ecobee3 Does Everything Advertised, and More!

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If you told me 10 years ago in 2016 I was going to be super excited to get my hands on a thermostat I would’ve laughed at you…a lot. I would also owe you a very big apology today. I checked my mailbox every day since hearing I would be reviewing the ecobee3.

Those of you who haven’t heard of the ecobee3, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Nest. They are both smart thermostats, but the ecobee3 is a brainiac when it comes to learning how to heat and cool your house while putting money back into your pocket.

ecobee3 Installation

The most intimidating part of owning a smart thermostat is the installation process. I’ve always considered myself handy around the house. Installing the ecobee3 on my own was never a question, I needed to find the time to do it. If you’re on the fence about a DIY installation, refer to in-depth instructions provided by Steve Jenkins. If you’re undecided on doing it yourself, READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE. I believe when you’re done reading his instructions, you’ll be able to make the best educated guess as to whether or not you’ll be able to complete the installation. Jenkins provides the best installation article I’ve seen with great photographs throughout which guides you through the process.

I recorded my installation and after I was done with my installation I realized I already had a “C” wire. In order to see how to install the ecobee3, you need to know how to connect the Power Extender Kit (PEK). Not everyone has a “C” wire available and you must see information on how to install the PEK.

The comfort control hub for your home is the ecobee3, but in my opinion the sensors you connect to the thermostat play the most vital role at controlling the overall temperature of your home which allows you to save money faster.

ecobee3 Sensors

When you purchase an ecobee3, you’ll receive the smart thermostat and a remote sensor. ecobee remote sensors monitor motion and temperature. To link a remote sensor to the thermostat the ecobee3 must be installed and awake, which occurs simply by standing in front of it or touching the screen. While in front of your thermostat, remove the pull tab from the back of the sensor, which powers it on. You’ll receive a notification on your ecobee3 confirming you want to connect the sensor to the thermostat. After confirmation you’ll want to label the sensor according to its final location. Choose one from a list or customize a label for this sensor.

If you add more than one sensor and get them confused, there’s a label on back which helps you cross-reference which sensor goes where after you label them. Simply select one of the sensors from your ecobee3 settings menu and the information listed will have the corresponding code found on the back of appropriate sensor.

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With your remote sensor connected to your ecobee3 place it in the room you’ve chosen. Ensure the sensor is at a height of approximately 5ft/1.5m, on an interior wall, and away from direct heating and cooling sources (eg. fireplace, air vents, sunlight, windows etc.). Do not put the sensor into any enclosed spaces like drawers or cabinets since this will distort temperature readings.

Rather than relying on one central location to identify the temperature of your home, the ecobee3 shares temperature variances throughout your home by connecting up to 32 different sensors.

Why would you want more than one sensor? Information is power and your ecobee3continually craves information about your home. The more sensors you connect to the thermostat, the more capable ecobee3 is at identify hot and cold spots. Since ecobee sensors are capable of detecting motion, it knows if anyone is home and which rooms are occupied. Smart heating and cooling decisions can be made based on this occupancy information.

Sensor Smart Features

There are two occupancy-related features you can personalize using the wireless sensor settings: Smart Home/Away and Follow Me.

When Smart Home/Away is enabled, using the information transmitted by connected sensors, ecobee3 will determine if anyone is home. If your schedule is currently in a “Home” period and the sensors don’t detect anyone occupying a room, heating and cooling adjustments will be made so your system doesn’t run. These smart changes allow you save money and energy. The opposite is true as well for Smart Home/Away. If your schedule is currently in an Away” period and detects motion, adjustments are made to heat or cool your home to the desired “Home” temperature.

If you enable Follow Me the ecobee3 will make heating and cooling decisions based on the temperature measured in those rooms where motion is detected. When this feature is disabled, ecobee3 will average the temperature measured across all connected sensors and make heating and cooling decisions based on this average regardless of motion information. Sensors used with Follow Me can be turned on or off altogether by deselecting participation for Home, Away, and Sleep modes.

Currently I have five ecobee sensors connected to our thermostat. Using the adhesive pad provided didn’t really do the trick for mounting them above the light switches in our bedrooms. Instead we used the small 3M adhesive strip refills to hang them on our walls. After using only one sensor for about a month we connected four more to better deal with identifying hot and cold spots in our home.

The batteries used in the remote sensors are coin cell batteries (CR2032) which can last up to four years on average.

Worried about pets triggering a remote sensor, don’t be. The ecobee3 wireless remote sensors were designed to not trigger motion from household pets.

Sensor Setup During the Night

Nighttime comfort settings and schedule is where the ecobee3 really stole the show for our family. We live in a two-story home and our bedrooms are all upstairs. Before owning the ecobee3, summer and winter overnight temperatures in our bedrooms were always a crapshoot. One room would be to warm whereas another would be too cold. If you came downstairs in the night, the main floor temperature is completly opposite of what was going on upstairs.

