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How to Fix what Google Won’t Fix With The Nest Thermostat

I was an early adopter of the Nest thermostat. At first, it was cool, but now over time annoyances have piled up. Other companies’ devices have leapfrogged over Nest’s features. I hoped Google’s would fix the problems, but they haven’t. Luckily, third parties have filled in some of the gaps in Nest’s functionality.

What’s Wrong With My Nest?

Photo by starmanseries - http://flic.kr/p/cihAg3

Photo by starmanseries – http://flic.kr/p/cihAg3

A “dumb” thermostat makes you set the temperature manually. Once you set the temperature, your place stays at that temperature. It doesn’t know to turn off when you’re at work or that it’s going to be hotter than normal outside. A programmable or “smart” thermostat lets you tell it what time to turn off and on. That’s handy if you have a normal schedule. The Nest is supposed to be smart.

Problem #1: Internet Connectivity

nest thermostat

Photo by Nest

You can set the Nest’s temperature from a website or an app. It also knows what the temperature is outside so that it will adjust the on-off time based on that. If you want it 72 degrees at home, it knows to start the air conditioner earlier on a warmer day. If your wireless router or Internet connection blips, all those features are worthless. The Nest service doesn’t warn you if it has gone offline. Wireless networks are flaky, and we all need to reboot our routers on occasion. The app and the thermostat let you know your thermostat is offline if you check manually, but Nest doesn’t proactively warn you with an email or mobile notification if it detects the thermostat hasn’t registered with the server in a while.

Problem #2: Motion Sensing

Photo by jeffwilcox - http://flic.kr/p/bTX81z

Photo by jeffwilcox – http://flic.kr/p/bTX81z

The new Nest Cam integrates nicely with the Nest Protect smoke detector if it senses a problem in the home as a fire or CO warning. That’s great, but there’s no integration with the Nest thermostat. As of this writing, the only way to let your Nest know you’re home and active is to walk past it. For some homes that is no problem, if the thermostat is in a location you pass by often.

Manual thermostats were ugly, so we put them out of the way in many homes. In my home it’s in the corner of the living room — someplace we rarely are. We have to walk over to the corner of the room when we come home before we even greet the dog to say “We’re home, adjust the temperature.” I have a home office, and Nest too often assumes I am not home when I indeed was home — and wondering why it was too hot in the house. It’s like when you see those motion controlled lights in a bathroom, and suddenly it goes out before you’re finished. Awkward.

I hoped that the Nest Cam would be smart enough to talk to the Nest Thermostat to say ‘Hey, somebody’s home.” No such luck.

Problem #3: Limited Applications

nest

The mobile Nest app lets you control all your devices from one central app or web page. That’s perfect for 2013. Sure it’s a first-world problem, but I want to control my Nest from a menubar app or my lock screen. The 3 or 4 extra steps I need to go through just to get the bedroom cooler is just not acceptable today.

The Solutions

Junction Warns You When Your Nest Detects a Problem

Nest Error from Junctionjunction alert

Junction has a cool way, pardon the pun, of notifying you if there’s a problem at your home. The Nest app does some of this, but apps aren’t always the most reliable informing you of problems. A flaky update or a reboot may force you to log back in.

Junction is a web service that sends a text or email when it detects problems like the Nest going offline, a hot or cold temperature threshold is reached, or a humidity threshold was reached.

In the latest version of the Nest app, they include the temperature threshold, but that’s it. They don’t include an SMS or email option for notification. That means if someone is house sitting, they’ll need the app to be notified if there’s a problem. Junction’s approach is better because it’s app independent.

Geofencing-Using Location Rather than Motion

skylark app for iPhone and Nest

Instead of determining if I’m home based on movement, other IoT thermostats use geofencing. Geofencing uses your mobile device’s location to determine if you’re at home. That makes more sense than Nest’s motion detection. If I’m in my office, I want it cool, and I don’t want to have to say “Hi” to the Nest all the time. I think the dog was getting jealous I greeted the Nest before I greeted her. Furthermore, Geofencing allows the thermostat to know in advance that I am coming home, turning on the air conditioner as I drive home, and turning it off when I leave.

