back to article Nest cracks out cheaper spin of its thermostat

Nest has launched a low-cost version of its famous smart thermostat aimed at the mid-market and priced at $169. The Nest E has a slightly different look and feel, but retains all the engineering and software work that has made the thermostat the poster child for smart homes. At $80 cheaper than the original thermostat, the …

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Colour me surprised

"... it is much easier to use than a traditional beige box ..."

I'd be amazed if it was easier to use than the 'traditional beige box' on my living room wall.

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Re: Colour me surprised

That puzzled me too. I can buy that it's more efficient or has more features, but I don't see how it can be easier to use...?

EDIT: I was making the assumption that normal people just set their favorite temperature and never ever change it. I now remember that American houses typically have crap insulation, which means that heat is perpetually bleeding out of your house, and people save money by not heating whenever they're not at home.

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Re: Colour me surprised

That puzzled me too. I can buy that it's more efficient or has more features, but I don't see how it can be easier to use...

They don't mean compared to a simple dumb dial thermostat, they mean something with a credible degree of programmability to it, and to a considerable extent they include the (usually separate) heating timer in this comparison, because with a properly programmeable 'stat it functions as a timer.

I've had a programmeable stat on my wall for two decades now. It works very well, but Nest and the commentators are correct - it looks dull as ditchwater, its user interface is a crime against useability, and it doesn't have any learning, smart or remote management capability. OTOH it has a simple two or three wire connection and can very easily replace a dumb stat without needing extra power or data connections, and therefore cannot be hacked or spew my usage back to some data-hog.

And you can get a non-smart programmeable stat for half or even a quarter the price of the new "cheap" Nest,

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Still not happening

I wouldn't put one up if I got one for free (and I did get offered one by my 'leccie supplier when renewing my contract). I certainly won't PAY 170 Euros to put a another "data-breach waiting to happen" into my home. I have one of those dumb "clock thermostats" that does just fine. I really don't see the advantage of a Nest-like device.

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Re: Still not happening

There is no advantage if:

1. Your HVAC does not have zoning

2. Your household has a regular schedule

The advantage of the Nest and other "smart" systems is integrating the thermostat to home security and other presence detection to turn the heating and/or aircon up/down when you are away on an irregular schedule. The cost of upgrading your HVAC to a standard where the Nest (or another similar system) can take advantage of it is an order of magnitude more than the cost of the Nest itself.

If your household lives on a regular schedule (that is 95%+ of the population) you can get to within percents of its advertised costs savings by using per-room timers/programmable thermostatic valves/thermostats retrofitted onto a legacy central heating system.

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Re: Still not happening

Our old fashioned thermostat is integrated with our irregular schedule. When we get cold we push the "on" button.

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Pirate

Re: Still not happening

How about £50 with regular free security updates?

http://www.instructables.com/id/Raspberry-Pi-Home-Heating-Controller/

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integrating the thermostat to home security

Nope, not happening.

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Re: Still not happening

Can be done even cheaper, with a Chinese copy known as an Orange Pi. I made mine for under £20.

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Re: integrating the thermostat to home security

Nothing worse than coming home and finding a burglar naked and frozen stiff to the wife's lingerie drawer/

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: integrating the thermostat to home security

Nothing worse than coming home and finding a burglar naked and frozen stiff to the wife's lingerie drawer

I should now better by now than to read El Reg while drinking something :)

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Re: Still not happening

Which requires that someone is constantly present and awake to monitor the temperatures, so that when the family returns from work/school the water pipes haven't frozen over.

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Meh

Agree..

My white polycarbonate, bog-standard timer works just fine.

Seriously, how big does your mansion have to be that, to avoid dying from hypothermia, you need to pre-heat your home from your phone 'cos you are going to be home an hour early?

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Re: Agree..

'Seriously, how big does your mansion have to be that, to avoid dying from hypothermia, you need to pre-heat your home from your phone 'cos you are going to be home an hour early?

I don't but if for some reason I'm home a few hours late nice it's handy not to have paid for the house to be warm with no one in it. Now if you live a predictable schedule there's no real advantage over getting the timer settings right, but if you're out different nights of the week on a random basis it's a definite money saver.

Also my old thermostat seemed to be a model where they hadn't learnt how to do battery connections properly, so it was big improvement over that.

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Re: Agree..

If you find your road home is unusually quiet because of an accident further out that prevents the usual traffic from reaching it, are you going to be in a position to get your phone out and tell Nest to turn the heating on early?

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Re: Agree..

