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Ecobee launches a new thermostat with location-detection as its killer app

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Ecobee, the Canadian company that has been making connected thermostats since 2007, has released a new thermostat that combines many of the features I think a smart home should have. the thermostat, which costs $249, is a marked change in design for Ecobee, whose previous devices and app were very data heavy and utilitarian, to something beautiful yet still smart.

The thermostat has a 3.5-inch capacitive touch screen and is connected via Wi-Fi. It also comes with a sensor that you place in a room in your home, and that sensor sends the temperature in that part of the house back to the thermostat. It also conveys information about your exact location inside the house. For HVAC nerds this is cool because it can now make you more comfortable in your home, especially if your bedroom gets really hot or cold at night. The thermostat learns your habits and adjusts the temperature based on where people are in the home.

Additional sensors cost $80 for a package of two. My upstairs thermostat is in a hallway that can get pretty warm, so it’s not uncommon to see the temperatures in my study where I work all day fluctuate between 76 and 80 depending on time of day. I keep the upstairs at 78 because I live in Texas and put on a sweater when the temperature is below 75.

So for me, if I could track the temps in my study while I’m in there and keep it 78, I might be able to use a bit less A/C. That’s awesome. But even more awesome is a planned integration with If This Then That and existing SmartThings integrations for [company]Ecobee[/company]. Stuart Lombard, the co-CEO of Ecobee says that presence detected by the sensors will be shared as triggers on other platforms, which means I can now set rules in my home based on presence. That could be the killer app for this thermostat and the smart home, something we discuss on this week’s podcast.

I’ve long been an Ecobee fan (I have a cheaper Ecobee Smart SI and a [company]Nest[/company] in my home today) and I love the company’s nerdiness around weather and HVAC data as well as its commitment to openness. With the upgraded app and thermostat design I’m really hoping that other people buy in to what Ecobee has built. Its previous products were built for the HVAC distributor market, and it shows. So maybe with a designer gloss, a new app and some really awesome features, others will check out what I think is a really compelling thermostat.

I am currently trying to convince myself I need to replace my older Ecobee with this new one despite the pain of rewiring my thermostats again. I also need to convince myself that I am not insane for spending $500 on thermostats. That may take a bit longer, especially since I tend to see less savings than advertised by Nest and Ecobee simply because I already keep my AC pretty high and am home all the time.

6 Responses to “Ecobee launches a new thermostat with location-detection as its killer app”

  1. Bill Sheppard

    I recently puchased an Ecobee 3 and am delighted with it. I’m amazed that none of the other “smart” thermostats has remote sensing. Both of our thermostats are in locations which generally aren’t triggered by our daily routine, and we have a significant heat differential in one of our bedrooms due to a large west-facing window. The Ecobee is beautiful and well-packaged, setup and installation was efficient and well-documented, and my whole family loves the change. I quickly ordered a second one to replace my other thermostat.

    I really don’t get the hype over Nest, while they have terrific design and their presence sensor was somewhat innovative, I have yet to hear of someone who feels the learning algorithms don’t need constant tweaking, and whether/how the data will ultimately be used by Google is a real concern.

  2. Balancing the system is a great point but what about the homes that are under insulated or not insulated at all? Those customers continue pointing to the HVAC guys. The sensor is great, but will still cause mismatch in the original thermostat sensing location. Look at Honeywell’s redlink indoor sensor. Upstairs feels a little cooler now, but were freezing on the main floor. Why not just pack four sensors with each stat and we will zip tie them to each member of the family! Then wherever they go they will be comfortable. How about the bigger issue of retail sales? I can get it here for $249 or thru my wholesaler for $237. That’s a joke, people are smart, they google everything anymore. Take it off the website ecobee. Step up to the plate in more than one way, push this thru the professional installer market. Give us a chance to make a buck. We bust our buts trying to make a few dollars here and there, ecobee and Honeywell both ship out of every hole they have and their margins wont suffer. Manufacturers have taken over the industry, its time the contractors get back in control. Good luck.