For iOS, I’ve been using Skylark to add geofencing to Nest. It has a free 7-day trial and then it’s a $4.99 in-app purchase. On Android, I briefly tested @home for Nest, but there are a few more apps at Google Play. If you’re looking for a more DIY solution, try some custom recipes in IFTTT. Before I bought Skylark, I had a recipe that linked my Automatic car sensor with my Nest.

Desktop and Wrist Apps Instead of Web Apps

Thessa for Apple Watch

I’m lazy. After all, that’s why I have a smart thermostat! If I’m working in my office, I don’t want to be bothered going to a website or my phone to change the temperature. I need the least interruption to my workflow. On the Mac, Climate lets me change the Nest temperature or Thessa lets me do it from the Notification Center. For PC users, Roost adds a Windows 8 app to your computer and Notifier for Nest puts controls in the PC notification center. Previously mentioned Thessa has an Apple Watch interface and WrisTemp Pro for Nest lets you do it from Android watches.

Nest makes it easy to write third-party apps and IFTTT gives Nest magical properties. I think Google still missed some opportunities to make it easier for the average consumer. Fortunately, you can bridge those gaps with a few downloads.

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12 Responses to How to Fix what Google Won’t Fix With The Nest Thermostat

  1. CasualAdventurer July 10, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    I don’t have a smart thermostat, but I do have a programmable one. I found that I saved money by not programming the device and instead keeping my condo the same temperature all the time. What is your experience with the Nest? Has it saved you any money on your utility bill? If you were buying a new thermostat today, do you think you would buy Nest again? If not, what would you buy? Thanks.

    • Taylor March 3, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

      In terms of the Nest, what ended up saving me money is how it helped me understand when I need heating or cooling. Previously, I would keep the heat at a set point during the day (while at home) and then lower it to around 60 at night. Doing this with the Nest, I was able to see how much my furnace still had to run at night to keep the heat at 60. I quickly realized that simply turning off my heat and adding a blanket to my bed was the best way to save money.

      The other part I realized is that I’d sometimes forget to turn my thermostat to away before leaving the house. Nest uses something called Nest Sense to try to detect if you’re home or away, but I had trouble with this feature. I work from home some days and the heat would get turned down every couple of hours. Since I wasn’t walking by the thermostat, the Nest figured I was gone. I saw that a ton of other people were having this same problem so I ultimately write the app, Skylark, as referred to in this article to solve that problem.

      In the end, I don’t need a Nest to save money. It did help educate me on how I was spending before though, and drove me to make changes.

  2. Michael Ferris November 28, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

    I have had the Nest Gen 1 since it came out.

    Pros: I use Amazon Echo to tell Nest what to do. Works well.
    Looks slick.
    Easy setup.
    Heating is no issue.

    Cons: loses Network connectivity and won’t re-access Network on its own. I have to manually.
    Humidity is always wrong. Reports 7 to 8% above reality.
    Doesn’t work well with Heat Pump. Keeps kicking on backup heat when not needed.

    Would I buy again? NEVER… I’d buy the Ecobee before another Nest.

    I also had the Nest Protect and they constantly reported false alarms. I returned them for a refund. I won’t trust them again.

    Now that Google owns the company I will never buy or upgrade Nest anything… I DON’T TRUST GOOGLE.

    • Steve Krause November 28, 2015 at 4:47 pm #

      I “almost” picked up a Nest myself however I held off because I have a heat pump.

      When you say it keeps kicking on the Aux. Heating on your unit, what is the temperature outside? Has it been doing this all year long or just during the cold months?

      • Michael Ferris November 28, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

        It kicked on Aux heat constantly even in moderate cold.

        Others have this same problem. Explore the Nest Forum and you’ll see others with the same issues. Some switched to Ecobee and this fixed it.

        I should say I have now moved and so no more Heat Pump.. that was another issue. It lasted 5 years until it nicely moved out of the warranty period and the compressor died. I wouldn’t buy another Heat Pump either. It was a Westinghouse air to air unit. I had the default thermostat on it until the Nest came out and so noted the difference in the performance.

