Ultimately, Nest seems to be the best solution to managing the temperature at the house when we are away.

How and Why to Nest

The last Thursday of 2017 as I was turning in for the night, I checked the weather for the weekend and temps were looking mighty cold. We had planned to spend New Years weekend in the warmth and comfort of our New York apartment, but as I got to thinking about temps down to 9°F (-13°C) at night, I began to get nervous about the possibility of freezing pipes at the house. We had been keeping the thermostat set to 50°F (10°C) while we are away, and after spending Christmas weekend at the house, we hadn’t planned on being back till later in January. I made the executive decision that night that we were going to drive to Philly right after work was let out for the weekend.

 

I shoveled snow for the first time in my life last week, even though I have lived in cold winter climates for more than 30 years. One perk of apartment life.

I shoveled snow for the first time in my life last week, even though I have lived in cold winter climates for more than 30 years. One perk of apartment life.

Temps were already plummeting on Friday afternoon, and we managed to get out of town and arrive in Philly by early evening. When we got to the house, it was 50°F (10°C) degrees in the living room where the thermostat was, but when we went upstairs to the back where the bathroom was, it was most definitely no more than 40°F (4°C) degrees. We immediately turned the heat up, and ended up spending the whole weekend in Philly. When we left for New York on New Years Day, I left the tap on a steady drip in the bathroom to ensure we would have nothing to be concerned about. Or so we thought….

This past Friday marks the fifth anniversary of when Y and I went on our first date. We made reservations at our favorite special place for dinner (Henrys End in Brooklyn Heights) and looked forward to finally having a relaxing weekend in New York after three weekends in a row at the house.

 

2℉! Crap thats cold! We had no option but to go and make sure the house was okay during the freezing temps.

2℉! Crap thats cold! We had no option but to go and make sure the house was okay during the freezing temps.

But then last Tuesday as Grayson the ‘Bomb Cyclone‘ storm was starting to make news, I checked the weather for Philly as I turned in for the night and noticed that the temps were going to go even lower than they had the during New Years weekend, and I started to get really nervous. The prediction was for temps down to 2°F (-17°C) on Saturday, and that was of course after a blizzard on Thursday. I got even more nervous than I was the previous week and lay awake all night thinking about what we should do. In the morning I texted my boss asking if I could work remotely on Thursday and Friday, and after a bit of finagling, I managed to arrange just that. So, as soon as I got home, Y and I (and Bixby) walked the two blocks down to the garage and got the car. We arrived in Philly before 9PM and scored a parking spot directly across the street from the house. The temperature was hovering in the upper teens at that point. The weather hadn’t turned just yet, but we knew we were in for an adventure in cold and snow for a few days.

 

The morning of the blizzard as we were leaving for the grocery store. The real blizzard started a few hours later.

The morning of the blizzard as we were leaving for the grocery store. The real blizzard started a few hours later.

On Thursday morning, snow was already covering the ground, and we beelined for the grocery store before work to stock up on food for a few days. We then spent the next two days sitting across from each other at a table working our jobs, taking conference calls, and counting the hours away. The blizzard was real, it only left about 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, but the winds blew the snow into drifts and made being outside really unpleasant. All the while, I was thinking about how to deal with the possibility of more freezing temperatures. I was fine with leaving the thermostat at 50°F, but if the temps plunge below 10°F again, I was nervous about the house being too cold while we were away (which was precisely the reason we made this trip to begin with). We have a huge amount of activities going on in New York and there is no way we could be back to the house until the end of the month (I never knew how grateful I would be to have a monitored alarm system as I have been with being away from the house for weeks at a time).

 

Modern, but not very fancy. It does turn the heat on and off based on the temperature setting.

Modern, but not very fancy. It does turn the heat on and off based on the temperature setting.

So to calm my nerves, and lower my anxiety about all of the chaos going on in our lives right now, we decided that the best option was to purchase a smart thermostat. I looked at several of the various smart thermostats out there, but ultimately the one that I liked the most was the Nest. Our current thermostat is a somewhat modern Honeywell which can be picked up for about $30… It is digital, it does light up, and it is very easy to use… But it does nothing else beyond turning the heat on or off based on your selected temperature. I need more control and want a device that will automatically do things such as turn the heat down automatically at night, and then up before I get up in the morning. I also want to be able to monitor and control the temperature at the house remotely from a computer or my phone. There is also the peace of mind for the immediate term to be able to keep the house at 50°F, but remotely crank up the heat should another cold spell happen before we can get back.

