Many people venture into home automation with a Wi-Fi thermostat because they want to save money on their heating and cooling costs.
Smart thermostats are programmable, but they also include connectivity to the internet so you can monitor your home and make adjustments when you are away.
Did you forget to adjust the temperature before you leave for work? No problem, the Nest realizes you are away and adjusts the settings. Or you can adjust them from your mobile phone.
Want to turn the air conditioning on so the house is cool before you get home? No problem. Want an alert if the temperature drops below or goes above a certain threshold? Nest will do that, too.
Most importantly, all of this automatic control will help lower your energy bills. Nest’s Energy Savings White Paper shows that the thermostat can pay for itself in as little as two years.
The Nest thermostats are some of the most popular smart Wi-Fi thermostats on the market. They are visually appealing and perform very well. In addition, they can often work without a common wire.
We highly recommend either the Nest 3rd Generation or Nest E thermostats. Our preference is for the Nest E if you are OK with a white device and you don’t need the temperature or clock to display when you enter the room.
- Voice control available from Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
- May not require a common wire (varies by HVAC equipment)
- Multi-zone and Multi-home control under one app interface
- ENERGY STAR Certified
- Nice appearance with various finish options
- Remote temperature sensors are available
- Utility rebates can help offset cost
- Doesn’t work with Apple HomeKit (Siri) or Samsung SmartThings
- Energy Use Reporting is minimal
- Remote temperature sensors do not monitor humidity or occupancy
Nest thermostats come in two variations, which we will discuss below. However, both of them are round devices that are controlled by the exterior ring you spin to raise and lower the temperature.
They both have a Wi-Fi radio in them, which allows them to connect to the internet. They work with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi frequencies. This gives you control of your heating or cooling system from anywhere in the world. In addition to Wi-Fi, both thermostats include Bluetooth Low Energy so you can connect to other accessories like remote temperature sensors.
Both thermostats come with a wall mounting base plate, an optional trim kit to cover large holes, and mounting screws. An installation guide and contact card for professional installation are also included in the box. The 3rd Generation Learning model also comes with a branded screwdriver.
Overall, we think the Nest thermostats are the best looking options on the market. They are relatively small and the simple control-ring function is a pleasure to use.
Nest 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat
The Nest Learning Thermostat is currently in its third generation of development. It is 3.3″ in diameter and stands off the wall 1.21″. The device comes in seven different colors, including polished steel, stainless steel, white, copper, brass, and two variations of black.
You control the thermostat by rotating the ring counter-clockwise to turn the temperature down and clockwise to turn it up. The ring is also a button — you can press the entire ring to navigate through the setup menus.
The multi-colored LCD front screen is just over 2″ in diameter and has a resolution of 480×480 at 229 pixels per inch. The screen is usually off, but when you enter the room it will turn on to show you the current temperature, but it can be customized to show the time or weather.
The primary background color of the display is black, both when it is on and off. However, the thermostat background turns blue when the air conditioner turns on and the screen turns orange when the heat turns on.
As of late 2018, the Nest Learning Thermostat ($249 MSRP) is about about $80 more expensive than the Nest E.
Nest Thermostat E
The Nest Thermostat E was released in 2017 as a lower priced version of the 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat. It is 3.19″ in diameter and stands off the wall by 1.14″.
The thermostat is white, with a polycarbonate control ring instead of metal — this ring also works as a button that you can press as you rotate through menus. There is a pill shaped Nest-branded bump on the front of the unit, near the bottom.
The display is also a bit different than its sibling. The multi-color LCD has a resolution of 320×320 at 182 pixels per inch and is 1.76″ in diameter. The screen has a milky-white appearance when it is on and off, but the glass cover still makes the unit appear shiny. While the screen is easy to see, it does feel like you are looking through a light fog.
However, the unit blends in on white walls much better than the black Learning model. Instead of the screen background changing color, the numbers on the Nest E change to tell you what your system is doing. White numbers mean the system is in standby mode, blue numbers indicate the air conditioner is on, and orange numbers mean the heat is on.
The suggested retail price of the Nest E is $169 (MSRP) as of late 2018. It is less expensive, but it is also missing a few features. The E has fewer wires so it works with fewer heating systems.
Since it doesn’t have the Farsight sensor, the screen doesn’t come on when you enter the room like the 3rd Gen Learning model. Also, the E’s control ring is made of a polycarbonate instead of the 3rd Gen metal rings.