'are you going to be in a position to get your phone out and tell Nest to turn the heating on early?'

I don't need to, it does that automatically based on my location*. I mean if you're really worried about Nest tracking you you can turn that off but I'm not that paranoid. This is also how it knows to not pre-heat the house if I'm more than about 5 miles from home at the usual time so it probably saves about 30 minutes of pointless heating every time I'm late back.

*As far as I can tell it's using the lowest accuracy/power consumption location option which is all it needs to decide if I'm coming home or going straight to the cinema/friends/music lesson instead.

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much easier to use than a traditional beige box

How?

My thermostat has a single knob calibrated with temperature. It takes no power, has no software vulnerabilities. It's a mechanical switch using a bimetallic strip to sense the ambient temperature. We use it to set the bedroom temperature. So it was was set about 18 years ago and hasn't needed to be changed.

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Re: much easier to use than a traditional beige box

My thermostat was put in back in 1978 when they built the house. It is paired with the programmable clockwork timer on our boiler control (also a veteran of the late '70s). Between them they maintain the house temperature at something approaching acceptable most of the time.

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Savings?

Presumably calculated by the same people who did the smart meter numbers for the UK?

There is a school of thought which claims that (in a well inulated house) it is just as efficient to maintain the same temperature 24/7. You can turn the thermostat down when you are away on holiday, of course.

I suspect that the vast majority of homes in the UK only have the H part of HVAC so the projected savings from not running the A/C full blast whilst you are down at the beach may not apply here.

Icon for wood burning stove in the winter.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Savings?

"There is a school of thought which claims that (in a well inulated house) it is just as efficient to maintain the same temperature 24/7. "

There is such a school, also known as the "Man In The Pub" school of horse-shit thought. By "efficiency" you could mean either energy use, pollution or cost, but they're well correlated, and the simple fact is that keeping the house at a constant temperature regardless of occupancy is the single way of maximising your emissions.

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Re: Savings?

If you have sufficient thermal mass the interior will maintain a constant temperature that's the average of the entire day. In such a house it would make no sense to have the heat go off when you leave for the day. With enough thermal mass you don't even need insulation for this to be true - that's basically what adobe houses were all about.

To achieve this in a modern house you'd need to build with ICFs, or out of real stone with suitable insulation on the interior. A standard stick framed home in the US has almost no thermal mass, and no amount of insulation can make up for that.

Mind you, I still think Nest is stupid, and the "savings" are phantom. They compare with a standard "set to the same temperature 24x7" old school thermostat to achieve their savings. Over a programmable thermostat your savings couldn't even pay the interest on the money you paid for the Nest, let alone pay back the Nest itself.

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Re: Savings?

"There is a school of thought which claims that (in a well inulated house) it is just as efficient to maintain the same temperature 24/7."

Agreed. With a small house (less than 1000 sq ft) using structural insulated panels for the outside walls one of these is more than adequate:

https://www.amazon.com/Honeywell-CT87K-RoundHeat-Manual-Thermostat/dp/B000EANORW/ref=pd_sbs_469_1?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B000EANORW&pd_rd_r=JGYFR59WM63WV7AMNNQJ&pd_rd_w=JnSAK&pd_rd_wg=yUE54&psc=1&refRID=JGYFR59WM63WV7AMNNQJ

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Re: Savings?

If you took an average sized UK dwelling, and installed good insulation, and subjected it to the mild UK climate, you'd only need the waste heat from the kettle to keep warm.

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Re: Savings?

In such a house it would make no sense to have the heat go off when you leave for the day.

Your energy loss is related to the delta T between your outer wall and the atmosphere. Ignoring hypothetically super-insulated houses, even buildings built to any modern building regs will have a clear and measurable heat loss. The thermal inertia of a property is a red herring because that only affects the warm up/cool down times, and has very little bearing on the the rate of heat loss. So you need to minimise the temperature difference OVER TIME. That means insulating to the most economical level, and not leaving the house heated when nobody needs it. Sorry if this doesn't fit your view, but unless you can change the laws of physics, that's how it is.

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Not applicable in any place I lived...

The heating "control unit" in most German houses is at the radiator. There is thermostat that directly opens / closes a valve for the warm water. Only if you have underfloor heating there are (sometimes, not always) electronic thingys on the wall. We also don't heat our homes by letting an airconditioning (cooling!) unit run backwards, which is super inefficient. As a result heating might be quite a bit less expensive here (plus we actually do insulate houses - a bit too much nowadays, don't get me started on that one...).

