Ecobee3 Review – A Hands-On Experience From HellBy - 06/07/2016
For those who don’t know, my ecobee3 experience started a couple of months before I had a successful install. I drove to Florida (an 8-hour drive), ecobee in tow, to install the thermostat in a friend’s rental condo. And, it didn’t happen.
I had one job!
So why the failure? After removing the original thermostat, I was left with a gaping hole. It was impossible to mount ecobee, even with the included back plate. And drywall repair isn’t my thing. So I did what any reasonable woman would do, I called my dad. And two months later, we made the trip back to Florida to finish what I “started.”
Getting Started with Ecobee3
Ecobee is a smart thermostat. Set a schedule, set your desired temperature, and the thermostat does the rest. And while this may not sound much different from your everyday, run-of-the-mill programmable thermostat, it’s unique in that it has a mobile app, can be controlled from anywhere, and can connect to other smart devices.
After arriving in Florida, my dad used a paint stick and some spackling compound to create a place to anchor ecobee. While this part looked shamefully easy, I was glad he was there, because installation didn’t get any easier. I don’t know anything about heating or cooling systems, and I was confused by some of the terminology and the process in general. He used the wire labeling I had created in March, popped the thermostat into place, and we were up and running … or so I thought.
Problems With App Settings
Using the app didn’t make me feel any more in control. It was confusing – because terminology and assumed knowledge base. A lot of the settings, like humidity, assume that you already know what a normal level should be. While you can set and customize, the app and website both lack any sort of user education or setup wizard. And in my case, training was needed. I mean, what the heck is a UV lamp reminder? What’s aux outdoor? All I can say is thank goodness for Google.
My suggestion to you is to get through the basics and then start on page 24 of this guide, which will help you walk through the advanced settings one-by-one. It’s the closest thing they have to a setup wizard.
Problems With Sweating
From the beginning, I understood the basics – ecobee3 follows a schedule, kind of. Sadly, for me, scheduling wasn’t overly intuitive at first. Though I had my “Home” time set as 7 am, ecobee started cooling down the condo at 4 am, even though it only had 3-degrees before reaching the scheduled temperature. Does it take 3 hours to cool a 1200 square foot condo? That first night was confusing, but night two is where things got downright sweaty.
You see that blue line in the report below? That’s my desired cool temperature. Do you see the white line? That’s the actual temperature. The AC had been running non-stop all day, it was hot, and it was humid, and I found the dreaded Florida Silverfish (pest who loves humidity) in a kitchen cabinet!
It was a few days later when I finally decided that ecobee wasn’t working. My first step was to contact ecobee support.
Sometimes I worry about reaching out to support. I worry they might recognize that I’m a reviewer and that I won’t get the typical experience. But in this case, I didn’t get special treatment. They asked for permission to access my account, which I granted, and 45 hours later I received this response,
“At 9.40 pm yesterday it was call for cooling because this is going to pre-run the cooling before the next schedule starts. This is a feature call Smart Recovery. Please see explanation below. Thanks!”
Ummmm. HELLO! I’m sweating to death here.
Fortunately, I had already reached my maximum concern threshold well before he contacted me. I was worried about my friend’s condo, about destroying her AC for good, about the growing Silverfish problem (I killed 4). So I did what any responsible woman would do, I called a pro.
The pro arrived, popped off my thermostat, moved a wire, and explained that the thermostat had been heating the whole time instead of cooling. HEATING! Do I blame myself? Yes. But I also blame ecobee. Here’s why:
- I didn’t receive a single alert letting me know that the system never reached my desired temperature. What if I had left Florida? I would have never known there was an issue.
- The wire was tagged R, and we put it in Rh, the pro moved it to Rc. On page 29 of my instruction manual, it says, “Do not jumper Rc or Rh, ecobee3 does this automatically. R can go into either Rc or Rh terminals on your ecobee3.”
Ecobee provided the following defense in response to my frustration,
“As far as the system sending notifications it does send them. The notifications are dependent on the wiring done properly.”
Well then. I get it, but I’m not buying it. The thermostat was still reading the correct temperature. At night, it knew it was trying to make it to 69 degrees, and it knew it wasn’t achieving the set goal. Wires messed up or not; a notification would have been nice. Apparently, this is something ecobee doesn’t do. Good to know.
