Review: ecobee EB-STAT-02 Smart Thermostat
It may seem unfair to begin a review of a product by hyping up its biggest competitor, but let’s face it: if not for the Nest, thermostats wouldn’t be a very exciting topic of conversation these days. If not for that Apple-inspired gadget, though, I might never have heard of ecobee’s EB-STAT-02 Smart Thermostat, which is ironic, given that it’s been on the market a lot longer than the Nest. Also ironic is that, if you think of the Nest as “the iPod of thermostats,” the ecobee Smart is more like the iPhone of HVAC control units. (Or, given how flexible and tweakable it is, perhaps “the Android of thermostats” is more apt, just without all the current legal brouhaha implied by such.)
Whichever analogy does it for you, one thing is certain: the ecobee Smart combines all of the best aspects of every smart thermostat before it, ties them all up with a gorgeous touchscreen interface, and manages to pack in so much functionality, versatility, and without feeling overwhelming in the slightest.
That’s after you get it installed, mind you. Getting the ecobee Smart up and running a little daunting, especially once you get a glance at the ten very detailed wiring diagrams in its installation manual. Luckily, you’ll probably only need one of those diagrams, but the Smart installs so differently from other thermostats, and is capable of so much more, than such information overload is necessary in the installation process.
First, the brains of the system itself are in a separate box from the wall unit. You’ll have to install the control unit inside the HVAC closet, wire it to the furnace, then wire it separately to the wall unit with four low-voltage wires. This gives the Smart an amazing amount of flexibility, allowing it to control just about any type of climate control system, and several accessories to boot. Dual-stage cooling with a boiler? Check. Three-stage heating with dual-stage cooling and a humidifier? No problem. Dual-stage furnace with a dehumidifier and two-stage heat-pump? The ecobee Smart has it covered, with intelligence and style.
In case it weren’t obvious from the above description, though, the ecobee Smart is not really a device most consumers are going to want to install themselves. A professional is almost certainly a must, and one with experience in high- and low-voltage at that. The hidden control unit that gives the ecobee Smart its operational edge requires a power source, and the C wire that most digital thermostats rely on isn’t sufficient in this case (which is a good thing, in my opinion; it isn’t a power-robbing device, and as such doesn’t risk damaging your HVAC system the way it’s competition potentially can), so you’ll either need a 24VAC low-voltage power source, or the included wall wart with five-foot power cord. In my case, I tapped into the 110V power line running to my furnace and installed a mains outlet in my HVAC closet.
All told, the installation took several head-scratching, manual-referencing hours, and I’m pretty comfortable with both low- and high-voltage electrical work. But the lengthy process was well worth it. I’ve been using a programmable digital thermostat for about ten years now, and have never found it difficult to program as so many do, but I’ve always found it incredibly limiting, with only four different activities per day and only a Monday-to-Friday and Saturday-Sunday schedule. My life just doesn’t fit into four rigid boxes so simply.
Right off the bat, as soon as you get the Smart Thermostat connected to your wireless network and registered with ecobee, you can start easily setting up as complex or simple a programming schedule as your heart desires, by logging into the website and dragging and dropping colored boxes on a weekly calendar layout. It prompts you to set heating and cooling points for each activity—“Awake,” “Away,” “Evening,” Sleep,” or your own custom activities, like “Work at Home” in my case—and if there’s a limit to how many different activities you can have crammed into any given day, I haven’t bumped up against it yet.
If that’s as deep as you wish to dig, the ecobee Smart still delivers a wicked cool experience that genuinely makes you want to interact with your thermostat more frequently, even if you don’t have to. You to log into the smart phone app from anywhere in the world and adjust the settings via an onscreen interface that looks just like the touchscreen on the thermostat itself, with a few exceptions. (You can program the thermostat via its touchscreen, for example, whereas you can’t from the iPhone, although if you adjust the temperature remotely, it does ask if you want to hold that temp for two or four hours, indefinitely, or until the start of the next activity—or you can choose to update the current activity’s temp settings.) It simply couldn’t be any easier. The sheer number of different programs you can quickly and simply set up in a matter of minutes could potentially save you a good amount of energy (and money) compared to the limited, four-program, 5/2-day format of most programmable thermostats.