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Remember how I said the sensors are vital to the ecobee3? During the night, do you care if the living room, kitchen, or office is at your desired temperature? When you place sensors in each occupied bedroom, you allow the ecobee3 to solely focus on holding the nighttime temperature in those locations.

To take advantage of this money-saving and comfort feature you must adjust the sensors settings on the thermostat or via the ecobee app. Deselect the modes you don’t want a sensor to participate in.

In our home, all the sensors located on the main floor, including the thermostat, are adjusted to not participate in Sleep mode. This has made a complete difference in just how comfortable temperatures are during the night in our bedrooms.

ecobee3 & HomeKit

When I first started looking for smart thermostat, I really wanted one that worked with HomeKit. With the new operating system for iOS devices available, iOS 10, there’s an all new native app called Home. Home helps your house become a smart home thanks to your iOS devices. Turn on lights, unlock doors, or raise window shades right from your device.

With HomeKit, I’m really excited to see how this native app is going to help us become more efficient. With that being said, I’m on the fence about ecobee3 and HomeKit. Why, because the sensors are better at efficiency than I am at the moment.

So here’s the deal, with HomeKit you’re able to use Siri and essentially communicate directly with your home. At first glance, it seems pretty awesome to order your thermostat around rather than adjusting temperatures accordingly. If you forget to tell Siri you’re home, leaving, or goodnight, you’re essentially holding the last setting you told HomeKit via Siri and not the scheduled temperature at that time on that specific day. Until you “Resume Schedule,” ecobee3 is holding the temperature from your last HomeKit interaction.

My Experience with HomeKit and Functionality

It wasn’t until recently that I realized how HomeKit and our schedule for the ecobee3work against one another. Recently we got away for the weekend and I forgot to enable the away setting before our departure. While driving out-of-town, I remembered my mistake but couldn’t jump into the app. Instead, I said, “Hey Siri, I’m leaving home.” Right away she enabled my away settings on our ecobee3 and held the temperature the entire weekend. When we arrived home, I said, “Hey Siri, we’re home.” The Home setting was enabled and immediately our HVAC system kicked on to cool the house back down to the desired Home temperature.

The very next morning I went into my daughter’s room when she woke up and it was chilly. This morning it was cooler than it had ever been on any other morning since placing a sensor in her room. This didn’t make sense and I immediately opened the app to see what the temperature was in her room. It was 72 degrees, which was cooler than all the other sensors in our house. I didn’t notice when I opened the ecobee app the “Home” setting was still being held (75 degrees for AC). A “Hold” does exactly what it sounds like, it holds that temperature until it gets another command. Rather than resuming the normal schedule we programmed for different portions of different days, it was holding the “Home” setting.

I know what you’re probably thinking, “At least it wasn’t too hot in her room,” and I would agree with you. The wonderful thing about ecobee3 and the sensors is how powerful they are regarding comfort. As I mentioned before, you can select which temperature sensors, including the thermostat, participate in each comfort setting. My “Sleep” comfort settings only have the sensors in our bedrooms participating in this particular setup. Why, our couch in the family room doesn’t care what the temperature is at night, I’m not concerned about it either.

I do care how warm or cold our rooms are upstairs, so I tell my ecobee3 to only focus on these sensors so we’re all comfortable in our rooms at night. Since our system was still holding the “Home” setting, all sensors were being monitored for comfort and the normal schedule was never resumed which resulted in a cooler evening for one member of our household; sorry Winnie.

Actions become habit and I’m not used to telling Siri good morning, I’m leaving, I’m home, and goodnight. It’s easier, for me at least, to set up a schedule, let the sensors track where we are, and go from there. I can’t tell you if this is more efficient. What I can tell you is this is much easier for me to live with at the moment. Until I get used to interacting more with Siri and HomeKit, this will definitely allow us to be more efficient and save money since temperature adjusts are made according to a schedule and our presence at home.

If you’re already engaging with Siri and HomeKit, you’ll have no issue getting used to interacting with your ecobee3. These users will probably still benefit from setting up a schedule to run, but if you’re a pro at talking to HomeKit, you’ll get the best of both worlds. I’m just not that Siri savy, yet.

Thanks to iOS 10 and my iPhone 7 Plus, interacting with Siri is getting better and better. I do find “Hey Siri” to be much easier to use nowadays, which could help expedite more savings.

Ease of Use

Power iPhone and iPad users are not going to have any issue interacting with or setting up an ecobee3 after installation. If you stumble around while adjusting settings on your iOS device or have trouble connecting a device to your home WiFi, don’t worry. The app is very easy to navigate and ecobee provides you with great support videos on their website.

