My ecobee3 HomeKit WiFi thermostat with remote motion/temperature sensors makes sense/cents

Posted by Paul Braren on Jul 19 2015 (updated on Nov 19 2016) in
  • HomeAutomation
  • Review
  • Efficiency
  • Updates to this article below.

    Order

    The ecobee3 with homekit is available at Apple Store, Amazon, Best Buy, ecobee shop, Home Depot, and Lowe's.

    Review

    If you have multiple members of your household that are home at various times of the day, then you likely have some familiarity with inevitable temperature preference skirmishes.

    B00O57L1NE
    Click image above to buy at Amazon - ecobee3 Smart Thermostat, Wi-Fi w/ Remote Sensor x3 - Smarter Bundle

    If you have multiple rooms in your home, then you likely also experience conflicts, especially if you have a bunch of computer gear in your home office, for example.

    Would a Nest Learning Thermostat help? Not much, since it doesn't know the home's temperature, it only knows the temperature of the room it's in.
    (JUL 20 2015 correction - there are third-party solutions, thanks Richard Gunther!)

    screenshot-of-ecobee3-on-iPhone-6-Plus
    The ecobee3 app on iPhone 6 Plus, screenshot taken from Reflector 2 on Windows

    Saving $ with efficient solutions is a TinkerTry theme. With air conditioning and heat being the top energy guzzlers for most homes, the thermostat is a logical device to consider as an investment in more responsible home ownership.

    Last month, knowing I had some vacation time coming up, and knowing that the heat of summer was imminent, it was good timing that ecobee announced a refresh of their smart thermostat, the ecobee3 with HomeKit,

    For homes with more than one room™

    Why ecobee3 seems to be a good solution for my home

    • Has tiny remote sensors that detect motion and temperature, located in the rooms we spend the most time in.
    • I can teach it to sense rooms with activity, then average out those room temps to automatically choose a temperature that helps keep everybody be comfortable.
    • I can also set schedules that give it guidelines about our work schedules.
    • Any motion detected in "Follow me" mode can automatically override the away mode, regaining comfort, without having to remember to do anything.
    • IFTTT (If This Then That) Support. Fellow tinkerers can optionally do useful tweaks like geo-fencing, where the ecobee3 can be set to automatically go into away mode once the smart phone (with IFTT and the ecobee3 app) is beyond a specified distance from home, see also plethora of IFTT recipes. Keep in mind that you are inherently adding more risk by sharing your location data.
    • HomeKit has a shot of eventually unifying my Insteon and ecobee3 systems, which is admittedly still in early days.
    • I happen to have Apple and Android devices, and the newer ecobee3 units are now Apple HomeKit compatible, which I demonstrate in the video below by saying to Siri "Set temperature 70 degrees."
    • The ecobee3 app for iPhone/iPad is available from the App Store:
      Download_on_the_App_Store_700x40
    • Android fans can use the ecobee3 app from the Google Play Store:
      Google-play-button

    Did my research (sources below), placed order, crossed fingers

    I went with pre-ordering the ecobee3 which I Google+'d with anticipation, going with the "ecobee3, HomeKit-Enabled Smarter Bundle" directly from ecobee3. It arrived July 10th, and I completed the install on July 13th.

    Install story

    First, I waited for a cool morning, and turned all AC power off at the breaker. Next, the real "fun" began, starting with removal of the old thermostat.

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    A good idea to snap a pic of the old wires before you detach them.
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    Surprise, no paint behind my old thermostat! The left wire is the new "Common" that I ran to my air handler's common terminal. Your wiring situation will likely vary.
    anchor-fell-out
    When testing the anchors, I pulled the ecobee3 toward me, then the base came out with screw anchors still attached, decided stud mounting is the way to go.
    patching-underway
    Hot day, so while waiting for the patch to dry, handy to let the ecobee3 run.
    ecobee3-back-plate-cables-labeled
    Base plate all set, cables nicely labeled using some of the supplied stickers, long screws right into the studs, hand-tightening those last few turns to avoid over-tightening.
    ecobee3-install-complete
    All done!

    For my home, some of the work involved in the installation was a pre-sales call to the friendly Canadian technical support, who helped with me through issues revealed by my visit to ecobee.com/compatibility. I had to run a common wire to my attic's air handler, so off to my local Home Depot to pick up some thermostat wire.

