I recently wrote a post about internet enabled smart thermostats and thanks to that post an Ecobee programmable smart thermostat arrived at my door last week. I finally got a chance to get it installed and I am very impressed! Not only does the touchscreen thermostat look pretty cool and is easy to interface with, but the personalized web portal is amazing. This post will just be on my initial thoughts on installing and interfacing with the unit and web portal as I have only had a day or two to play with it. See my 1.5 minute YouTube video of me adjusting the Ecobee thermostat with my iPhone (but not the Ecobee iPhone app that is yet to be released).
Disclosure: The Ecobee people did send this unit to me and did arrange to have it installed in order for me to review it. They did not require anything of me, they are not paying me, and I am not holding back anything in my review. You can purchase the Ecobee Smart Thermostat on their website and it currently is listing for $469.
The package itself only consisted of three pieces of hardware and product literature:
- a smart thermostat (this is the touchscreen unit) and small battery
- an equipment interface unit (this resides next to my furnace and is the go between with the furnace and smart thermostat
- a 12-Volt DC power adapter (which powers the equipment interface unit)
- product literature - this includes a quick start guide, a user manual and an installation manual
Unlike a lot of electronic products, the literature is very clear and has nice pictures. You know how sometimes you get instruction manuals and you know the person writing them didn't speak English. Luckily this isn't one of those times. I like how they split up the installation manual and user manual as two separate pieces.
If you don't care about the installation steps I went through, and it is a pretty long section, skip to the Using the Ecobee section.
***If you want to install the Ecobee smart thermostat yourself, go ahead, but dont use this blog as a reference because I dont want to be held liable for you blowing something up or shocking yourself. It is probably worth the time and piece of mind to ensure a professional installs this. All I am trying to do is relate the steps that took place when my unit was installed, but I have been known to get things wrong (I got something wrong once back in 1987, but I was only 4 so it was excusable. I haven't been wrong since).
While I'm not an electrician, I probably could have figured out how to install the Ecobee programmable thermostat myself because the Installation Manual is pretty thorough and includes wiring diagrams. However, I'm not very familiar with wiring furnaces (mine controls my central heat and AC) and I didn't want to risk shorting out my AC, resulting in a repair headache and my house getting hot while I wait on a technician and me getting in trouble with my wife because she's stuck in a hot house because I tried to "fix" something again. If you are familiar with low voltage wiring and furnace control, you will probably be ok....
Luckily the people at Ecobee put me in touch with Commercial Controls of Georgia who is an installer and distributor of Ecobee and they sent Ed, a controls systems specialist, out to install the thermostat.
My town-home is three levels and I have a thermostat on each level. My wife and I probably spend the most time upstairs (office and sleeping) so this is where we installed the Ecobee thermostat. My furnace for upstairs is in my attic.
The first installation step was to install the Equipment Interface (EI) unit that resides between the Smart Thermostat (ST) and furnace. The EI unit is powered by a 12 VDC AC power adapter which is supplied. You have to have an outlet within 5 feet of the EI because that is how long the power adapter's cord is. You will probably want to mount the EI to something as it is not meant to stand by itself. We just screwed mine through the insulation into the sheet metal on the air return side of the furnace. It might be nice if in future units the EI is meant to standalone as some homeowners might not like to permanently mount the EI.
The next step is important: Turn off power to your furnace!
Next, wire up the EI to the furnace. Chances are your current thermostat is wired directly to the furnace and does not have something like the Equipment Interface in between. This means that you will probably need some thermostat wire due to the extra piece of equipment! If I had installed this myself I would have been on the way to the hardware store for the first time to pick up some wire at this point. I'm not going to cover the actual wiring because a) I didn't do it - Ed did, b) I would probably tell you to do it wrong, c) the installation manual covers this. Don't put the cover to the EI back on after wiring it because you still need to wire the programmable thermostat.
Don't hook up any power yet. Next, hook up the Ecobee Smart Thermostat.
