My Nest Thermostat installation experience

imageAfter the amazing mad dash for the Nest thermostats when they were first made available for pre-order, I ordered three thermostats for our home from Best Buy (as had sold out). We’ve got a three zone heating system, and I wanted to replace all at once (as the system works as “mesh” to learn habits, if people are in the house, etc.).

Our order wasn’t scheduled to ship until January/February of 2012, so I was pleasantly surprised by their early arrival.

It’s evident that Nest has paid careful attention to the entire experience of purchase and installation as you’ll see. I can’t think of another appliance in our home that has come close. Hopefully, other manufacturers are starting to take notice that as consumers, we don’t want everything sealed in a nearly impossible to crack open plastic casing.





More consumer electronics packaging is slowly becoming part of the product experience. Apple deserves credit for being a consistent proponent of the packaging being part of the product purchasing and initial “ownership” experience.

The Nest thermostat is no different.


Opening the top immediately reveals the product. There’s no drama here, just a thermostat (covered in a plastic shell to protect the case from scratches).


The top of the box has a mold to keep the thermostat safe and secure. It’s glued to the top so it too stays out of the way of “product.”


No annoying twist ties or anything here .. the thermostat is easily removed from the box. In fact, make sure you don’t drop it as there’s nothing holding in the box.


Under the bottom mold for the thermostat is a small color welcome packet and B&W installation instructions.


When you pull out the instructions, you’ll find the remainder of the installation parts. Inside you’ll find a mini multi-bit screwdriver, the installation base, a few screws and drywall anchors, and the optional wall plates.


I had the (unfortunate?) need of 2 of the different sizes of wall plates to make installation easier.


The multi-bit screw driver was a nice touch. My only suggestion to Nest would be to investigate making the screwdriver have a slightly more “grippy” exterior. I found in a few cases where screws were overly tightened that the screwdriver rotated too freely in my hand.


As is very typical of home thermostats, Nest has included a set of stickers for the various wires you might encounter during installation. At first I read through the instructions and then went hunting through the paperwork looking for a loose set of stickers.

In fact, they’re part of the instructions and I had completely overlooked them! I’ve installed more than my fair share of thermostats over the years, and found that the ones that are labeled and colored are the nicest. The blue, while attractive from a design perspective, just isn’t as nice. If you have more modern house, it’s likely that the color of the wires match the connections, so the stickers may not be needed. While our HVAC wiring did have the modern wiring, I still use the stickers, just to make certain everything is properly connected (as I’d rather not have to call a HVAC specialist out to our house to get the HVAC working again!).


First step is to turn off the furnace. Don’t leave it on. Either kill power at your electrical panel or at the furnace itself. Many furnaces/HVACS have a power switch on the furnace itself which you can use and may be more convenient. In either case – make sure you’ve turned off the power.

To remove a thermostat, you’ll likely need to remove a few screws and maybe a wall plate. I found that the included screwdriver wasn’t long enough to reach the screws of the old thermostat, so you may need an extra (the included Nest screwdriver was still handy for removal of the wires from the older thermostat).


After removal of the wall plate and old thermostat, you may be greeted by a giant “HEY, I SUCK AT CUTTING A HOLE IN DRYWALL BUT YOU’LL NEVER NOTICE YOU STUPID HOMEOWNER” hole like I was when removing the old thermostat. If you’re as handy with drywall repairs as I am, you’ll be thankful that Nest included some wall plates.

I labeled each of the wires using the enclosed stickers and then removed the wires from the thermostat.

Be careful to not allow the cable to fall back into the wall! If the wires are stiff, you can wrap a few loose wires around a pencil or pen which should help prevent the cable from sliding back into the wall. (Or if the wires aren’t stiff, consider a piece of tape, a pencil, and the wires to be a reasonable alternative).


Next, you’ll want to see what you might be up against behind the wall. During installation of two of our new Nest thermostats, I found that the best location for the thermostat meant that one of the screws would line up with a wall-stud behind the drywall. If you weren’t blessed with a giant freaking hole like in the example above, do a bit of gentle prodding with a screwdriver to see if there are any unexpected obstacles. Use a stud finder if necessary.


For one of the installations in our house, I needed to use the long drywall screw to accommodate the thickness of the Nest thermostat mount, wall plate, and drywall into a stud. It’s a 2 inch screw. Without it, the screw wasn’t deep enough to hold the thermostat securely to the wall. I found that although the screw-head of the drywall screw was larger than the original screw included, it didn’t cause any problems when the main unit was connected to the base.

If you’re using the included drywall anchors, do the right thing and predrill. While I predrilled the hole, it wasn’t large enough to allow smooth entry, and it quickly stripped the anchor’s Phillips screw head. I had to use some electrical pliers I had in my tool bag to remove the partially set wall anchor (thankfully, I was able to just twist it slowly out).


Thankfully, I had a replacement wall anchor available that nearly matched the original, yet was a bit stronger and better made. So, a second attempt worked without a hitch.

You’d think I’d learn my lesson … however, I proceeded to wreck the second drywall anchor just as quickly as the first. Again, a replacement with a better made anchor did the trick. As you may not have replacements, be more careful than I. Don’t expect them to work well without predrilling. Note to Nest: your included drywall anchors suck and you saved money in the wrong place. The bulk package of plastic anchors I already had on hand were far better. I’d suggest considering metal ones instead – I’ve got some of the those – and they rock! (However, they were slightly too large for this installation, otherwise I would have switched to them without hesitation).