We’ll get to a discussion of the specific features of each thermostat, but here is a quick rundown to get started.
Nest Learning 3rd Gen Thermostat
Nest E Thermostat
480px x 480px
320px x 320px
May not be required
May not be required
Yes, Sold Separately
Yes, Sold Separately
“Farsight” Presence Sensor
“Farsight” Presence Sensor
Energy Star Certified
Energy Star Certified
MSRP (Oct 2018)
MSRP (Oct 2018)
|Buy Nest 3rd Gen at Smarthome.com
|Buy Nest E at Smarthome.com
Common Wire Requirements
A common wire (or C-wire) provides a constant stream of 24-volt power from your heating equipment to the thermostat. This power supply keeps the screen lit and the Wi-Fi radios communicating.
While a common wire is preferred, some older systems don’t have one. Nest thermostats can work without one since they have an internal lithium-ion battery that charges when the furnace or boiler is active.
However, some systems malfunction without the C-wire because the thermostat is “stealing” power from the HVAC system. Read our article about common wires to learn more about them and to find solutions in case you don’t have one.
Nest indicates that the 3rd Generation thermostat works with 95% of heating and cooling systems that use 24-volt (low-voltage) control wiring.
The Nest E is advertised to work with 85% of heating and cooling systems that use low-voltage control. Unfortunately, neither thermostat works with 120V heating systems.
Before purchasing, we recommend you check Nest’s online compatibility checker to make sure it will work for you. You have to remove your current thermostat and check the wiring.
The website asks a few questions about your wiring then it tells you which Nest thermostats will work with your setup.
Works With — Compatible Smart Home Products
All Nest products are controlled by a single app. The thermostats are seamlessly integrated with Nest cameras, doorbells, and smoke alarms.
Since Nest is owned by Google, it clearly works with the Google Assistant and Google Home app. You can also use the Amazon Alexa voice assistant and Echo products to control the Nest Thermostats. Other popular hubs that can control the Nest include Wink and Insteon.
Other popular accessories that work with Nest include Yale locks, Lutron Caseta, Philips Hue, TP-Link, Wemo, and Vivint.
Unfortunately, Nest is not officially supported by Apple HomeKit (Siri) or Samsung SmartThings.
For a full list of compatible accessories, check out workswith.nest.com. You can also look for the following logo when you are shopping in retail and online stores:
Both units include internal temperature and humidity sensors, which are a given for thermostats. They also have an ambient light sensor that controls the brightness level of the display based on the room light level.
The E thermostat has an occupancy sensor that is used to determine if anyone is home. If they are not, the unit can automatically engage the Away feature to help you save energy.
The 3rd Gen thermostat also includes occupancy sensors, but they are slightly different. The device includes a Near-Field sensor and a Far-Field sensor.
Like the Nest E, these sensors determine home occupancy to trigger the Away feature to lower your energy costs. However, the two sensors together create a feature that Nest calls “Farsight”.
Farsight, which is only available on the Nest 3rd Generation, detects your presence up to 20 feet away and turns the screen on. You can customize this screen to show you a clock, the weather forecast, or the current room temperature.
The information displayed is designed to be read at a distance. However, once you approach to within 3 feet, the display changes to add more detailed information about the time, weather, or interior conditions. Again, this feature is not available in the Nest E.
Sometimes you have a room in your house that is hotter or colder than the rest of the house. This can be very uncomfortable. Nest has tried to solve this problem by introducing the Nest Temperature Sensor.
The small puck accessory (1.9″ diameter and 0.8″ thick) is made of a soft plastic material. It runs for about two years on power from a replaceable CR2 3V battery.
It communicates over Bluetooth Low Energy from up to 50-feet away, depending on your home’s layout and construction.
Each unit has a temperature sensor, but it doesn’t have a humidity sensor. This would have been a nice addition so you can monitor humidity in different parts of the house.
Put one of these units in the cold room and tell the thermostat that you want to keep that room warmer. The Nest will make sure that the heat runs until that room is at an acceptable temperature. You can even program the thermostat to keep those rooms warm at only certain times of day so that you don’t waste energy when it isn’t necessary. You can also prioritize which rooms should be kept at a temperature if you are using multiple sensors.
