ecobee3 First Impressions

ecobee3 Smart Thermostat and Remote Sensor (photo courtesy of ecobee)
ecobee3 Smart Thermostat and Remote Sensor (photo courtesy of ecobee)

I dipped my toe into the “Smart House” waters recently when I installed a Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt on my front door. One of the reasons I went with the Schlage was its support for Apple’s HomeKit. Last week I took another step into the future by upgrading my thermostat with an ecobee3.

I’m not going to go into detail about the product or the install. A quick search online will turn up dozens that cover all of that. Here are a few to get you started:

Instead I will answer the big question as well as give my thoughts on the installation and operation (so far).

Why did you go with ecobee instead of Nest?

As soon as I tweeted that I had bought an ecobee3, I had several people ask why I picked that over a Nest.  My reasons:

Google owns Nest

I’m not a big fan of Google. It’s one of the main reasons why I went with an iPhone instead of Android when I ditched my Windows Phone. When it comes to companies having data about me, especially insight into what’s happening in my home, Google isn’t very high on that list. I admit that had they ever brought Gigabit Internet service to my home, I would have gladly jumped on the Google bandwagon (c’mon, who doesn’t want that kind of bandwidth), but they never made it here, so I never had to compromise on that one.

Nest stagnating?

A recurring refrain from reviews  and articles I read online was that Nest wasn’t doing much in terms of new products and updates. That may be because there’s not much more the Nest thermostat needs, but it concerns me to see a product perceived that way.  It’s hard to say how important Nest really is to Google at the moment.

HomeKit support

Since my wife and I both have iPhones and iPads, HomeKit seemed the way to go for home automation, which is why I bought an Apple TV (to serve as the HomeKit hub) and the Schlage Sense lock. I’m not using the HomeKit functionality to take actions across the various devices (considering I only have a thermostat and lock), but I want to have the capability as more parts of the home get connected.

Remote Sensors

We have a single zone system, and a couple of rooms upstairs (office and master bedroom) where the temperatures would vary widely from the rest of the house. Remote sensors let the ecobee3 consider the conditions in these rooms rather than relying only on the temperature at the thermostat. It’s not perfect, since the thermostat will run the A/C or furnace for the whole house to get those rooms where they need to be, but it beats sweating to death in the office during the summer or freezing in the bedroom at night in the winter. The remote sensors are also less expensive than adding a second zone.

How was the installation?

The installation was a breeze. I had replaced the original manual thermostat that came with the house a few years ago with a programmable thermostat.  When I did that install, I labeled all the wires coming out of the wall, so everything was already clearly identified for this install. The one wire that wasn’t labeled, because I didn’t have one connected, was a C-wire. The ecobee3 doesn’t use batteries, so you must provide power to it via the C-wire or common wire from the HVAC control panel. Even though I didn’t have a C-wire connected, the installers thoughtfully provided an unused wire for that purpose. After shutting off power to the HVAC system, I popped off the covers on the furnace to access the control panel. All I had to do was attach the unused cable to the C terminal at the furnace, and there was my working C-wire.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a C-wire or a spare wire to use as one. The ecobee3 comes with a Power Extender Kit (PEK) which lets you piggyback the power from the control panel using the existing wires. You have to disconnect all the existing connections and connect them to the kit, so depending on your comfort level, you may want to have someone handle this part of the install.

Once that was done, I installed the base using the supplied drywall anchors and screw to cover the hole and screw holes from the old unit. Depending on the size of the old thermostat, you may need to use the larger trim plate that is included with the ecobee3. In my case, it wasn’t needed. I snapped the ecobee3 onto the base, turned on the HVAC power, and was welcomed with the setup animation on the ecobee3 display. After it finished initialization, I walked through the setup wizard. The only issue I ran into was that it took two tries to join the Wi-Fi network. Other than that, setup was quick and trouble-free.

The package included one remote sensor, and it was simple to configure. Pulling the plastic tab on the sensor while standing at the thermostat connects the battery and turns it on. The ecobee3 recognize the units automatically, pairs with it, and prompts you for a name. I named it “Office” and set it up for “Follow Me” mode which tells the thermostat to average the temperatures of the thermostat and the remote sensors if it detects motion in those rooms

How is the ecobee3 working out?

The ecobee3 has only been in use for a week, so it’s hard to say how much better things are now. Everything is working, however, so that’s a big win. Anytime you go mucking about with the HVAC system, it’s nice to know you haven’t made it worse. I have verified that the “Follow Me” and “Smart Home/Away” features are working. I came home for lunch one day for lunch which is a time when the system knows we’re normally away, and as I walked by the thermostat, I saw the display change and the heat kicked on.

Programming the heating/cooling schedule is much easier than on our old programmable thermostat. Unlike the old system where you set each time segment and its corresponding temperature, the ecobee3 splits these into a Schedule and “Comfort Settings.” The Comfort Settings define the temperature for different occupancy states – Home, Away, Night.  The Schedule defines the days and times for the Comfort Settings. This means you can change a comfort setting without having to go through and edit the entire schedule all over again. You can also copy the settings from one day to others which makes it a breeze to setup the work week for example.

There is also an online portal where you can view your operational data and see analysis of savings, efficiency, etc. These dashboards require a minimum of one month of data, however, so I haven’t been able to review these yet. Stay tuned for a follow-up once these become available.

I installed the iOS app on my phone (an Android app is available too), and once you logon, you have full control over the thermostat wherever you are. This may come in handy the next time my Dad house sits for us in case he has any trouble working the thermostat.

Almost Forgot… Rebates!

The ecobee3 will set you back $248 from Amazon which gets you the thermostat and one remote sensor. Adding two more room sensors is an additional $54. You may be able to defray the cost somewhat with a rebate from your local utility. Ameren Missouri offers a $100 rebate for the purchase of qualifying smart thermostat. Check the availability of rebates in your area on the ecobee website.

Last Thoughts (for now)

So far I’m pleased with my choice. It was easy to install, easy to setup, and (most importantly) it works. Hard to ask for much more than that. I’m hopeful that I’m going to see some improvement in my utility bills over time and gain better control maintaining comfortable temperatures at home. If you’re in the market for a smart thermostat, give the ecobee3 a look.