Everything is being branded with “Smart Technology” these days. Cars are thankfully being equipped with standard smart features to make safer driving possible, cell phones are getting smarter with each iterative release, and toothbrushes are now coming with Blue-Tooth technology for some reason.
Some of this stuff I can get behind, while others seem gimmicky and unnecessary. A lot of it falls somewhere in-between. I’m not quite sure I need a smart refrigerator in my home, but I am certain that while an interesting concept on certain levels, it’s not a priority. For me, when discussing the true value of smart technology, I feel like it needs to go beyond simply being cool or a niche product. I am certainly not above buying either, but I feel like if you want me to use your technology a lot sooner, it needs to make a case on a more fundamental level: can this technology somehow improve my quality of life?
The aforementioned smart technology being introduced in cars is a great example of this. Lane departure warning systems, 360° sensors, semi-autonomous driving capabilities. All of these features are advancements in technology that are not only cool/niche, but ways to make the drivers and pedestrians safer. Some of it is still a bit scary–namely the semi-auto pilot (or 100% auto pilot in Google’s cars) being introduced, but I feel these are bold steps that will ultimately make things safer in many regards.
When it comes to the home, however, I feel like many of the smart home technology on the market is more niche than anything. Although I feel this way, this sentiment did not prevent me from thoroughly researching the potential Return on Investment (ROI) for installing a smart thermostat. While there were a few smart thermostats within the same price range, roughly $199.99 – $249.99, there were two true competitors I was interested in: The Nest and the Ecobee3 Smart Thermostats.
First, I think it’s important to state why I was looking at a Smart-Thermostat in the first place: Towards the beginning of 2015, I was looking to move from a condo to a single-family home, and I was concerned about the likely upward shift in my energy bills–namely gas and electric. There had been some instances in which my electricity bill in particular was unreasonably high for my condo, notoriously so during the summer. I simply didn’t know what to expect going from a relatively small footprint to a significantly larger one.
The programmable touch-screen thermostat that I had placed in my condo a couple of years prior was considerably newer than the thermostat in the home I was moving to, and likely better in most, if not all regards. However, the programmable thermostat I had installed, didn’t blow me away with energy savings, even though I had actually programmed multiple temperature settings for each day of the week. The energy savings were negligible, but I didn’t spend a great deal on the thermostat. Oftentimes, you get what you pay for.
Knowing that whatever I installed in my new living space was going to have a significant impact on my monthly bottom line, I decided to really research the features that were likely best suited to serve my bottom-line. One of the things that Smart-Thermostats typically claim to do is dramatically reduce energy costs. This claim above all the other highly touted features in the relatively small field of smart-thermostats is what intrigued me the most, and is the reason why I quickly narrowed my candidates down to the Nest and the Ecobee3 Thermostats.
Not only are both thermostats not only complimented by free applications (apps)/ accounts (for browsers), they also play nicely with other “Smart” apps (like IFTTT), products (like Amazon Echo) and Ecosystems (like Apple Home Kit). Each product has a small footprint (both physical and carbon), vivid colorful screens (Nest uses a bold and easy to read dial for manual operation versus Ecobee3 being a full-color 2.4” touch-based), and have motion sensors that can sense when you enter the room or when your not home. The ability to sense the presence of an occupant is one of the many cost-saving features that will enable the thermostat to switch to a more energy efficient setting while you’re away.
The Nest boasts the ability to be able to learn how you like to have your home (after you adjust the temperature manually a couple of times, it begins to know how and when to adjust the temperature in the house), while the Ecobee3 requires user input to get the thermostat and temperature where you want it to be. Each allows you to wirelessly log into your thermostat, change temperature settings (great for those of us who go on vacation and forget to turn off the AC/Heat), and view usage metrics. While both thermostats allow users to connect to their thermostat and control it via Wi-Fi connectivity, the Ecobee3 implemented a logical argument that I simply couldn’t ignore: why not allow for more than one thermostat in the house? OK, technically, that’s not quite accurate, but work with me here. The Ecobee3 allows you to purchase remote sensors that you can place throughout your home, and, these sensors will all communicate with the main thermostat that you have installed.
The logic behind this is you often had no say in where your thermostat installed. It’s often placed in a central area, and–an area that doesn’t necessarily reflect how the rest of the household feels temperature wise. In other words, why should one room dictate the temperature of the entire house? Put another way, you can choose to buy additional sensors (you can connect up to 32 remote sensors), and use them to more accurately adjust the temperature of your home.
The benefit in being able to add multiple sensors is that you can customize your Ecobee3 thermostat to rely upon one well-placed sensor (the Ecobee3 comes with one remote sensor), a couple of sensors, or average the temperature readings on all of your sensors for both your heating and cooling settings in 3 different comfort settings: Home, Away, and Sleep.
Still not making sense? Allow me to present one of my scenarios. I have an upstairs room that I’ve converted into an office/studio. My thermostat is downstairs on the main floor. While my thermostat downstairs may indicate a comfy temperature of say 73°, my upstairs office, unbeknownst to me, is currently sitting at 83°. In a typical home, my thermostat would only have registered 73°, and I would have had to manually adjust the temperature on my thermostat–likely having to walk downstairs to do so. Now, sticking with this scenario, after I adjust my thermostat, my upstairs temperature would eventually cool down to a more comfortable temperature, but there’s an increased likelihood that my temperature on the main floor will become far chillier than what my wife might want it to be.
