Ecobee3 Thermostat Review

My bedroom is a lot colder than my living room, even though it's just steps away. And, because my thermostat is located closer to my living room, as soon as it senses that my abode has warmed to 65 degrees, it shuts off the heat, leaving me shivering under my covers. The Ecobee3 thermostat has a clever solution to that problem: A remote wireless sensor that measures the temperature and communicates back to the base unit, telling it when it's hot or cold enough. But there's more to the $241 Ecobee3 than just that feature -- including smart home integration -- that makes it my favorite thermostat to date.

Editor's Note: This review was first updated on August 25 after we tested the updated Ecobee3 with Apple HomeKit functionality. It was later updated on Feb. 16, 2016 to add the fact that it also works with the Amazon Echo.

Design

While not as classically minimalist as the circular Nest Learning Thermostat, the Ecobee3 has a modern look that's just as attractive. Square with rounded corners, the face of the 3.9 x 3.9-inch Ecobee is glossy black plastic, with a 3.5-inch QVGA touch screen in the middle. In the lower left corner, a small wedge-shaped section conceals a motion sensor. 

Like the base unit, the Ecobee3 remote sensor is square with rounded corners, but measures a much smaller 1.7 x 1.7 x 0.8 inches, and is all white. This, too, has a small motion sensor, which detects when you're in a room.

Setup

Unlike the Nest and the Honeywell Lyric, both of which have built-in batteries, the Ecobee3 draws its power from your HVAC system's Common wire (C-wire). According to Ecobee, this is a more reliable method than its competitors', which draw power from the wires used to control the heater and air conditioner, but don't provide as steady a current. 

For those who don't have a C-wire running from their furnace to their thermostat, Ecobee includes a Power Extender Kit that connects to your furnace. My situation was somewhat unique; although I didn't have a C-wire running to my thermostat, I couldn't easily install the adapter, because my apartment has a commercial-grade furnace. I had a technician from All City Heating and Cooling in Jersey City install a C-wire. After examining my unit and the Power Extender Kit, the technician said that the kit should be fairly easy for homeowners to install in residential furnaces.

Regardless, if you're uneasy about installing the Ecobee yourself, the company provides a link on its site to get a quote for a professional installation.

After it's installed, the rest of the setup procedure involves telling the Ecobee what kind of heating or cooling system you have, entering your Wi-Fi password, and setting your location. In all, this part of the procedure took about 5 minutes, and was as simple as the Nest's setup program.

MORE: Best Smart Home Gadgets

The Ecobee comes with one wireless sensor, which is powered by a CR2032 coin-cell battery; the company says it should last about 4 years. When the battery runs low, you'll receive an alert. 

If you've got a larger place than my one-bedroom apartment, the Ecobee can support up to 32 wireless sensors ($79 for a package of two). However, those with McMansions take note: The sensors have a range of only 45 feet.

Interface

If you've used a smartphone, the layout and operation of the Ecobee's interface will feel instantly familiar. In its inactive state, the Ecobee displays the current temperature inside your home in big white numbers and an icon showing the local weather conditions.

When you walk in front of the thermostat, activating its motion sensor, the display changes to show a line of dots running vertically down the right side. The top half of the dots are blue, and the lower half are orange. Within each half is a number in a small circle; these represent the desired temperatures when the system is in heating or cooling mode. If you want to temporarily change either setting, simply hold your finger on the number and drag it up or down.

It's very minimalist -- except for the line of dots, all the numbers are in white, with a black background. Still, in some ways, it felt even easier to use and understand the Ecobee's controls than the Nest.

Along the bottom of the display are three icons. The one on the left opens a menu where you can adjust settings, set a schedule, reminders and vacation modes. The middle icon reveals a weather forecast for the week, and the right icon lets you activate Home or Away modes. It's a handy shortcut.

Performance

The Ecobee3 performed very well, responding instantly to my inputs, whether they were on the base unit or from my smartphone. 

