learning" thermostats are a true sign of the times. Home heating has evolved dramatically from where it was not that long ago. Over the last few years technology has made huge progress where automation is concerned. So much so, that in the next decade or two, you probably won't need to lift a finger, everything will be automated. Whether you see this is a good thing or not is now irrelevant, it's here to stay, and will become more prominent in every day life as time goes on. Personally, I think this is terrible.


Having too much done for you without any effort needed at all really breeds laziness, dependency and just gives a little too much reliance on technology. Anyway, enough about personal opinions, the Nest range are a bit of a breakthrough in heating technology, and do have a lot of positives to offer. They can also save you some money, too! Though used extensively world wide, they are extremely popular in the UK, Europe and the USA. This is not a review, but just a general talk about some of the features and aspects of this clever device.

Nest "A.I" Smart Thermostat In a Nutshell

Heating and cooling can now be analysed and refined from top to bottom. Track energy usage, control the settings when not at home, and save money in the process. As well as the automation side of things, as you can imagine, it's the money saving that people are most interested in. By monitoring and refining when and how your home is heated it can save people a very respectable amount of money per year. Of course, no home is the same, so this is completely dependant on users habits. The percentage of money saved will vary considerably from home to home.

The Nest "Smart" Learning thermostat can actually be looked upon as Artificial Intelligence due to its ability to "learn", or self program. It can monitor your heating and cooling habits and then make its own to suit your needs and save on energy usage. Other than just monitoring your habits, such as when you turn the temperature up or down throughout the day or night, another way it does this is by making use of local weather forecasts for your area and then using that data to decide how much, or how little heat is sufficient for optimal conditions.

The unit can be operated via the Nest wall unit, or by your Smartphone with the Nest App (best with Android OS based mobile phones). As well as using the dial to manually adjust settings, it can be controlled by Heat Link (wired) or wireless. While the Nest range are widely compatible and can successfully communicate with most WiFi routers, it's not compatible with all of them. So be sure to do your research before you buy the product to avoid disappointment. To find out more about this potential issue, and discover what will and won't work, have read about WiFi compatibility on the official Nest website. Looking for the installation instructions / troubleshooting guides for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd generations? Click here.

Nest "Smart" range, particularly the later generations have a high level of compatibility with boilers (combi / condensing) and can work with many (not all) electric (not underfloor systems or electric radiators) or gas based systems. The actual unit is wired to the mains but has the added advantage or having its own built-in battery (in most cases no C-wire required). So if the power goes down the unit will continue to operate on its own power source. Other features include a full range of usage history, a leaf icon indicator which tells you when your system is operating at optimal efficiency, Amazon Alexa compatibility, and internal sensors that can detect movement and changes in lighting so that the the screen will automatically come to life when it detects activity. Quite a cool little feature.

Should You Buy?

While Nest Smart Thermostats can offer more convenience and savings on energy bills, initially they can be expensive if you plan on replacing all your thermostats with Nest models. For example, Zoned systems which have several thermostats will potentially all need their own Nest unit and Heat Link. This will not be cheap. You may recuperate some of the cost within a few years with the money saved from your energy bill due to the installed Nest thermostats helping to taper usage over time, but its down to the individual as to whether the upfront money layout is worth the added convenience, automation, and potential savings that will only really be experienced over the course of a minimum time frame of around 6 months to anything up to a few years. Take into consideration that one Nest unit costs between £160 - £180 brand new.

Privacy and Hacking

Google now owns Nest Labs, and while this may seem great to many people, there has been some concerns regarding privacy. While Google claims to take privacy and data sharing restrictions very seriously, smart devices like the Nest know a lot more about you and your habits than you might think. The question is: How much information are you comfortable with strangers knowing about you, your habits and your household. For example, companies in the energy sector will pay big money for this type of data. In many sectors, data mining / user habits is big business. And it just makes you question where your information may end up and what it will be used for.

The privacy issues don't stop there. Nest devices store certain information and can "learn" when your not at home. and even keep a record of your local network details within the unit. It also knows your zip code / post code. As I'm sure you can imagine, all this information in the wrong hands can be quite disastrous for the owner. So believe it or not, hacking is an issue with Smart devices like the Nest. Ultimately they can be compromised, or taken over if you will, and used to spy on your activities.

I'm not just talking about your heating usage, habits and statistics either, but also used to spy on your Internet browsing habits. Remember, it is connected to your WiFi router and on your Network after-all. In the right, or wrong hands, a Smart device with malicious firmware becomes an incredibly powerful, and completely invisible spying device. However, the device needs to be physically in the hands of someone beforehand (doesn't take long to implement) who has the knowledge to achieve this.

So be careful if you are thinking of buying second hand rather than brand new to try and save a few quid. These hacking issues were more prominent a few years back, so hopefully the potential backdoor into the system has been addressed by the Nest security team. It certainly gives one pause when considering kitting the house out with Smart devices and appliances, though! Fact is, they can all be compromised on some level. Not sold on the Nest? Other brands / models worth taking a look at are the Honeywell Smart range, the Ecobee3 and Ecobee4.