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ecobee3 Smart Thermostat Review (HomeKit enabled)


When it comes to heating and cooling your home, there are thermostats, smart thermostats, and then there's Ecobee.  And while this HomeKit enabled Ecobee3 was introduced just this past year, Ecobee has been making smart thermostats since 2007.  That's nearly four years before their biggest competition hit the scene.  Since that time their thermostat offerings have improved drastically and this latest thermostat is the culmination of their years of experience.  Ecobee was kind enough to send me this thermostat for review, and in this review we'll explain why you should consider purchasing a smart thermostat and we'll see if the additional options and features of this ecobee make it stand out from the competition.


Heating and cooling your home can account for over 50% of your home's energy usage.  In most cases the device that controls this is maintaining a constant temperature around the clock even if you're in bed asleep or not even at home.  Programmable thermostats have been around for years.  The problem is very few people actual program them.  It's not that we don't know our schedules but rather that the interface for programming these is cumbersome and our schedules constantly change.  Ecobee is not a learning thermostat.  It's not going to automatically learn your schedule and program itself. However the interface for setting it up is very simple and it even comes preset with a base template.  In addition to that it contains motion sensors to sense whether you're at home or away. For example, if you usually go out on Tuesday nights but this week decided to stay at home, then ecobee with sense that and set the thermostat to your home comfort setting. Similarly if you decide to go out and run errands during a time when you'd usually be at home, ecobee will sense that as well and set your thermostat to away.  Any smart thermostat can do this and the savings are huge. However, there's a few other options and features that ecobee has that we should definitely consider.

Ecobee's tag line is that it's the thermostat for homes with more than one room. That's because each thermostat ships with an additional room sensor. These tiny room sensors are wireless and battery operated and ecobee says you'll get about four years of battery life from these. Most thermostats are only monitoring the temperature directly from the thermostat. Ecobee however uses these additional sensors to monitor the temperature as well as the humidity from additional rooms. It then averages these figures across the house to provide comfort throughout all the rooms instead of just at the thermostat. Where you place your sensors will vary depending on what room is important to you. An obvious choice is a nursery so that know your child's room is always comfortable. The more sensors you add the better ecobee will be able to heat and cool your home. The unit ships with one sensor, or three if you buy the bundle, but you can add up to 32. Ecobee takes this a step further by adding motion detection as well. So if you enable it, ecobee will use its Follow Me feature to only consider rooms that are occupied. For me I put the sensor in our guest room. So now ecobee will only consider that room if we actually have guest staying in it. Motion is also considered for Smart Home and Smart Away. If you work from home occasionally this is a must. By putting the wireless sensor in your home office ecobee will sense that you're still at home and keep your home nice and cozy even if you never go near the actual thermostat.  Setting up the wireless sensor is a breeze. You pull the tab to activate it while standing near the ecobee and it's then automatically added to the system.  I did have a minor problem with my sensor after using it for about a week where it would frequently disconnect from the ecobee. I contacted support and they said this was because the battery wasn't making good contact with terminals. They suggested I take the back off and gently bend the terminals to make better contact with the battery.  After doing this I haven't had the issue since. I also noticed if we leave our guest room door shut for long periods of time the sensor will disconnect and reconnect as well.  The sensor can be mounted to the stand or wall mounted using the optional back.

The second thing that makes this thermostat stand out from the competition is how well it works with various home automation platforms. At the time of publishing this review it's the only thermostat on the market that works with Apple HomeKit.  Although Honeywell just announced at CES that their Lyric thermostat will soon support Apple Homekit as well.  This means that you can control your thermostat using Siri. You can say things like "hey Siri, set the temperature to 73 degrees" and Siri will respond with, "OK, I set the downstairs to about 73 degrees". There are some limitations though. Currently in order to use HomeKit you can't have the thermostat in auto mode. It has to be in either heat mode or cool mode. I've really enjoyed using auto mode especially this time of the year. Having the thermostat automatically switch to heat at night when it's cool outside and then switch to AC during the day when it's hot is really handy. It may sound wasteful but that's just the reality of the fall and spring in the southeast. Ecobee informed me though that they've figured out a workaround and will be releasing a software update in early 2016 that will allow the use of HomeKit even while in auto mode. Another limitation is that in order to use HomeKit outside of your hone you have to have an Apple TV. The Apple TV acts as your hub to allow you to control your HomeKit devices over the Internet. I currently don't have an Apple TV so I wasn't able to test this. You can use HomeKit to create scenes. This allows your HomeKit devices to integrate with one another. For example, you could create a scene called "I'm home". Then when you come home you could announce to Siri that you're home and this will set your thermostat, turn on your tv, and turn on your lights all depending on what type of HomeKit devices you have. Another way to trigger scenes is by using location. You can set a geofence around your home and then trigger scenes when you enter or exit this fence. However this requires an Apple TV as well since you'll be using HomeKit away from home. 

Another system that I took advantage of was if this then that. I used this to trigger my thermostat based on a geofence I'd set around my house and the if this then that app running on my iPhone. This meant that my ecobee could begin warming my house when I was about five miles away versus right when I walked in the door.  You can also get creative and tie in things like your Fitbit so that your ecobee knows right when you wake up and can switch from your sleep comfort setting to your home comfort setting. While other thermostats participate in If This Then That as well, none have the flexibility of ecobee.  And this is the case across almost all home automation platforms. If you'd rather use Samsung Smart Things or Wink then ecobee participates in those as well. Or if you'd like to program your own software, it has an open API.

The interface on the ecboee is very intuitive.  Because it's a normal touchscreen like on your smartphone or tablet almost anyone can use it.  My kids have really enjoyed checking the live weather as well as the four day forecast to see how they should dress for the day.  

Unless you never leave your house, having a smart thermostat is definitely going to save you money.  I've been using Ecobee for two months now and while comparing last year's versus this year's electricity bill, granted it was six degrees warmer, but I've saved roughly 21%.  Ecobee also has a savings monitor in their portal where you can see how much runtime you've saved versus keeping your house set to a standard 72 degrees.  It's not a matter of if Ecobee will pay for itself but rather how quickly. And while speaking of the portal, they keep all of your runtime history and temperatures for the past 15 months!  None of the competition comes even close to this.  

I've been looking at smart thermostats for years now, and that's primarily been focused on Nest. However after using the ecobee and seeing how it compares to Nest I'm sold. With its additional room sensors, HomeKit integration, and general openness of the ecobee, I'm convinced it's the thermostat to beat.

The only one complaint worth mentioning is that the ecobee doesn't use motion to determine if you're still awake at night or if you've woken up early. At the time of recording this it's currently a little after midnight and I'm sitting directly in front of my ecobee and it's in sleep mode even though I've been sitting here for the past two hours. However this could easily be fixed in a software update.

  I didn't have time to go into the easy DIY installation, the three year warranty, the very thorough portal on your tablet or on the web, vacation scheduling and being able to change the temperature from anywhere, or the vast array of options on the thermostat itself and your ability to customize it if you so choose. If you have questions about any of those things or anything I didn't mention feel free to leave those in the comments. 

Comments

Sam said…
This is easily one of the coolest smart home products I've ever seen! It'd definitely be a huge improvement over my current thermostat at least, which is an artifact out of the 1970's or something.
JJ said…
It's definitely the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about the Internet of Things.

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