February 24, 2014

Our Nest in Maine

We recently had a narrow escape in our house in Maine. copyrightjoestrazzere

In a normal week, we spend at least a few days there - more in the warm weather, a bit less in the cold weather - but we're there almost every week. But a few weeks ago, we weren't able to get there, for one reason or another, for over two weeks. When we finally arrived, it was freezing. The furnace wasn't working.

We have radiant heat which uses warm water in tubes under the slab. If that freezes it can be a major expense. It might have even required adding a new heat source. Fortunately, we were able to get the furnace repaired, and nothing had frozen. It was a very cold night, but otherwise we escaped unharmed.

So I needed a solution. I could have purchased a freeze alarm, so that I would know when the temperature dropped unexpectedly. But I was hoping I could do better by purchasing a new thermostat. In my mind, I had the following requirements:

  • I wanted to be able to monitor the current temperature remotely
  • I also wanted to be able to set the thermostat's temperature remotely, so that I could keep it low most of the time, but have the house warm (which takes a long time with radiant heat) when we arrived.
  • I wanted it to be easy to install. I can do a bit of electrical work, but I didn't want to do any in this instance. Install, setup, and no more worries - that's what I was after.

After a bit of research, I also learned an additional requirement:
  • Work with just two wires servicing the thermostat

I'm glad I did my research. I hadn't even considered that the wiring might not support a new thermostat. It turns out that most newer thermostats need power for their display and for driving their remote capabilities. Most thermostats draw that power using a "common" wire. But not all older wiring has this common wire. My wiring had only two wires - neither of them was a common.

While I checked out many, the only thermostat I felt had a chance to meet all these requirements was the Nest Learning Thermostat. The Nest has a lot of capabilities for learning your heating/cooling needs and automatically adjusting your thermostat settings accordingly. The newest version claimed to support 2-wire connections, and be easy to install. It's more expensive than most others, and the reviews questioned the 2-wire support in some circumstances, but I gave it a shot anyway.

It was indeed as simple to install an set up as claimed. The engineering is excellent - they clearly put a lot of thought into installation, and made it as simple as pretty much anything I've ever installed.

I've had the Nest running for over a week now, and it's been doing everything I needed. I can see the current temperature or change the settings from anywhere, using my computer or smartphone.

The Pros:
  • Very, very easy to install and set up
  • Easy to read the temperature remotely
  • Easy to set the desired temperature remotely
  • It does indeed seem to work fine with my 2-wire setup (at least so far)

The Cons:
  • Expensive
  • No emailed or texted alerts if the temperature drops unexpectedly. Many other remote thermostat systems can do this. I'm hoping Nest adds this feature as a software upgrade soon.
  • The Nest is a bit aggressive about "learning" my schedule. It seems to want to slip into "Away Mode" more often than I'd like. It was easy to override this feature for now.

Overall, I'm very pleased. If the Nest continues to work as it does now, and doesn't experience problems with the 2-wire installation that some others have experienced, I'll be very satisfied.

And on a professional note, how much fun would it be to test this device and the accompanying infrastructure?

If you are interested in a Nest, click here.

This article originally appeared in my blog: All Things Quality
My name is Joe Strazzere and I'm currently a Director of Quality Assurance.
I like to lead, to test, and occasionally to write about leading and testing.
Find me at http://AllThingsQuality.com/.

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