    B00009363G
    MSA Safety Works 817663 Multi-Purpose Respirator

    It didn't take long to carefully shuffle around the attic, moving the blown-in fiber glass aside as needed, to get that new thermostat wire routed nicely. Since I care about my lungs, I made sure to wear my MSA Safety Works 817663 Multi-Purpose Respirator every time I went up into the attic.

    The next chunk of my time was spent on handling that unpainted mess of sheetrock under my old thermostat, discovering the hard way that I really needed to get some screws right into a stud, for a nice secure mount. Why? Well, when you pull the ecobee3 off its mount, it's just a tight friction fit. It has a tendency to pull the wall anchors right back out of the wall. I also decided that I really didn't want to use that optional big round backplate (shouldn't it be rectangular?). So it was time to do it right, messing up the wall temporarily to relocate the plate to the nearest stud, notching out a bit of that stud with a 1/2" paddle bit for the cables, then finishing it all up by patiently patching, sanding, patching again, sanding, and painting.

    Once it was installed on my wall, the setup was quite straight forward.

    Minor Issues

    Nothing serious here, mostly nitpicking.

    1. Some trouble getting my schedule times set to anything but midnight.

    2. Room occupancy status might be incorrect

    3. The iOS app occasionally needs a force-quit, to avoid the login password prompt

    4. Renaming a sensor after the install might not be reflected in the nifty HOME IQ, System Monitor reports.

    5. The ecobee3 app is a little clumsy for looking at sensor temps, but I can work around this with 3rd party apps such as Eve "At a Glance" single page summary view.

      HomeKit-limitation

    6. It's unfortunate that my situation, with a transformer in the basement (gas heat) and another in the attic (AC air handler), required some rewiring. While clearly not ecobee's fault, they handled the process of getting me through the install quite well, providing excellent phone support, and analyzing some pictures I took of my wiring situation to give me proper guidance. Most folks should probably contact ecobee support and discuss issues found at the compatibility checker, and if it sounds complicated, simply choose a professional installation. AC compressors are expensive. You don't want to mess the installation up.

    7. WiFi is 2.4GHz only, this feels a little like planned obsolescence to me, in a world that's fast moving to 802.11ac and the less-crowded 5GHz.

    8. I don't have Siri working yet for setting temps when I'm not at home quite yet, even though my Apple TV that's logged into my iCloud account should have allowed it. Not a problem, I can wait until this fall's iOS 9, when that Apple TV dependency vanishes. Or I can just use the ecobee3 app, from any location.

    9. HomeKit's use to me is currently rather limited, given it apparently requires that I avoid Auto Mode during those New England "between" months of April and October, when it can be very cold at night, and quite hot later on that same day.

    In addition to resolving some of the issues, here's some ideas for the future

    1. Allow existing account holders to enable two factor authentication for web access
    2. Allow existing account holders to change their login ID/password, in case they later decide to use a different email address for their ecobee3 account. Even better if a unique email is used only for the ecobee account, using something like Blur.

      MY_ACCOUNT
    3. I would love to see a third party or ecobee3 smart vent with integration with Insteon and/or ecobee3. That might be asking too much, but even just a newer Activent design with a quieter tight seal would do nicely for one or two of the many AC registers in my home, see also Keen Home and Ecovent here. Direct control of just one or two key room's temperature would be a big improvement for many homes.

    4. Even better would be an AC air handler company coming out with intelligent cooling outputs, using internal dampers kept up in the attic, rather than noisy vent covers in the rooms where humans live.

    5. 5GHz WiFi compatibility.

    6. Optional RJ45 kit for wired networking, adding resilience.

    7. App that resumes where you left off, with a more informative main view that includes sensor status.

    8. Sell a variant of ecobee3 in Europe too! For example, not available on Amazon UK or Amazon Germany.

    Closing thoughts

    So far, so good! Looks good, works well, and easy enough to use. Those HOME IQ reports, pictured here, are really quite nice, and I'm looking forward to more extensive details available after a full month of ownership.

    ecobee3WebUI
    ecobee3-System-Monitor-System-screenshot

    I may be posting updates below this article, once I have some more time under my belt with this ecobee3. But so far, my hunch is that things are going to work out just fine, especially once I get things tuned so the rooms that matter to us are at the right temperature at the right times.

    For me, being able to set the temperature from anywhere, in the house, or on the go, is a big step forward. So is having the ability to set my home up for some serious savings when on vacation, or when no motion is detected for hours.

