Ecobee Smart Plugs enable homeowners who have an Ecobee Smart Thermostat to wirelessly control and monitor 120V appliances from any computer connected to the internet. Currently, the Smart Plugs are not compatible with the Ecobee Smart SI thermostat. Regarding this, Stuart Lombard, the president of Ecobee stated on our Ecobee SI post:
The ecobee Smart Si does not currently support plug control. From a hardware perspective it does support the same zigbee module that is in the ecobee Smart however, we have not implemented the firmware to complete plug control. We are thinking about adding the firmware to support plug control, but I do not have a definitive date. We are really looking for feedback from users on how they want to use ecobee.
While we were given the Ecobee thermostats to test out (they still work great) we decided to purchase the smart plugs and start testing 1 of them out.
Getting started is incredibly easy. There are two items you will need to buy to start monitoring and controlling individual outlets, a Smart Plug and a Zigbee Module for the Smart Thermostat. You can currently purchase a Smart Plug for $49 and a Zigbee Module for the Ecobee Smart Thermostat (required to control the Smart Plug) for $25 from the Ecobee web site. Or you can just buy the starter pack that includes both for $60.
Installing the Zigbee Module simply requires snapping it into place in the Smart Thermostat. Then all you have to do is plug the Smart Plug into the wall outlet and follow the instructions to set up the smart plug from your Ecobee Smart Thermostat. Instructions for the Ecobee Smart Plug can be found here.
I first decided to test the Smart Plug on the lamp in our living room that I have the Philips Ambient LED installed in. You can control the Smart Plug from both the Ecobee Smart Thermostat and from a computer via the Web Portal. One of the advantages of the Smart Plug is that you can set schedules on when you want an appliance to turn on or off. Since I haven't had good luck with the electronic timers I've used in the past, I will use the Smart Plug on this lamp when we go on vacation. Unfortunately, the Smart Plug isn't that practical for controlling a lamp unless you always want it on and off at the same time each day. For me, flipping a light switch is much easier for the lamp.
So I moved it to my cable box upstairs. As we've covered before, the cable box is probably the biggest home energy vampire in your home. The TV in our bedroom is a non-DVR cable box, so it uses about 10 watts when it is on. Unfortunately we don't turn it off (probably because we lose the guide for a few minutes). Since it is always on, it is always using 10 watts. Our cable box downstairs has the DVR and it uses 30 watts, and since this has the DVR on it I didn't want to turn it off in case I missed recording one of my wife's TV shows (see more on this topic on our family energy saving strategy).
Even though the cable box is one of the largest appliances in most people's homes that operates almost 24/7, the payback on a Smart Plug is probably longer than most homeowners will stomach. Using the math below, and assuming that we only use our upstairs cable box 30 minutes per day, I calculate that by using a Smart Plug with effective scheduling I could save $8.58 per year.
(10 Watts)*(23.5 hrs) = 235 Watt-hours = 235 Wh = .235 kWh
(.235 kWh/day)*(10 cents/kWh)*(365 days/year) = $8.58/year
If you already had a Zigbee module, and you only had to pay the cost of the Smart Plug ($49), it would take over 5 years to pay for itself, and that's assuming you only kept your cable box on 30 minutes per day. In reality, I had it programmed for worst case scenarios so my wife wouldn't turn on the TV only to stare at a black screen, so my energy savings were probably closer to $4/year. But of course even that plan fell apart on July 3rd and we wanted to watch one of the late night shows after 12:00 AM (we were off work the next day) only to realize the cable box was off. It was easy to turn back on, but it could be annoying to some.
Programming the Smart Plug is very easy and you can see how I set up our cable box in the figure below (orange means it's on). One aspect I really like is that you can set the Smart Plug up to follow the thermostat. So if you program your thermostat to start the heat in the winter when you leave work, you could also plug the lamp into the Smart Plug so the lamp will be on when you get home.
Another great feature is the reporting feature so you can see how much energy and money your appliances are consuming. A screen shot of my report can be seen below.
Overall I think the Ecobee Smart Plug is an excellent product. It works well, is easy to install, and has some great features. The only downside is the initial cost may be hard to justify if you're only concerned with payback. The good news is that costs are sure to come down and for those who really want to get a good understanding on where and how they are using energy, the Smart Plugs are one of the best products out there (if you also have an Ecobee Smart Thermostat).