This is a story that proves that no matter how smart I think I am some days, being a homeowner leaves me stymied more often than I would like to admit.
Back in October, while I was reading the Internet, I came across a post from a friend detailing his enthusiasm about his new Nest thermostat. There was a post to say it was finally released! another to say it was ordered! another one weeks later to say it had arrived, and a long blog post about how it had changed his life forever. I love a narrative, so I was hooked, and later in November when we were thinking of holiday gifts for our friends and family, I sold Mr. MJ on this being a perfect present for his dad.
This was a great idea right up until I realized that the waiting list I got on was going to last for weeks. Hell, I couldn’t even get one on eBay. We had to come to our Christmas gift exchange with a manila folder of documentation about why this was an incredible present that simply had not materialized yet.
Sometime around Valentine’s Day, I got a notice that said our long wait was over and that we were finally eligible to order up to 5 Nest thermostats. Uh. Five, really? I talked to Mr. MJ about it, assuming that we’d just order the one, but he thought we should order ourselves one while we had this rare opportunity, and so I did it. The thermostats were on their way.
They arrived a few days later, perfectly packaged in a tiny box like a jewel-case, and we marveled at its prettiness, its mirrored sides, the Apple-inspired simplicity. We watched the videos on its website. And then one fine Saturday just before the Oscars, we installed it.
I took a great amount of pride in doing a lot of the work myself, after all, *I* was educated about thermostats. *I* had seen a video on the Internet! It never occurred to me that if I let Mr. MJ do all of the work, I could then blame him for all of the problems on the horizon, but on that sunny February day, there were no looming HVAC issues about to occur, and I was complacent.
We spent the next day feverishly checking our phones and the little Nest’s website, proclaiming over what temperature it was in the house from our bedroom and from our couch. It was only a day or so later that an unusual coincidence struck–the furnace would no longer turn on, and as a result it was well-digger’s ass cold in the house. Of course we didn’t blame the Nest, our new and shiny gadget, but the old and conspicuously un-shiny furnace, a relic of the condo before we passed papers on it. It has been temperamental like no furnace I’ve ever lived with before has been, and all the more noticeable now that we are the ones who have to pay for the repair each time it decides it doesn’t like its fan or its logic board. I have no doubt that it is plotting a day to break on the coldest day of winter, potentially in the middle of a holiday where we are away and only the cat is here to complain, and when we have just blown the budget on some other household emergency like needing to replace my aging MINI.
We didn’t blame the Nest, but we did prefer to have some heat in the house, especially with temperatures in the teens being predicted in the coldest week of the disappointing winter of 2012, so we scheduled the furnace repairmen to come.
“It’s the logic board,” they said this time. “It’ll take a few days to get it here.” We grumbled, prepared for some nights sleeping in the main room with the cat and a space heater. One last question before they left, though, “We just put in a new thermostat a few days ago–it couldn’t be related, could it?” I don’t even remember them looking at it, but they laughed and said “no, not the thermostat. The furnace is old and crochety. It was bound to happen.”
The night they wanted to come back and install the new logic board, I was the only one home. Unwilling to spend another cold night in the house, I reluctantly agreed to stay home and wait for the repairmen. Naturally, they came right in the middle of me making dinner, and stayed until it was ruined. After a few minutes of fooling around with the furnace upstairs, No. 2 came down, “Where’s your thermostat?”
I pointed at the wall. He came over, peered at it, and said “How do I turn it on?” I waved my hand at the wall. Its beautiful digital interface responded, and I spun the dial and tapped it in the combination that would allow it to know it was time to turn on. No. 2 said “That’s fancy.” and then he went back upstairs.
A few minutes later, while trying to coax my dinner back to ‘edible’ from ‘ruined,’ No. 1 came downstairs and said “Your furnace isn’t turning on.” He was right. The Nest was spitting out errors. ERROR. ERROR. Wiring change detected on Rh. Wiring change detected! ERROR. The error message was so long I had to scroll through it several times, and by then there’d be another.
