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The Nest thermostat has been a staple of the smart home for some time now. However, even people who’ve purchased one may not be fully aware of just how powerful this little gadget really is.
We’ve talked about how versatile and useful the Nest Thermostat is, but people tend to use their new smart thermostat a lot like their old one. This doesn’t make full use of the power this device offers.
Did you know that with the Nest, you can control your home’s temperature just like Star Trek characters controlled the Starship Enterprise’s climate — with your voice? Did you know the Nest can automate emails, voicemail and even phone calls based on when you’re home and when you’re not?
In fact, with just a few extra add-on gadgets, you can even use your Nest to control anything else in your home. It isn’t just for controlling temperature!
1. Nest Voice Control With Google Now
There isn’t a single Star Trek fan (particularly fans of The Next Generation series) who hasn’t coveted the ability to say “Computer” followed by a command, and have their home perform whatever action they like. Well, this is no longer a thing of the future. With Google Now on your smartphone, you can… make it so.
When you’ve got Google Now installed, available on either Google Play or iTunes, you can control your home’s temperature from anywhere in the house simply by saying, “Ok Google: set temperature to sixty-five degrees”.
The “Ok Google” verbal command launches Google Now’s voice command feature. The statement “set temperature to sixty-five degrees” is a pre-programmed command that Google already knows is intended for your Nest thermostat.
You’ll see Google respond immediately by setting your thermostat to the requested temperature.
Keep in mind that the first time you try this, you’ll need to set it up and tell it which Nest device you want it to use. After that the response is fast and automatic. It’ll make you feel just like you’re living in some cool sci-fi movie.
2. Control Anything With the Fan Output
A large majority of people who install the Nest Thermostat don’t have a green fan control wire running to the thermostat. Or if there is one, it isn’t connected to anything at the other end.
If you do have the green wire already connected to a 24V fan relay you’ve been using with your old thermostat, all you have to do is plug that wire into the Nest wiring harness.
When there’s a green wire snipped off and coiled up down by the boiler in your basement, then read on. If you like, you can use this green wire to control anything in your house that you want to.
In cases where there’s no green wire but still want to implement the “Nest controller” scheme described below, you’ll need to fish a new wire from the wall behind your nest down to the floor and into the basement. You may consider hiring a professional if this is your situation.
Step 1. Locate the end of the green “fan” wire.
If you have an existing green wire, but have never used any fan control, then you just have to find the other end. Typically the multi-wire cable runs down to where your boiler or heating system is located in your basement. In my case, the wire terminates just above the boiler, where the boiler technician connected the heating lines via wire nuts.
Upon closer inspection near those wire nuts or junction box, you’ll likely find the other end of your green wire.
Before you plug the Nest end of the green wire into your Nest wiring harness, you’ll want to take care of the wiring details outlined in step two below.
Step 2. Connect a voltage converter and a WeMo Maker device.
For this “Nest controller” integration to work, you’ll need to purchase two devices. The first is a 24V to 5V voltage converter.
This device converts the 24V signal from the Nest down to a 5V signal that is safe as an input for the WeMo Maker device. This converter is so small you can easy tape it or strap it to something near where you found the green fan wire in the basement.
With a Phillips screwdriver, connect the green wire to the positive terminal. Attach a spare piece of wire to the positive terminal of the 5V side. Ground both negative terminals (running wire from both negative terminals to a nearby water pipe works well in a house where water pipes are all grounded).
Next, you’ll need to purchase a WeMo maker module.
On the back of the WeMo Maker, you’ll see a place to wire the “sensor” wires. This is a 5V input port. It’s where you need to connect the other end of the wire that you connected to the 5V output on the voltage converter above.
Once you’ve finished this and connected your WeMo Maker module to a power outlet, you’re ready to move on to the next phase of this project.
Step 3. Plug in a WeMo plug at the device you want to control.
