The Nest

26 Feb

In my review of the new Trane Z-wave thermostat we installed we received a comment from my friend Donavan about the new thermostat he got, called the Nest. I wrote such a thorough reply to his comment that I decided maybe it would justify a blog post of its own.

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There is no doubt that this is, as Donavan put it, a sexy looking thermostat. It was designed by two former apple product designers, and it shows. It takes cues from the classic “The Round” Honeywell thermostat and pushes it about 100 years into the future.

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The Nest claims to attempt to learn your habits and heating and cooling preferences and adapt to them. Essentially it tries to predict your needs and plan the heating schedule based on your past settings, rather than simply letting you chose a schedule in advance. This is a very unique take on a ubiquitous piece of home control that we all are familiar with in some capacity. I applaud the designers for taking a huge leap from the traditional manner of setting your heating and cooling.

My problem with the nest is that it tries to predict what you want, but if I’m going to interact with my thermostat anyway, why don’t I just TELL IT what I want? The Z wave thermostat allows me to set a program based on our expected use and then modify that while we are home or away via the thermostat or iPhone/ website. (the Nest also allows remote control over your wireless device, say if you are coming home early from work and want to turn the heat up… but the Nest will also factor that change into your schedule)
I have experienced heating and air conditioning systems that tout themselves as “automatic” in various vehicles I’ve owned or driven, and instead of it being a convenience, I find myself trying to trick the computer into doing what I want. For instance, I can not get cool air to come out the foot vents of my BMW if the ambient temperature is below a certain threshold unless I turn it all the way down to 59°, the lowest setting. So because someone at BMW could not conceive of someone having sweaty feet when it’s cool out, it’s nearly impossible for me to get what I want.
So I have found that any time a machine tries to guess you want it is usually wrong, so I decided to decide for myself what I want the temperature of my house to be instead of having to consult with my thermostat.
I made the analogy that if I went with you to subway and ordered your sandwich for you based on what you’ve ordered in the past. I will probably get you something close to what you want, but you’re right there, why didn’t I just let order for yourself and you could have gotten exactly what you wanted?
I read a review of the Nest and the reviewer basically said he spent so much time trying figure out what the Nest would do and second guessing it every time it turned the heat on that he felt it achieved the exact opposite of what it is intended to do.
I think the Nest is very cool and very cool looking, but my feeling is that the kind of person that’s willing to spend $250 to replace a $50 thermostat probably is the kind of person who wants to have full control over their HVAC system, not to give it up the algorithms built in to some tiny computer.

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