How to Program the Nest Thermostat: Everyone's Essential Guide

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The Nest is easy to program -- in fact, it can kind of program itself.
The Nest is easy to program -- in fact, it can kind of program itself. (Image: Nest)

Not too long ago, setting up an elaborate schedule for your fancy programmable thermostat seemed to require a degree in computer science. These days, smart thermostats like the Nest are not just easy to program, you often just don’t need to futz with them at all.

Even so, it’s nice to have a handy guide to programming your Nest. And since different kinds of people use their nest in different ways, here’s what you need to know no matter what kind of person you happen to be.

For the Slacker

Okay, maybe you’re not a slacker, exactly – but you certainly don’t want to master all the knobs and switches on something as arcane as a thermostat. You’re in luck, because the Nest was seemingly designed just for you. It learns what it should do on its own, just by watching you. And if you’re comfortable with letting the Nest take its cues from your comings and goings, then it can maintain the temperature in your home just fine all on its own.

How? The Nest observes what you do, and when you do it. If you typically spin the Nest’s dial to raise the temperature at when you climb out of bed in the morning, the Nest will remember that and start to do that on its own. When the Nest is brand new – in its very first week in your house – it’ll try to build a schedule based on every temperature change you make. After you’ve had it for a while, Nest gets a little set in its ways – like you, actually – and won’t change the schedule until you do the same thing at the same time a few days in a row.

The Nest learns your temperature preferences whenever you turn the dial.
The Nest learns your temperature preferences whenever you turn the dial. (Image: Nest)

The slacker in you will probably also like Auto-Away; your Nest has a motion sensor that tries to determine when no one is home. If there’s no one around, it sets itself to save energy. Of course, your Nest needs to be located somewhere in your home that it can get a sense of when you’re walking around. If you mount your Nest in a back hall, behind a cabinet, or inside a locked filing cabinet, Auto-Away isn’t going to work too well for you, and you might want to disable it.

For the Control Freak

You know who you are: You’re a control freak if you got just a little antsy reading the description of Nest’s auto-scheduling, thinking, “I can’t relax unless I set all the temperatures myself.” If you want to be able to specify in exacting detail what the temperature is throughout the day -- when it goes up, then down, then up again -- you’re in luck: quality therapists have never been more affordable, and the Nest lets you schedule your entire week in detail, very easily.

There are three ways to schedule your Nest: On the Nest itself, via the Nest’s web page, or using a mobile app (on your iPhone or Android device).

While you can certainly set up a recurring schedule on the Nest itself, it’s honestly a little tedious: You need to push the dial, spin to Schedule, turn the ring to the day and time you want to change, push again, select new, choose a time, and push the ring again. Then lather, rinse, repeat – there’s a lot of dial spinning and pushing to set up your schedule on the thermostat itself.

You can program the Nest by spinning and pushing the thermostat's dial.
You can program the Nest by spinning and pushing the thermostat's dial. (Image: Nest)

A better solution? Use the web or a mobile app. Your schedule will get synced to the Nest immediately, and it’s a lot easier to add temperature changes to the schedule grid on the larger display – no matter if it’s a computer, tablet, or phone.

The Nest's mobile apps make it easier to manually program a heating and cooling schedule.
The Nest's mobile apps make it easier to manually program a heating and cooling schedule. (Image: Nest)

An even better solution? Let go of the need to program the Nest manually, as if it’s still 1996 and your thermostat is behind the wood cabinet that holds your 26-inch TV. The Nest will learn from your ad hoc temperature changes and schedule them without any need for you to do it manually. And here’s a little secret: Even if you create a manual schedule, the Nest will modify it over time if you consistently tweak the temperature away from what you had scheduled.

One last tip: If you hate the idea of the Nest messing with your elegantly and meticulously designed manual schedule, turn off Auto-Schedule from Nest’s settings. After all, you’re the boss, right?

For the Gadget Fanatic

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t think of the Nest as just a thermostat, but rather as just one component in a smart house – if you know that IoT stands for the “Internet of Things,” – then there’s a lot more programmability waiting for you.

Nest is compatible with a web service called IFTTT, short for “If This Then That.” If-Then statements are the very foundation of computer programming, and IFTTT is a wonderful site that lets you do some simple programming without any programming knowledge or experience by letting different services interact with each other – like your Nest and a weather app, or your Nest and your phone’s GPS.

A few examples might be helpful. You can use IFTTT to automatically set a specific temperature when you leave your house (without messaging with the Nest’s Away or Auto-Away controls). Or Nest can set a specific temperature based on the outdoor temperature. Or you can receive a text message whenever your Nest switches from Away mode to Home. The possibilities are, if not quite endless, amazing nonetheless.

IFTTT is an easy way to program your Nest to work in conjunction with other apps and gadgets.
IFTTT is an easy way to program your Nest to work in conjunction with other apps and gadgets. (Image: IFTTT)

To get started, visit the IFTTT web site and create an account. (You can also install IFTTT’s mobile app on your iPhone or Android.) You can create your own If-Then “recipe” from scratch, or simply grab an existing one -- search for “Nest” in IFTTT’s search box, and then select a pre-built one that suits you. Note that some recipes require other gadgets. You can command your Philips Hue lights to automatically turn off when your Nest switches to Away mode, for example. Bottom line: be creative. It’s not like those slackers are going to do it.

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