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ecobee3 Smart WiFi Thermostat Review
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ecobee3

ecobee3 Smart WiFi Thermostat Review

  • Design
  • Features
  • Performance above -12C outside temperature
  • Performance below -12C outside temperature
  • Support
3.3

Summary

Do not buy this thermostat if you live in a cold climate such as most of Canada and use a heat pump with electric AUX heat.

I have been using the ecobee3 WiFi Thermostat for several months now and was preparing to give it a very good rating. That was until winter arrived and it got cold. More on that later.

ecobee3

The design of the ecobee 3 is essentially a black plastic almost 4″ square with rounded edges. I think it has a more modern look than the Nest or Honeywell. The 3.5″ capacitve touch screen is bright and colourful and provides most of the information you want at a glance. I especially like the fact it displays the current temperature in big numbers rather than the setpoint. The touch screen has a good responsive feel and I had no difficulty scrolling through the various settings pages.

Ecobee3 back panel

Setup is a breeze provided your HVAC system has a C wire to provide 24V to the ecobee3. If not, a kit is provided but is requires messing around with the furnace wiring..not for the faint of heart… and depending on the design of yout furnace or air handler could require professional help. Setting up the humidifier control is also pretty simple but requires you to know how your humidifier is wired. Once it is hooked up the thermostat steps you through an installation routine that is pretty easy to follow.

One of ecobee’s exclusive features is remote sensors:

ecobee3 remote sensors read the temperature in the rooms that matter most and deliver the right temperature in the right places. The more sensors you add, the smarter your ecobee3 performs, making your home even more comfortable.

ecobee3 sensor screen

Since my HVAC is well balanced I had no need for the remote sensor provided. However, I have difficulty understanding the concept of over/under heating/cooling the house to make one room more comfortable when it is occupied. Some people might be misled into believing these sensors somehow provided magic zone control without the expense of dampers.

ecobee3 sensor

That marketing gimmick aside I was very pleased with my ecobee3 over the summer, fall and early winter months. Temperature was maintained to within 0.5C of my setpoint when cooling or heating. Smart Recovery worked well in both cooling and heating modes bringing temperatures to setpoints on time. Humidity control while cooling was slightly better than with my previous thermostats. Winter humidity control was superb using the Frost Control setting. The ecobee3 allowed me to set the efficiency of my windows and kept the humidity level just low enough to avoid frost. The best performance I have seen from any thermostat.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 3.20.39 PM

The ecobee3 is also Apple HomeKit compatible which means you can control your thermostat using Siri. A cool gimmick but not really all that useful. Much more useful are the iOS and web apps that allow the changing of temperature settings from anywhere access to some advanced settings as well as the reports. There is a running history of temperatures and equipment running as well as monthly reports with regional comparisons.

ecobee3 web app

ecobee3 web app

Big fail when it gets cold!

Then it got really cold and the wheels fell off. Outside temperatures dropped below -12C(the compressor lockout temperature for my heat pump) and I would wake up to a house still at my sleep temperature. I spent hours on the phone with tech support with friendly people who were obviously working from computer scripts. Simutaneously I used their ticket system and after several exchanges I got this:

When the temperature drops bellow (sic) lockout the the smart recovery wont work. Smart recovery only uses the heat pump not the AUX. So when the temperature drops bellow lockout then the Smart recovery won’t get activated. (Our thermostst (sic) uses heat pump to save energy, if thermostat uses the AUX then it can not save any energy so as a result out thermostat won’t use the AUX for smart recovery).

I called back to see if there was a workaround and was treated like an idiot for wanting the thermostat to use the only heat available to bring my house up to the daytime setting in fact, he told me only one other person has ever complained about this. He also pointed out that a home owner in the US would be upset to wake up to find his expensive electric heat had been used for Smart Recovery and he stressed there is no way this setting would be changed.

In my mind the objective of Smart Recovery is to have the house arrive at the set temperature at the correct time. I can see why ecobee wants to bias toward the heat pump but if they are going to do that to the exclusion of AUX heat then they should have a setting for those of us who live in cold climates and want the system to use whatever heat is available to get to the set point at the chosen time.