We removed my existing digital Honeywell programmable thermostat and the mounting bracket from the wall. The Ecobee smart thermostat consists of a front cover (the screen) and backplate. Remove the front cover from the backplate. Ed had to get a few screws out of his truck as the backplate couldn't use the previous screws that the Honeywell unit used. The Installation Manual does call out that the mounting holes require a #6 pan-head screw and suggests using drywall plugs or other screw anchors, but these are not included (if I had to supply the screws this would have resulted in my second trip to the hardware store. See my comment about an expert installer being "worth the time and piece of mind" at the beginning of this section).
The wires that were coming directly from the furnace(which will now be wired to the EI) hook into the terminal blocks on the backplate. One thing I will note is that the footprint of the Ecobee thermostat is a little smaller than what I was using, so I did have to do a little repainting. Thankfully my painting skills are slightly better than my HVAC wiring skills. Don't install the front cover yet, as it is now time to wire the Smart Thermostat to the Equipment Interface.
At this point some readers may say, "What is the point of the Equipment Interface?" To this I would say, " I'm not really sure, but I'm guessing this is where the magic happens." All the switching of contacts is done at the Equipment Interface. The Smart Thermostat unit is used for display and communication back to the EI, while the EI does the heavy lifting (turning on/off relays to send signals to the breaker). This was previously all done in my Honeywell thermostat, and I used to hear a click when the thermostat would flip a relay to tell the AC/Heat to turn on. Now this relay switching is done in the EI, which is in the attic.
Wire the ST (which is in the bedroom in my case) to the EI (in my attic). Put the battery in the ST. Plug the ST into the backplate. Apply power to the EI (by plugging in 12V DC supply to AC outlet). Finally, turn the power to your furnace back on! We forgot this step initially and spent a few minutes figuring out why the thermostat wasn't turning the AC on. If I had done this alone, I'd probably still be cussing up in my attic. Luckily Ed is a professional, and professionals remember to flip switches after a maximum of 5 minutes, while amateurs kick and scream and wonder why the damned thing doesn't work for hours on end.
And Voila, just like that the unit is installed. Ed was able to do all this in about an hour (with my constant nagging distracting him). It probably would have taken me three hours when you factor in the hardware store trips, the time spent going through the instructions, the time to undo all my wrong wiring, the extra trips I would have spent going up and down from my ladder because I didn't plan efficiently, and the time spent cussing in my attic wondering why the furnace wouldn't work. If you are a guy then chances are you are like me and don't like instructions because you "can figure things out yourself." I'm sure this isn't the first time you've heard this, but read instructions all the way through before you let your giddy little hands touch the hardware. If you are like me you will probably ignore that last sentence.
A few notes:
- The product has a 3 year warranty - It does say in the Installation Manual that the warranty may prove to be invalid if "the Product was not installed by a licensed Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) technician". This is another reason to consider having an expert help install the product.
- It would be nice to include a total system schematic with the Installation Manual just to give a visual representation of how the system is hooked up. There are good diagrams and schematics of individual parts of the system, but not of the whole system hooked up. This might just help people like me get an idea of what they would be getting themselves into.
- Remember to turn power to the furnace back on after you're all done! The Smart Thermostat will be all lit up and pretty (because it is receiving power from the EI which is plugged into the wall, not the furnace) and you will be furiously pounding at the touchscreen and wondering why your cool new smart thermostat can't even turn on your furnace. I'm guessing 25% of people who install this themselves will totally overlook this bullet point.
Smart Thermostat (Touchscreen)
Interacting with the Smart Thermostat while standing in front of it is easy and intuitive. It seems like they've modeled a lot of the interaction with the touch screen like the interaction with the touch screen on iPhone, which is a good thing. However it doesn't work as smooth as the iPhone, but that is to be expected. A few times I thought I just had to scroll over to switch something (like you have to when unlocking the iPhone) but I really had to double tap the thing I was trying to adjust. Sometimes it's confusing where you need to press to go to the next screen. I've found myself tapping at an arrow and getting no results then realizing I need to double tap the words next to the area. It's not that big of a deal and after I'm used to the interface this will be a non-issue.