    • Face it, they have to have a retail product to compete with Nest and the Honeywell big box stuff.
      That’s why I think Ecobee should make a pro version, available only through the professional HVAC market, with features that really require HVAC pro knowledge to install correctly.
      I do have to say though, that the HVAC service industry is totally unreliable.
      The difference between HVAC owners and HVAC installers is devastating.
      The owner always seems to know what he’s talking about when it comes to high end thermostats, airflow design, IAQ, ERV’s etc. But their installers are all clueless.
      I’ve had complete HVAC installs (mostly heat pumps) done on 3 different houses (we own rentals) and after each install I vowed to try someone different.
      For the first house the installer put in a 2-stage system with a high-end honeywell, then wired it as one stage (and no, he didn’t activate the automatic stage 2 kick-over built in to some air handlers).
      For the last 2 installs I went with Ecobees, but had to re-install the thermostats on both. Neither set up the HVAC dehumidifier function at all, and one completely botched the ERV by putting delivery and return lines into the master return only 6 inches apart. And that’s the one that I paid full bid price no questions asked on the highest bid (and most reputable). I had the owner out twice, he sent his buys out twice, and even after moving the ERV ducting, they still never balanced the inflow/outflow so it was sucking air in through the garage.
      Thankfully, I knew when something was wrong and knew to call them back (and eventually when to give up and do it myself). But what about Joe insurance salesman who doesn’t have a clue how his heating system works? I can’t image how many folks are getting screwed on their utility bills.
      Thankfully, there are folks like Frank (above) who seem to understand how systems like Ecobee should work. BUt I truly feel he’s in the minority. Or at least in the minority when it comes to people who actually do the on-site installs.
      Until the HVAC industry itself gets itself cleaned up, I see more and more internet-reading savvy homeowners taking business away from the dedicated HVAC service industry.

  3. What would be really cool would be a professional level model that had electronic damper controllers.
    One-time balancing of airflow is an important first step, especially in a 2 story home. But as the seasons change, so do the balancing requirements.
    More importantly, to take advantage of occupancy sensors, a system would need to be able to dynamically direct cool (or hot) air to the occupied areas – so an unoccupied living room could be allowed to get hot during a summer afternoon, while still keeping the home office cool. All this is even more challenging because it’s not as simple as closing and opening dampers where air is needed. The system also has to be smart enough to maintain total airflow so that there is enough air passing over the cooling coils, even if only one room needs cooling.
    It’s a tough problem to solve, but occupancy sensors are a good first step. Let’s hope the future brings solutions that allow people to truly fine tune their HVAC requirements for maximum comfort and efficiency.

  4. This feature is addressing a symptom of an HVAC problem and not curing it. If the HVAC in your house is not even, have an HVAC company come out and correct the airflow balance. They will put a measurement device on each vent to measure the air flow. Then they use those numbers to set internal dampers inside the system that you can’t see. Doing that will even out the heat/cool inside your house.

    Out of balance HVAC systems are very common since a lot of installers don’t know how to balance them properly. Out of balance air flow is like a coarse adjustment, get it right first, then use this Ecobee for a fine adjustment.

    Another simple fix is to set the system to turn the HVAC fan on for 15min each hour. That will stir up the air and even out the temperature between rooms.

    • This is exactly our situation at home. We just replaced the entire ductwork and HVAC equipment at our home with highly efficient Carrier unit (96% AFUE/16 SEER). But the fundamental issue that existed prior to upgrade still remains – the temperature difference between the different areas is as much as 3-5F. The t-stat is located in an interior corridor with little cross-ventilation. Hence, when the t-stat measures 74F and triggers A/C, we feel colder in the living room where it’s more like 72F.

      We did have internal dampers installed so I have asked the HVAC installers to come back out and make adjustments. I had been looking for a wireless t-stat based solution but was advised by the company that the airflow needs to be tackled first.