You can set the Ecobee to turn on your HVAC system based on the temperature in the base unit. Or, by activating Follow Me, Ecobee will turn on the system based on the average temperature from selected sensors that have recently detected motion. If you've got a cold room in the house, this is the setting you'll want to use. I especially like that it's only active when it detects movement in one of the remote sensors. That way, you're not paying to heat a room you're not using. Of course, when I set the thermostat to remain on until all the rooms were 65 degrees, my living room was noticeably warmer. Keeping the heat (or air conditioner) on longer will also drive up your utility bill.  

Another clever feature is the Smart Home/Away setting. When active, the Ecobee will override the Away setting if it detects someone is home. Fortunately, my 18-pound cat Walter was too small to trigger the thermostat.

MORE: Best Robot Vacuums

App and Web Portal

I really like that Ecobee's iOS app (also available for Android) is nearly identical to that of the thermostat's interface. Curiously, you can only activate Follow Me from the base unit, and not the app. Still, any changes I made using the app were instantly relayed to the base unit.Ecobee's Web portal also lets you monitor and change settings on the thermostat, but adds an extra wrinkle. A tab labeled Home IQ allows you to see detailed information about when your heating and cooling system was on, and the environmental factors that triggered it. For example, I could see that, on average, the heat was on longer on colder days, as well as when the heating system was active. 

Connected Home

Any Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat worth its salt should be able to connect to smart home systems. While not as robust as the Nest, which has its own ecosystem and a sizable head start with connected devices, the Ecobee can talk to SmartThings, Control4 and Vera smart home systems, and has an open API, so more partnerships could be in the works. You can also control it with your voice using either Siri (via Apple HomeKit) or the Amazon Echo.

The Ecobee also works with IFTTT (If This, Then That). So, for example, you can have it automatically turn on its Home setting when you enter an area. 

Apple HomeKit Integration

The Ecobee3 is one of the first smart-home devices compatible with Apple's HomeKit, which allows you to control the thermostat from your iPhone or iPad using Siri.

Those who purchased an older Ecobee3 and want to use HomeKit features will have to upgrade to a newer HomeKit-compatible Ecobee3; unfortunately, this will require purchasing a new Ecobee3 at its full $249 price.

Setting up the HomeKit-compatible Ecobee3 involves an extra step from the installation described above. In the mobile app, you select the option to pair a HomeKit-enabled thermostat. If the app sees the thermostat on your network, it will appear on your phone. Then, a code will appear on the screen of the Ecobee. Enter that into the app, and the Ecobee will then be added to your HomeKit portfolio of devices.

If you want to use Siri to control your Ecobee3 away from home, you'll also need an AppleTV (Generation 3 or later) running version 7.0 or higher.

Using Siri to Change the Temperature

Once set up, you can use Siri to change the temperature in your home, whether you're there or not. It was nice to be able to say such commands as "Set my thermostat to 74 degrees" and have my air conditioner turn on immediately. If I was out of my home, I could also say, "Enable Ecobee3 Away," and the thermostat would change its mode accordingly. You can also ask Siri what the current temperature is inside your home. A list of commands can be found here.

Unfortunately, when using HomeKit, Auto mode -- the ability to automatically switch between heating and cooling -- is not available, so you’ll need to remember to do this yourself when summer ends.

Overall, I found the HomeKit-enabled Ecobee3 to be a nice extra feature. When more HomeKit-enabled devices are available, you will be able to create scenarios that will shut off the lights, lock the doors, and change the temperature when you leave your home. Until then, if you already own a non-HomeKit-enabled Ecobee3, it's probably not worth the upgrade.

Verdict

As much as I loved the Nest, it was tough getting my bedroom to a temperature I liked. The $241 Ecobee3 solves that problem well, making it my current favorite smart home thermostat. It has a modern look, an easy-to-use interface and useful features. While the installation was a little complex, I think mine was a special case; homeowners with a little DIY know-how should be able to install it themselves.