Programming the device at the Smart Thermostat was much more intuitive than my old digital programmable thermostat. Mostly because you can see a range of days and have the visual representation of when your AC/Heat is going to be coming on.
Once the unit was installed it found my wireless router without any problems. I just had to enter in my router password. With a lot of wireless devices, there seems to always be connection problems, but I didn't have any with the Ecobee. You are required to submit your email and a password (that you make up to access the web portal page) on the Smart Thermostat when you set it up. These are used to access the web portal on the internet. Once you access your account on the web portal the real power of the Ecobee Smart Thermostat is realized!
The web portal or web interface is nicely organized and consists of three sections:
- Heating and Cooling
Heating and Cooling
This section displays the following categories:
- System Details - This is where you set your temperature, turn your thermostat on or off from your computer/smart phone and adjust your humidifier if you have one
- Program - How you have your thermostat currently programmed
- Today - your current settings of the day
- Vacation Calender - Go ahead and enter the days you're going to be on vacation so you dont forget. I had no trouble entering the days of my vacation in this section, but I couldnt figure out how to adjust the temperature settings while I'm on vacation from the web portal. I think you may have to do this at the Smart Thermostat.
You can add/remove each category to appear on your Heating and Cooling section of your web interface. They also make the categories easy to move around and the size of the category boxes adjust to fit with the other categories as you move them around the screen. They put a lot of thought into this and made it very user friendly.
From the web portal you can enter your address (or just zip code) in order to display the local weather. Once you do this a weather icon will be displayed on the Smart Thermostat. If you tap the weather icon on the Smart Thermostat you can see the forecast for the day and the week. Pretty useful if you just want a quick snapshot of the day when you are getting ready in the AM and dont want to turn on your computer! This is also useful for seeing how your AC/Heat responds to the outside temperature in the great "Reports" feature in the Ecobee web portal.
This section displays the following categories:
- My House - Enter your location on a map in order to pull weather data
- Reminders - Really cool feature where you can be notified over email that you need to change your filters or have your furnace serviced. You can adjust the time period on how often you want this to happen. I know I need to be reminded when my filters have been in too long!
- Reset Registration
This section is really neat because you can see how your home is reacting to the outside temperature, which is similar to a blog post I just wrote on outside temperature and energy consumption. In the Report you get a line graph of the indoor temp, your programmed set points, outdoor temp, and humidity levels (yes, the ST has a humidity sensor built in, which I thought was pretty cool). There is also a bar graph showing how long each mechanical unit connected to the thermostat was on. The main advantage of this section is you get a visual representation of how your home reacts to outdoor temperature and how it responds. This data is probably very valuable to energy auditors. You can use your mouse to adjust a vertical orange line to get the instantaneous values of each point on the graph. My only request for this section would be to be able to zoom in on a time period to get a better view of what was going on. A screen shot of my report can be seen below.
To be completely honest, the Ecobee has exceeded my expectations so far. I can't wait for the Ecobee iPhone app to be released because it will make controlling my thermostat much easier with the iPhone. The web portal has way more features than I thought. Aside from being able to control my thermostat from any location in the world that has an internet connection, some of my favorite features include being able to see the weather on the thermostat, setting up my vacations ahead of time, and seeing the reports. I tried to highlight a few of the frustrations I had (not being told in the installation manual I would need thermostat wire and screws - it did mention this but not in bold but my installer came prepared - and the sometimes clunky touch screen interaction) but this product has had a lot of thought put into it. I'm sure it is going to help homeowners get a better understanding of how they use heat and air conditioning, help them control their thermostat and help them save more money all while improving the environment.
***Update 10/26/09 - From what I know, the Ecobee is one of the only thermostats that measures how long the furnace is on. This data is found through the historical option in the Ecobee web interface. Does anyone know of any others?