Review: ecobee3 lite packs all that ecobee goodness into a wallet-friendly package

Review: ecobee3 lite packs all that ecobee goodness into a wallet-friendly package

Our ecobee3 lite smart thermostat rating:
(5/5)

The ecobee3 lite at a glance

If you always wanted an ecobee but the price was just a little bit out of reach or you don’t see the point of built-in Alexa or the little room sensors, then the ecobee3 lite is for you! This stripped-down version gives you just what you want in a smart thermostat: a fire-and-forget scheduling system, remote control via the app or your smart home hub, and a great price.

Note to readers: this review is intended for visitors from North America (U.S. and Canada)

Why get an ecobee3 lite instead of an ecobee3 or ecobee4?

This is the #1 question everyone asks when they find out ecobee has a “lite” model. Here’s why you might want the ecobee3 lite instead of ecobee’s flagship model, the ecobee4 (which replaced the ecobee3 last year).

  • Cheaper without feeling flimsy
  • Alexa is not built into the ecobee3 lite (unlike ecobee’s flagship model, the ecobee 4) – great for anyone who just isn’t into Alexa for whatever reason
  • No room sensor included in the box – Might appeal if you have a small place or don’t see the need for taking another room’s temperature into account (but you can always add sensors later if you change your mind)
  • All the rest of the ecobee3/ecobee4 features are included
    • Free HomeIQ service makes it easier to understand your energy usage and compare month-to-month data sets
    • Easy to use touch screen looks very similar to the screens on the ecobee3 and ecobee4
    • Easy to program your schedule
    • Power Extender Kit comes with it, so there’s a greater chance of it working with your wiring
    • Tight control over every aspect of your 24-volt HVAC system
    • Can be controlled via Alexa and Google Assistant

The most common reason we hear from people choosing the ecobee 3 lite over the ecobee 4 is that they don’t care for Alexa and don’t need it in their thermostat, so why pay for it? Not everyone’s on board with having an always-listening service in their home, and that’s okay. Or maybe you’re already on board with Google Home and don’t want to add Alexa to the mix – that’s awesome, too – you can control this thermostat via Google Assistant (or Alexa, if you do one day decide to add an Alexa device to your home).

Another good reason to go with this budget version is to save money by not paying for a room temperature sensor that you may not need or get much use out of. Apartment-dwellers and owners of smaller or just plain well-constructed homes may not see the need to monitor temperature in a room other than where the thermostat is. And even if you do have some “cold spots” in your home, you may already be used to closing some vents and/or raising the temperature our thermostat is set to to help that colder room warm up. (And if you ever change your mind, you can also buy the room sensors separately and hook them up to your ecobee3 lite.) 

PROS

  • Comes with an easy to change built-in schedule, so there’s no “learning” period to go through
  • Use “Quick change” to temporarily override existing schedule
  • Support for many home automation systems, including Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
  • HomeIQ usage reports are useful for analyzing your usage data (with some caveats)
  • Access to settings from hardware, 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

CONS

  • HomeIQ reports could use some improvements, such as being able to see them in realtime instead of having to wait for a full month to finish
  • For systems without a C-wire, the Power Extender Kit requires adjusting some wires inside your furnace (but this beats the competitors, who tell you to either try it without the C-wire and see what happens, or run new wires, or call a pro)
  • Black screen is a fingerprint and dust magnet

A budget thermostat worthy of the ecobee name

The ecobee3 was our “best for most people” recommendation for the last three years – and we’re happy to extend that recommendation to the ecobee3 lite.

We think this pared down ecobee is awesome – it doesn’t sacrifice anything essential and it still has all the stuff that made us love ecobee in the first place. HomeIQ reports, a stylish design, room temperature and motion sensors, fine-grain control over every aspect of your HVAC system, support for many accessories including humidifiers, all from a company with a good track record of communication with the community and regular updates.

ecobee3 lite unboxing

ecobee3 lite retail box

ecobee3 lite in its retail box. The box design is pleasing and easy to open – just slide the outer “sleeve” off and open the box inside.