Also, unlike most programmable thermostats, if you tell the ecobee to switch to 75° at six in the morning, it’s not going to kick on at six and start working; after analyzing your system’s capabilities for a few weeks, and taking into account your live local weather conditions—which it triangulates from surrounding weather stations, not just your local airport or military base—it will instead start bringing down the temperature earlier and attempt to have your house cooled to 75° at six.
That merely scratches the surface of the Smart Thermostat’s capabilities, though. If you’re an energy conscious nut like me—especially one who likes charts and graphs—ecobee’s web portal gives you access to all sorts of information allowing you to make smarter programming decisions, as well as a whole host of tweakable settings that enable you to use your climate control system more efficiently and effectively. And unlike its closest competition, ecobee doesn’t turn energy savings into a cutesy game of diminishing returns. It treats you like an adult, which I highly appreciate.
My entire experience with the system revolves around cooling—given that I live in Alabama and installed it July—but here are a few neat tweaks I’ve made so far, just to give you an idea of how far down the rabbit hole you can go. My Smart is programmed to kick the temperature up to 78° at bedtime, but in analyzing the reports after my first few days of usage, I discovered that the indoor temps warmed up to that point a little more quickly than I would like, given that I don’t always go to bed right at 11 on the dot. There’s one room in my house, though—a sunken living room—that always stays significantly chillier than the rest of the house. I reasoned that if I kicked on the fan—but not the compressor—for ten minutes every hour to circulate that cooler air, my house would stay at least a little cooler at night on average. The day after making that tweak, I checked my reports, and sure enough, the house stayed significantly cooler—way more than expected—without ever kicking on the compressor (which burns way more energy than the fan alone.)
Given that the Smart Thermostat is also a humidistat, it also has a few nifty features you can turn on and tweak even if your HVAC system doesn’t have a separate humidifier—like allowing the system to overcool by however many degrees you choose if the indoor humidity gets too high, or even setting a preferred humidity and allowing it to use the AC to attempt to reach that point. It seems to me that the Smart Thermostat makes its own intelligent decisions about whether reaching your preferred humidity is possible, because if it’s within a reasonable percentage range, my compressor kicks on if the humidity is, say, 65% and I want it to be 60%, even if the temperature is below my cooling threshold.
This morning, though, the humidity was 78% inside (it was 90% outside—did I mention I live in Alabama?), and the ecobee seemed to think that was a little more work than it ought to try to do. Which is exactly as I would have it, because my goal isn’t to tax my system, but rather to add a little extra comfort without using any more energy than is necessary. Given that I only have a single-stage heating and cooling system, I’ve got room on the ecobee’s control board to add three accessories (like ventilators, humidifiers, or the company’s own remote sensors and energy-saving smart plugs, etc.), so a standalone central dehumidifier may be in the cards in my near future. But for now, I’m loving the Smart Thermostat’s ability to use my air conditioner to do the job reasonably well.
I could go on and on—the ecobee Smart allows you to set the fan to run for however long you wish after the compressor kicks off to take advantage of the fact that it takes a while for your compressor coils to warm up, which keeps the house a little cooler without using much energy at all—but given how much this thermostat is capable of, it would take another five thousand words to merely hint at its capabilities, and the way I use my system may not have much relevance for the way you use yours. Suffice it to say, you couldn’t ask for a more advanced, attractive, easy—and fun—to use thermostat than this.
If I have one little complaint, it’s that the ecobee Smart doesn’t integrate with home automation systems just yet. The company is apparently getting a lot of feedback from Control4 customers who want to tie it into the rest of the home, though, so an API is in the works, and should be officially announced in the next few months. That’s a far cry from the attitude of Nest Labs, who went out of their way to shut down a dealer who had figure out how to write a Control4 driver for the Nest, forced updated firmware on customers that specifically crippled Control4 integration, and who seem to have no interest in working with home automation companies to develop an interoperability solution.
So if you are a home automation lover who wants nothing less than total integration—or are a custom installer with such a client—hold off for a few months. The API is coming. If having another app on your smart phone or tablet isn’t too much of an inconvenience for now, though, and are looking for the ultimate in HVAC control, I’ve yet to see another solution that comes close to what the ecobee Smart Thermostat can do, much less this beautifully, elegantly, and intuitively.
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