        I now live in a rural home, totally electric resistance heat with propane fireplace. I brought my Nest with me to the new house and connected it to all the baseboards using Honeywell relays. It all works just like a home with a furnace. Nest in the hall controlling everything. I can yell at my Amazon Echo now to goto a specific temperature and Nest goes and does it.

        I costed a complete heating system when I built the house and it was over $10K ducts and all. That buys a lot of electric. My system Cost me less than $500. I put the money into insulation and windows rather than the heating system. Electric bills $140 a month equal billing. No furnace to look after, no heat pump to die, no problems. I’d do it again too.

        My Nest now does only heating… so it’s Ok, but if it ever dies… an Ecobee.

        • Steve Krause November 28, 2015 at 5:54 pm #

          Yeah that’s not right. That said — sounds like you have a nice system in place. My heat pump has been working out nicely. I almost bought a nest about a year ago but decided against it after I read a few articles from a couple vendors as well as a few .gov sites that suggested keeping a heat pump at a constant temp. vs moving it up and down. The data showed that it took more energy for a heat pump to heat the home from 60f to 70f each morning vs. just keeping the house at a constant 68f.

          I started running a test for a few months then forgot so I need to start over to see if that is actually the case in my home.

          Anyway — thanks for the comment and thanks for reading my blog! Hope to see you around more in the comments here at groovyPost!

          -Steve

  3. Taylor March 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

    Hey Dave, thanks for the mention of Skylark. I’m happy to address any questions that readers may have regarding Skylark, Nest, or even Honeywell Smart Thermostats (I’ve dabbled with all three as a result of creating Skylark).

  4. Michael Ferris March 3, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    I want to add here.. Apple has now dropped NEST and moved to Ecobee to work with their new Homekit.

    Amazon has also endorsed Ecobee and added it to their direct access list within the Echo. Not NEST

    I suspect the reasons are political and technical. NEST can be controlled from the Echo via IFTTT but it’s not stable. NEST keeps dropping their connection. A new way of control NEST is “Reflect” via Echo which works much better. So two options to control NEST now but both are through a third party. The Ecobee can be controlled directly.

    Personally with my experience with NEST and NEST PROTECT I would never recommend the product. The first person to offer me a pittance for my NEST can have it. I’ll move to Ecobee.

    I have a voice response home now. Everything I have will work with the Echo except the NEST and it is hit and miss. I want to get rid of it.

    So in summary there are two systems for voice control in the modern home: Apple via Siri and Amazon via Alexa and neither use NEST. hmmmm… are they telling us something.

  5. STFU June 9, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    Michael,

    Your Nest thermostat was probably set to MAX COMFORT on your heat pump balance, which is why it was kicking in AUX heat even when it wasn’t that cold. If you were worried about saving energy and money, and not running AUX heat you should have set the heat pump balance to MAX COMFORT.

    As for the protect, the chances of it actually being a false alarm are slim to none. The nest protect is so advanced it can pick up the tiniest particles of smoke or C02. Nest just replaced it because they can’t prove it wasn’t a false alarm. If it continued to “false alarm” then it’s because there is small amounts every once in awhile. Not because it’s defective.

  6. Chris M June 26, 2016 at 10:15 am #

    I need to practice Python, so I was looking at Home Assistant(py-based) to act as a hub for the various home automation stuff I’d like to purchase over the next two years. Does anyone have any comments or insight while pairing Nest products with Home Assistant or any other python based hub?

    Currently have a gen3 thermostat, gen1 and gen2 Nest Protect.

  7. kevin August 6, 2016 at 10:38 pm #

    Nest 3.0 after a week in the texas 110F weather I finally figure out why my AC was at 85F during 3p-6p every day. A Week ago Nest sw updates occurred, with these updates came a complete wipe clean of my schedule and max away temps… (here it comes) the default is 85F for a max temp for my Away temp, in which is enable (defaults) .. I have it OFF. So now I dont know what to do, cause I dont know when updates are coming and when they occur? this is awful. Right now the only thing I can do is set it, and disconnect it from online access. What a POS!!!

  8. CS August 10, 2016 at 11:39 am #

    Nest 3rd gen geofences just fine after update.

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