 

Our solution to the problem? A Nest in beautiful copper!

Our solution to the problem? A Nest in beautiful copper!

The Nest is $249, it is not the cheapest smart thermostat out there, but after doing my due diligence online, I decided that it was the best one for our needs. Besides, it is by far the most beautiful one. Seriously, if I have to have a thermostat on our wall in the living room, it had better be damned pretty!  I also loved that it comes in a copper finish, which will be perfect for the living room once we get some paint on the walls and start to make this our home.

What follows is mostly about my installation process and also what a Dumbass I am at times. There is also a bit of a (real) news update at the end, so skip down if you don’t want to see my interesting boring photos of installing a thermostat. This is not a tutorial, there are plenty of them out there already. But you will see how easy it is to do.

 

OMG! Fraying cloth covered wires! How old could they be?

OMG! Fraying cloth covered wires! How old could they be?

After turning the breaker to the furnace off I pulled the cover off of the existing thermostat. Immediately, I saw that the wires were fraying cloth covered wires. Clearly there has been a thermostat in this location for many, many, many years. And clearly it was time to replace the wiring as the last thing I need is old cloth insulate and fraying wires shorting out my fancy thermostat.

 

I discovered a patch of wallpaper behind the backplate, and a lot of holes from previous thermostats. I would venture to guess there has been a thermostat in this location since the 1920s or 30s.

I discovered a patch of wallpaper behind the backplate, and a lot of holes from previous thermostats. I would venture to guess there has been a thermostat in this location since the 1920s or 30s.

Then when I pulled the backplate off, I discovered a scrap of old wallpaper along with several mounting holes from several thermostats over the decades. You can see the old wiring sticking out of the wall. The wire runs down to the basement below, and over to the furnace. The plan was to cut the wire in the basement, attach new wire, and pull it up and into the living room, which is exactly what I did.

 

As soon as I pulled the new wire through the hole, I cut it, and BAM! The new wire slipped back inside the wall. I am such a Dumbass!

As soon as I pulled the new wire through the hole, I cut it, and BAM! The new wire slipped back inside the wall. I am such a Dumbass!

And then I was a Dumbass. As soon as I pulled the new wire into the living room, I grabbed my diagonal cutters and cut the wire. Immediately, the freshly cut wire pulled back and disappeared inside the wall. Sh*t! I am such a Dumbass! I have done enough projects over the decades to know that you need to hold onto both sides of the wire before cutting, but my excitement of being able to easily pull the new wire into the living room surpassed my awareness that there was nothing to stop the wire from slipping back into the wall when I cut it. What to do….

I needed a fish tape to snake through the wall to pull the wire back through again. But my fish tape is either packed away or still in New York. Knowing my neighbor is very handy, I knocked on his door to see if he had a fish tape, but nobody was home. Meanwhile, the heat is shut off, it is about 17°F (-8°C) outside, and the interior temperature is dropping. I have no option but go back to Lowe’s and buy a fish tape.

Half an hour later, I am back to the house, the inside temp is down to about 63°F (17°C), and I manage to fish the fish tape through the hole and down inside the wall, and after using my multi-tool to cut a bigger hole in the floor under the wall, I am successful at getting the fish tape into the basement.

 

After another trip to Lowe's to pick up a fish tape, the wire was pulled, and new backplate and mounting plate installed. Note the built in (blue) level below the top screw. That's good design.

After another trip to Lowe’s to pick up a fish tape, the wire was pulled, and new backplate and mounting plate installed. Note the built in (blue) level below the top screw. That’s good design.

I pull the new wire up (and make sure it doesn’t slip back down), and install the back plate and wire connection for the Nest. The temperature is down to about 59°F (15°C). Then I snap the Nest in place, turn the breaker back on, and come back upstairs to begin the process of connecting the Nest to our WiFi, setting the temperature to 69°F and the setting it up on my phone. That’s it, super easy. If I had not needed to pull new wire (or go and buy a fish tape), I would have been able to do this in less than 30 minutes. But even with the trip to Lowe’s, I still had the entire installation done in less than 90 minutes. Not bad at all.