Keep in mind that these sensors only send a signal back to their paired thermostat. They cannot control another zone in the house. However, you can pair up to six remote sensors to a thermostat so they are great for monitoring and prioritizing different rooms in one zone.
The Temperature Sensors are only compatible with the Nest 3rd Generation and Nest E. Unfortunately, you are out of luck if you have an older Nest 1st or 2nd Generation thermostat.
Multi-Zone and Multi-Home
Large homes generally have multiple heating zones. For instance, the first floor may be on one zone while the second floor is controlled by a separate zone. You likely have multiple zones if you already have multiple thermostats.
Thankfully, both Nest thermostats are multi-zone compatible and can all be controlled by a single app. In fact, you can have up to 20 thermostats per home. Unfortunately, having to buy multiple Nest thermostats will get expensive.
A single Nest account can control up to three different homes. Therefore, you can install Nests in your vacation home and keep tabs on it when you are away.
Both the Learning model and the Nest E monitors your usage and learns your preferences. They automatically program themselves. All you have to do is adjust the temperature throughout your day.
If you set the temp to 68-degrees at bedtime for a few days in a row, the device learns and programs it into the schedule. Of course, you can always manually fine-tune the schedule to your liking.
Review this page on Nest’s website for more information on how the thermostats learn your preferences.
Another great learning feature is Time-to-Temperature, which learns how long it takes to heat or cool your home based on the outdoor temperature. When you make a manual adjustment, the thermostat will tell you how long it expects the change to take.
It also uses the information it learns to pre-heat or cool spaces when you invoke the True Radiant feature. Instead of turning on at 6PM, you can tell the system to be at a certain temperature at 6PM and it will make sure that happens.
As we mentioned earlier, the Nest thermostats have occupancy sensors built into them so they can automatically engage an away mode (called Eco Temperatures) when nobody is home. First, you set the low and high temperatures you want to maintain when in Eco mode.
Then you tell the thermostat to use Home/Away Assist to switch to Eco mode. When the Nest determines that the house is empty, it automatically uses the Eco mode temperatures. When you return home, it will revert to your regular programming.
You can customize what the Nest uses to determine if people are home. The default setting uses the internal occupancy sensors. Unfortunately, if your thermostat is in an area that people don’t walk past very often then you’ll need alternate ways to monitor your presence.
Home/Away Assist makes this easy by also using your phone’s location as a sensor based on geo-fencing. The app pulls your location from your phone and keeps the thermostat in Home mode when you are there.
You can also set up Family Accounts so that the Home/Away Assist feature works for other family members as well. They simply sign up for a Nest account and then you add them to the thermostat. Once they are added, the Nest will only switch to Eco Temperatures if all family members have left the house.
IFTTT – If This, Then That
If This Then That is a popular web service that connects devices and services that are normally not connected. Nest does provide a series of official IFTTT services. There are also a bunch of Applets that connect your Nest to other services.
Energy Use Reporting
One of the key features of a programmable smart thermostat is that it should help you save money on your heating and cooling costs. This is the biggest reason people purchase them. Therefore, you should be able to review how much money the thermostat is saving you.
The Nest rewards you by giving you a Green Leaf each time you manually choose a temperature that reduces your energy use, which saves you money.
You can see each day that you earned a Leaf in the Energy History tab of the app or in the History section of the thermostat menu. The Energy History section also tells you how long your heat or air conditioning was running each day.
At the end of each month you receive an email report that tells you how your energy use compared to the previous month and how many Green Leafs you earned.
While this is somewhat helpful, we think Nest could do so much more to help you understand how much money you are spending on heating and cooling your home.
ENERGY STAR Rating
Both the Nest E and the Nest 3rd Generation thermostats are ENERGY STAR Certified. This means that they are certified energy efficient by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
According to Energy.gov, thermostats are required to:
- Work as a basic thermostat in absence of connectivity to the service provider
- Give residents some form of feedback about the energy consequences of their settings
- Provide information about HVAC energy use, such as monthly run time
- Provide the ability to set a schedule
- Provide the ability to work with utility programs to prevent brownouts and blackouts, while preserving consumers’ ability to override those grid requests
- Meet temperature accuracy requirements
- Meet standby power usage requirements
The 1st Generation and 2nd Generation Learning Thermostats are not ENERGY STAR certified. However, they still help save money on your heating bills.