    Assuming I get some of the minor issues eventually resolved, I'll likely be quite happy with this purchase for years to come, even after I replace my 18 year old AC system with a variable speed model for improved humidity control.

    I do have a separate thermostat on my first floor for heating, so it would be good to see a way to intelligently integrate a second ecobee3 into my system someday, ideally coordinating settings and sharing the remote sensors.

    More pictures and videos

    If you're looking to see some very detailed screenshots of the installation process, followed by the HomeKit pairing steps that are kind of like Bluetooth pairing, Steve Jenkins does a wonderful job here:

    If you'd like to see a video I created of the HomeKit pairing process, along with some test Siri commands to set my thermostat temperature and query my remote sensors temperature readings, I just created one today!

    Places to buy

    B00ZIRV39M
    Shop for ecobee3 with HomeKit at Amazon
    shop-for-ecobee-online
    Find Retailer

    The ecobee3 with homekit is available at Apple Store, Amazon, Best Buy, ecobee shop, Home Depot, and Lowe's.

    I would recommend you seek out the ecobee3 HomeKit-Enabled Smarter Bundle that arrives with HomeKit capabilities and 3 sensors total. This bundle seems to be tougher to find online, but is the way to go if you think you might use an Apple product someday. It's also handy to have the ability to use the remote sensors on-hand during the initial set up process, but they can be added simply and easily at any time. If you order direct from ecobee3, they offer free shipping from Toronto, Canada to the US.


    Jul 20 2015 Update

    It should be noticed that currently:

    • The Keen home Smart Vent isn't yet shipping, but will be compatible with ZigBee, 6LoWPAN, and Thread, explained here. See also the FAQ.

      We are launching the Smart Vent with support for thermostats on the Smart Things and Lowes Iris platforms, and we are working towards "Works With Nest" certification.
      ...
      Will the Smart Vents make noise?
      The motor makes a mechanical sound when it adjusts the vents, but that's it. We specifically designed the vent louvers as air foils to minimize drag and avoid that annoying whistling sound that happens when standard registers are closed.

    • The Ecovent system is only compatible with Nest and Radio Thermostats, explained here.


    Jul 21 2015 Update

    What is IoT, or Internet of Things? Here's what Intel has to say here:

    Intel defines the Internet of Things as devices that are connecting to the internet, integrating greater compute capabilities, and using data analytics to extract valuable information.

    Well, you could certainly include Nest and ecobee3 in that definition. IoT could really allow our homes to finally become much smarter, with our various systems finally getting interconnected.

    Some of the challenges to the growth of IoT that I think about:

    • Will usability flourish?
    • Will hackability tarnish the ownership experience?

    Today, I contacted ecobee support, to see if they could answer some of the issues I noted above. I have now learned the following new information. Note, this is support technician, he can't speak on behalf of the entire company.

    • When a sensor is renamed, the new name won't show in the HOME IQ, System Monitor reports until 3 days later.

    • On the thermostat display, the occupancy status of the remote sensors is nearly immediate. On the app, there can be up to a 6 minute delay.

    • Once a remote sensor has detected motion, it will show "Occupied" for a minimum of 30 minutes, even if no more motion occurs.

    • The need to force-quit the iOS ecobee3 app to avoid the password prompt is a known issue, new release expected within a month to resolve this

    Aug 15 2015 Update

    This last issue about the password prompting has been resolved with the latest iOS app update. No need to force quit anymore. Thank you ecobee!


    Sep 29 2015 Update

    Great, relevant discussion in this new episode, at this spot in the podcast.

    Topics include adding a SmartThings, adding a thermostat control wire, and ecobee3, from Nathaniel Lindley, I guy I met 2 years ago at the Home Server Show 3rd Annual meetup.

    At 10 minutes 30 seconds in, the ecobee3 related discussion begins.


    Oct 02 2015 Update

    Months later, things still going well, pleased with the reliable performance of my ecobee3. In fact, I don't think about it much anymore, and that's a good thing. The automatic detection of whether somebody is home or not has been key to this 24/7 comfort.

