2014 was arguably the Year of the Smart Thermostat, with three of the big six introducing packaged energy plans that included one of several smart thermostats now on the market in the UK.
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Here you'll find two real-world reviews of just one of these options: the Nest Thermostat. Read on to find out more about this popular smart home device.
Nest Review from a Technophile
uSwitch's resident tech expert Ernest Doku specialises in all things tech. With an unabashed love of gadgets, Ernest helps consumers get a good deal and value for money. He currently holds the title of Technology and Mobiles Expert at uSwitch.
With energy bills constantly rising, it’s more important than ever to get a handle on expenditure when it comes to heating, or run the risk of spending big bucks on keeping warm this winter.
Nest is one of many simple and elegant solutions that promise a new degree of control when it comes to heating your house - no matter where you are.
This smart learning thermostat - smart enough for the company to be acquired by Google for $3.2 billion in 2014 - brings bleeding-edge technology and some clever predictive software to look every bit the style icon while saving you money on your energy bills.
The brainchild of original iPod designer Tony Fadell, this cute slice of industrial design plays nicely with all manner of home heating systems both new and old, although combi owners will enjoy the additional benefit of both hot water and boiler control.
A brisk job for one of their appointed ‘Nest Pros’ - local tradesmen well versed in the way of installation - the package of digital thermostat and wi-fi enabled Heat Link can be connected in around an hour.
Installation was swift and unintrusive, and an endorsement program allows you to rate your technician and spread the good word to other prospective Nest owners.
Those feeling capable can tackle the installation themselves, however.
Replacing your existing thermostat, the Nest can either be fixed in a wall fitting or ensconced in a custom stand (at additional cost), making for an eye-catching device which certainly elicits conversation, wherever it is in the home.
The burnished metal finish and sturdy circular display makes for a striking addition to a room, and the intuitive dial-based navigation with its reassuring faux-analogue ‘click’ sound when turning the outer ring makes it a joy to program, all the while lending it an old-school familiarity.
An activity sensor means the 4.4cm diameter screen sparks to life as soon as you approach it - as well as knowing when people are out and adjusting temperatures accordingly - and displays the current temperature in large, distinct figures, as well as heating history and scheduling information with a twist of the wrist.
A gentle depress of the entire device confirms selections, and the vivid and clear display makes it easy to see your choices. The clever part comes to the fore when you actually begin to use it, as setting temperatures and turning it off when leaving soon becomes unnecessary as the Nest begins to second-guess your schedule and program itself to fit your lifestyle.
Visually appealing and intuitive, Nest’s simple user interface is cleverly mirrored with both a smartphone app - available on iOS devices as well as Android - and web interface, aping the central dial with a touchscreen equivalent and letting you set the temperature from wherever you may be.
From turning on half an hour before you wake to cranking up the heat to a nice temperature just ahead of when you get home, the Nest’s schedule uses what they call ‘True Radiant’ technology to make sure that you get the perfect feeling in every room.
On the topic of multiple rooms, as many as five Nest thermostats can be daisy-chained to get the ambient temperature of your entire house, setting and equalising on a per-room basis.
Naturally, all of this remote control is only as good as your home’s internet connection, so there’s a handy way of manually overriding the system with a press of a single button in the centre of the Heat Link. There were rare occasions while testing where the wireless connection between Nest and Heat Link would be severed without any visual indication, but a quick reboot seemed to solve the problem.
In what’s fast becoming a competitive space alongside entrants like British Gas’ high-profile Hive, Scottish Power’s own Connect thermostat and the uniquely-named Tado, Nest certainly cements itself as a useful - and attractive - way of getting greater control of your home’s heating bills.
Available for around £249 (including installation), or you may find they come for free when you switch to a new energy tariff, Nest may initially seem like a luxury. But the smart device quickly proves its worth as an essential appliance and lends a real sense of empowerment by intelligently tailoring itself to your needs.
There’s a moment - whether it’s absent-mindedly turning down the temperature a couple of degrees from the sofa or up whilst you're on the Tube close to home via the app, or you notice that it turns the heating on twenty minutes earlier as it knows you have early starts on Thursday mornings - that Nest swiftly brings the idea of a ‘connected home’ out of the realm of science fiction and into reality.
With its convenience, ease and cost-cutting cleverness, Nest could easily become a poster child of the Internet of Things era, where home appliances can talk to each other - and to you - to make life easier.
Nest is a great device, and marks a terrific improvement from a traditional home thermostat, lending control and efficiency, as well as being an aesthetically pleasing piece of kit.
It may favour combi boilers, and it may not be as robust as some of the competition that let you tweak temperature in individual rooms from a central location (without significant additional outlay), but Nest is still very easy to recommend as a canny way to bring bills down.