I used the square plate to cover the giant hole in the drywall and then connected the wires. As this was my third thermostat installation, getting the wires in place on this unit was much easier than the first two. I’d like to think it was “experience,” but I’m actually going to say it was a bit of luck. On the second unit, I struggled getting the 24V “C” wire connected successfully. Each time I pushed it in … it would pop back out. It was bad enough that I thought it was connected and then not until I had installed everything did I notice that the thermostat reported that I hadn’t connected the “C” wire.

(Note, the “C” wire is very important, as it’s where the Nest thermostat draws power for the unit and without it, you may have a less than stellar experience).


I’d made sure that the “C” wires were powered before beginning the installation (I actually had to add the connection myself to the furnace).

Here’s with the wires connected. If you’d wondered how you’d level a round object like this – no worries! There’s a small “level” at the top of the Nest thermostat which makes leveling a breeze (right below the nest logo in the photo below)!


I snapped the front of the unit onto the base carefully and then turned on the power to the furnace again.

A few moments later, I could see a tiny green light in the lower right corner of the thermostat and the screen activated. It’s a really great touch to the over all experience that the screen is round like the device.


It takes a few minutes for the device to begin the setup process.


The device has a tiny speaker so, it makes a few little “clicks” as it nears readiness.


As you’ll see throughout the installation, the Nest thermostat has a very simple and elegant user experience. It’s not got much flourish, … just clean lines and a simple UI. Very pleasant. Thankfully, no EULA! :)


You’ll only need to do this once ideally – setup of the Internet wifi connection. Our home’s wifi password is sufficiently complex and was particularly annoying to spin, click, toggle, spin, click…. But, it’s done with. I can’t think of a better way to do this that wouldn’t take just as much time. To select a number or character, spin the outer frame, and then “push” the frame to select. That’s really the only input the device takes from the user. Spin and click. Nice.


As soon as the wifi is connected, it downloads an update. It took about 5 minutes to download the update, install the update, “backing up software” and reboot.20111218-IMG_0146




I don’t know what “Backing up software” is doing. I hope the “Cloud” is involved somehow because that makes all Internet things better. :)


This was a very nice touch – an image of the connections I made. On the second unit I installed, this was key to my discovery that the “C” wire had become dislodged already!


In order to receive the time and temperature, your zip code is needed.



If you’ve got more than one thermostat, you’re asked for a name for each thermostat. It’s got a few reasonable defaults. You can do a custom name if you’d like directly on the unit, or later on the web site.




The thermostat asks if it should start in heating or cooling mode:


I don’t know if the unit tries to make an educated guess based on the outside temperature (obtained by using the Zip code provided earlier), or if it always defaults to heat.





One setting I‘d immediately suggest is going to settings (push the display once, spin to “SETTINGS”) and changing the “BRIGHTNESS” to auto. Just spin the outer wheel until you find the BRIGHTNESS setting and then push to toggle through the options. It defaults to medium which was much too bright at night in a darkened hallway.




After completion of installation, set the temperature as desired.

Here are some things I learned:

  • The display activates when it detects nearby movement.
  • It shows the current set temperature in the “large” font size and the current temperature in a very small font (and graphically). I’d prefer if the current temperature was made slightly larger for at a glance reading. During heating seasons, I don’t care so much about that, but I know that I use the “current temperature” far too much during the “cooling” season to decide how freaking hot the house is and whether it’s finally time to turn on the air conditioning.
  • There’s no on-screen clock. I’m amazed how much I relied on the clocks on the thermostats for knowing what time it is (or at least a confirmation of what time it is). I miss that already. They easily could add that and would love to see it added.
  • Predrill for the screws (both the drywall anchors and other screws). You’ll be more successful and end up less frustrated.
  • Expect that it will take you longer than you’d thought. It took between 30-60 minutes per thermostat to install. If you hit a problem (like a wall stud for example), you may find it takes longer. In fact, you might want to remove the old thermostat by removing the wall mount before you even start to see what you might be up against – in case a trip to your local hardware store might be necessary.
  • Install power to the unit (the “C” wire).
  • Be careful and go slow.

Download the app for your iPhone or Android device and enjoy remote control of your HVAC system!

You may also use their web site to adjust settings, temperature, etc. You can even change the name of the thermostats (in a multi-thermostat dwelling at least).


The web app shows the current set temperature and the current temperature.


Not that here they did the same thing and put the current temperature on the spinning gauge of the dial. It’s more difficult to read there than it should be. I don’t know why Nest considers the current temperature so unimportant.


Update #1, Update #2, Update #3, Update #4, Update #5, Update #6


I took many of the nest box photos in a white portable photo box with my iPhone 4S (all photos were taken with the iPhone). Our Ragdoll cat thought it was great fun, so I’m including a few obligatory pet photos. I’m amazed by the quality of the camera (especially the second one)!




  1. Aaron,

    I’d be interested in republishing your experience with the next on my publication, but I need to know that you have no affiliation with the company. All my content for Greenspiration Home ( is by homeowners. I notice you have a Nest menu on your blog, so I was confused as to what affiliation you may have. However, I love your review and I think it would be great for my audience.


    1. @Trish — I’m more than a bit surprised that you think that I might have an affiliation with Nest Labs as I think it’s quite clear that I’m generally displeased with the product. I have a Nest link at the top as this has been an EXTREMELY popular topic on my blog — so much so that I thought I’d make it easier for others to find. I definitely have no affiliation with the company. :) If you want to converse more, feel free to send me an email (just send it to aaron at this web site and I’ll get it).

  2. Wow! That is one sweet lookin device! I looked at these pictures then I looked at the Lux TX9000TS that’s mounted on my wall. Then I cried a little… lol

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