I also wanted to use this blog to discuss some gadgets and things that aren’t work related. Finding in depth reviews of these kinds of things are hard to come by, especially ones where there isn’t any real incentives to be for or against the product. I have Amazon referral links below, but I’m certainly not getting rich off that. 🙂
I purchased an Ecobee3 thermostat by Ecobee about a year ago. I find it’s better to live with it before making any judgments about it. I think now is a good time to write a review after living with it for a year.
Basic Background Info
I just wanted to share some basic information that may help others compare their results or their current situation that may help them to determine what to expect from their purchase of an Ecobee3 should they decide to purchase one.
Ecobee3 can be purchased in two packages:
You can also add packs of two remote sensors.
Protip: If you have sections of your house with consistently offset temperatures from each other, such as an upstairs and downstairs, place sensors equally between the two. This avoids skewing of one house section's temperature over another.
I purchased my Ecobee3 for my primary residence, which is a 1650 sq ft house, no garage. It’s a two story house built in 2001 in the Richmond, Virginia area. Other than the Ecobee3 purchase, I haven’t done any significant energy efficient upgrades to the house. It’s still running the original HVAC system, which is an American Standard electric heat pump system with one stage aux heat (emergency heat). I don’t have any additional specific information about it beyond that. It had a standard manual thermostat, which we set and forgot about. We conscientiously change our air filters in the house every two months, and service the unit each year to ensure efficiency.
The house, typical of most multi-story houses, has a temperature disparity between the floors of about 5F on average. On top of that, my wife and I share an office, which is another 3-4F warmer than the rest of the upstairs due to all the computer equipment running up here (router, NAS device for lab, Windows based file server, my workstation, her workstation, 7 LCD monitors between us). I also have my desk treadmill I got last year around the same time. It uses significant electricity and generates more heat in the room when I’m using it. We do have dampers which we change depending on the season to force AC more upstairs in the summer, and force more heated air downstairs in the winter, but the temperature disparity can’t be overcome by this alone unfortunately, no matter what we do.
I frequently work from home, and my wife is home most of the time as well, aside from a few days a week during the day. I wouldn’t expect a ton of energy savings from detecting when we’re home or not.
I purchased the Ecobee3 version before HomeKit integration was offered. Ecobee3 comes with a motion/temp sensor within the thermostat itself, and one additional remote sensor. I purchased one more motion/temp sensor two pack.
My thermostat is located downstairs in our family/entertainment room. I placed the remaining sensors in the downstairs kitchen, our upstairs bedroom, and our
sauna office. We elected not to place sensors in any bathrooms, an extra bedroom upstairs that’s a glorified storage room, or any hallways.
Protip: I would balance sensors evenly between floors that have natural temperature disparities like we do. Otherwise, the weighted whole house temperature might get skewed more often towards one floor or another when all are evenly occupied.
Installation was relatively simple, even for me. While I’m an IT engineer, I’m not much of a DIY’er for house work. I’ve never replaced nor installed a thermostat ever before the Ecobee3. I checked their website, and provided the wires that were in my current thermostat. It provided me the wiring directions for the Ecobee3.
Protip: Use their website to determine wiring. Also, know what kind of system you have prior to install. I would also elect to install the thermostat when the system will engage, and you will be around to know if there are any misconfigurations.
It worked straight off the bat except for one issue. It asks you if energizing your heat pump cools or warms your house. I accepted the default, which is the most common. Mine was of course the lesser common. This became very obvious as soon as cooling was needed. Ecobee notified me my house was going in the wrong direction from what the thermostat expected. I simply went in and changed this option, and everything worked at a basic level there on out.
Ecobee updated the firmware a few times since. One notable update came a few months after the initial release, which claims to have improved the algorithms responsible for deciding when to use the heat pump versus aux heat and full on AC. This should improve efficiency significantly.
