Three years ago, Nest announced their first smart thermostat clocking in at $250. While others balked at the price, I saw the value of something that could potentially reduce our family energy expenditure. And save money we did! Despite the upfront cost of the Nest, after having used the device that first twelve months, I estimated we dropped our gas and electric bill by $500 for the year. The second year, the savings continued. I offloaded my 1st generation Nest and upgraded to the 2nd generation Nest along with adding a few of the Nest Protect smoke alarms to the house.
But despite seemingly being all-in on the Nest platform, there recently have been a few changes to both their products and the thermostat market in general that have me rethinking our current setup – including potentially switching out to a new brand. First, Google acquired Nest. As much as I appreciate Google’s ability to find pretty much anything on the Internet, I have reservations in providing them too much data, especially when it comes to our home. Call me paranoid all you want, but that’s simply how I feel.
Second, the Protect product seemed so promising at first release. Our Nest is situated in the dining room which is rarely accessed when we are in the house, therefore the Nest can not accurately tell when we are home or not. With the wired Protects, Nest would be able to monitor our house for motion and help adjust the auto features which would alleviate the Nest from not being able to “see” us when we were home. I found that this really didn’t work so well when we had our four-legged furry friends running around the house during the day. I was hoping that the Protects would help build a better picture of our occupancy of our home, but it really didn’t seem to add much smarts to the Nest, just false alarms for movement.
To tell you the truth, I really didn’t pay that much attention to the Ecobee3 launch back in September. For the most part, I was happy with my Nest and really didn’t see much benefit to the Ecobee3. I was wrong. After noticing a few of the tech sites I follow start to post more about the Ecobee3, the more I became interested. This was especially the case when I payed attention to the remote sensors that can be added to the Ecobee3. Could this solve the problem that my current Nest platform has with not being able to determine not only occupancy of the house, but also the correct temperature for the different rooms?
The last item that swayed me into a purchase was Steve Jenkin’s Ecobee3 review. After reading his excellent breakdown of the product, including the good and bad, I decided to purchase the unit along with a couple of additional sensors for our home. Turns out the local Apple Store here in Indianapolis recently started carrying the Ecobee3. I put my order in and I was on my way. I was also able to find additional sensors at my local Best Buy to add to the Ecobee3 platform. Amazon is also selling the system if you’d rather shop there.
First impressions and Installation
Unboxing the Ecobee 3, you are greeted with a nice sleek black slab. This is in contrast to the Nest circular design and shiny outer rim. In the box, you get the thermostat itself, one remote sensor (more on that in a bit), a Power Extender Kit (PEK), a large and small backplate, screws, and installation instructions. Although the Ecobee is made of mostly plastic, it feels refined. The material is a step down from the Nest, but in the end, I think the Ecobee looks great!
If you are familiar with installing the Nest, the Ecobee3 will be a very similar process. You have a backplate that mounts to your wall. You then take your existing wires and connect them to the correct inputs on the backplate. With my current setup of wires (Rc, W, Y, G wires), the Nest was able to draw power from the Rc wire. This is not the case with the Ecobee3. The Ecobee3 requires the C wire, or also known as the Common wire to draw power. Thankfully Ecobee includes what’s called a Power Extender Kit which is a fancy device that basically takes care of converting one of my existing wires (Rc) into a common C wire. I basically needed to open up my HVAC system and get to the logic board where the wires connect from the thermostat. I then installed the PEK and connected the wires appropriately so that I now had a C wire on the other end by the thermostat.
Once the PEK was properly connected, I then went back to the backplate and plugged in the Ecobee3. There was power. There were lights. There was great success! Considering I’ve never opened up my HVAC system like that, I was surprised to have it work the first time. :-) The Ecobee3 came to life and started it’s boot up process which only took a few minutes. As I waited for the boot up, I downloaded the iOS app for my iPhone so that I could continue with the registration process. The Ecobee3 presents a registration code that you need to use to complete the setup for the thermostat. Once registered, you then provide additional information about your home. After registration is completed, the Ecobee3 will start calibrating.