Back of the ecobee3 lite retail box says, "Save an average of 23% annually on your heating and cooling costs" and a brief list of product features, including control via app and easy installation.

ecobee3 lite: back of the box

ecobee3 lite box contents: instruction manuals, optional wall plate (to hide paint differences or wall damage left by your previous thermostat), the ecobee3 lite unit, the Power Extender Kit for optional use inside your furnace, the thermostat backplate, and some mounting screws.

ecobee3 lite box contents: instruction manuals, optional wall plate (to hide paint differences or wall damage left by your previous thermostat), the ecobee3 lite unit, the Power Extender Kit for optional use inside your furnace, the thermostat backplate, and some mounting screws.

Close up of the Power Extender Kit (PEK), which can be installed inside the furnace to make up for a missing C-wire.

Close up of the Power Extender Kit (PEK), which can be installed inside the furnace to make up for a missing C-wire.

An optional backplate is included to cover up damage or mismatched paint uncovered by your previous thermostat.

An optional backplate is included to cover up damage or mismatched paint uncovered by your previous thermostat.

Another nice extra: a sheet of stickers to label your thermostat wires before you disconnect your existing thermostat.

Another nice extra: a sheet of stickers to label your thermostat wires before you disconnect your existing thermostat.

See the ecobee3 lite on Amazon.com

ecobee3 lite works with Alexa… and everything else, too

ecobee has a long history of integrating their products with every home automation platform under the sun. Whether you want to control your thermostat through your Amazon Echo, your Google Home, your Apple Watch, or an IFTTT recipe, you’re covered.

Here are just a few things you can do with some of these systems:

  • Set up geofencing with a SmartThings hub
  • An IFTTT recipe that dims your bedroom lights, lowers your thermostat temperature, and turns on a white noise machine every night at 9:45pm
  • Control your thermostat through your Apple Watch
  • Tell your Google Home Mini to set the thermostat temperature to 68

HomeIQ reports

We love the HomeIQ reports that you get with an ecobee3 and 4, so we’re happy to see they’re part of the ecobee3 lite.

HomeIQ reports are free and easy-to-read, hour-by-hour breakdowns of your home’s thermostat data. With the HomeIQ report you can see what your system is doing at a granular level:

  • Inside temperature vs. outside temperature
  • When the heat, aux. heat, air-conditioning was running and for how long
  • Humidity levels
  • When “Smart Recovery/Early On” was running
  • How your HVAC system responded during “Follow Me” mode

This stuff is a data nerd’s dream. You can dump all this data to CSV and run your own analysis on it, too.

There is some room for improvement, though.

HomeIQ reports are generated on a monthly basis, so you have to have your thermostat for a “full 30 calendar days” to get your first report. We are impatient and would love to see reports on a daily basis, so that even brand new users can start studying their data.

Also, the reports can only be accessed through the website – not the app.

The ecobee3 lite is probably compatible with your 24-volt system

Assuming you have a 24-volt HVAC system (central forced air, central heating, not electric baseboard), there’s a good chance the ecobee3 lite will work with your wiring. If you have a C-wire, you’re good to go. (Here’s how to tell what kind of HVAC system you have.)

If you don’t have a C-wire, the ecobee3 lite comes with a Power Extender Kit that you attach to the wires inside your furnace to basically add the same functionality. (Read more about what to do if you’re missing a C-wire here.)

Either way, the instructions are easy to follow and you don’t need any specialized tools.

More great ecobee features

The ecobee3 lite shares most of its feature set with the ecobee4 flagship model (and the retiring ecobee3 model).

Alerts

Alerts are a great way to keep an eye on your house when you’re not around. You can set up your ecobee3 lite 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.

Fantastic app

We found the app intuitive and easy to start using. The only thing missing is the HomeIQ reports – you’ll have to log into the ecobee website for the reports.

close up of the ecobee app in action

The app has an intuitive design and ran great on our iPhone 7 and Pixel 2. No sync. issues or crashes.

Smart Recovery

Ecobee thermostats learn how long it takes your home to reach a desired temperature. If you want your home to be 70 degrees by the time you arrive home at 6:00pm, it will look at your home’s current temp and start heating at say, 5:20 to make that happen.

Lock it down with access control levels

If you are using the ecobee4 for a vacation rental (or maybe you have someone in your home or office who doesn’t understand the concept of energy bills), you might be happy to know that the ecobee4 offers some control over who can adjust what settings.