Taking nothing from the Nest Learning Thermostat, which has a great design and works with a larger number of smart home devices, I prefer the Ecobee3 for the simple reason that it did a better job of keeping me warm at night. Isn't that what a thermostat is supposed to do?

Create a new thread in the Off-Topic / General Discussion forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
13 comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • Kevin McCormick
    Ecobee now has IFTTT support. So far I like the thermostat. I have way more control than my old one. Ecobee is seems to be very community oriented and open to suggestions. I highly recommend this thermostat.
    0
  • Dale Young
    I have never been so comfortable in my own house. Operates my 90 year old steam boiler system like it's zoned. Heat where I need it. Unbelievable!
    0
  • Ferrari Steve
    Good article, and seriously... it's not THAT tricky to install. If you have a complex HVAC setup, then you'll have to jump through some more hoops (or actually just hook up more wires). But I found setup to be a breeze, and think others will, too. :)
    0
  • CoBrBA
    Love this product!
    0
  • stanbig
    It wasn't that hard to install. I had an extra wire that was not shown in the install guide. I sent in a picture of my old thermostat's wiring. and the support folks at Ecobee sent back a personalized wiring diagram for my situation. Start to finish took about 15 minutes. The phone support guy was very helpful and friendly while rescuing me from the mess I made while playing with the settings. I would recommend this thermostat to anyone who wants to be comfortable.
    0
  • rar2000
    New updates to the system will. now allow you to customize which sensor is factored in the temp reading. Like on my upstairs unit I don't want the actual thermostat to calculates its temp and only follow the remote sensors. And down stairs after 10 pm it does not factor the living room sensor and only the sensor in the bedroom but in the daytime it's ok. Real slick now. Planning now to get more sensors.
    0
  • John Greenaway
    I've had the Ecobee3 installed since January and loving it. According to the gas company, I have gone from having about 35% higher natural gas use (less efficient) than similar homes in December (pre-Ecobee) and improving each month since to the point that I was actually 12% more efficient than similar homes in March. I am new to this house so I don't have a great comparison vs last year, but seeing that chart on my PG&E bill made me feel great about going with Ecobee.

    Because Ecobee3 has so many great features tied to the sensors, I think my favorite feature went unmentioned. SmartHome and SmartAway. While you do have a programmed settings for (a) home - optimum comfort while awake, away - less comfortable, but you're not home so who cares, and (c) sleep schedule - obviously optimal comfort overnight. To be honest, my family doesn't really have a solid fixed schedule yet during the week and I imagine most families don't really have fixed weekend schedules at all. So for these situations, Ecobee uses the sensors to enter "SmartAway" (gone when you are supposed to be home) or "SmartHome" (Home when you are scheduled to be away). Depending on the situation, this will either save you some $ by going into less costly "away" heat/cool targets or (b) making sure you are comfortable at times when you are around and the settings would normally be less comfortable. For us, we're more likely to have SmartAway kick in, hence more savings. All of this is driven by the network of sensors throughout the house rather than just sensing for presence at the base unit, which for us, is hidden behind a door or at the end of a hallway we rarely walk by.

    Just another reason not mentioned in the review to think about Ecobee3 if you are evaluating your options.
    1
  • djcentinno
    Spot on review and he is correct - it is the BEST on the market today!

    I've been using the Ecobee3 for over a month and a half now and find it to be a lot of fun to use. We are heading into the hotter months now so it will interesting to see how it works to lower our electric bill. My favorite features are the SENSORS!, HomeIQ, on-the-fly configuration changes, intelligent algorithms for Smart Recovery and Smart Home/Away. I

    It's a very user-friendly easy to install intuitive thermostat. I play with it probably more than I should because it's so cool. I have no doubt I will end up saving in the long run once the thermostat really learns how we like our home at our scheduled times and Follow Me situations.

    I also believe they genuinely care about their customers. Email and call support are phenomenal and they really listen to their customers. If you believe you can make the thermostat better, they will want to hear it and integrate that option or capability into the newest updates.

