If you’ve already purchased the Google Home ecosystem, it’s easy to think that Google’s own Nest thermostats are the only way to go. However, the Ecobee line of smart thermostats offers full integration with Google Assistant, but how do they rank against Nest?
Before you buy
As with all other smart thermostats, the first thing to keep in mind is whether your system is compatible with the thermostat you are buying. Ecobee offers a simple compatibility check – which I, of course, I forgot to check in advance – to find out if switching thermostats is even possible and how difficult it can be.
In some cases, installing an Ecobee smart thermostat is a simple job that can only be done on the thermostat side, but unfortunately not in my personal case. Like many others, the AC system in my home uses only four wires and therefore does not provide a constant power supply to the thermostat.
In this case, Nest thermostats use a battery that charges when it can. For Ecobee thermostats, a special “Power Extender Kit” will need to be installed on your actual air manipulator or furnace instead.
The best case scenario is that installing the Power Extender Kit can be quite simple, involving disconnecting four wires from the control board, attaching them to the Power Extender Kit, then connecting the kit back to the control board. Of course, this will still be a bit out of the usual DIYer comfort zone.
Unfortunately, the system in my home did not have a suitable control board and was instead a mess of wires, transformers and fuses. Without having an experienced electrician in the family, I very seriously doubt that I would have been able to install the Ecobee Smart Thermostat without hiring a HVAC specialist.
So before you buy an Ecobee Smart thermostat, make sure you carefully review everything about your AC / heating system, starting with the thermostat wires and continuing to the system itself if necessary. From there, you’ll have to decide for yourself if this project is within your do-it-yourself know-how scope.
Installation and setup
As explained above, the installation of the Ecobee smart thermostat was not planned, nor was it a custom installation. Leaving aside the difficulties of providing the right power supply and wires to the thermostat, installing the thermostat itself was incredibly easy. If you don’t need to rearrange your variable system, almost anyone can install an Ecobee thermostat with a little more than a screwdriver. Just remember to safely turn off your variables / circuit breakers during operation!
Anyone who has previously used rock scale and bubble level anchors – or is quick to learn – should be able to place the thermostat without a problem. In the same way, wiring is very easy and Ecobee provides convenient labels in case you need to re-label a specific wire – especially useful if you need to use something like the Power Extender Kit. This includes additional labels on how everything is it was connected in case you ever need to return to your original thermostat.
Once the connectors are mounted on the wall, the actual Ecobee Smart thermostat simply clicks on the hob and will start working as soon as you turn on the power again. From there, you will be guided through the setting of the thermostat in your network as well as in your Ecobee account.
The setting, including the Wi-Fi connection, can be streamlined with the Ecobee app, but the weird thing is that the thermostat itself only shows that the iOS app can be used for setup. Whether you’re using the phone or the touch screen, the setup is pretty simple, as long as you know a little about your AC / heating system, which you’ll probably learn before you bought or during the installation. Just fill in a few questions such as which cables you have connected, what kind of heater you have and at what temperatures you prefer to maintain your home.
The smart thermostat comes complete with one or more Ecobee SmartSensors, which act as an interesting combination of a temperature sensor and a motion detector for another room. You will be instructed to plug and pair them, which is as simple as pulling the battery tab while you are within range. Once active, you can attach the SmartSensor’s magnetic base and place it almost anywhere. It is small enough to fit anywhere and is designed to blend well enough.
Once the thermostat setup is complete, you can finish using the Ecobee app to register an account, create a home, and fill out your daily schedule for temperature preferences. This app is also where the integration between the Ecobee smart thermostat and the Google Home app and assistant is activated.
One thing I have to give Ecobee credit for right after that is consistency. Although their interface may not be the best ever designed, I appreciate that setting up your thermostat is an almost identical experience, whether you’re using the built-in touch screen or the Ecobee app.
Whether you’re logged into your phone’s Ecobee app or just going upstairs to adjust the temperature, Smart Thermostat offers a direct experience. The basic information you will want to know – what mode you are in, the current indoor temperature, the temperature setting and the humidity – are available at a glance. With an additional touch you can also see the weather forecast for your area.
All the same information is used with the Ecobee’s built-in “eco +” software to optimize how your AC / heating system works, both for energy efficiency and comfort. Meanwhile, the “Follow me” function uses the built-in tracking devices of SmartSensors to record the temperature of the room only if there is someone in it. Between eco + and Follow Me, I found that I could set the thermostat a few degrees warmer during the day than before.
On the right side of the home screen of the thermostat you are offered a slider that acts somewhat like a “thumb wheel” to shift the preferred temperature up or down by a few degrees. Although awkward at first, it didn’t take more than two or three attempts to get used to the way the movements work.
By default, any manual temperature adjustments – whether made by Assistant, the Ecobee application or the touch interface – will be in effect until your next schedule. You can change this in the settings to hold for a while or hold until you change it manually again. If you adjust the temperature sequentially, Ecobee will notice and suggest another default temperature for your schedule.
I would also like to take some time to talk about a potentially underestimated part of the Ecobee Smart Thermostat design. The touch interface is nice, but while you’re out of range, you’ll see a nicely simplified screensaver that shows the current time, indoor temperature and a quick look at the weather. While most of this information is available on a smart display or even on my phone, there is something strangely pleasing about having it passively visible at eye level.
The biggest thing an intelligent home thermostat has to do, at least in my book, is allow you to adjust the temperature of your home without going to it. Although the Ecobee app offers a sensible experience for this, we are more interested in how the Ecobee Smart Thermostat works with Google Assistant.
Although not a top device like the Nest, the Ecobee Smart Thermostat integrates surprisingly well into Google’s ecosystem, with the correct title “Thermostat” appearing in the Home app. From the application you can set the desired temperature and switch between heating / cooling / off.
All of these same controls are also available via Google Assistant on both your phone and smart speakers and displays. You can give specific commands like “Hey, Google, set the thermostat to 69” or more relative ones like “Hey, Google, increase the AC to two degrees”, and the Assistant will take care of the rest.
One feature that is missing when integrating the Google Home app is the ability to switch between preset home, away and sleep settings. Fortunately, they are easily accessible through assistant commands such as “Hey, Google, set the thermostat off.”
Which Ecobee thermostat should you pick up?
The exact thermostat I tested was Ecobee’s flagship Smart Thermostat, which retailed for $ 249. This model comes with a lot of features that will unfortunately remain completely unused in my home.
For example, the thermostat is equipped with a speaker and microphone, which allows it to double as a smart speaker, with support for Alexa and Spotify Connect – but not Google Assistant. While the Ecobee Smart Thermostat offers surprisingly high quality sound for some HVAC equipment, I haven’t lived in a home where the thermostat was in a place where I would like to have music.
Similarly, the Smart Thermostat is the home base for Ecobee’s Haven protection subscription, which uses SmartSensors, which you already use to detect temperature, to detect movement when you’re not home. You can also add cameras and sensors for doors / windows for extra security. While it’s a good idea for some homes, motion-based systems don’t work well for me, mostly because I own a cat.
If all you’re looking for is a thermostat that can be controlled with the Google Assistant app and Google Home, the Ecobee3 Lite may be the ideal option. Priced at $ 169, the Ecobee3 Lite offers near-full intelligent / heating intelligence on the flagship thermostat, but lacks support for HVAC accessories such as purifiers and eliminates redundancy. If you want to upgrade later for a wider temperature reading and Follow Me, Ecobee also sells its SmartSensors separately.
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