 

It is so pretty! Once the wall is painted, the copper ring will look fantastic!

It is so pretty! Once the wall is painted, the copper ring will look fantastic!

 

What I love is if you change the temperature, it will tell you how long to expect it will take to get there.

What I love is if you change the temperature, it will tell you how long to expect it will take to get there.

We ended up having our five years since our first date anniversary dinner at Kanella South on Front Street in Queen Village. A very nice place for dinner, and quite delicious, but we will still need to find our “Henry’s End” for Philadelphia for those special dates. Kanella is an easy walk from the house, but the cold pushed us to use Lyft for the 1/2 mile trek.

Now for the (real) news update…. I officially gave notice at my job in December, my last day is coming up soon. I am leaving after ten years of working for a really fantastic Fortune 500 company. I will miss my many coworkers whom I have gotten to know over the years, and I am letting go of what has become a fairly lucrative career. It will be very strange to not have thousands of dollars a month deposited into my bank accounts, but I believe my next endeavor will ultimately be more satisfying, even it if the pay is a lot less (more about that in an upcoming post). Part of the reason we are leaving a comfortable life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for a more bucolic life in a Philadelphia rowhouse is to to be able to spend more time smelling the roses rather than spending all of our time dealing with the thorns. As soon as my job ends, I will have about ten days to pack up our apartment in New York. The movers are set to come the last week of January, and we will finally say our goodbyes to New York City and start living in our Philly row.

 

Our backyard during the blizzard. One day this will be an outdoor paradise, albeit a small one.

Our backyard during the blizzard. One day this will be an outdoor paradise, albeit a small one.

I have a lot of work ahead of me, I do hope you will subscribe to email notifications for new posts (scroll to bottom left), I promise not to spam you EVER. It would be wonderful to have you along for the journey of transforming a (now) 166 year old Philadelphia rowhouse into our home.

Till next time. . .

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5 Comments

  • Chad says:

    As I mentioned to you before, I had a huge scare with my heat going out 2 days before a 6 day trip that got extended to 10 days in Florida. I’ve learned my lesson and will be bringing one electric radiator back from my parents’ attic to my basement, just in case. I was SO happy a year ago when I took them out for good.

    I’m dissatisfied with my Honeywell round thermostats (they don’t work nearly as well as they used to when they were made with mercury), but since I have 3 of them, putting Nests throughout the house would cost more than my mortgage. I told my mom that I want to take the old mercury thermostat from her neighbors when they upgrade theirs and she gave me a look. But I definitely don’t have any use for a programmable thermostat in the guest room.

    Question: do you need to keep the white back plate around yours, or is it just there until you repaint the wall?

    • Devyn says:

      We will likely need to buy a couple more Nest’s when we install zoned AC in the house (and supplemental heat for the upstairs guest room and guest bath). I of course wasn’t thinking about multi-zones in our future when I bought it, but then we will just have to factor that into the cost of the total system.

      The back plate….. It’s kinda ugly, but for now, necessary. When we get to painting, I plan to move the thermostat a more convenient location. It is currently behind a door in the living room, so it is kind of a pain to always need to pull the door closed to access the thermostat. I am thinking I would prefer it to be in the hall. Also, will need to rewire again when we add the AC as there are only two wires currently running to the Nest.

      We have huge heat loss issues, there are gaps around the front door, you can feel a draft six feet away, there is ZERO insulation in the attics, and the heat is inadequate in the rear of the house where all the plumbing is. I expect our energy bills to be pretty high this year, but hopefully we can seal things up fairly soon.

  • Beth says:

    We love our Nest! Glad it all worked out and hope to see you before you leave!

    • Devyn says:

      Thanks Beth, I was hesitant to shell out the $250 for a thermostat, but peace of mind and the ability to remotely monitor and control it makes it worth it. Hope to see you too before we go.

  • Bernie says:

    Yikes on the deep freeze! I sent my boy back to philly from SF on 1/3 to some of the coldest weather he had ever experienced. Their chihuahua was not pleased and demonstrated said displeasure in the hallway a few times.
    Perhaps you could cultivate a relationship with some neighbors and give them some keys in case of an emergency? Or at least your cell # so they could call you when” hey Devyn, I saw someone broke your front window last night; want me to call the glass repair?”.
    Good luck on your new life, sounds like a positive change.

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