The heating and cooling pro moved one wire and handed me a bill for $150. Sigh. But, before he left, he did give me an enlightening tip. You can do different things from the app versus the thermostat versus the web portal. For me, this disparity only added to my confusion, but after a few days, things started to click.
|Reminders & Alerts|
|Customizing Your Thermostat|
|Hold Action Duration|
|Configure Wi-Fi and Advanced Settings|
So What Are Ecobee3’s Features and Do They Work?
So here I am. I’ve invested $150 into the installation process, will spend a total of 24 hours in the car, dragged my dad to Florida, and have subjected myself to more facepalms than I can count. But ecobee3 is working, my friend is happy, and most of the features are performing as expected.
Setting Your Weekly Schedule
With ecobee, you can create a schedule that is as simple or as complex as your life.
Your schedule can be different for different days of the week and can certainly be more complex than home or away. Maybe you have a nap time temperature, or perhaps you want to create a schedule around your working hours; it’s all possible.
One of the features that turns ecobee from a programmable thermostat with an app to something more useful is called Smart Recovery. You can decide to enable or disable this feature. It takes the information you input about your home and starts to learn how efficient your HVAC is at heating or cooling. For example, if you want your unit to cool to 69 degrees for bedtime at 11 pm, ecobee will decide when it should start cooling to reach that temperature most efficiently. And yes, this feature works beautifully now that my system is hooked up correctly.
Ecobee comes with one remote sensor and you can buy extras. The sensors help detect occupancy. This helps the thermostat follow the correct schedule (home or away), but it also helps the thermostat create the right environment in the right room.
Occupancy detection is a feature that I don’t “get.” For example, I’m sitting on the couch in the unit, and both sensors show the home is unoccupied. Granted, I’ve been pretty still (typing) for a couple of hours, but I’m not that far from the thermostat, and I’m in direct line of site. Worse than that, it thinks I’m not here, but it’s still running the AC.
My target home temp is 78 degrees and my target away temp is 82, the thermostat thinks I’m gone, but it’s still cooling to 75. Why 75? My theory is that it is adjusting for humidity, which I asked it to do, and it’s running Home mode. To test this theory, I stood up and walked to the thermostat. After returning to the couch, I refreshed the page and found that it showed the bedroom as occupied (not true but better than unoccupied). Then it dawned on me – ecobee thinks I’m gone, but I haven’t been gone long enough for it to swap from home to away. Then something else dawned on me – team ecobee gave me bad information! Before I purchased the unit, I had reached out to ecobee with a sales question. I was told that I could set limits. For example, I could have the thermostat wait four hours before swapping to away mode. I reached out to support again and found that this isn’t exactly the case.
The ecobee3 will activate Smart Away after 2 hours of motion silence on all sensors. This 2-hour timer is shared with the Smart Home period as well, resuming the Away schedule after 2 hours if no motion is detected. None of the timings for the Smart Home/Away feature can be configured. The feature can be toggled on/off in the Sensors menu.
Playing with Others
There are other ways that ecobee can detect occupancy. For one, it supports geofencing. When your phone approaches, it can automatically trigger the right mode. When all phones are gone, it can swap to away mode. Another way it can detect occupancy is by using data points from third-party devices. Ecobee integrates with Wink, SmartThings, Haiku, IFTTT, Harmony, Vera, Control4, abode, and more. Version 3 is also HomeKit compatible. You can even control the thermostat using Siri.
Besides working with Siri, ecobee works with another voice-controlled AI, Alexa as well as Google Assistant. You can ask any Alexa or Google Assistant-enabled device (Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, Google Home, Google Home Mini, etc.) to adjust or read your home’s temperature. Using the Alexa Skill, you can also control fans, resume schedules, and set comfort modes (Home, Away, Vacation). Finally, you can simply say, “Alexa, tell ecobee I’m cold”, and ecobee will automatically raise the temperature in your home.
Reminders and Alerts
While ecobee did not warn me that it was heating when it should have been cooling nor did it warn me that it wasn’t able to meet my desired temperature, it does offer some level of reporting and alerting to keep you on your toes. You can setup email alerts for:
- HVAC Maintenance (receive service reminders every X amount of months)
- Furnace Filter Reminders
- UV lamp Reminders
- Low-Temperature Alerts (let me know if the temperature falls below X)
- High-Temperature Alerts
- Low/High Humidity Alerts
- AUX Heat Runtime Alert
- AUX Outdoor Temperature Alert
Those last two are tricky so I’ll defer to ecobee,
Aux Heat Runtime Alert- Sets the amount of time that the Auxiliary heat source, if installed, can run continuously before an alert is generated. Aux Outdoor Temp Alert- If you have a heat pump with an auxiliary heat configuration, you can configure your ecobee3 to generate an alert if the auxiliary heat is called for when the outdoor temperature exceeds this programmed set point. This feature requires an Internet connection to function properly
Clear as mud? Good.
