Ecobee Review – Is the New Ecobee 3 Smart Thermostat Worth the Money?

Today’s article will be the long-promised Ecobee Review, more specifically a review of the Ecobee 3, WiFi capable, smart thermostat.  Those of you who have read our articles regularly, know that we are a small, U.S. Veteran-Owned air conditioning and heating company in Southern California, and hold no punches.  We have built our reputation on giving honest, straight answers to our clients’ questions.  So, with that in mind, I will give you my unbiased Ecobee Review – I don’t like it, and I can’t recommend it.  Of course, we install whatever our clients like, but not without giving them our opinions, and I have a few issues with the Ecobee that really need to be addressed before I can give them my full support.  There are several reasons for this.  So, in this review, we will examine the Ecobee 3 smart thermostat from several different aspects, including an Ecobee 3 review of features, a review of reliability, and finally, our list of Ecobee pros and cons, to help you make the best decision for you and your home.

Ecobee 3 with Remote Sensor.

Ecobee Review of Features

Look, despite the skeptical attitude with which I usually compose any review – including my Ecobee review – I’m really not hating on the Ecobee, even though it might seem like I am.  Well, ok, I guess I’m hating on it just a bit.  But it’s not all bad – I really like its features and usability.  So, if you have an Ecobee 3, or if you have your heart set on one, that’s fine – it will do most of the things you are looking for, and it is pretty user friendly once you get past the installation.

For the most part, it is comparable to its competitors, the Google Nest and Honeywell Lyric (more on this can be found in: Nest vs Lyric Smart Thermostat Review). Let’s take a look at our Ecobee review of features:

  • Ecobee 3 App.

    Ecobee Remote Sensors – More on this later in our Ecobee review, but instead of taking temperature readings from the Ecobee 3 thermostat itself, it gets its information from a series of remote sensors, using readings from several different rooms instead of just one.  Relatively small, each remote sensor is 1.7 inches X 1.7 inches, and about an inch deep.

  • Ecobee Geofencing – Ecobee tracks your location using your smart phone, and can set your system accordingly, thus saving you energy when you’re not at home.
  • Ecobee Predictive Logic – Just as with the Nest, the Ecobee learns your routines over time and adjusts your home temperatures accordingly throughout the day.  This features poses a problem for people with irregular schedules, but it’s a problem solved in the Ecobee 3 Geofencing feature.
  • Motion Sensor – The Ecobee turns its display on as soon as you walk up to it.
  • User-Friendly Ecobee App – Just as with the Nest and Lyric, the Ecobee has an app that allows you to control your home temperature from anywhere in the world that has a signal.
  • Ecobee 3 Intuitive Touchscreen Design – Much like an iPhone or other smart phone, the Ecobee features an intuitive touchscreen interface that you can figure out in minutes, just by playing with it.
  • Ecobee 3 is Apple HomeKit Compatible – If you have an Apple iPhone or iPad, you can use Siri to control your Ecobee 3 smart thermostat.  Is this necessary?  No…but it’s really cool.

Overall, I really like Ecobee’s interface and can’t complain about their usability.  Their original interface was a bit glitchy, but the Ecobee 3 has solved those problems.  In fact, of all the newer smart thermostats (Nest, Lyric, etc…), I’d have to say that I like its interface the best.  But I still can’t give it a positive Ecobee review.

Related articles that might be useful:

When is the Best Time to Buy a New Air Conditioner?

What is a Fair Price for a New Air Conditioner Installation?

Ecobee 3 Display

Ecobee 3 Review of Reliability

Those of you who have read some of our articles, know that to us, reliability is the most important feature of all.  I just can’t give a positive Ecobee review if it isn’t reliable.  I’m not just talking about how reliable your HVAC company is, I’m talking about the equipment itself.  We don’t install products that aren’t reliable – it negatively affects our reputation and we just won’t do it.  That’s why, much to our clients’ chagrin, we often steer them away from getting the newest, top of the line, 25 SEER air conditioning units.  Yea, they are new and cool, but they are supposed to last 15 years, and we have seen too many problems with their reliability; from all brands.  I digress…for more on this, read: What is a Good SEER Rating?  Suffice to say…reliability is of utmost importance, and that’s where the Ecobee let us down.  Let’s take a look at our Ecobee review of reliability.