    Love my Ecobee3 and I'm sure you will too!
    0
  • jamesb6
    Ecobee3 is super east to install and operate. Operate the thermostat locally, via the web sire, or on your Android or iOS device.
    0
  • bkinstle
    I've been using it for a couple weeks now and I really like it. The latest software update gives me the ability to see the remote temperature sensors values which is really nice for checking up on the baby's room.

    My install was pretty easy since I had an unused wire in my bundle that I simply connected to the C output on my furnace. I didn't need to use the dongle.
    0
  • dgwinup
    Based on my extensive troubleshooting over the past few weeks with the Ecobee, I'm revising my review. A large section of this review is one of my most recent emails to their tech support because that email documents my findings which are still consistent with the intial review.

    In summary, I recommend this product with reservations. It has some really nice features, and many people seem to be having very good luck with it. In reading other reviews, I'm also seeing that a few people are seeing problems that are consistent with my findings and recommendations to Ecobee.

    THE GOOD: Attractive on the wall, can control basic functions from smartphone, works well for heating function. Remote sensors provide temperature and occupancy data for multiple rooms. Will overcool to adjust humidity.

    THE BAD: Temperature on main thermostat always reads 2-3 degrees high. It is not clear if the bias adjustment which is accessed via the menu applies to only the wall mounted sensor, or to the averaged temperature reading across all sensors. The wall mounted thermostat does not have many holes for ventilation, so temperature response is slow (side by side comparision with old mechanical thermostat). Not all functions are avalable via smartphone. No geo-fencing capability. Not possible to have different setpoints/ranges for specific sensors.

    THE REALLY BAD: When AC is running the thermostat itself gets hot which makes thermostat think the room is much hotter than it is. As a result, AC runs excessively, and thermostat does not control temperature. I "fixed" this by purchasing and installing a mechanical relay board. (more detailed info below)

    Here is a very recent email to Ecobee support (after numerous interactions troubleshooting the last few weeks).

    =================== Begin Email ===================

    I'm disappointed in your last email response saying that "we conclude there seems to be an air flow/draft influence affecting the t-stat sensor only." This is simply not supported by the data and several tests that we have both reviewed over the past few days.

    Primarily, I direct you to a test from two or three emails ago in which I manually jumpered at the furnace to start the AC. With the jumper in place, the Ecobee wall thermostat showed a drop in temperature as soon as the AC turned on. Without the jumper--when the Ecobee thermostat itself calls for cooling--the wall thermostat shows an INCREASE in temperature. This test by itself shows that air flow patterns are not an issue.

    Additionally, for the last several days of testing I've placed the remote sensor and old thermostat mounted on the wall within inches of the Ecobee thermostat. Both the old thermostat and remote sensor show that the temperature in that location immediately goes DOWN when the Ecobee calls for cooling. The Ecobee3 wall thermostat (both the original I purchased and replacement you sent) shows incorrectly that the temperature goes UP when the Ecobee calls for cooling. This divergence in temperature at the same location also support the conclusion that the thermostat itself is the issue.

    For an additional test on my theory that the thermostat electronics are overheating, today I added a mechanical relay board (Temco MRB-4) to isolate the Ecobee thermostat from the furnace/compressor. This relay board serves to remove the compressor contactor load from the thermostat. You can see from this afternoon's temperature trends, when the AC starts, the temperature reading of the wall thermostat drops as it should (exactly what happened when I manually jumpered the R-Y wires at the furnace). The thermostat FETs may be rated for 2 amps, but in practice the Ecobee wall thermostat overheats with a 0.25 amp load and shows an incorrectly high temperature.

    The reason this thermostat overheating problem is not seen during heating cycles is that the current draw for a heating call is near 0 amps. Still, the current draw of 0.25 amps for the AC contactor is well within acceptable range for residential AC equipment.

    There is absolutely no doubt that the Ecobee thermostat itself is getting hot (and producing inaccurate readings) when it turns on the AC compressor.

