Last updated: 10/31/2016
Our ecobee3 SMART WiFi thermostat rating:
The ecobee3 At a Glance
October 2016 update: ecobee3 launched a “lite” version of their flagship thermostat! It lacks room sensors, occupancy sensors, and support for accessories like humidifiers, but offers the same great app and features otherwise. This review is for the full featured ecobee3 smart thermostat.
Room sensors, a slick design, usage data from the free HomeIQ service, easy scheduling, and exceptional control over your HVAC system make the ecobee3 a winner and our top smart thermostat since the device’s debut in 2014.
The ecobee3 is Alexa enabled, too. If you have an Echo or Echo Dot in your house, you can give a command in the form of, “Alexa, set my bedroom temperature to 64” or “Alexa, increase the temperature in my home” to adjust your home’s temperature without opening an app or touching the thermostat.
- Comes with an easy to change built-in schedule, so there’s no “learning” period to go through
- Amazon Echo integration for intuitive voice control
- Use “Quick change” to temporarily override existing schedule
- Room sensors detect motion and temperatures
- Detailed usage reports
- Access to settings from wall unit, app, and website
- On-unit touch-screen with intuitive UI
- System alerts (maintenance, outside temp. range)
- Fine control over temperature min/max range, cycle times, heat differential (sometimes called “swing range”)
- Works with or without a C-wire – use the power extender kit for systems without (included in the box)
- 3 year warranty
- Dragging temperature slider on the touch screen just a degree or two can be difficult
- For systems without a C-wire, the power extender kit requires adjusting some wires inside your furnace
- Redesigned web portal/app looks like Windows 8… and some folks don’t like Windows 8’s tiles 🙂
- Costs of getting your coldest room up to ideal temp may exceed savings (more about this in the review)
A Smart Design Update
We’ve always had a soft spot in our hearts for Toronto-based ecobee, makers of WiFi-enabled thermostats since 2009 (official website). The ecobee company likes the same things we do in a thermostat: iron-clad control over HVAC features, simple but useful hardware design, touch screens, easy installations, and good usability.
If this is the first you’re hearing of ecobee, you can be forgiven – Nest and Honeywell have been hogging the spotlight, but ecobee’s been quietly pumping out quality products since 2009, starting with the “ecobee Smart” (read our review of the original ecobee thermostat here) and its pint-sized successor, the “ecobee Smart Si” (amazon.com link). Despite their age, the ecobee thermostats have long been a favorite of ours.
Enter the ecobee3.
Announced September 2014, this smart-looking smart thermostat has modernized ecobee3’s design sensibilities and paired them with the same set of features that have always made ecobee a favorite.
This stylin’ square-with-rounded-corners sports a capacitive touch screen, DIY-friendly installation process, temperature/motion sensors to place around your home for more accurate readings, and the same data-tracking goodness we loved in earlier models. Also: kudos to Ecobee for passing on the temptation to add yet another puck-shaped thermostat to the market. While everyone else confuses Lyrics with Nests, ecobee gets to stand around looking great – and unique.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes the Ecobee3 so special!
ecobee3 Smart Thermostat Review
Honestly, we’re in love. This is the thermostat we’ve been waiting for!
We weren’t hugely sold on the Honeywell Lyric’s geofencing feature, and the Nest’s twist dial is feeling a bit dated compared to the ecobee3’s full-blown touch screen. We also think Google already has too many eyes inside our house (sorry, Nest).
The sensors make a lot of sense
While Lyric and Nest focus on figuring out whether you’re home or not, ecobee took a different tack: these little sensors focus on room comfort. The basic kit comes with one sensor for you to place anywhere you like – bedroom, family room, kitchen, wherever. Tell ecobee what temperature you want that room to be, and it shall oblige. (See “Gripes” section for an important caveat to this feature.)
Another cool thing about the sensors: there are three ways to prop them up. They can be wall-mounted with a screw or a sticky pad, or propped up on an included plastic stand. Then run on batteries, not wires, so you are free to put them anywhere you like (it’s not recommended you point them at a television or put them in direct sunlight).
