How to Install a Nest Thermostat

by James Fitzgerald
Nest home security and temperature control

Heating and cooling your home is expensive — accounting for over half of the average home’s monthly energy costs, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If you’re like most savvy homeowners, you’re probably looking for cost-effective ways to lower your heating and cooling costs. Among the plethora of available options, upgrading to a smart thermostat is one of the simplest and most affordable ways to run your system more efficiently. How? They learn when you’re at home and at work, when you’re asleep and awake, and various other parameters based on your household’s unique lifestyle. That way, your heating and cooling systems only operate when you actually need them.

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One of the most popular smart thermostats is the Google Nest, which is compatible with roughly 90% of all 24V heating and cooling systems. Better yet, the Google Nest is incredibly easy to set up and install. Read on to learn how to install a Nest Thermostat in 10 simple steps and begin lowering your monthly energy bill today.

Do You Need an Electrician to Install a Nest Thermostat?

While installing a smart device might sound intimidating, the Nest Thermostat was designed with ease of installation in mind. Installing a Nest Thermostat is well within the skillset of the average homeowner, and it doesn’t require any wiring or electrical experience. Moreover, if you have any difficulty with the installation process, you can go to Nest’s support page for further guidance and clarification.

To make the process even easier, Nest provides all the tools and materials you need for installation, including a screwdriver, wire labels and an easy-to-follow instruction manual. The only additional tools you may need are a Phillips screwdriver or power drill. You may also need spackling compound and touch-up paint to repair visible damage on the wall once your old thermostat is removed.

Check for Compatibility

If you haven’t already done so, you should verify that your heating and cooling system is compatible with the Nest Thermostat. Signs that your system might not be compatible include:

  • Your existing thermostat is labeled with a rating of 110, 120, or 240 volts
  • Your existing thermostat is built into the wall (hardwired)
  • Thick electrical wires are connected to your existing thermostat — usually with wire nuts

If you’re still unsure, you can visit Nest’s online compatibility checker to determine the compatibility of your system.

How to Install a Nest Thermostat

Step 1: Turn Off the Power

To protect yourself from electrocution and to protect the thermostat during installation, shut off the power to your existing thermostat. To do this, switch off the breaker that controls your heating and cooling system in your home’s breaker box. If you’re not sure which breaker controls your heating and cooling system, you can switch off the main breaker to shut off power to your entire home.

Step 2: Remove Your Existing Thermostat’s Cover

Next, remove the front cover of your existing thermostat. Many covers simply pop off by applying light pulling pressure. Others are held in with screws that need to be removed.

Step 3: Label the Wires

Open the instructions guide to the page where a vertical row of blue wire labels is located. The wire labels include:

  • Y1 and Y2: Wires that control the cooling system.
  • G1, G2 and G3: Wires that operate the fans
  • W: Wire that operates the furnace
  • OB: Wire that operates the heat pump
  • RC: Power wires for the cooling system
  • RH: Power wires for the heating system
  • C: Common wire

These same markings should be labeled on your existing thermostat — either above or below the thermostat’s wire terminals — where the wires plug into. Simply wrap the label around the wire that’s connected to the terminal with the corresponding mark. The labels have an adhesive backing that secures the label around the wire.

Step 4: Disconnect the Wires and Backplate

The wires will be secured to the thermostat’s terminals with either screws or buttons. If screws are used, use the included Nest screwdriver to loosen them and pull out the wires. For buttons, simply depress the tab to release the wires before pulling them out.

Step 5: Remove the Backplate

Remove the old thermostat’s backplate once the wires are out, being careful not to dislodge any of the wire labels. If the backplate is secured to the wall with screws, use a screwdriver or power drill to remove them.

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Step 6: Patch the Wall or Install the Nest Trim Plate

If there are any holes or visible blemishes on the wall after the old backplate is removed, you can either repair the wall or cover the damage with the provided Nest trim plate.

If you’re repairing the wall, apply spackling compound to any holes or damaged drywall. Once it’s dry, sand the spackle down with 120-grit sandpaper until it’s flush with the surrounding wall. Prime and paint the areas you repaired along with any unpainted spots on the wall.

If you’re installing the trim plate, carefully pull the wires through the opening in the center of the plate. Hold a small level to the top of the plate to ensure it’s straight, then secure it to the wall with the provided screws using a screwdriver or power drill.

The provided screws are “self-tapping,” meaning they should screw into your sheetrock without any pre-drilling. However, you may need to use a power drill to pre-drill 3/32-inch pilot holes if you’re screwing into wood studs.

Step 7: Install the Nest Base

Pull the wires through the center of the Nest base, and center it over the cover plate, if you’re using it. Install one of the provided screws into the top hole on the base. Don’t tighten the screw all the way — only until the base is snug to the wall.

Use the built-in level on the top of the base to ensure it’s level, then install the second screw into the bottom of the base. Tighten down the top screw.

Step 8: Connect the Wires

With the base installed, begin connecting the wires to the wire terminals. Simply match up the labeled wires coming from the wall to the terminal with the corresponding marking on the base. Depress the button on the terminal, and press the wire all the way in. Verify that the wire is secure by gently tugging on it.

Once all the wires are connected, press any remaining slack in the wires into the wall.

Step 9: Connect the Display

Holding the Nest display upright (with the logo on top), press it onto the base until you hear it click.

Step 10: Turn the Power Back On

Go back to your home’s main electrical panel and turn the breaker back on. If everything was properly connected, the Nest Thermostat will power up and the display will begin guiding you through the initial setup procedure.

How Do I Set My Nest Thermostat for the First Time?

Before you can use your Nest Thermostat, you will need to go through an initial setup process. Fortunately, this process is simple and quick, and the display will walk you through all the necessary steps.

First, the Nest will detect which wires are installed. It will display which wires are connected to which terminals on the screen. If the displayed image matches the wires you installed, you can proceed. Otherwise, disconnect the base and verify that the wires are pressed all the way into the terminals.

Afterward, it will ask you a few basic questions about you and your home, including:

  • Your preferred language
  • Your zip code
  • Which room of your home the Nest is installed in
  • Your preferred heating and cooling settings
  • Your home’s Wi-Fi network password

Finally, the Nest will run a quick test to ensure everything is working correctly.

Once the initial setup is complete, you can add the thermostat to the Nest app. Doing so will allow you to operate your Nest Thermostat from your smartphone through your home’s Wi-Fi network. You can download the Nest app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Simply launch the app and follow the registration instructions to add your brand-new thermostat.