    I've spent significant time over the past several days testing, and most of my interactions with Ecobee support have been explaining basic testing results. I have an engineering degree and significant experience with process control instrumentation. I know how to interpret temperature readings and troubleshoot to identify cause & effect. I find it hard to believe that Ecobee support is having trouble interpreting these same results.

    I have read about other customers who have also been frustrated that their Ecobee3 didn't work and that Ecobee support kept insisting this was due to "air drafts". I have no interest in legal action personally, but to me this sounds like fertile grounds for a class action suit. Consumers who are also experiencing this issue will be receive higher cooling bills than they should. Adding more remote sensors would indeed help average the temperature readings and thus compensate for inaccurate readings at the wall thermostat--but this is passing along the expense of poor design to customers while generating even more revenue for Ecobee.

    At this point, I am going to research alternatives because I do not believe any further troubleshooting is going to be beneficial. If I do not find a better alternative, I may end up keeping the Ecobee thermostat since now with the addition of the MRB-4, that resolves the overheating problem. However, since I will have to use the bias adjustment to alter the wall thermostat reading, the remote sensor will not be of much use. This is really disappointing for a product that is so expensive.

    In summary, my recommendation is that Ecobee do the following:
    1. Review the design of the thermostat. There is not enough ventilation on the wall thermostat. There are only a few tiny holes on the bottom of the thermostat, and thus the thermostat has a slow response to changes in room temperature. Additionally, this lack of ventilation on the thermostat contributes to overheating of the thermostat itself leading to inaccurate temperature readings.

    2. Review the "complex temperature correction algorithms". They're not working.

    3. Consider reworking the unit to incorporate mechanical relays instead of FETs. I first became aware of mechanical relay boards while researching this problem and finding so many Nest owners have experienced FET failures and consequently had to replace their AC system. Replacing FETs with relays will make the wall thermostat bigger, but it will reduce issues with overheating and will greatly reduce the risk of AC system damage due to FET failure.

    4. Review support procedures and training. The tests I conducted and conclusions are fairly basic for anyone with control system experience. I will give Ecobee the benefit of the doubt that the support team is not knowledgeable, rather than suggest that they are intentionally providing incorrect and misleading information.

    5. IF there's a way to specify temperature bias for individual sensors, please let me know. I have seen with two different Ecobee thermostats that the remote sensor reads correctly, and the wall thermostat reads too high. It appears if I configure a bias adjustment via the wall thermostat, it affects all readings, and not just the wall thermostat. More sensors simply provide more averaging to lessen the effect of the single incorrect reading on the wall thermostat, but that's not a very good solution.

    5. Add geofencing capabilities to determine if users are home/away. There are not many thermostats that offer this, this but I have found that relying only on the wall mounted thermostat and remote sensor to detect home/away is not sufficient.

    =================== End of Email ===================

    Conclusion:
    All in all, this thermostat has potential, but there are some fundamental design flaws which cause incorrect temperature readings and cause the AC to run excessively. I've tested two Ecobee3 thermostats and they both exhibit the same characteristics, so this wasn't a fluke with a single defective unit. Although the Ecobee support team was responsive, it was frustrating having the same conversation with them repeatedly in which they insisted the incorrect temperature readings were being caused by air leaking from the wall cavity. I was able to prove this was not the case, and actually "fix" that issue by inserting a manual relay board to isolate the thermostat. That kind of troubleshooting and remediation would be beyond the technical capabilities of any consumer without a process control or engineering background. I will probably end up keeping the Ecobee thermostat with this workaround, simply because I don't see other alternatives on the market that have fewer problems.

    Since sensor readings are averaged together and the remote sensors seem to be more accurate than the wall unit, more remote sensors could theoretically help adjust for the measurement error of the wall thermostat. however the remote sensors aren't cheap, and in the end this is just a workaround for a design problem of the base unit.