Managing the sensors via the app:
Web dashboard & HomeIQ
The web dashboard is nicely laid out and easy to navigate. We love that it uses the same general design language as the on-unit interface, so once you get used to managing the device from the web app or the unit itself, the other is pretty natural. Home IQ (usage data and analytics) was added shortly after the ecobee3’s launch and it is easily our favorite feature (read more about Home IQ later in this review).
Managing ecobee via the web app:
Setting up a schedule via the iPad app:
Managing reminders and alerts in the iPad app:
Amazon Echo (Alexa) integration
As of February 2016, the Ecobee3 can be controlled by voice with an Amazon Echo! No clunky IFTTT recipes needed. Raise or lower the current temperature, or set a target temperature, by delivering commands to your Echo or linked remote:
- “Alexa, set my bedroom temperature to 65.”
- “Alexa, increase the temperature in my home.”
To connect your Ecobee3 to Alexa, follow these instructions: Connect a Smart Home Service to Alexa.
The screen and on-unit controls
The interface is beautiful and functional. It’s smooth and responsive, and the interactions are intuitive to anyone who has used a smartphone. By default, the screen shows the current temperature, but it’s easy to slide the screen down to reveal the main menu. From the main menu, you can control the thermostat the same way you would through the app on your phone.
The weather screen is particularly nice: see the current time, temp, humidity, and forecast for the rest of the day right there on the unit.
Installation is easy, even for homes without a C-wire
Installation is easy if you already have a C-wire in place. If you don’t, an adapter is included and a few more steps to do. Either way, the instructions are easy to follow and you don’t need any specialized tools. Unlike its competitor the Nest Learning Thermostat, the ecobee3 doesn’t rely on “power stealing” to make up for a lack of a C-wire (read more about that here on ecobee’s site), they just include a power extender kit to make up for the missing wire. Read more about the C-Wire here.
Sensors don’t result in heating/cooling redirection
These room sensors do exactly what they’re supposed to: they help the thermostat know what temp it is in the rooms you care about, what temps it should be in those rooms, so that your heat or AC can run accordingly. However, these sensors are probably going to mislead at least a few people into thinking the thermostat can actually equalize temps across your home or fix your perpetually cold room without turning your warmest rooms into saunas. (They can’t do that.)
Just to illustrate it a bit, let’s say your family room is an icebox even though your bedrooms are warm. Placing a sensor in the family room and telling your ecobee3 to get that room up to a cozy temp isn’t going to somehow not direct heat to the bedrooms in the process. What you’ll end up with is a comfortable family room, and roasting bedrooms.
Some companies are trying to address this problem, most notably Activent (selling a complete system for your home) and Keen Home (which was successfully crowdfunded but still in development), but the ecobee3 sensors alone cannot do much for “targeted” heating.
Touch screen gripes
99% of the time, the touch screen is awesome. If you want to do something really fine-tuned, though, like slide the temperature slider just 1 degree, it can be difficult to get that level of accuracy on the screen.
Works without a C-wire… but you gotta tinker with your furnace wiring a bit
Yeah, this is in our “wins” category too – we like that ecobee recognized that a lot of homes don’t have a C-wire – but tinkering with furnace wiring might be more than some people bargained for. To install it, you have to open up your furnace and hook the existing wires into the kit and hook the kit into the furnace. This won’t be a big deal for most people, unless your furnace is hard to get to, or just weird, or you’re afraid of popping it open. Your DIY install might not be so DIY if your furnace presents some challenges with the PEK.
Steve Jenkins has a great, photo-heavy walk-through of the ecobee3 installation process including the PEK, so you can see what you’re getting into if you don’t have a C-wire. (Note: Your wiring may vary! He shows three different wiring configs, but even still, none of his match the wiring of my own home.)
ecobee3 Features and Competitive Advantages
Here’s a list of the ecobee3’s features, and why they matter.