Our Problems with Ecobee Reliability

We install dozens of thermostats each week, and we install all major brands, including: Venstar, Honeywell, Nest, and Ecobee.  It really comes down to customer preference, but to us, it is also important to keep our clients educated on our experience as well, both positive and negative.  The same is true of this Ecobee review, and let’s just say that our introduction to the Ecobee was less than flattering…

One of our largest clients owns a majority of the car dealerships in our area, and although we protect our clients’ privacy, if you’ve lived in Southern California, then you’ve probably been to one of their dealerships.  To make a long story short, hundreds of Ecobees were installed, giving their staff the ability to measure temperatures from almost every room, in every dealership.  It was quite a project.

The problem arose, however, when nearly 15-20% of them failed within a month of installation.  Being the dedicated troubleshooters that we are, the first thing we did was to rule out installation error.  After all, the most likely culprit is typically the simplest answer.  Nope, everything looked good.  We then took a few new Ecobees and replaced the ones that were having trouble, just to see what would happen.  Much to our astonishment, the systems ran fine again.  We did this dozens of times, and each time it was a faulty thermostat.

Upon contacting Ecobee, their customer service department informed us that this was not common, but that they had heard of it happening before, particularly when the Ecobee was paired with an older air conditioning unit (on a side note, Ecobee’s customer service department was quite pleasant and helpful).

Ecobee Review – Problems Addressed

Now, as a reference, we have installed thousands of Honeywell T-6000 series thermostats, with only a handful of problems along the way.  We have installed hundreds of Venstar ColorTouch thermostats (my absolute favorite), and they have had absolutely zero problems with reliability.  So I’m just saying, it isn’t that this stuff sometimes happens, because of course it does…but a 15-20% failure rate in the Ecobees we installed – that’s way too high for my comfort.  How can I recommend it in my Ecobee review with these types of problems?

Arrogance is the root of most failures, so we took it upon ourselves to go to every single Ecobee that we had ever installed, and double-check that we had installed them per the manufacturer’s specifications.  Fortunately, everything was good on our end…so what’s the deal?

Current Update on Our Clients’ Ecobee Problems

There is no way to know for sure why we had so much trouble with the Ecobees, but we have a serious problem recommending them in an Ecobee review at this time – reliability is big, and why buy an Ecobee when you can buy a Venstar or Honeywell that is guaranteed to work properly, and for cheaper?

That being said, once we addressed all of the failed Ecobees, to be absolutely fair, we haven’t had anymore issues since.  Plus, our client absolutely raves about them, once he got over the initial anxiety associated with hoping to dodge that 15% chance of failure during installation.

Perhaps it was a bad batch – it is always possible, and I am always willing to give them a second chance at some point in the future.  For now though, it’s Honeywell or Venstar for All Systems Mechanical.

Related articles that might be useful:

What Temperature Should I Set My Thermostat To?

Top 10 Air Conditioner Brands – Which Should You Choose?

Ecobee Review – Pros and Cons

I’m not going to beat a dead horse – I don’t like Ecobees because of the reliability issues that we experienced.  But, that doesn’t mean that you will necessarily experience the same thing.  Let’s take a look at a few of the pros and cons you should consider before making a decision, to help finish up our Ecobee review.

Ecobee Review – Pros

  • Ecobee Remote Sensors – I discussed this a bit in our Ecobee review of features.  I love the fact that Ecobee 3 uses remote sensors, and I honestly think that this is the future of thermostats.  Someday, every thermostat on the market will have remote sensors.  Think about it…what good is your thermostat if the people who installed it put it right in front of an 8-foot-high window that gets direct sunlight?  Your system stays off because the thermostat is hot, while the rest of the house is freezing.  Those of you who have been around the proverbial block a few times, know that thermostat placement is crucial, and far too few HVAC contractors realize this.  I’ve seen thermostats in the kitchen next to the stove…let’s think about that for a moment…the stove…  Regardless, Ecobee 3 does a fantastic job of handling this.  Do you have a baby and worry about the temperature in her room?  What about that one room of the house that is always hotter than the others?  The Ecobee 3 remote sensors solve this problem nicely.
  • Ecobee Geofencing – Look, I like the idea of a logarithm that can predict your schedule and make corrections to the temperature accordingly, but all of the smart thermostats have that.  What’s more, I have yet to be impressed with one of these predictive logics, and many of our Nest clients tell me that the logic can be way off.  That being said, like the Lyric, the Exobee 3 uses Geofencing to solve part of this problem.  As mentioned earlier in this Ecobee review, the Ecobee keeps track of your location (whether or not you like that is another story), and runs up your system when you are on your way home.  Not only does this save energy, but it’s just plain convenient.  Where this falls short, however, is if you’re at work and your kids come home from school early – then they will have to use the thermostat manually, just like an old fashioned one (unless they have a cell phone too – no parenting advice here…).  Oh, the horror.
  • IFTTT Compatible – allowing you to set up all sorts of customized options using “if-then” statements.  Pretty nifty if you are into that whole technology thing.  If you don’t know what IFTTT is, then just forget that I said anything about it at all.
  • Apple HomeKit Compatible – Ecobee 3, like many modern thermostats, has an app that allows you to control the thermostat right from your smart-phone.  But, ask this…is it just too much of a hassle to pick up your phone and push a button?!?  If so, never fear…with Apple HomeKit compatibility, your Ecobee 3 can use Siri.  “Siri, set my thermostat to 72 degrees.”  Now, if you could only get Siri to fetch you a beer too.
  • Ecobee Cost – The Ecobee is comparable in price to the Nest and Lyric, and can be found anywhere between $217 – $250.