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Re: Not applicable in any place I lived...

It's the same Switzerland, each radiator has a nice dumb valve, which I keep turned off as I tend to sleep with the window open and I don't want to heat the air outside.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not applicable in any place I lived...

... if you have underfloor heating there are (sometimes, not always) electronic thingys on the wall....

We have the floor heating system (which is standard for all new construction here) and the "thingy". Given the reaction time of the floor-heating system (it is embedded in a solid concrete with 12-mm thick boards on top of it), and the insulation quality, any temperature adjustment takes many hours to take effect. I really see no slightest point to a smart thermostat thingy for such setup: the only time the thermostat has to be adjusted is when we leave for a few weeks. In this case, I would rather make the adjustment by hand.

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Re: Not applicable in any place I lived...

> We also don't heat our homes by letting an airconditioning (cooling!) unit run backwards, which is super inefficient.

I was with you until then. Heat pumps (reverse air-conditioners) are the most efficient electric heating down to a certain outside temperature. They are more efficient than any form of direct heating. If you run the outside unit into the ground then the winter variability is lower.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not applicable in any place I lived...

Heat pumps (reverse air-conditioners) are the most efficient electric heating down to a certain outside temperature. They are more efficient than any form of direct heating.

... except for the district heating systems, of course.

Your statement is absolutely corect in the pure-thermodynamics sense: given a constant energy input, the most efficient way of heating something is to use a heat engine in reverse. The problem is with where the energy comes from. If, as it is most frequently the case, it is produced by a generator hooked up to another heat engine, this time runningin the "normal" way, you've just dumped between 40% and 60% of your primary energy input into the environment. If instead that generator is dumping the residual heat into a district heating system (which are very common in central and northern europe, as well as in eastern europe), your heating is effectively a "free" add-on to electriciy generation, which you need anyway.

No matter how efficient your heat pump is, it cannot beat free.

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Re: Not applicable in any place I lived...

Heat pumps still mean you use electricity to heat.... and that's just not the cheapest (and most efficient) way. Unless the electricity is more or less for free (like water running down the hills in a rainy country, like Norway) - and even then there is an environmental impact of the power generation setup which you might want to reduce.

If you use heat generated by burning stuff to generate electricity and then use the electricity to heat that's less efficient than using the heat to, well, heat. And then there is also the district heating mentioned by somebody else where heat is just a byproduct and otherwise would be used to heat the local river (or evaporate massive amounts of water, or both).

I think we pay like 150€ or so annually for heating and warm water. No way a Nest makes sense economically.

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Re: Not applicable in any place I lived...

There are battery powered electronic versions of that valve, including ones with wireless control through a central "router", and the facepalm quality mobile apps. I know one manufacturer already deprecated their first gen versions of this, leaving expensive systems vulnerable. I'm looking at you, Danfoss.

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Why only one thermostat?

I dont get why you would have one thermostat to measure the temperature of the whole house, which is what they seem to be suggesting? Do they not have any internal doors?

The Honeywell EvoHome system works in a much more logical way in that each radiator valve is a wireless thermostat (and actuator to control the rad) and the system learns the heat profile of each room so that heating can start in different areas at different times to get the room to correct temperature for the required time. There are also wireless themostats that look similar to the Nest for underfloor heating zones or can be used in a rad room for ease of twiddling.

There is more gubbins as it has been designed properly and so costs are higher initially but the Nest thing just looks like data slurping snake oil.

https://getconnected.honeywell.com/en/evohome

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Ed

Re: Why only one thermostat?

I agree, even in our 1 bed flat, having a single thermostat is really suboptimal. It heats the living room quite effectively, but leaves the bedroom freezing (the bedroom is north facing, the living room south facing). We can balance the radiators to some degree, but this just has the effect of making it slower to warm the living room - which isn't great either.

We have very unpredictable schedules, so the nest is useful, but we'd certainly investigate individual thermostats for each room/radiator in the future. This seems a lot more logical.

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Re: Why only one thermostat?

I looked at Nest, Hive and eventually settled for the Evo home with hotwater and TRV's - this year my heating bill has dropped significantly compared to previous - even with the heating seeming to come onmore often.

the system learns the heatup and cool down patterns of the rooms, the rooms are zoned so the kids rooms are heated to a different schedule as ours and the living rooms, a nice feature is the 'window'mode where the TRV's can identify the temperature diffential and shut off the rads if the windows have been opened or an external door.

when we are out, a quick poke and the heating is off, then back on when we are home.