Here it is – the biggest reason most people hop on the smart thermostat bandwagon. If you’re one of the (vast) majority of people who just leave your thermostat set at one temperature 24/7, you’re in for a treat next billing cycle. By automating temperature swings (don’t heat the house so much while you’re out, don’t run the AC during the workday), you won’t even know the difference and your energy savings could be huge – enough to offset the cost of the thermostat in as little as one season.
The ecobee3’s algorithm is sophisticated enough to take outdoor conditions into account when heating or cooling your home in anticipation of your return. For example: on an exceptionally hot day, it might start the cooling process sooner in order to have the house at your desired temp by your scheduled 7pm return home.
The ecobee3 also displays current (live) weather reports on the unit, which gives the hardware something to do while it sits there on the wall. 🙂
Easy to override your schedule without messing it up
If you’re taking the day off, taking a weekend trip, or otherwise doing something besides your usual routine, you can override your ecobee3’s schedule on the device itself or through the companion app.
So you don’t forget to clean your filter once in a while.
Previous ecobee models were (more or less) intended for professional installation. This model was designed with a “45 minute install” in mind. To help with that, the ecobee3 has the ability to auto-detect your wiring setup and configure itself accordingly.
The ecobee3 also comes with 2 wall plates (small and large) to cover up any mismatched paint that might exist behind your current thermostat, so you don’t necessarily have to repaint around your ecobee3.
Customize the temperature swings, cycle time
Nest and Honeywell Lyric aren’t so great about giving you control over cycle times and swing ranges. Many users won’t want control over these things, but if you do, Ecobee thermostats tend to offer the most control.
Includes 1 battery operated sensor
The sensor can detect what room you’re in and it can read that room’s temperature and tell your HVAC to run longer (or stop running) once that room is at the temperature you desire. If you have a crazy huge house, you can add up to 32 sensors to your ecobee3’s system. Check current sensor prices and stock status on Amazon.com.
Unfortunately, in the current version of the app you can only see the averaged temperatures, not each room’s temperature. We’re hoping ecobee will add support for checking individual rooms.
No monthly fees
This is true of all the most popular smart thermostats on the market today, but it’s worth pointing out that all these great features are yours with a one-time purchase. No subscriptions necessary.
Setting a schedule
Rather than wait for it to “learn” your routine or futz around with geofencing ranges, which rely on the geographic position of your family’s smartphones, the ecobee3 comes with a schedule pre-loaded. “Here you go – a schedule that works for most people.” We think that’s a great way to get people started with a programmable thermostat.
If for whatever reason the built-in schedule doesn’t suit your needs, it’s easy to change.
Turn on this feature to tell your sensors to watch for motion in the rooms you’ve placed them in. If motion is detected, the temperature reading from that particular sensor will be used to operate your heating/cooling system. (If more than one sensor detects motion, the average of those temperatures will be used.)
Alerts are a great way to keep an eye on your house when you’re not around.
You can set up your ecobee3 to alert you for a variety of conditions, including:
- Time for HVAC maintenance (you can even include technician contact info in this alert)
- Furnace filter needs to be cleaned/replaced at the interval you set
- Ventilator filter needs to be cleaned/replaced at the interval you set
- UV lamp needs to be cleaned/replaced at the interval you set
- Temp is lower than X (you choose X, between 35 and 68 degrees F)
- Temp is higher than Y (you choose Y, between 60 and 104 degrees F)
- Auxiliary heat source has run longer than X (between 30 mins and 8 hours)
- Humidity is too low/high (acceptable range 5%-95%)
- Error condition alerts
- Lost communication with sensor(s)
- Low sensor battery alerts
Alerts can be displayed on the hardware unit (optionally) and/or emailed to your email address (optionally). You can choose which alerts you want and set the rest to OFF.
Smart Recovery is how your ecobee3 learns how long your heating and cooling systems take to reach the desired temp. If you want the house to be 68 degrees F by 7:00am and it takes your house 25 minutes to reach that temp from 58 degrees, your ecobee3 will fire up your furnace at 6:345 with no assistance from you.
ecobee3 lets you prevent unauthorized users from changing the schedule or settings by letting you set up a 4-digit access code.