    My take is that the remote temperature sensors are just a gimmick for 99% of the people who will receive them. If the main thermostat works, then the rest of the house is typically going to follow once the air ducts are balanced properly. The only benefit I personally see for the remote sensors is to let the unit know I'm still at home if I don't pass by the main wall unit periodically. Another vendor handles this with geofencing on the smart phone, and some other units don't have geofencing natively but it can be added with an iphone app. In the end, it's important to figure out how the extra features are actually going to work for YOUR lifestyle. A useful feature for one person is a gimmick or even a nuisance for another.

    I did not purchase the Nest because for a few reasons. First, Nest is touted as being so smart that users don't have to program it. My problem with that is that I have an irregular schedule and there's no way that Nest could just figure out my schedule. Reason two that I read several places that Nest has a 3 degree temperature swing--which is quite large. Almost every other thermostat maintains temperature +/- 1 degree. Any more than that is too noticeable. Most importantly, I did not want a Nest thermostat because I read about several people who have had FET failures which destroyed their AC systems. Older thermostats and many programmable thermostats use mechanical relays (like little light switches) that click on or click off. Mechanical relays are hardy little devices that are not prone to failure and they are super reliable at turning your system on or off. Some thermostats (like Nest and the new Ecobee3) use FETs which are like electronic/software "switches". They don't click, and when they fail, there's a good chance they will fail in the "on" position. This has apparently happened frequently with Nest thermostats and people have found that their AC compressor had been running for days/months nonstop and had seized up (which means at least a couple grand to replace it on top of all the electricity wasted in the meantime).
    0
  • BWillENGR
    ECOBEE is more than I expected, and am looking forward to purchasing a second one for my home. Counting down the days until I replace the NEST. The sensors alone make this thermostat a home run, not to mention the analytics available. This article shines light on all of those subjects, and provides further reasoning for why anyone should buy and use ECOBEE.
    0
  • claypearson
    The unit itself is very nice and easy to operate. I have an old furnace unit and installation was not as easy. I had to get on the phone with Ecobee support. They were very nice, even calling me back on a Sunday evening. Unfortunately, we were not able to resolve my wiring issues over the phone and I had to get a local HVAC expert involved (highly rated via Yelp). After investigation and even rewiring in hopes to solve the issue, then unit was still not functioning properly. I got back on the phone with Ecobee support because while everything was operational, the thermostat was still sending a mixed signal to the furnace keeping the fan on at all times, even though the thermostat registered that all equipment was off. This time I was told I needed to purchase a 24-Volt Coil-Voltage SPNO RBM Type Relay and install that. After a trip to Home Depot, where Ecobee suggested I go, we found that this isn't something they keep in stock. So we're two weeks into this install and still don't have a working unit. I'm hopeful that once the relay ships from home depot everything will work properly. I post this as a warning that even if you use the compatibility checker on the Ecobee website that it doesn't ensure an "easy" install. I do think that if I had a newer furnace unit I probably wouldn't be experiencing these issues, so not fault to Ecobee there. The thermostat and it's interface are nice and once it's all working I expect that we'll really enjoy it. 3 Stars until then...

    5/21/15 UPDATE: Down to 1 star due to Customer Service issues
    We've continued to experience issues getting our Ecobee3 to properly function. We've spent several hours on the phone with support on multiple occasions and followed their every suggestion. We've had a certified HVAC professional out twice now. After his 1st visit he determined that the thermostat itself was faulty. As posted earlier, Ecobee support said that was not the case and we needed to purchase the relay previously mentioned. After ordering and waiting for the relay to be delivered (not locally available anywhere) I spent several hours on the phone with support installing exactly as they told me to, even taking pictures and emailing to Ecobee to confirm wiring was done correctly. Their solution did not work. In fact something they had me do blew the furnace transformer! $172 later (HVAC repair) we are back to where we started. Ecobee has been extremely hesitant to make the situation right with us and giving my wife and I the run around for a week now. I am really disappointed in our customer service experience with the company at this point. The product itself would be nice if it worked properly, but the way we've been given the run around has put a bad taste in my mouth that I just can't get past. I can no longer recommend this product to anyone.

    FYI - did not purchase the unit on Amazon, but from Ecobee directly.
    0