You can lock the ecobee4 thermostat down at varying levels via the thermostat itself:

  • Temperature and quick changes
  • Schedule
  • Vacation
  • System and settings

Attempting to alter these settings requires the person at the thermostat to enter a four-digit PIN.  (Look in Installation Settings for these options.)

You can also:

  • Set a desired maximum temperature and minimum temperature (must be at least 12 degrees apart)
  • Turn off all control at the thermostat itself

However, anyone who is logged into the app can bypass these controls. There is no way to set it so that certain app users are restricted in certain ways. Also, if you integrate the ecobee4 with Alexa, then anyone who can speak to Alexa can raise or lower the temperature that way.

Control over HVAC equipment settings

ecobee4 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)

ecobee3 lite vs. Nest Thermostat E

Photo of Nest Thermostat E thermostat hardware and ecobee3 lite hardware sitting side-by-side.

Nest Thermostat E vs. ecobee3 lite: two budget models with varying levels of support for accessories.

They’ve got the same MSRP, so what’s different? The meaningful differences between the ecobee3 lite and Nest’s budget model, the Nest Thermostat E, are in their respective support for HVAC accessories. (They look very different, too, but you already knew that.)

Humidifier support: missing from both

“Accessories” on an HVAC system include humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and ventilators, and neither ecobee3 lite nor Nest Thermostat E support them.

One possible workaround: you might have a separate control for your humidifier, in which case you can keep that control separate and install a thermostat separately if you want to install an ecobee3 lite or a Nest Thermostat E. You just won’t be able to control both your thermostat and your humidifier from the app.

If you want to control your HVAC system’s humidifier from your smart thermostat, you’ll have to consider the full-featured version of the ecobee.

Differences in multi-stage heating and cooling support

Short version: the ecobee supports more stages of heating and cooling than the Nest Thermostat E, for both conventional systems and systems with a heat pump.

The long version: Nest Theremostat E supports 2 stages of either heating or cooling, and 1 stage of the other. So you can have a conventional HVAC system you can have 2H/1C, or 1H/2C, or 1H/1C, but you cannot have 2H/2C if you go with the Nest Thermostat E. It’s a subtle difference, but if that describes your HVAC system, then you might be interested to know that the ecobee3 lite supports 2 stages of heating and 2 stages of cooling simultaneously. This goes for heat pumps, as well – the ecobee supports 4H/2C in heat pump systems, but the same Nest Thermostat E limitations apply.

Read more about single stage vs. multistage heating and cooling and how to tell what you have.

HomeKit support: only ecobee has it

If you’re well-established in the Apple ecosystem and have hopes of controlling your home’s thermostat by speaking to your Siri-enabled Apple Watch or iPad, then take note: Nest thermostats do not have HomeKit integration. You’ll want to go with an ecobee instead.

ecobee on an Apple Watch display

ecobee can be controlled via Apple Watch

Other odds ‘n ends

Only the ecobee3 lite comes packed with a Power Extender Kit to make installation easier in the event that you lack a C-wire. The Nest Thermostat E can supposedly run without a C-wire, but a number of people report problems when relying on its system of recharging itself from the HVAC system. (Nest’s stance is “try it without a C-wire and see”, but we’d rather just wire it correctly and be done with it.)

The ecobee3 lite can display a weather forecast on the thermostat’s idle screen (the Nest Thermostat E only displays the current inside temperature setting).

The ecobee3 lite’s touch screen is nearly twice the size of the Nest Thermostat E’s.

The final word

The ecobee3 lite is a budget model with few sacrifices. We’ve recommended the ecobee line since 2014 and we’re happy to extend that recommendation to the ecobee3 lite. We think its the best budget-priced smart thermostat on the market today in 2018, beating out its identically-priced competitor, the Nest Thermostat E thanks to better HVAC accessory support and a few nice extras, like weather forecasts on the display.

If you don’t need Alexa or room sensors, save yourself some cash and pick up an ecobee3 lite – you won’t miss a thing.

Product shot: ecobee3 lite

The ecobee3 lite packs in all the same great features that have made ecobee our most-recommended thermostat brand since 2014 – for a great price.

See the ecobee3 lite on Amazon.com

 

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