Issues Encountered? Just a few…
After the initial install snafu I discussed above, the only issue I’ve encountered is the sensor in the kitchen downstairs, despite it being the closest to the thermostat unit itself, would alert of getting disconnected and reconnected frequently. New versions of firmware that would automatically install on the themostat would make this better, then back to bad, then better again. I tried replacing the CR2032 watch battery in it, but that didn’t do any good. Eventually, Ecobee apparently nailed it somewhere in the firmware update chain, and it has rarely happened again. Even though this happened, it never significantly impacted operation that I’m aware of.
Once, I updated my Asus RT-AC68W to the latest firmware revision, and my Ecobee3 absolutely could not connect to wifi. I downgraded, and it reconnected. I did it again a few months later with an even newer firmware revision, and it did it again. The only way I could resolve it is downgrade back again. However, I recently upgraded my router to a fork in the Asus router’s code that Asus uses as a base for their firmware. I had no issues at all after that. I’m guessing there was indeed something wrong with the Asus firmware. Why it caused issues specifically with the Ecobee3, I have no idea.
Protip: If your router or WAP has the ability to provide segregated connectivity only to the internet and to nothing else on your LAN, you might as well use that for the Ecobee. Any Ecobee actions you perform against the thermostat goes out to the internet to Ecobee's servers and back down to your thermostat. Local connectivity doesn't do you any good. This reduces risk to your network.
What I’ve liked about the Ecobee3
Here’s what I’ve liked about the Ecobee3 so far:
- Easy initial installation for the most part. No special wifi network configurations necessary, no port port forwarding, nothing like that. “It just works” is pretty much the case, at least as much as you could possibly hope for IMO.
- Easy to maintain. Firmware updates automatically, no issues I’ve encountered other than the kitchen sensor issue, which eventually went away.
- IOS apps have worked fairly reliably. Sometimes I need to force close the app and restart it, but that’s really minor.
- Remote ability to manipulate settings, such as desired temperature, turning the HVAC system off when it’s not needed, flipping the mode from heat to cooling as the seasons change, and scheduling vacations to save energy. My wife LOVES the ability to do this without having to go to the thermostat.
- Automatic detection for when we are home and not, or which rooms are occupied (see negatives below, it’s definitely not all roses)
- AWESOME analytics when you want it. This helps you determine how efficient the system is running, diagnosing and detecting problems, etc. This helped me detect a problem recently where a small leak in the heat pump system caused the outside fan unit to freeze up. The unit was becoming noisy. I fired up the iPad IOS app, looked at trends, and noticed a sharp increase in how much the heat pump was running just to maintain heat. I promptly called for service. It also helped me to determine that using the single room small portable AC unit I have for the office does help avoid running the whole house unit. At my fingertips, I can find out what temperature it is in any room with a sensor, when my AC, heat pump, and auxilury heat has run on an easy to read graph along side the outside and inside actual temperatures, along with my desired temperature. The data you gain access to alone in my opinion may make the thermostat worth it. I didn’t know exactly what the temperature differences between rooms actually was before. I didn’t know how much my system was running. I didn’t know any trends concerning how much the auxiliary heat was used vs the heat pump, or how much the AC was actually running to cool the house down. I could actually see the impact of my desk treadmill had on the office temperature. All this data is eye-opening. You can use it to make informed decisions that can save you money.
- Alerts when things aren’t running right. Ecobee notifies me if it sees the temperature moving in the wrong direction compared to what it expects, which helped me diagnose the initial misconfiguration. I get alerts when it’s time for routine maintenance. Ecobee sends alerts if the aux heat runs for longer than an amount of time I configure. That helped me discover a window in the house was left opened accidentally, and when a damper somehow got closed shut. This happened once before I got the Ecobee, and it ran like this for a few weeks before we noticed. I get alerts if the weighted temperature goes above or below configured thresholds, so I know if there’s a major problem.
- Plenty of tweaking options! If the automated logic of the Ecobee doesn’t quite work for you (or even not at all), you’re given enough options to change to make it work for you.