Heck even my 13 year old Carrier programmable thermostat did this properly using a very basic algorithm:

SMART RECOVERY

With Smart Recovery selected, transition out of setback begins a fixed time period before selected recovery time and gradually adjusts room temperature so desired temperature will be achieved at selected recovery time. The fixed time period is 1.5 hr. It operates in both heating and cooling.

Even though ecobee is a Canadian company it is clear the thermostat is designed with the US market in mind..for example its refusal to add a simple setting to allow the Smart Recovery to use AUX heat when the compressor is locked out. As well, all the internal settings are in F and converted to C…all the C temp settings include decimal points while the F settings are all whole numbers (except in cases where f converts to C evenly) .

Ecobee3

This is a great thermostat if you live in an area where the winter temperature never drops below the Heat Pump lockout temperature. It is useless in areas where it tends to be that cold and you are using electric auxiliary heat.

The ecobee3 sells for $249CAD and is available direct from ecobee or retailers such as Best Buy and Apple.

 

Bob Benedetti

<p>Former RCAF Fighter Pilot Bob worked for CTV Montreal as a Reporter, Producer and Executive producer for 35 years retiring in 2004. Bob started reporting on personal technology in 1995 at CTV and continues today at Home Technology Montreal</p>

4 Comments
  • Cech

    Good review!

    While I do agree with most of it, I don’t think the issue with your HP and Aux applies to most Canadians. Actually, Quebec is probably the only province with such a large number of Heat Pumps due to cheap Hydro.

    Most Canadians run gas furnaces, and the E3 works great with a Gas/AC setup along with Smart Recovery. The problem really is when you have a Heat Pump and a furnace setup in a cold climate. Unfortunately, due to the limited number of users affected by this, I don’t think it’s a priority to Ecobee.

    February 4, 2016 at 2:45 pm Reply
  • Daniel Born

    If there was really only one person who complained about this, then that would be me.

    I have the previous product from ecobee: the Smart thermostat and when I asked questions about this Aux heat recovery, I was also told by ecobee support that my thermostat didn’t support that. Later I found out that it did in fact support this function and it still does today! If the ecobee3 really doesn’t support it, then it was taken out after the Smart.

    However, I never found that my thermostat managed heatpump heat recovery very well (perhaps due to the defrost cycles throwing off the algorithm?). Using the published ecobee API, I’ve now come up with a small program that can override the normal thermostat’s behaviour for several functions such as using an HRV as an automatic dehumidifier for winter and summer (my house is very well insulated and needs a dehumidifier even in winter), using the furnace fan to balance out temperature differences in the house between the first and second floor and also handling heatpump and/or aux recovery in all temperature ranges that we can have here in Montreal. It’s still work in progress but it shows great potential. I currently have it running on a standalone computer (Raspberry Pi) that simply needs to be connected to the house’s internet router.

    February 8, 2016 at 3:21 pm Reply
    • Bob Benedetti

      Thanks for the comment. I’ve had no issues with Smart Recovery when the Heat Pump is operating. Sometimes when it is really cold(but still above -12) it needs a 5 minute blast of electric heat at the end. The Nest 2 and 3 both worked but were sometimes all over the place and they refuse to add frost protection to their humidifier control.

      February 8, 2016 at 3:44 pm Reply
      • Daniel Born

        Then this is a definite improvement from the Smart as mine systematically ended each Smart Recovery episode with a sizeable blast of Aux heat at the end. Even at temperatures as “warm” as -1C (I set the Aux heat minimum lockout as 0C for satefy reasons). I also find the ecobee thermostats to have very powerful humidity controls but lacking dehumidity controls and almost non-existent HRV/ERV controls. I found a way around that but not without alot of effort and imagination. One redeeming quality of the ecobee is their public API. I would have many suggestions for improvement but it is still very useable and complete.

        February 8, 2016 at 9:19 pm Reply

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