Setup and Control
Nest thermostats are considered to be do-it-yourself products that you can install on your own. However, Nest can help you identify a local installer if you aren’t comfortable doing the work.
WARNING: Even though Nest thermostats operate with 24V (low voltage) power, we recommend turning the power to your HVAC equipment off before replacing your current thermostat. This protects your equipment and also protects you in the event that higher voltage somehow makes its way to you.
The box your thermostat comes in includes a full installation guide with helpful diagrams. First, you will remove the cover of your current thermostat to expose the wiring. It is important that you take a photo so you have a record of the wiring.
While HVAC equipment is typically wired using conventional color coding, this isn’t always the case so you need to have a record. Nest also includes helpful labels so you can identify what wires go to what terminals.
The next step is to disconnect the wires and remove the current baseplate. Then you’ll hang the new base plate with the included screws. You can use the included rectangular cover plate if the hole in the wall is too large, but we think it is ugly so we recommend fixing the wall if necessary.
Once the plate is screwed to the wall, you connect the wires to the terminals following the labels or matching the photo. Next, attach the thermostat unit to the base plate until is secures into place with a CLICK. Turn the power back on.
Once the power is back on, the Nest will walk you through setup, including configuring Wi-Fi and providing information about your location. Now you need to install the app on your phone and add the thermostat to your account.
The Nest App
Your main control point for the thermostats, especially when you are away from home, is the Nest app. The app is available in both the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store. There is also an Apple Watch app if you want to have control from your wrist.
The Nest app controls and monitors all of your Nest products, including cameras and smoke detectors, but we are going to focus on the thermostat side of the app in this review.
The main thermostat screen shows you what your system is currently set to. It also shows the current temperature with a smaller number along the circle. You will also see the current inside humidity and outside temperature. You can adjust the temperature set point by sliding your finger along the circle or by using the up and down arrows.
There are four main sections, which are tabbed across the bottom of the screen. There is also a Settings menu, which is the gear symbol in the upper right corner of the screen.
Tap the Mode menu item to change between heating, cooling, or to turn the thermostat off. Turning to off doesn’t turn your HVAC equipment or thermostat off — it just disables both heating and cooling mode so the thermostat won’t call for either.
The Eco menu item is where you can manually turn on Eco Temperature mode. This effectively turns the thermostat into permanent Away mode and maintains the Eco temperatures you have set. This remains active until you turn it off, even if someone returns home.
While the thermostat will automatically learn your temperature preferences and set up a schedule, you can use the Schedule menu item to make your own manual adjustments.
This item turns the phone into landscape mode and shows you the entire week’s schedule on one screen. Adjustments are fairly easy, but we wish you could change multiple days at the same time.
Finally, the History tab shows you the last 10 days of energy use history. It will tell you how many hours the heat or air conditioner was on each day. Tapping a specific day brings up a detailed view so you can see your schedule and the exact times the HVAC system was running.
Orange bars indicate the heat was on, while blue bars indicate the air conditioning was active. You will also see small icons that indicate when the thermostat went into Away mode.
Most utility companies provide rebates for Wi-Fi connected thermostats. Given the cost of these units, you should definitely check with your utility provider to see if you qualify.
Nest has a Rebates and Rewards tool that helps you look up savings opportunities for your location. However, their database doesn’t always have every offer so make sure you contact your utility provider or state incentive program.
Other Nest Products
The Nest brand has a series of smart home products beyond thermostats, including security systems, door bells, and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. They have also partnered with Yale to develop a smart lock.
Security and Privacy
All smart home devices communicate back to a central cloud server so that they have the most recent firmware.
Many devices, including Nest, keep data about your product use on their servers to make your user experience better. In fact, they must use your data in order to provide you reports on your energy use.
Nest provides a detailed privacy and security FAQ on their website. In that document, they provide information on what data they collect and how you can delete it.
As mentioned below, Nest is owned and operated by Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Many people have voiced concern about the vast amount of data that Google knows about each of us.
However, we assume you are comfortable with this if you are already a Google user (GMail, Calendar, Google Assistant). However, we recommend that you review Google’s privacy information.
About the Manufacturer
Wikipedia says that Nest Labs was founded in 2010 by former Apple engineers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers. The company released their first learning thermostat in October 2011.
The company was acquired by Google in January 2014. Nest/Google then acquired Dropcam in June 2014, which was the first acquisition that allowed the company to expand to home automation devices beyond thermostats.