With an Ecobee3 thermostat, I don’t have to worry about that because I now have a sensor that measures the temperature in my upstairs office, as while the Ecobee3 is keeping track of things downstairs. Because I have a sensor in my office now, my thermostat can either exclusively use the sensor I placed upstairs to monitor the heat in my house, or, I can use an average between the sensor and the main thermostat.
Either way, my Ecobee3 is aware of the variance in temperature, and can adjust more fluidly, instead of me trying to tell my system that it has to suddenly cool my entire house by 10. That approach strains your HVAC system, and adds cost onto your bill. Ecobee3 eliminates that process altogether if I program it to, and, I don’t even have to tell it to switch between heating and cooling in those in-between months.
If I have a maximum/ minimum threshold for my heating and cooling settings established, I can simply leave my Ecobee3 on Auto all year round and not have to touch it at all. Now, imagine being able to place a couple of these remote sensors in key areas of your house where it gets particularly warm or cold. This can lead to a more comfortable home, and a cheaper energy bill.
Now, a particular concern of mine was the age of my HVAC unit, but the Ecobee folks insisted their product would be a better fit than Nest based upon website comparisons. The Nest Thermostat would need to basically be hacked in to the wiring so it could run, while the Ecobee3 wouldn’t. Because I am not an electrician or HVAC specialist, I called someone to install my Ecobee3, and although he had never seen or installed one first-hand, my gut got it done in relatively short order.
Once my Ecobee3 was installed, connecting it to my Wi-Fi and setting it up was extremely easy. The instant I pulled the tab out of the remote sensor (which keeps the battery from being engaged while it’s in its packaging), the main thermostat instantly recognized it and let me name it based upon a room in my house. It came with a bunch of default names, but I used a custom one because I like specificity.
The end result is that my energy bill has never been outrageous, in either the summer or the winter, and, in fact, has been comparable or cheaper than what I was paying when I lived in my MUCH smaller condo (depending upon the season). Keep in mind, summer 2015 was one of the hottest summers ever recorded, and my bill remained steady throughout the season with minimal manual adjustments. That to me is incredible.
To be fair, the Ecobee3 has not been without flaw. There have been instances where I have had to adjust the temperature more than once in the application before it “stuck,” and times where my blower stayed on longer than it was supposed to. There have even been a couple of times where my blower on my HVAC remained in the on position, and I had difficulty getting it to switch off or default to the settings I had established.
In most cases, adjusting the temperature directly from the main thermostat did the trick, although I had to trick my Ecobee3 once or twice by cycling through various settings before I got it to do what I wanted. This has been an issue less than 5% of the time I owned my Ecobee3. It hasn’t been often, but it is annoying when it happens and it’s only right that I mention it. To be fair, every HVAC is going to behave a little differently, and my HVAC unit is almost 30 years old.
Cool / Cost-Cutting Features:
- Comfort Settings: This takes the typical schedule you would have with the common programmable thermostat to another level. Establish what temperature you want your home to be when you are home, away, and asleep for both heating and cooling your home. I typically let the house reach a less controlled temperature while I’m away, and allow for the temperature to get a little chillier (during the winter) or hotter (during the summer) while I sleep. Either way, there are boundaries that you set to make sure your house doesn’t get too far in either direction without your express consent.
- Incremental Blower Settings: When your blower is on auto, you can determine how many minutes in an hour (0 – 60 in five minute increments averaged out evenly over the course of the hour) your blower functions, even if the HVAC isn’t pumping out heat or cold air. This might sound trivial, but the blower helps to circulate the air in your house, and doing so periodically could help to keep your household temperature more balanced throughout the day.
- Schedule: Establish what time of the day you are typically Home, Away, or Asleep, and the Ecobee3 thermostat will do the rest based upon your pre-defined comfort settings and sensor settings.
- Reminders and Alerts: The Ecobee3 thermostat allows users to set up different reminders and alerts, such as when the filter in the furnace needs to be replaced or when the HVAC unit needs to be serviced.
- Vacation: Enter a date and time range of when you’ll be on vacation, and the Ecobee3 will allow you to set your temperature for additional savings while you’re away and have your house nice and comfy upon your return.
- Weather Forecast: That’s right–you can view the weather forecast for the day (Morning/Afternoon/Evening/Overnight) and the projected Hi/Low temperatures for the next four days right on your Ecobee3 thermostat (or through your app/web-enabled account).
I can’t speak against the Nest Thermostat because I’ve never used it in my home, and, I’m sure there are plenty of satisfied Nest Thermostat users out there. However, for what I wanted and needed in a thermostat, the Ecobee3 was ultimately the more sensible and cost-effective purchase. I wanted traditional features that you’d expect in a modern thermostat, while still having all of the smart-technology in place to adjust temperature/settings when I stipulated it was OK to do so, e.g., I wasn’t home, the house gets too hot or too cold while vacant, I go to sleep, etc.
The real deciding factor again came down to the remote sensors. I understand that there’s quite a bit of support for the Nest Thermostat, but having multiple thermostats throughout my house so the overall temperature of the house is more evenly managed was a great logistical point I simply couldn’t overlook. The Ecobee3 has worked wonders for me. So, if you’re in the market for a new thermostat, I believe the Ecobee3 Thermostat warrants your serious consideration. I give the Ecobee3 a 4.5 out of 5.0