Once wiring installation is complete setup takes place right on the ecobee3 thanks to touchscreen functionality or via the ecobee app. Both options are very straight forward about what information is needed during WiFi setup. If setup is completed directly on the touchscreen, pay close attention to your inputs. The keyboard is rather small and entry errors were common thanks to my fat fingers.

ecobee3 Functionality

I cannot think of one thing the ecobee3 doesn’t excel at. Everything it claims to be capable of it does amazingly well. ecobee3 claims to deliver the right temperature in the rooms that matter the most, which it does. You’ll need to let it know where and when to shift focus though, which isn’t difficult to do. The remote sensors play a vital role in providing powerful and useful information to make these smart decisions.

When connected to your homes WiFi, it pulls in local weather information for smart decision-making, which you have access to on the touchscreen or while in the ecobee app on your iOS device.

ecobee3 Savings

Although it’s fairly early on in my ecobee3 savings experience, we have noticed about a $10-12 per month savings on our electric bill. I’ve gone back to last years electric bills to review cost, usage, and average temperature. Cost and usage have gone down for the two months we’ve had the ecobee3 and the average temperature has gone up by at least 2 degrees each month from last year.

Taking all this information into account, and had temperatures been the same as they were the previous year, we would’ve saved even more money.

ecobee claims the thermostat will pay for itself within 12 months. If our savings trend are the same as we move into winter (natural gas heat) over 12 months, our savings would be between $120-144 overall.

One thing I should note is the savings we’ve realize with our ecobee3 went up each month. In the second month, we added four more sensors to our home, which seemed to supercharge our system. Temperatures throughout our house seemed to be more consistent.

With an ecobee3 retailing at $250, it would take us more than a year to pay for our thermostat.  The additional sensors will take a bit more time to pay for themselves. Energy companies are offering amazing rebates when you purchase and install a smart thermostat. Check with your local energy provider to see if they’re offering these rebates too.

ComEd is offering a $100 rebate and Nicor Gas offers a $50 rebate. These rebates aren’t bill credits either. They’re physical checks mailed to you after you install your thermostat and send them all appropriate information. Worried about mailing everything in, don’t be. You can upload everything online and have your check in 6-8 weeks.

Now lets revisit just how fast your ecobee3 allows you to put money back in your pocket. With up to $150 in rebates, your ecobee3 can pay for itself in just over 8 months. That’s if you see the same savings we did. That’s incredible and a hard deal to pass up!

Cost v. Benefit

Sticker shock is huge when it comes to smart thermostats. I previously owned a smart thermostat but it didn’t offer as many great money-saving options and features as the ecobee3. It didn’t cost $250 and got the job done for half the price with remote access too.

If your able to take advantage of any rebates your energy company is offering, you should stop reading this article and purchase an ecobee3. Spending only $100, after rebates, will have you looking over your shoulder when you’re cashing the rebate checks. You’re essentially stealing this from ecobee at this final price.

For those of you unable to take advantage of these rebates, your decision is a little bit more difficult. Smart thermostats are not going away anytime soon and they allow you to save a great deal of money over time.

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Apple Watch & ecobee3

Apple Watch owners will be happy to discover the ecobee app is also available for the watch. Just like with any other Apple Watch companion app, there is limited functionality compared to what you’re familiar with on the iPhone or iPad version.

What you do get on the watch app is the ability to change temperature, turn on or off the fan, engage auto fan, and enable “Home” or “Away” modes. You’re also able to see what the temperature is in the rooms you’ve setup sensors for.

You’re not able to adjust sensor settings via the watch app, nor can you switch from AC to heat. In order to adjust these settings you’ll need to open the app or adjust on the thermostat itself.

Final Thoughts

Our experience with the ecobee3 was nothing short of spectacular! The device and software never let us down. HomeKit was a bit of a disappointment but it’s not because it didn’t work. I’m just not as comfortable with it since it’s still relatively new for our family.

As I mentioned before the sensors play the biggest role in comfort settings and saving money. The more information you’re able to feed it, the quicker it can start making smart decisions. This requires more of an investment on your part, but it will payoff over time.

There is a bit of sticker shock. Take advantage of any rebates your local energy companies are offering to alleviate some of the spending. Check Amazon to see if you can get a better price on the thermostat or extra sensors. I was able to purchase a few sensors from Amazon that were cheaper than Home Depot. A little bit of research can save you a lot of money on your initial investment.

Review Overview

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About Author

Jeremy McGinty

Jeremy McGinty is an iOS expert and has written over 350 articles relating to Apple and their products over the past two years. Writing about iPhones, iPads, and anything relating to Apple is what Jeremy does in his free time and you’re going to love reading how he’s a normal guy just like you. Jeremy is the most approachable person you’ll ever meet and you should try it out for yourself, send him a message here!

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the link and nice words! 🙂

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