- You gain access to settings and abilities you just don’t have with a dump thermostat. For example, I can choose to run the HVAC system’s fan a minimum of a defined number of minutes to circulate air throughout the house, which has helped the temperature imbalance in the house between rooms/floors.
- It’s a really nice looking thermostat quite honestly. Very well made, nice looking display, the touchscreen works really well on it.
What I haven’t liked about the Ecobee
There are a few things that I haven’t liked:
- If you lose internet connectivity, you lose the ability to remotely manage the Ecobee3. I know if they changed this, it would likely complicate installation and day to day management of it. I’m fine with this honestly.
- The wifi connection issue when I’ve updated my router. I do think that was very likely a problem with my router’s firmware though.
- Ecobee isn’t being intentionally misleading. You may think this thermostat can simply be installed, initially configured and setup your schedule, keep that updated as your daily life patterns change, and then let it automate your house beyond that, and you’re good to go. No significant tweaking required! That wasn’t my experience. I fully recognize this may be because of the weird temperature disparity within my house coupled with the varying tolerance of temperature ranges between my wife and I. I found I had to resort to some pretty unorthodox tweaking that most people would never need to do. Here’s an example of one of the issues I had to tweak my way out of to stop constant complaints from my wife. We would often times both be in my office for long periods of time. Since the office is so hot, this works to our favor in the winter. All other rooms get de-weighted, so the heat pump doesn’t run nearly as much. The problem is when my wife goes downstairs, and is confronted with a 10F colder temperature. I tried various tweaks until finally deactivating the office as even being counted when determining the house temperature because nothing else would make it be acceptably warm enough when she left the office, negating significant savings. I’ve also had to tweak other settings as well to get optimum performance for winter and summer that would be more specific to each HVAC system. Didn’t have to in order to get a basically functioning system, but still. Expect to need to tweak.
Protip: Check in on your analytics when you begin using AC or heat for the first time you have the thermostat, or perhaps even if you just changed your HVAC system. You may need to tweak some settings.
- Firmware updates are out of the blue and are managed by Ecobee. Furthermore, Ecobee doesn’t do a very good job of notifying you when new firmware drops, when it’s installed on your system, and changelogs to the firmware, so you might know what to expect.
- The iPad version of the app has significantly more in it than the iPhone app. This is most noticeably in the amount of trending data available. Surely some limited trending data could be made available on the iPhone.
- Not every tweaking function is available on even the iPad app.
- Remote sensors are around $65-70 for a two pack, which is price gouging, quite honestly. That’s why we don’t have sensors in the rooms we’re not in much, even though that would be nice.
- You and anyone else who manipulates any setting really needs to basically understand how the Ecobee works before they start fiddling with it. For example, my wife would be upstairs in the winter, and would come downstairs and be a bit too cold, so she’d change the desired temperature to a set and hold for something warmer. She didn’t understand the displayed temperature was a weighted average on the thermostat for all rooms with a greater weight to rooms that detected motion. She’d set it a few degrees warmer than whatever that said, and that was that. That would leave the set/hold on indefinitely, throwing the schedule I had configured out the window. Next thing I know, a non-optimal set and hold was running for a week. It took some explaining that moving from room to room alone may have automatically made it comfortable.
Would I have bought it knowing what I know now?
Unequivocally, yes. I need to crunch the numbers to see if the thermostat itself has saved me money on its own by making my HVAC system more efficient, which I intend to do soon as a follow up to the best of my ability. It’s hard to calculate this. I’ve gotten concrete practical examples of where the Ecobee has helped me solve issues that would have cost me more money in electricity or a service call.
It’s also far more convenient to remotely change settings without having to go to the thermostat or even be home. I’ve even made some tweaks to make my wife more comfortable from my iPad while I was out of town. How cool is that? (No pun intended!)
My wife loves being able to change basic stuff right from her phone if she wants. She’s not a tech gadget person, and even she has seen the value of it. That says a lot.
I’ve also got an Amazon Echo Dot. Voice commands are limited to mainly setting a temperate, but that works. With that said, I have never had a use for that in practice.