Control over HVAC equipment settings
ecobee3 offers control over all of the following (get comfy, this is a loonnng list – I bolded some of the most popular ones):
- heat pump configuration (if present)
- fan control (if present)
- humidifier accessory configuration (if present)
- dehumidifier settings (if present)
- furnace settings
- ventilator accessory settings (if present)
- thresholds (temp and time thresholds associated with heating and cooling equipment)
- heat/cool minimum delta
- compressor min cycle off time (enforces a minimum time that the compressor must be off between cycles to prevent short cycling)
- compressor min outdoor temp (prevents compressor running when the outdoor temp is too low)
- heat differential temp (difference between current temp and set temp before system calls for heat again) – sometimes called temperature swings, can be set anywhere from 0 to 3 degrees F (0 to 1.7 degrees C) and in 0.5 degree F (0.3 C) increments
- AC overcool max (uses your AC to reduce humidity by cooling beyond the set point)
- heat/cool min on time (set the minimum equipment run time in “heat” or “cooling” mode – 1 to 20 mins)
- compressor running max times
- compressor temp deltas
- temperature correction (if you find the displayed temp doesn’t match the actual temp, this will let you enforce an offset)
What’s on the display?
The capacitive touch screen display includes all of the following:
- Indoor temperature in large numerals (in F or C)
- Timer of day (in 12 or 24 hour format)
- Mode (heating, cooling, auto, off)
- A motion sensor (lower left corner of the unit)
- Menu button (for accessing more features)
- Vertical slider to adjust indoor temp
- “Quick change” button for overriding schedule
ecobee Home IQ for data and usage reports
The Home IQ data reports were our favorite feature and we’re thrilled to see them return with the Ecobee3. We love seeing monthly heating/cooling summaries, influencing factors such as the weather, and an estimate of your savings. For competitive folks, the ecobee compares your system’s runtime against similar homes (sq. footage) in your state.
The Home IQ report includes the following:
- Your ecobee saved you X% – Savings estimate calculated by ___
- Your ecobee rating (X stars out of 5) – The star rating is ecobee’s estimate of how well your home retains heat
- System total runtime – “Your heating ran for 115 hours. This was 36 hours more than the previous month.”
- Runtime compared to other users in your state – “Your system ran 5% less than the average for your state / province”
- Weather’s influence – Example: “In February, your average weather was 28.2 degrees Fahrenheit. This was 4.7 degrees colder than the previous month.”
- Monthly comparison – Example: “In February, your average heat setpoint was 71.2 degrees Fahrenheit. This was 0.4 degrees warmer than the previous month.
Screenshots of Home IQ in action:
ecobee3 Tech Specs
- Main unit: 3.9″ wide x 3.9″ tall
- Sensor(s): 1.7″ wide x 1.7″ tall
- 3.5″ capacitive touch screen
- 802.11b/g/n @ 2.4GHz
- WEP, WPA, WPA2
Nearly all wireless routers meet these standards.
ecobee3 System Compatibility
- Conventional (2C/2H)
- Heat pump (4H/2C) including 2-stage aux. heat
- Gas, oil, electric
- Humidifier, Dehumidifier
- Dual fuel systems
- C-wire and no-C-wire systems
Where to buy the ecobee3
Apple.com and select retail stores
Read more about the ecobee3
- ecobee3 User Manual
- CNET ecobee3 review
- Steve Jenkins ecobee3 unboxing and review and 2 month followup
- ecobee3 reviews on Apple’s online store
- Zatz Not Funny ecobee3 Review
The Bottom Line
The ecobee SMART WiFi Thermostat (EB-STATe3-O2) is our #1 recommended thermostat, and for good reason.
The touch screen is beautiful and intuitive, the data reports give great insights into your usage patterns, built-in schedule and easy install get you up and running, and the room sensors help you get what you really want out of a thermostat: a more comfortable home. Even better, this thermostat is easy to set up in homes with and without a C-wire.
In short, we love it and we tip our hats to ecobee for this stylish and smart update to their product line.
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