Nest Review from an average energy user
uSwitch's Energy Editor Lauren Vasquez represents an average energy user, literally — she falls smack in the middle of average annual use of both gas and electricity. She lives in London in a semi-detached, two-bedroom home.
I had a lot of questions before I committed to the Nest; I’ll review those questions before providing some insight on having a "smart" heating system.
(If you’re unsure what smart thermostats are, head over to our helpful smart thermostats guide.)
Question: What makes Nest different?
The Nest is smart because it learns. That’s its big USP: install it and instead of programming times and creating schedules, just turn it up or down as you feel cold or warm and the thermostats begins understanding your preferences, and adjusting itself without your input.
Question: Does it work with iPhone?
Yes. In fact, it only works with iPhones (for now). But considering Google purchased the product rights this year, I’m sure that will change soon!
Question: Will it work with my boiler?
It works with most combi boilers. If you know your make and model, you can plug it into their website to check.
Question: Once installed, can I move it?
With a looming kitchen renovation, I needed to know if the Nest could be moved around once installed. Or, if we move from the house, I wanted to ensure we could take it with us. The good news is, the entire system can be unwired from the boiler and moved by a boiler tech.
Question: If every home in the UK is getting a smart meter by 2020, do I need something like this?
To start, what DECC are rolling out are smart meters. The smart meter simply tracks your energy usage and then sends those meter readings to your supplier so you don’t have to. (More on smart meters here.)
A smart thermostat gives you remote access to your heating system and better control of the heating schedule in general. It does not take meter readings and it does not communicate with your energy supplier.
Nest Arrival & Install
The Nest arrived nicely packaged with easy-to-understand information on what I could expect from this "smart" new device.
After scanning the printed info, my first question — how do I get this installed? — was quickly answered in bold on the side of the package and on the printed materials inside. If you bought the Nest outright, you’ll be directed to a website database of Nest-certified installers.
However, my Nest came via npower (ocassionally suppliers partner with smart thermostat companies to provide them as a bundle with an energy tariff), so my install was managed through their customer service team. I called the dedicated team and, after answering a few quick questions, we settled on a date within a few weeks’ time. Easy enough.
I received a helpful installation reminder the day before, explaining what the installer would need (access to the boiler, a Wi-Fi connection and our Wi-Fi password) and how long it was likely to take (75 minutes).
On installation day, the tech checked the boiler, advised on where to put the Heatlink (the wire-in piece that allows the thermostat to "talk" to and control the boiler) and where to put the thermostat itself. Once I OK’d all his recs, he set to work.
It took a couple of hours, and afterward he walked me through setting up a Nest account and the basic operating info.
Using the Nest
The more info you put in, the faster the Nest "learns". But, since our installation happened in August, there wasn’t much to "tell" the Nest to do as far as heating was concerned.
So instead, I attempted a couple times to set up a schedule (trying through both the app and the website) but couldn’t quite get the hang of it.
I particularly struggled with setting multiple on/off times in one day (i.e., warming the house for getting ready for work in the morning, turning off, then warming the house during the evening before bed).
I finally decided to just deal with it later.
Then, while on holiday in September, I decided to check the temperature of the house from Copenhagen, simply for the novelty of it. To my surprise, the Nest had set itself to "Auto Away" mode on its own! Pretty cool, Nest … pretty cool.
(I made sure to note this to my husband, who once notoriously turned the boiler to "continuous" instead of "off" before we went to Portugal for five days. We came home to a boiling hot house and an astronomical gas bill!)
Aside from this peak at the app from Denmark and answering a few questions from curious dinner guests who spotted the sleek gadget on our mantle, we largely ignored the Nest until late October.
That’s when I opened up the app to find that Nest had begun learning and setting a schedule. This appeared to be based on when the two iPhones associated with the account were in the house or away.
It didn’t make much sense to me — and between the two of us sporadically working from home and turning on our heat to help dry our washed clothes more quickly, I wondered how well the Nest could "learn" without a bit more input from us.
As I had yet figured out how to do that, I worried if we were using the device to its full potential.
But there is no shortage of info available in the app.
I was also impressed with the first report we were sent (via email).
While we weren’t surprised to learn we’d used more energy from September to October, it was helpful to look at the reasons why, and to be able to see where we could potentially improve.
Also, just ahead of winter, the Nest automatically updated to a new version of software which added cool new features to our device.
These features included: an enhanced auto-schedule that would allow up 6% better energy savings; the ability to run a "systems test" on our heating; a quick view option to see a summary of key info with one touch.
It’s too soon to tell if the Nest is savings us energy (and therefore money) on our energy bills.
But with the ability to remote-control the system from the sofa or — ahem — Portugal, and the interesting reports on when and how we’re using our heating, the Nest has already done something pretty impressive: turned our energy use into something that stays front of mind.
The Nest has given us accountability for our energy use and, at times, even turned it into a topic of dinner conversations.