    See also recent/related tweet:

    649252841404657665

    Oct 05 2015 Update - Fall tuning

    Well, along with the warm days that still require AC, those chilly nights have also arrived. So I just I just discovered that my furnace was turning on the AC air handler's fan whenever my ecobee3 was asking for heat from my basement furnace (gas heat/boiler, water circulated through 1st and 2nd floor zones baseboard heater). Oops! A call to always-excellent ecobee3 support got me back on track, the first time I've needed to call since install. It was because I had incorrectly configured my heat as "furnace" and not the "boiler" setting that I should have chosen. Doh!. It's all explained on page 6 of the ecobee3 manual:

    Furnaces/Boilers
    If you have a furnace or boiler installed:

    1. Select the heating menu.
    2. Configure the heater type:
      . Furnace: Optimizes ecobee3 for systems using forced air
      . Boiler: Optimizes your ecobee3 for systems using radiators or in-floor heat.
    3. Touch Next. You will be returned to the Equipment configuration menu.

    As we were talking, I mentioned that I didn't seem to have Auto Heat/Cool available to me, so when it got cold recently, I switched my ecobee3 to Heat mode manually. He quickly found this well-documented answer in the FAQ:

    When you install a HomeKit-enabled ecobee3, Auto mode will be disabled because Auto mode is not supported by HomeKit. If you would like to use Auto mode please follow these steps. Remember, you will not be able to use HomeKit while in Auto mode.

    On your HomeKit-enabled ecobee3, tap on the Main Menu Icon > Settings > Reset > Reset HomeKit
    Then, on your HomeKit-enabled ecobee3, tap on the Main Menu Icon > Settings > Installation Settings > Thresholds > select from Auto, Heat, Cool > Enable

    DELETE_HOME

    Even with iOS 9, I never got Siri working when away (not on local WiFi). So I simply removed my HomeKit for now by tapping the ecobee3 app's upper-right little House icon from the welcome screen, Edit, DELETE HOME. Having done this removal, it seems to mean that the first step of the FAQ above doesn't even show up. Not an issue, since I just performed step 2 without incident, and was then able to go in and easily turn on Auto Heat/Cool mode, as explained on page 26 of the ecobe33 manual:

    Select Main Menu > Settings > Installation Settings > Thresholds > Auto Heat/Cool.

    I'm all set for winter now, and hopefully for many winters to come, without having to worry about the possibility of condensation in my ducts during those wide-temperature-swing months of May and October. I used to occasionally have issues on cold humid days, where turning on the AC could occasionally result in water dripping from my ceiling vents. Not good. This single ecobee3 feature, on page 26 of the manual, is very helpful for my home and my peace-of-mind:

    Compressor Min Outdoor Temp
    Enforces a minimum outside air temperature at which the compressor will be disabled. It prevents the compressor from running when the outdoor temperature is too low, thus resulting in damage to the compressor.

    B00O57L1NE
    Click image above to buy at Amazon - ecobee3 Smart Thermostat, Wi-Fi w/ Remote Sensor x3 - Smarter Bundle

    I chose 55 degrees, which is higher than my 18 year old outdoor compressor's minimum, which I believe may be 45 degrees.

    I hope you find this little ecobee3 update helpful, please drop a comment below to let us know how your ecobee3 ownership experience is going. Thank you!

    The ecobee3 with HomeKit bundles and accessories available at Amazon.

    Thermostats-View-Auto-Mode-cropped.PNG


    Feb 12 2016

    I hadn't really thought it about it before, but I recently wondered about the large temperature reading on the thermostat itself. What temperature is it telling you, is it the temperature at that ecobee3 unit? Well, if you a remote sensor that is part of the current schedule, and that remote sensor is the only one being used for the current schedule, then the answer is no. It's not showing the local temp, it's showing the temp of the remote sensor. If there are multiple remote sensors in the current schedule, I believe it would display their average temperature.

    Doh! That explains why it sometimes seemed to show a different number than what it felt like in that room.

    With so many months of winter ownership, I'm starting to thing more about how it would be nice if I had a complete set of settings for winter versus summer, especially since my ecobee3 only controls my 2nd floor heat, but controls my whole home's AC. Even though I have automatic Heat/Cool mode active, which really helps in October and April, I'd rather not have to reconfigure my settings twice a year to maximize my family's comfort.

    Alternatively, I could get another ecobee3 for my first floor, for a little more sensible approach to managing my entire home's temperature, using the single app or web site. I'm frankly not in any hurry to do that, but stay tuned!