Using the Ecobee3
There are three ways to interact with the Ecobee3: mobile app, web interface, or just walking up to it old school style. :-)
First let me explain the different features of the Ecobee3 and then dive into the different interfaces. At a high level, the Ecobee3 supports adjusting the temperature at will, setting a schedule, or using the remote sensors to accommodate whole house temperatures.
To adjust the temperature at will, you simply need to use one of the three methods to adjust the current setting. There is a toggle on the right side of the interface where you just move it up or down depending upon your desired setting. Ecobee3 also supports a schedule setting to allow for different modes within your home. The unit has three basic modes: Home, Away, Sleep. You are able to adjust the default temperatures for each of these settings. You are also able to set a define schedule for each of the modes. As an example, I like to wake up at 5:30am (don’t judge me). I can have the Ecobee3 start to warm up the house to the desired temperature by 5:30. When the Mrs. and I leave for work, we can have the temperature lowered to a certain point and then adjust when we come home at night. At night, Ecobee3 can automatically start to lower the temperature, making me happy and the Mrs. uncomfortable. ;-)
At this point, you are wondering what’s so special about the Ecobee3. My answer will be the remote sensors. When you purchase the unit, one remote sensor is included with the product. The remote sensors not only senses temperature, but also movement (occupancy). They run on a standard 2032 battery and wireless connect to the main Ecobee3 thermostat.
The ability to have these remote sensors around your house gives the Ecobee3 thermostat a better gauge on your entire home’s temperature. By adding additional sensors to your home, you are giving Ecobee a better understanding of what’s going on. The unique feature of these sensors is the “Follow Me” feature. When enabled, Ecobee3 will use the existing sensors in your home to adjust the temperature appropriately. If I’m in my upstairs office, Ecobee3 will understand that I’m only occupying this room and will average the temperature appropriately. The same if the Mrs. is downstairs watching TV while I’m upstairs, the Ecobee3 will know to adjust the temperature for both floors. This is something that the Nest could not provide. Sure, the Protects could sense when I walked by, but it could not detect the temperature and adjust accordingly. The remote sensors for the Ecobee3 provide this data back to the main thermostat.
Ecobee3 Thermostat and Mobile Interface
Both the Ecobee3 thermostat and mobile apps have a simple touch screen interface. This interface is the same on the unit itself, and the iPhone and iPad apps that I had installed. There is also an app in the Google Play store. To adjust the Ecobee3, you simply need to move the right side icon up or down to the desired temperature. On the main screen, there is also a weather button in the middle. This will bring up not only the current outside temperature, but also an expanded view of the next few days. You are also able to access the main settings of the Ecobee3 system from both mobile apps and the unit itself.
The one option that you have via the thermostat is the ability to see the remote sensors. This is not included within the mobile apps or web browser apps at all. You physically need to go to the thermostat to see the status of the remotes. To me, this is not that big of a deal, as long as the remote sensors are working properly. Just something to think about with this platform. I hope Ecobee can incorporate the remote sensor information into the mobile app.
Web Browser View
Ecobee also allows you to access your thermostat via a web browser, which gives a slightly different view of your system. The main addition to using the web browser is the ability to see the Home IQ function which shows you very discrete data about your Ecobee3.
Having browser access for the majority of functions is a great addition to the system. You can adjust pretty much any setting as you would with the mobile apps or just going up to the thermostat itself. The Home IQ is also a great feature. The Ecobee3 allows you to see hour by hour information regarding your home. This includes the time your HVAC or AC unit was turned on, the current temperature inside and outside, and also the humidity all around. You are also able to download this data from the Ecobee website if desired.
There are a few things I would like to see in future updates for the Ecobee3 platform. The first would be location awareness with my phone. As nice as remote sensors are to have within the home, I would still like to be able to have the house adjust temperature based on the location of me, not on a schedule. The other option to look forward to, would be Apple’s HomeKit. Seeing as Ecobee is now selling within the Apple Store, I would love for them to take advantage of HomeKit to provide additional functionality. Maybe we aren’t too far off based on this post on the Ecobee forums.
With my time with Ecobee3, I can say that it has performed very well! The addition of the remote sensors helps the entire system understand what’s going on in the house, and keep me from getting the “why is it so cold in here” talk from the Mrs. If you are looking to update your current thermostat, or want to replace your Nest, I would suggest that you look at the Ecobee3 as an alternative.