Ecobee Review – Cons

  • Reliability During Initial Installation – You may luck out, but we had plenty of bad experiences with how many lemon units that we got – it’s what holds us back from giving a positive Ecobee review.  I’m not saying to scratch them off of your list altogether, I’m just saying – be aware of this, and take it into consideration.  Of course, Ecobee does have a three year warranty, so you are covered if this happens.  And for you, this might not be an issue.  But for us, an HVAC company that is installing hundreds of thermostats, I want it to work 100% of the time, and I can’t give positive Ecobee review unless it does.
  • Ecobee 3 Wiring (incomplete w/ blue common wire)

    Ecobee Installation can be Problematic – Unlike the Google Nest and Honeywell Lyric, which are battery powered and can use four thermostat wires for setup, the Ecobee needs five wires.  Does your home have five thermostat wires, including a common wire (aka, a “C-wire”)?  It is typically a brown wire (or sometimes blue).  If you do only have four wires, which is about 30% of you out there, here is a Pro Tip: after removing all of the wires from your old thermostat and removing the backing-plate (the thing your thermostat was on; that is attached to the wall), pull gently on the thermostat wire bundle…typically, there are extra wires wrapped around the T-stat bundle and pushed back inside the hole in your wall!  Most HVAC guys don’t tell you that because they want you to hire them to come do it for you, but contractors almost ALWAYS run extra low voltage wiring – at ASM for example, we always run 8-wire bundles to allow for growth and repairs for our clients in the future.  If you had no luck, and you have to install your Ecobee using four wires, Ecobee includes a Power Extender Kit to adapt your four wires for use with the thermostat.  But this is a huge pain, and will require you to work with the wires at the air conditioning unit itself, and at the thermostat.  Those of you who have read my articles, know that I am a huge fan of DIY, and will happily show people how to do these things themselves – but I honestly don’t think that this is one of those times.  The reason for this is simple – once you open the AC unit up, you will have access to 220 volt, high-voltage electrical wiring, and if you don’t know what you are doing and accidentally touch one, you could seriously injure or even kill yourself.  Be careful, please, or call in a pro.  If you do venture to do-it-yourself, please turn off the circuit breaker panel, AND remove the disconnect (right by the unit, typically).  One side of these high-voltage wires will be hot regardless of whether the unit is on, or not.  Treat everything with utmost care, or again, call a pro.

More on the Ecobee 3 installation can be found in this video by Ecobee: Ecobee 3 Review – Installation

Venstar T5800 Colortouch Thermostat.

ASM’s Top Pick For a New Thermostat

I’ve mentioned it before, but my top thermostat pick is still the Venstar T5800 ColorTouch WiFi Thermostat.  You’ll love it, I promise, and unless otherwise requested by a client, we install one of these on every job.  Details, pros and cons of the Venstar are beyond the scope of this article, and will be discussed in a later post.  But, I figured I’d give you a suitable alternative just in case you aren’t completely sold on the Ecobee 3 yet.  We have never had issues with the Venstars so far, and their features are top-notch.

Final Thoughts on Our Ecobee Review

At the end of the day, our Ecobee review, just like all of our reviews, is meant to give you an idea of the pros and cons of the Ecobee 3 WiFi Smart Thermostat before making your decision.  But whether or not it is what you are looking for is a question that only you can answer.  All I’m offering are the facts.  I do like its features and usability, and I really like the Ecobee 3’s use of remote sensors for temperature readings.  The only thing that makes me wary of it were our experiences with poor reliability.  Hence, I hold back from giving a positive Ecobee 3 review.  I hope that you’ve found our Ecobee review useful.  If you live in Southern California, then you are probably in our service area!  Click below to see – we’d love to hear from you.

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