$385 at ecobee.com
Programmable thermostats are an easy way to shave some dollars off of your monthly heating and cooling bill, but who knew they could be so technologically advanced? The Ecobee Smart Thermostat is the pinnacle of thermostats. It is so advanced, in fact, that only licensed HVAC technicians would likely be qualified to install one. We were able to conduct a limited test of the unit, to see if all the features were as exciting as we had hoped.
Once installed by an HVAC technician, the Ecobee system uses your home Wi-Fi network to communicate directly with your personal Web portal. The first year of subscription services, priced at $35, is included in the cost of the thermostat. This portal allows you to completely customize the temperature you wish for each phase of your life: when you wake up, when you go to work, when you go to sleep, etc. While connected to the Internet, your Ecobee will receive continuous updates on weather and temperatures that will display on the screen. If not connected, it will operate as a standard programmable thermostat, with a really snazzy screen. The Ecobee Web interface is optimized for you to be able to "set it and forget" it, provided your energy needs stay relatively constant. Those who crave the interaction with weather reports and like to plan out each day in a unique fashion, can visit the interface as often as they wish (from home or at work).
You also always have the option to manually change your climate controls from the convenience of your living room, via the touch-screen thermostat.
Similar to how an iPod touch lets you select features from the home screen, the Ecobee gives you the ability to control your home’s temperature with a colorful user interface. Idiot-proof programming, like the inclusion of a "quick save" button, makes it possible to operate the thermostat with just a basic overview of the system. The only button housed in the casing of the Ecobee (the large Bee button) will always take you back to the home screen.
This is just the beginning of what the thermostat can do. While its fullest potential would be reached in a home with multiple heating and cooling devices (including humidifiers), it can be installed for use in a simple central heating/cooling environment. Because there is so much programming that must be done to use all the features (and a rather involved hard-install to the heating/cooling system), it could take a while to master all the goodies and get the maximum savings that the Ecobee offers.
Our favorite features include:
- Personalized alerts that indicate low battery, communication failures, low/high temperature, and heating/cooling system unresponsiveness. It also lets you know when it’s time to change filters or schedule a routine maintenance for your furnace or AC.
- Vacation mode that lets you conserve energy away from home. You can name and save any number of vacations to account for a variation in schedules.
- Fail-Safe programming wizard. The screen prompts you with such questions as “I wake up at” and lets you enter the time, as well as the minimum heating temp and maximum cooling temp. The thermostat corresponds to each schedule change with icons that easily let you know what you’re looking at (a coffee icon, for example, represents the time you wake up at).
- A full five-day forecast can be displayed for your zip code, if connected to wireless Internet. A quick button push will also tell you the current weather conditions in your area.
Provided that you’re willing to set the thermostat up to be completely customized with your daily needs, it’s possible to set your central heating/cooling system to only use what you require. In addition to the possible energy savings that would occur on the first day of using the Ecobee, there will no longer be an excuse for not changing filters or ignoring opportunities to repair your system (which will go a long way in keeping your system efficient).
The Ecobee is the next step in combining smart houses with user-friendly applications and a concern for lower utility bills. With its ability to detect and control the various minor details of your heating and cooling system (fan levels, humidity, and ventilation), it supports a "whole-home" approach towards energy usage. True techies will get a kick out of the endless options and a customizable experience that the gadget can give you. Provided you can afford the $385 price tag (and can locate a qualified technician to do the install), the outcome should make for one of the easiest ways to green your home this year.