No 1 said, “Where’s your manual?” I handed him this tiny booklet that had come inside the jewelbox of packaging, the perfect square of 12 full color pages that unfolded. He shook his head. “No, the manual. I need to read the error codes.” I gulped. “Um. It has a website?”
I pulled out my Macbook Air and brought up the site, and No 1 tried paging through it, but kept getting messed up on the one-button trackpad and all the swipe commands. Eventually I took over — I’m qualified for this, after all, I watched a video on the Internet! The thermostat couldn’t get power, blah blah. The guys took the cover off the thermostat, and said it wasn’t wired right. I said it most certainly was (remember, video!) and while the old one may have needed a jumper between the something wire and the something-else wire, this shiny new one did not need that. They were professionals, and I am certain they thought they were dealing with a crazy woman, and they have my sympathy. No 1. suggested that we turn it on and off and try again, which didn’t work.
“We’ll reboot it,” I confidently decided. Again with the skeptical looks on No 1 and No 2. “Reboot it, you know, every computer works better if you reboot it.” I pawed through the website, looking for restart commands, and eventually came up with a sequence that should work. It didn’t, of course, there were too many errors popping up in the interface for me to get past them, so I walked it through a hard reset, which still didn’t work.
No. 1 said, behind me, “Have you considered just putting the old one back on?”
“No. NO. This is going to work great. I’m just going to reset it to the factory defaults, and reconfigure it.” This only took a few minutes, and it still didn’t work.
No 1 said, patiently, “Lady, do you have your old thermostat around here?” I had to text Mr. MJ for this, and as well as I remember two months later, the conversation went something like this:
Me: I HATE YOU FOR LEAVING ME WITH THESE PEOPLE.
Him: Woah, do you need me to come home?
Me: WHERE IS THE OLD THERMOSTAT? WHERE DID YOU HIDE IT?
Him: Uh. It is in the basement.
Him: Do you need me to come home?
Me: I HATE YOU, I HATE YOUR EFFING BASEMENT. I HATE YOUR THERMOSTAT. I HATE THESE REPAIR GUYS.
Me: AND I WILL EFFING MANAGE THIS BECAUSE I AM A VOTING ADULT, FULLY TRAINED IN INSTALLING THERMOSTATS.
God bless him, because no judge in the world would have failed to award him for not just leaving me with that mess, but he did actually come home early that night, and no blows were exchanged. I still have no idea how he puts up with me.
I went back upstairs and waved my hands at the wall frantically. The little Nest failed to respond–we had exhausted it, and it was too confused to react to my summons. I stood silently by as No. 1 unscrewed the Nest from the wall and re-punctured our careful spackling to re-mount the old, ugly, beige thermostat.
Condo: 1. Nest: 0.
A few days later, it warmed up, and Mr. MJ tried again. The same thing happened, so he called Nest support and dug into the problem with a technician for a few hours. Turns out we have the condo to blame for this one: somehow the furnace was only wired with four wires out of a possible five, and the Nest was actually drawing more power than this configuration could support, starving the furnace of electricity that it needed to turn on.
Mr. MJ opened the wall up and found that there was a fifth wire in the bundle, but that it wasn’t attached to anything on the furnace side. He called me later that day and said, “We have two options–we can put in a transformer that will give the thermostat more power, or if that doesn’t work, we’ll have to rewire the furnace. Either way, we’ll need an electrician.”
Because I am a wiseass, I told him there was a third option–we could put the damn thing back in its box and send it back, but he helpfully ignored me.
I dislike telling a story with no resolution, but there’s no end here to share. The furnace needs a little re-wiring, and so far we’ve not managed to get a Nest certified install partner out here to look at it. Every so often I get out the pretty box and stroke its little face, telling it that it will be its turn some day, and that it’s not its fault that it doesn’t work. I’d hate to hurt its itty feelings, after all.