The ideal point of this project would be to control something like a floor fan or a window air conditioner. Most air conditioners will immediately turn on when you plug them in. The problem is they stay turned on even when the house temperature is cool enough.
To better control this with your Nest, you’ll need one more smart device: A WeMo plug.
I recommend the WeMo Insight plug if you’re using an air conditioner so you can see the overall energy usage of your A/C needs.
For each of the WeMo devices used in this article, you’ll need to follow the instructions that come with the device to initially connect it to your home Wi-Fi network. Once that’s done and they’re connected, you’re ready to start setting up your Nest or IFTTT integrations.
Step 4. Choose an IFTTT automation.
Once you’ve got the green fan wire from the Nest wiring harness hooked up to your WeMo maker device, many options are available to you.
If you simply want to have the Nest turn on the air conditioner when the house gets too warm, it’ll take care of it all automatically based on your temperature setting. You can see this when you view your Nest thermostat on your Nest Home account.
After you’ve connected the green wire and plugged in your Nest, it’ll sense the attached wire and ask you to enable your “fan”. Go ahead and do that.
When your home inside temperature rises above the upper setpoint, it’ll send the 24V signal to the WeMo Maker. This will turn on the WeMo Insight Outlet that you’ve configured in IFTTT.
In IFTTT, you just have to set a trigger for whenever your WeMo Maker receives a signal on the sensor input.
For the Action side of the recipe, set up the “Turn On” action for your WeMo Switch.
Now, with your air conditioner plugged into the WeMo Switch, your Nest will automatically control your air conditioner based on your home’s temperature. No need to buy an expensive smart air conditioner, and no need to run wiring all through your house. Everything is wireless!
This approach could be used for any device, like a fan or a dehumidifier.
3. Making Clever Use of Auto-Away
The Auto-Away feature is one of the most valuable features of having a Nest thermostat. It’s also the least understood. That’s because it uses a bit of artificial intelligence that’s difficult to explain in simple terms.
Thanks to Auto-Away, the days of remembering to turn down your thermostat before leaving in the morning are long gone.
Nest has built-in motion sensing technology and an advanced algorithm that learns when you’re away. It even learns what temperature you like to keep your home at different times of the day when you are home.
If you live on your own, or everyone in the household tends to follow the same pattern every day, this Nest feature will save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars every year in heating costs.
However, if your pattern is very unpredictable or you leave home infrequently, Nest offers an additional feature called Auto-Away Assist. This uses your phone’s GPS location to assist Nest in determining whether or not you’re presently at home.
You also don’t have to worry about it only taking your phone into account. You can add multiple phones into the system, so that Nest always knows whenever someone is home.
An added bonus – if one of your devices (either the Nest Thermostat or the Nest Protect) has a more centrally located position in the house, you can set it to be the primary device to sense when someone is home. This should make the intelligent home/away status much more accurate.
So, what can Auto-Away do for you that’s so great? Aside from turning down your heat and saving money, there is also an “Away” trigger available in IFTTT that is useful for all sorts of things.
What Auto-Away Lets You Do
Once your Nest “senses” that you’re no longer at home, you could trigger IFTTT to:
- Turn off any lights in the house that you left on (smart switches or lights required).
- Email everyone in the family that nobody is presently home.
- Make sure all of the external house doors are properly locked (requires smart locks).
- Enable your home security system, if you forgot (smart security or smart plug required)
- Turn on your motion sensor cameras for added security.
When your Nest detects that someone has arrived home and switches back to home status, you can trigger IFTTT to:
- Turn on the entryway lights (smart switch required).
- Email everyone in the family that someone just arrived home.
- Disable your home security system.
- Send a log of when someone arrived home to Google Drive.
The uses for your Nest’s home/away status are limited only to your imagination, really.
What are some creative ways that you’ve used your Nest thermostat’s various features? Do you know of any other features or tricks it can do that many people don’t know about? Share them with us in the comments section below!