Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mustachian or not?: the Nest learning thermostat

On Sunday I bought a Nest. This is an expensive purchase with potential Mustachian implications. Let's get down to it.

What's a Nest? The guy who designed the iPod decided he was going to design a thermostat — essentially, Nest is the iPod of thermostats. It learns your schedule and what temperature you like from just your adjustments. It knows when you leave the house and adjusts temperatures accordingly. It connects to wifi, keeps track of stats, and allows you to set it remotely from your smart device. And it looks really slick. I encourage you to watch the video and learn for yourself how awesome it is.

Nest sells for $250. It is a ton of money. It would be a ton of money even if I didn't already own a programmable thermostat. The big question is how I can possibly justify blowing $250 on something I don't need, when I am trying to live according to the precepts of Mr. Money Mustache.

I was thinking about my thermostat before I knew about Nest. I thought it would be a good idea to start paying closer attention to heating and cooling bills. I decided there must be some Linux-based thermostat or something I could get my hands on, connect to wifi, throw together a web interface. Maybe I'd have to build a thermostat myself out of a microcontroller. It would be a big project. I decided it was definitely something I was interested in but I wouldn't have the time to embark for a while. So I tabled the idea.

Then I heard about Nest. It's everything I wanted and more. I really don't know why I got so excited about a thermostat. The fact that I thought it up about two weeks before I heard about it — it was too perfect, and my brain decided I had to have it. This was before my conversion to Mustachianism. Even once I started this blog, I didn't want to give up my Nest, even though I knew I'd have to fess up afterward.

The answer to this post's title question is obvious. It's not Mustachian. A true Mustachian would make do with the thermostat he has. He would turn that thermostat down as low as he could tolerate, learn to program it so it would only heat or cool when people were around, and turn it down when he was leaving on a trip.

But with Nest I may be able to save money on heating and cooling even beyond the Mustachian-with-programmable-thermostat baseline. Specifically I'm thinking of the remote control ability. When we're out, we can set the temperature to 60 degrees, and schedule it on the fly to get back to 68 before we're home. Nest utilizes this little green leaf to denote temperatures that are more eco-friendly, to subliminally encourage you to turn the temperature down lower. And the auto-away functionality means I won't forget to turn the heat off when I leave the house.

I'll have two winter months of heating bill data to compare post-Nest results with. I am hoping to see a noticeable difference, but that's probably wishful thinking on my part. I'll post the info here when I have it.

This will be my last splurge purchase of 2011. Not to make excuses but I don't make many splurge purchases. In the new year I want to be diligent about exercising my frugality muscle. I'll have Buy Nothing Days, maybe even work up to Buy Nothing Weeks.

Most importantly, I'll try to avoid splurge purchases all together going forward. I'll post about the big things I want to buy before I decide to buy them, and really ruminate on the decision. You know, get it out there, make it public, maybe get some opinions. Give me the opportunity to step back from the consumerist brink and decide that, no, I really don't need that thing that I want.

Here's hoping I can make impulse purchases a thing of the past.


  1. It does look like a cool piece of equipment. If I were buying or building my own house it is something that might be worthwhile installing. But I think your right when you say it isn't exactly in line with the way of the mustache. You never know however. If it shaves even five to ten dollars off of your winter heating bill even just for this winter after a few years it might pay for itself.

  2. @The Kechi One,

    I'm definitely hoping it pays for itself over a few years. I was thinking about it after I wrote this post -- I think you can make a stronger EREian case for the Nest. See: and then

    It remains to be seen how much the Nest will depreciate, but I'm definitely going for quality with this purchase.

  3. Acolyte,

    The Nest will likely save you money over the long run, but let's recognize it for what it is: a convenience.

    Most of what you can accomplish with the nest you can accomplish by being mindful of your existing thermostat. This is hard... who among us remembers to adjust it appropriately each day/night.

    You'll save money vs what you would probably do otherwise (human nature), but if you decided to be vigilant with your existing thermostat (or even a programmable one) you don't really need the nest.

    Nothing to be ashamed of/regret though. I suspect you'll find you're very happy with your purchase over the long run.

  4. Hey Bill,

    It's definitely a convenience. And a shiny new toy. So far I've been very happy with it. There's something awesome about resetting one's thermostat while at work, or setting a schedule via iPad.

    Thanks for the encouragement.