    See also breaking big news about ecobee3 and Amazon Echo integration:

    2016-02-12_16-40-14
    Amazon Echo on Amazon.com
    698254276053827584

    Let's think about that for a second. Are you setting the temperature for the room you and the echo in? I suspect no, you are setting a new average temperature for all rooms sensors that are currently active. Just something to think about and consider, not likely a big deal at all for most situations. Location awareness could be an opportunity for an even smarter future for such voice controls.

    By the way, I'm still on the lookout for new smart vent integration options, we'll have to see what happens next.


    Feb 16 2016 Update

    Interested in hearing more about Keen Home's Smart Vent? Check it out!

    • Smart Home HQ: SHHQ039 – Keen Home Smart Vent and Hue v2
      pca.st/RK0q

    Subscribe to Chris Compton's Smart Home HQ here:


    Feb 17 2016 Update

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    Apr 07 2016 Update

    Nest integration with Amazon Echo Aexa announced, and Gooogle bricks Revolve on May 15, 2016.\


    Jul 10 2016 Update

    Still pleased overall with my ecobee ownership experience.

    I am still working on refining my scheduling process, changing over manually from Heat mode in winter, Auto in April and October, and Cool in summer. That's all a bit trickier than it could be, but still so much better than my old basic programmable thermostat.

    Ordered a 2 pack of Remote Sensors today, so I'll soon have 5 remote sensors total. This will help me track how warm some bedrooms get, and hopefully obtain even better summer comfort.

    Recently updated an aging iPhone 5 to iOS 10 Public Beta, then decided to give ecobee 3 Homekit integration another try today. Things actually went pretty darn well, as you'll soon see in this new video clip below.

    Ecobee3 and iOS 10 homekit pairing and Siri integration demonstration

    Oct 18 2016 Update

    This is the month that continues to challenge my family and I, with the huge temperature swings. A month where we could get our first frost at night, but where we also have a high of 77°F predicted for tomorrow.

    ecobee-lite

    One zone for AC, and two zones for baseboard heat. A rather common sort of configuration I would guess.

    As mentioned last fall, this is tricky, as only the 2nd floor has the ecobee3, and the first floor and basement have low tech old school thermostats I don't particular enjoy fiddling with.

    Introducing the ecobee 3 lite

    I'm not the only one having issues when trying to figure out how properly plan for a 2nd ecobee3 someday. Have a listen to Dave McCabe's RESET podcast episode 4 from last week, where he makes mention of a new ecobee3 coming soon, well ahead of today's announcement of the ecobee3 lite for roughly $169.

    Shop

    Check prices/shop at ecobee and Amazon where you can also now pre-order. When I placed my order earlier today on Amazon, it gave me an installation option, but no ETA details yet. Makes sense to compare this cost with the step-up model, the $249 ecobee3 with one remote sensor (at ecobee or Amazon), or roughly $313 for the ecobee3 with 3 remote sensors total (at ecobee or Amazon).

    Keep in mind this means you can't ever add a remote sensor to the lite model, which is why I would never recommend it for a primary living space. The biggest selling point of the ecobee3 over the Nest is exactly that feature, the remote sensors. They are a great way to resolve the common issue of the thermostat being located in a crummy location. Read more about the ecobee3 lite here:

    It would be good to be able to control the 1st floor or basement in my home, with the same ecobee app I already use. In my basement, there is no need for an external remote sensor/motion detector, since the built-in sensors will work great, given the location is optimal. Installation should be almost trivial, with a simple single zone heat-only wiring.

    If I decide to try out an ecobee lite in my home, I'll update this article.

    So, do you find the need for a $169 ecobee3 lite in your home? Leave a comment below the below below.


    Oct 31 2016

    My pre-ordered ecobee3 lite arrived yesterday. Here's some pictures of the box that highlight their new marketing ideas, including:

    Live better. Save more.

    Control from anywhere.

    Works with Amazon Alexa

    IMG_1267-ecobee3-lite-photo-by-TinkerTry.JPG
    IMG_1268-ecobee3-lite-photo-by-TinkerTry.JPG
    IMG_1274-ecobee3-lite-photo-by-TinkerTry.JPG
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    No time to unbox/install yet, but the experience should be rather similar to what I'm already accustomed to. I'll admit I'm disappointed it still doesn't support 802.11ac, so it really does seem to be identical to the existing ecobee3 line in every way, simply missing just the remote sensor capabilities.


    See also at TinkerTry

    See also