If i want to run the heated towel rails in the summer, then I can do so without heating the house... whats not to like!

yes, there are possible security issues, but stick the system on a different vlan and life is made that little trickier for a potential attack...

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Re: Why only one thermostat?

Steve Wright (the one from when the US had comedians) liked to put his humidifier and de-humidfier in the same room and let them fight it out.

I'm trying to get a reliable sliding door opener so the heat from the conservatory can be let into the house to warm it up - but not now - it was 140f in there when I got my fat arse out of bed.

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Re: Why only one thermostat?

re the security comment at the end..

"yes, there are possible security issues, but stick the system on a different vlan and life is made that little trickier for a potential attack..."

EvoHome can work completely off grid depending on your flavour of foil hat.

There is a colour screen controller unit that can talk to the Honeywell SaS mobile interface thing, or just use it standalone with the colour controller thing and the room thermostats.

AIUI, the comms between the thermostats and Rad controllers (TRV's) is not WiFi.

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Re: Why only one thermostat?

you are totally right... its just the controller or interface box if your controller doesnt have wifi built in, but lots of the paranoid on here get freaked out by anything thats attached to the outside world!!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why only one thermostat?

My three storey house was built with one thermostat in the lounge. I re-engineered it to also have a thermostat in the kitchen - and all the other room's radiators have a thermal valve.

Each of the thermostats can start up the boiler - and three-port valves direct the water to either or both rooms as required.

The bedrooms only get hot water if either the lounge or kitchen radiators are getting hot water.

On paper not perfect - but in practice it works ok. Double glazing, wall and loft insulation also helps.

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It is worth it, you just have to try it...

For all those complaining about "how easy can it really be?" You need to consider the actual use of the device. If you've never actually used one, then you are not really in a position to compare, are you?

I have three of these devices in my house, due to having multiple zones and HVAC units. Having had the experience of using a Nest for several years in my previous house, I am a convert. I too once thought it was just a gimmick, until I actually installed and used one.

It truly is easy to use and convenient. You may not want to admit it, but part of the reason you tend to "set and forget" your current timer/beige box at a single temperature and never change it is because it is so Byzantine and clunky to change. It is just easier to find a compromising temperature that you can live with and be done with it.

With the Nest, I just spin the wheel and watch the rather large number change. I don't have to think in schedules, program it or anything. It will remember that I like it at, say, 70F during the afternoon and 62F at night for sleeping (Fahrenheit, because I'm a yank); that my high-traffic areas should maintain a more constant temperature than my bedroom, which is only occupied at night; that during summer I want cooler temperatures, while warmer temperatures are welcomed during winter; etc. I don't think about it, I just dial it in as I feel, and it will just learn it. If my mood changes, I can adjust it as necessary, and if the pattern persists, it learns that too. It's brilliant.

It's hard to convey the convenience to someone who has never experienced anything other than an arcane beige box. It reminds me of trying to explain Netflix back in 2005 to my father: "Why do I want to rent DVDs online??? I can just drive to Blockbuster whenever I feel like watching a movie..." My response was always, "I thought the same thing, but then I tried it and now, I can't imagine having to walk into a video store to stare at the rack of discs for several hours to pick a movie!!!"

Really, the Nest thermostat is a very convenience and well designed bit of kit. Your mileage may vary, but please understand that things can be different -- and sometimes even better -- from what you are just accustomed to.

dZ.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Get burned?

> I have three of these devices in my house, due to having multiple zones and HVAC units.

Where do you live? I assume it's not the UK?

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Re: It is worth it, you just have to try it...

I agree. I understand the potential issues about privacy - whether intruded on by Nest (Google) or simple network monitoring.Having an extremely irregular schedule, as well as complications such as a couple of wood burning stoves and a somewhat peculiarly insulated house (a melage of building styles, restricted modification due to listing) and very variable occupancy with family, the Nest (or rather two of them) devices have made life a lot easier than the other controller on the market when I purchased it.

Costs are about 16% down on my previous regime - but with a much higher level of comfort and flexibility.

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Re: It is worth it, you just have to try it...

my worry is nothing to do with privacy, its legacy...

what happens when they decide to pull the service? when they are brought up by another company that competes with nest and decides to retire the service?

anything that NEEDS the cloud to work is in my crazy, especially as for under £10 they can have a chip powerful enough to run a web server and provide the same service... Have 3 nest, design it to work as a cluster... have 10 smart devices, have them all work as a cluster, have any app work over the lan, THEN only need cloud for access outside the home

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Re: It is worth it, you just have to try it...

