Review: ecobee4 added Alexa to a thermostat and we’re in love

Review: ecobee4 added Alexa to a thermostat and we’re in love

Our ecobee4 Alexa-enabled smart thermostat rating:
(5/5)

The ecobee4 at a glance

Move over, everyone else – the ecobee4 is the smart thermostat to buy right now in 2017. They took everything we loved about the ecobee3, baked Alexa right into the hardware, and lowered the price.

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

The features we loved in the ecobee3 are still here:

  • Set up wireless room temperature sensors so you can figure out which rooms are the warmest (or coldest) and have the thermostat “follow you” around the house
  • The free HomeIQ service makes it easier to understand your energy usage and compare month-to-month data sets
  • Easy-to-program scheduling
  • Power Extender Kit for compatibility
  • Tight control over every aspect of your 24-volt HVAC system

Don’t like Alexa? Not a problem. The November 2017 firmware update (version 4.2.0.171) made it possible to disable the microphone without triggering the always-on red light that many users complained about online.

Best of all, Ecobee is hard at work adding features to the entire ecobee family.

This November, we saw a big firmware update that fixed several bugs and added a few things the user community was asking for. We also saw the addition of Google Home support to all of their thermostats in November 2017, but you’ll have to talk to your Google Home device, not the thermostat itself. And finally, at long last, Alexa has arrived in Canada! This means that Canadians can now order their own region-supported Echo and ecobee4 (Canadians who installed an ecobee4 prior to this release had to pick a city in the United States, but now they can pick cities in Canada).

Toronto-based ecobee knocks it out of the park with their May 2017 update to their flagship product.

See the ecobee4 on Amazon.com

PROS

  • Alexa is built right in
  • Support for many home automation systems, including Google Assistant
  • Alexa not for you? Now you can disable the microphone without the always-on red light
  • Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) was recently added to help distinguish this Alexa from other nearby Echo devices
  • 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
  • Room temperature sensors provide wireless, effortless insight into your home’s rooms
  • HomeIQ usage reports are useful for analyzing your usage data (with some caveats)
  • Access to settings from hardware, app, and website
  • Now you can have a clock on the idle screen! (November 2017 firmware update)
  • 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
  • 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)
  • Costs of getting your coldest room up to ideal temp may exceed savings (more about this in the review)
  • Black screen is a fingerprint magnet

And just one more thing to be aware of: since anyone in your home can speak to Alexa and have her carry out a command, this means anyone in your home can control the thermostat and bypass the 4-digit PIN – from anywhere in the house. If you want to maintain iron-clad control over your home’s temperature for whatever reason, then you’ll need to disable Alexa or consider a different thermostat.

The best gets better

The ecobee3 was our “best for most people” recommendation for the last three years – and we’re happy to update our recommendation to the ecobee4. Literally every single thing we loved about the ecobee3 is still here. 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.

We think ecobee was right to choose an established voice assistant / AI to include in their thermostat. This is the same Alexa that’s in Amazon’s own Echo products, so you can also use the thermostat to set timers, dim the lights, read a weather report, or even play some music. It’s like having an Echo Dot built right into your thermostat.

Alexa spent the last year gaining steam, culminating in several new Echo devices arriving near the end of 2017. This is the first thermostat to come with Alexa built right into the hardware and one of the first non-Amazon devices to embed the popular voice assistant (there’s also the Sonos One speaker and the ecobee Switch+, an unreleased-as-of-yet light switch with Alexa built in, currently in early beta testing.)

If you don’t want Alexa, though, you might want to pick up an ecobee3 while there’s still some stock left. It’s the same thing, just without Alexa built in.

We think the ecobee4 is a better choice, though, because it’s 2 years newer and it’s first in line for firmware updates (like the clock update, which is only on the ecobee4 and not the ecobee3 or ecobee3 lite at the time of this writing). You can now disable the microphone without getting the angry-looking always-on red light of doom that was so unpopular with ecobee4 users.

ecobee4 unboxing

The ecobee4 box has a soft, buttery quality to it.

Our new ecobee4 and its bunkmate, a single room temperature sensor.

The ecobee4 box contains everything you see here: ecobee4 unit, one room temperature sensor, a backplate with terminals and bubble level, an optional wall plate, instruction manuals, and a Power Extender Kit.

ecobee4 installation

If you’re installing an ecobee4, you should download the app and follow its steps through the installation. They are clear, easy to follow, and many steps include a video demonstration.

Almost there – the old thermostat is gone, the ecobee4 backplate is in place, and the wires are snapped into the correct terminals.

Once the thermostat powered on, it took about 6-7 minutes to walk through the steps (and I was taking photos the whole time). Here are some of the highlights:

ecobee4 installation: confirm your wiring on the smartphone-like touch screen

Confirm accessories, such as a dehumidifier

Tell it your favorite temperature and it builds a simple schedule for you.

Linking the thermostat to the ecobee app was easy, just enter the 4-digit code given to you by the thermostat.

Setting up Alexa was easy, too – just enter your Amazon credentials and she’ll start responding. You’ll have to add the ecobee as a device in your Alexa app, too, but once that’s done you should be able to issue voice commands.

There are lots of preferences to adjust to your liking, including screen brightness, humidity adjustment, whether the screen dims during sleep mode, and many more.

ecobee4 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

Alexa’s built in- and she’s getting better

The ecobee team released a short video showing us how they studied acoustics to better understand how to build a microphone into a wall-mounted thermostat.