Home IQ Reports
(Section Updated 7/5/2017)
In addition to alerts, ecobee also provides reporting. The thermostat must run for a full calendar month before reporting is available so thanks to a reminder from JoeUser below, I’m back a full year later to update this section. From the Home IQ section of the web portal, you can access an overview which covers four sections: Runtime Report, Community Comparisons, Home Efficiency, and System Monitor.
The Runtime Report is perhaps the most fun. It will tell you how much energy you’ve saved and how much money you’ve saved since dumping your dumb thermostat. But there’s a catch: The data is calculated against a 72°F benchmark. According to ecobee,
Energy savings are calculated by correlating how long your heating and cooling equipment runs to local weather conditions. Energy savings are calculated relative to a commonly used desired temperature of 72°F (22°C).
So if you’re normally semi-responsible enough to adjust your “dumb” thermostat manually, the energy savings figure is grossly exaggerated. According to the report, my friend has saved $222.91 over the past 14 months. As the condo sits vacant for lengthy periods of time, her figure is probably more accurate than most.
Next, ecobee provides a Community Comparision report. The report compares your monthly runtime savings and current desired temperature to other homes in your state.
Third, the Home Energy Efficiency report shows how well your home retains thermal energy as compared to other homes in your state.
Finally, System Monitor has several sections that allow you quick access to your system’s history, schedule, follow me history, and weather impact. From here, you can also download data as a .CSV file. You can choose a quick download of today’s data or the last 7 day’s worth of data. If you prefer a custom date range, you can do that too, but you can only go back 31 days.
The biggest downside of the reporting feature, in my opinion, is that it only works with the thermostat is online. The condo AC was having issues, and I wanted to check to see if the renters had been abusing the system, but since the thermostat was offline, I was unable to access historical reporting.
With ecobee3, you can also set heat/cool set point ranges that allow you to control the minimum and maximum temperature (so that someone doesn’t sneak the thermostat down to 60 during the summer).
You can also decide how the thermostat behaves after someone manually overrides your schedule, if you allow that to happen at all. For example, let’s say you’re hot and you want to set the temperature 2 degrees lower than your currently scheduled temperature. You can decide if the lower temperature should hold for 2 hours, 4 hours, until the next scheduled activity, or until you change it. If you prefer, you can choose the next course of action on a case-by-case basis.
Finally, you can enable access control, which allows you to password protect the thermostat from temperature changes, quick changes, onscreen schedule changes, or even from allowing someone to swap the thermostat to vacation mode.
Installing ecobee is not for the faint of heart. I read in the Quick Start guide that it’s as easy as installing a dimmer switch. I’m calling bull. Maybe for some, but I’ve never heard of someone running into drywall drama with a dimmer, and a thermostat certainly has more than three wires. In my opinion, the install process is not for the casual smart home do-it-yourselfer. It’s just not.
And to that point, getting started with ecobee requires a learning curve. However, it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s complicated. On the other, complexity is what makes ecobee great, and it’s one of the reasons why people prefer ecobee over Nest. Ecobee offers the ability to customize the way you want your HVAC system to behave; they’ve thought of every possible angle. And if they offered some sort of wizard, the setup experience would have been much brighter.
Once everything is in place, Ecobee runs magically in the background. By combining the thermostat with SmartThings, we’ve also managed to keep renters from running the A.C. when the doors are open, keep the home’s humidity level below 60%, and maximize energy savings during vacancies. Also, after a year, we’ve not had one single complaint about the thermostat, which was a concern considering that we’ve left the follow me feature active.
The second generation Ecobee3 can be purchased on Amazon, but I also suggest checking out Ecobee4. Ecobee4 has the same features as Ecobee3, but it has a sleeker design and Alexa voice service. It’s basically a smart thermostat and an Amazon Echo device combined. Ecobee4 can also be found on Amazon.
You can read more about my attempt to turn my friend’s condo into a smart condo here.