@MrXavia - good point. A Nest thermostat, or any other IoT device which wants unfettered access to my network and the web will be of interest to me only when the company signs up to a set of Ts&Cs, enforceable in the UK, which guarantee support and security upgrades for at least ten years, reference an accepted (ISO, BS) security standard and agree to be audited regularly to make sure they meet it. They'll also have to guarantee that the app which controls it will continue to be supported for free on existing OSs until the OS is declared obsolete by the vendor and then migrated free to the next version (I'm thinking of the iOs 32-64 bit problem or Parallels on the Mac, which wants £40 every time the Mac OS rolls). They'll also have to guarantee that they won't suddenly decide that, once they've saturated the market, they won't switch users to a monthly subscription model to access their device.

Until then, I'm buggered if I'm spending anything buying a widget which can be, effectively, made unuseable because the company can't be bothered to update the product or the app or which can suddenly start costing me money because they change the funding model.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It is worth it, you just have to try it...

A Nest thermostat, or any other IoT device which wants unfettered access to my network and the web will be of interest to me only when the company signs up to a set of Ts&Cs, enforceable in the UK, which guarantee support and security upgrades for at least ten years, reference an accepted (ISO, BS) security standard and agree to be audited regularly to make sure they meet it.

This is why I prefer the Raspberry Pi ideas: they are OPEN. Any organisation that seeks to communicate with anything in my house from alarm system down to automated hamster cage (in the unlikely event that such exists, I would buy and also procure a hamster) shall do so in a matter that allows me to control such communication and inspect it at will, and use protocols that are sufficiently open for me to migrate the service if the provider pisses me off or is getting creative with my data or their charges.

There is no way I will permit comms departing my house without knowing what's in it.

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Re: It is worth it, you just have to try it...

Nest was a simple install, with just the 3 wires, the backplate that accompanied it was discarded during the last round of redecoration & it looks rather nifty to be sure.

I got mine free by switching providers & especially glad I did as the price hiked shortly after from $269 to $329 (CAD). I'd have certainly gone for the cheaper looking\same functionality version had it been a option.

It turns itself on\off by learning the daily routine of the house inhabitants is very good, the ability to shut it right low or on for those periods via our phones is a must especially when we are going to be away longer or returning sooner than expected (especially when its -30C outside, with certain provincial (ON) powers that be wanting to tax us to the hilt for trying to stay warm in winter by slamming on carbon taxes at the least opportunity.

The only issue I have with it is that when the house cools to the minimum temperature there's a null point where it tries to fire up the furnace & then decides it's going to stop, usually solved by cranking up the required temperature so it kicks in fully.

Flame icon because at -30C - Its cold outside!

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Re: It is worth it, you just have to try it...

The metal/glass Nest thermostat does not _need_ to be internet connected to work, though you do have to forego the remote management aspect in that scenario.

I had a Nest installed when my boiler was replaced just under 2 years ago, and it is not connected to the internet. All the clever stuff to do with "just turn the dial" and the pattern learning associated with that are working just fine.

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Forced air

A large majority of single-family homes in America are heated by forced-air furnaces, so they are relatively quick to warm up, and may be the most responsive to programmed cycles. It is the most straightforward way to get heating and cooling in one system. Zoned heat/cooling is not common unless you're in the money or have made a substantial addition to the size, but even then it is like two large zones.

As many have described there are a lot of other types of HVAC with different tradeoffs of efficiency and response times. As they say YMMV.

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Seems rather American

I had to look up what "HVAC" actually meant. Here in the UK we generally just have "H", and I don't see many people saving hundreds of pounds on their heating bills just by adjusting the timing slightly. I can see there potentially being a benefit for people that rely on some kind of heat-control system throughout the whole year though. And given how ridiculously bad the interface on pretty much every central heating thermostat I've seen is, it would be quite an achievement if Nest didn't manage to make theirs better purely be accident.

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Re: Seems rather American

And given how ridiculously bad the interface on pretty much every central heating thermostat I've seen is

Pretty much every one I've seen has a dial; you turn it one way to raise the temperature and the other to lower it; it seems like quite an easy interface ;)

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Leaping Two Generations

When I moved into my house last year I was surprised to find that the heating system had no thermostat control whatsoever. Fitting a similar device to this was a lot easier than chasing the walls to wire in a simpler thermostat. While I am instinctively averse to cloudy things in the home, I am actively repelled by unnecessary grief.

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