The built-in Alexa sounds about how you’d expect: tinny and grainy at high volumes. The sound quality is about on par with that of an Echo Dot. Depending on what you’re listening to, though, it’s surprisingly not that bad – we tried some gentle ambient music on the thermostat and thought it was rather pleasing.

At launch, there were some noticeable shortcomings in ecobee4’s Alexa integration. ESP wasn’t built in, disabling the microphone made the ecobee unit glow red, and the ecobee4’s Alexa couldn’t recieve notifications generated from other Alexa skills. All of these issues were fixed in firmware version 4.2.0.171 that rolled out mid-November 2017. (Read the full update notes here.) The roll-out happened over the course of a 2 week time period, but if you are still waiting you can contact ecobee support to ask for the update immediately.

There are still a few things missing from this Alexa integration: the wake word still has to be “Alexa”, and access to some third-party services is still absent (such as Spotify). The ecobee team is aware of the demand for changing the wake word, and some of these shortcomings are restrictions placed by Amazon, but I think we’ll see updates to these issues within the next few months.

Overall, we love the Alexa integration. Before the ESP update, we cupped our hands around the thermostat and whispered to it, like we were whispering sweet nothings to Alexa.

Room sensors (still) make sense

Ecobee’s room temperature sensors are small, wireless sensors that you place in whatever rooms you prefer. You can use them with or without the included plastic stand. The plastic stand also has an optional “sticker” bottom to help keep it in place.

The ecobee4 ships with one sensor in the box, and you can buy more in packs of two. If you have any sensors from an ecobee3, they are also compatible with the ecobee4.

Pairing a sensor is ridiculously easy – pull the tab out of the back and the ecobee4 finds it right away.

ecobee4 and room temperature sensor

Yes, they are this tiny. And wireless!

How the sensors work

The sensor reads the temperature of the room it’s in and reports it to the thermostat, so the thermostat can better determine if more heating or cooling is needed. Think of it like telling your thermostat which rooms you really care about (and when).

Just be aware that the ecobee4 and its sensors don’t actually equalize temps across your home or fix your perpetually cold room without turning your warmest rooms into saunas. It can’t do that. The ecobee4 can’t make up for a strained HVAC system, a home that’s all windows on one side, poor/uneven insulation, etc.

Motion detection for heating/cooling – but when (and where) you need it

The room sensors are also motion detectors. They use the motion data to determine which room you’re in, whether to use Home or Away mode, or whether to run the HVAC during “Follow Me” mode.

Here’s a great use for the sensors: imagine that your home office is always cold compared to the rest of the house. You place a sensor in your home office so that on days when you work from home, your ecobee knows you’re there – and runs the heat until your home office is at your desired temperature. You stay comfortable all day and you don’t even have to fiddle with the thermostat’s day-to-day programming. No overrides needed.

We love this granularity: these sensors go beyond simple geofencing by targeting specific rooms.

Support for up to 50 sensors

You can add up to fifty (50!) room sensors, which ought to be enough for even the most stately mansion. This makes ecobee ideal for large homes, homes with lots of rooms, homes with multiple floors, and homes with that one room that insists on being hotter/colder than the rest.

Grab a 2-pack of ecobee sensors on Amazon.com

HomeIQ reports

We love these reports. 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.

It’s 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 ecobee4 will work with your wiring. If you have a C-wire, you’re good to go. If you don’t have a C-wire, the ecobee4 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.)

ecobee’s Power Extender Kit

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

More great ecobee features

Everything we loved about the ecobee3 is still here, including:

Alerts

Alerts are a great way to keep an eye on your house when you’re not around. You can set up your ecobee4 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.

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)

Room for (minor) improvements

As we said earlier, the November 2017 firmware update took care of some of the more pressing Alexa issues: you can now disable the microphone without incurring the always-on red light of doom and ESP is  They even added the clock back onto the idle screen!

Here’s what we hope to see get improved in 2018:

  • Support for changing the wake word
  • No more month-long wait for your first HomeIQ report
  • Better usage data in the app itself

Should you upgrade?

If you don’t have a smart thermostat, the ecobee4 is the one to get – especially if you are already a fan of Alexa. We think you’ll love it, for all the reasons detailed in this review. This is the most fully-featured thermostat on the market right now and it supports a mind-boggling array of home automation systems.

If you have a Nest, you wouldn’t be alone in switching to an ecobee – many people who go from Nest to Ecobee say they love the bigger screen, the straightforward scheduling, the room sensors, and the ecobee’s better ability to deal with one-off changes to your daily schedule.

The only folks who might not be best served by upgrading to an ecobee4 are people who already have an ecobee3 or ecobee3 lite and at least one Amazon Echo device. If you have this, you have everything an ecobee4 has to offer minus Alexa inside the thermostat itself.

If the ecobee4 is right for you, go ahead and pick one up – the winter heating season is just getting started here in North America and you’ll love the upgrade.

The final word

The ecobee3 has been our top pick since 2014, and it’s predecessor is our new top pick now in 2018.

Smart sensors, Alexa built right in, and everything that made the ecobee3 our top choice for the past two years – the ecobee4 is a winner.

See the ecobee4 on Amazon.com

ecobee4 Alexa-enabled smart thermostat

10

Overall

10.0/10

Usability

10.0/10

Fine-tuned Control

10.0/10

Installation

10.0/10

Look & Feel

10.0/10

Pros

  • Alexa built right in
  • Monthly HomeIQ reports
  • Useful room sensors
  • Ability to disable the mic if you don't want Alexa
  • Power Extender Kit for systems without c-wire

Cons

  • A few Alexa features still missing
  • No cake included

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.