Ecobee 3 Lite review

Part of making my house smart besides IoT security cameras was choosing and installing a smart thermostat.  For me, that specifically meant two thermostats, as my two story house has a single unit with two zones.  There are many options in this space, the most well-known of which is probably the Nest thermostat, but Nest lacks Apple Homekit compatibility, and I require my IoT devices to be cross-platform unless there is one specific device that fills a niche so well that nothing else comes even close.  This is what led me to the Ecobee 3 Lite (that’s “eco,” like “eco-friendly,” not pronounced like “echo”).

Ecobee 3 Lite, all images courtesy of Amazon

The Ecobee 3 Lite is cross platform, and works with Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant (including Google Home), and Amazon Echo.  It is the younger sibling to the Ecobee 4, which is slightly newer and slightly different.

So, why did I choose the Ecobee 3 Lite over the Ecobee 4?  Well, as you can see if you checked the links above, the 4 is about $80 more expensive at the time of this writing, and the only real added benefit of the 4 is that it has Amazon Alexa built in.  That would actually be really cool, except Echo Dots are $50 by themselves, and I already have an Echo, two Echo Dots, and a Google Home Mini, so there just wasn’t any point, especially considering the price difference was really $160 more expensive since I needed two of them.  I should mention that it’s $169.99 for the Ecobee 3 Lite, and $249.99 for the Ecobee 4.

The reason you may want a smart thermostat varies, but for me, it was easy scheduling, voice/app control, and remote access.  Many modern home thermostats include scheduling, but the one that came in my house, for example, was so confusing that I just didn’t use it.  It was easier to turn the thermostat up and down manually every night and every morning.

The Ecobee makes scheduling relatively easy via their app or web admin page.  There is a slight learning curve, but it is night and day compared to old, dumb thermostats.  I’ve got schedules set up to automatically heat the whole house (for now, since it’s winter) in the morning so we wake up to a warm bedroom.  Then it automatically heats only the first floor for the rest of the day since the only room we regularly use upstairs is the bedroom.  At night, the whole house cools down since we have blankets and we’re asleep anyway.  During the summer, the thermostats let it get a little warm upstairs, but then cools it down by the time we normally are headed to bed.

Ecobee 4

Voice control is a bit less useful than for something like smart lightbulbs, but that’s only because scheduling is so easy and useful that I rarely need to manually change the temperature.  When the opportunity arises, I use it, and in those moments, I feel sorry for people that have to get up and manually change their thermostats like cavemen.  I use the app very infrequently, considering that between Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, there is just no need to go through the extra effort that opening an app requires, despite how little effort that actually is.

Remote access is really all about peace of mind.  I’ve had my AC sustain a refrigerant leak before while I was on vacation, and if I hadn’t had a roommate at the time, the compressor in my AC likely would’ve burned up, which is a very costly repair that would’ve come in addition to the coil that caused the leak and needed replacing anyway.  With the Ecobee, I can not only manually check in on the temperature of the house while away, but I can setup alerts to send notifications whenever the thermostats detect high/low temperature or humidity thresholds that I set.

Besides displaying your indoor temperature, the face of the Ecobee also displays the outside temperature, which is a little redundant for me, since I have that on my wrist at all times.  However, I think it is legitimately useful for most people, and I still like that it’s there.  Besides that, you can manually adjust the temperature, view your settings, and switch between home and away modes from the device.  The app actually mirrors the look and feel of the thermostat, which is a cool ease-of-use design in my opinion.

Speaking of the face of the unit, the Ecobee 3 Lite hardware is attractive and seems pretty solid (note that if you spring for the Ecobee 4, the hardware is slightly different, but overall looks very similar).  However, I did have some WiFi connectivity issues with the upstairs unit.  Ecobee support was entirely unhelpful (they told me that devices just disconnect from WiFi sometimes…okay, thanks, so why does it do that and then not reconnect?).  I legitimately don’t know the cause of that issue, but it went away, and was fixed at the time by “hard resetting,” aka, pulling the thermostat off the wall and putting it back, a solid 2 second process.  Since then, I’ve noticed that connectivity issues tend to solve themselves within a day, which is weird, but I guess it’s better than before.  Most important, those issues are rare, so it’s not a huge deal.

The screen is capacitive, and though it isn’t high DPI, that’s really not necessary for what it is.  It’s as good and as responsive as it needs to be, especially at its price point, and experiences tend to trump specs.  Like I mentioned, the thermostat pops off and back on easily if needed, and the initial install itself is pretty simple, though be careful and read all instructions.

My HVAC company had a nice big warranty sticker that said I voided my warranty by replacing my thermostats, but of course when I called them, it was only the warranty for the thermostats themselves.  I got this in writing from them, and good thing I did, but the techs aren’t aware of how that stuff works and I was given trouble on two separate occasions about having my own thermostats installed.  But hopefully you will have a more reasonable situation where that either doesn’t apply or isn’t necessary.  Just something to think about if you have a newer house with equipment that’s under warranty.

Ecobee room sensor

The only other thing that I feel like I need to mention about the Ecobee are the room sensors.  The Ecobee contains the functionality with the thermostats alone to – rather than run by a schedule – adjust your system based on whether or not it detects activity.  If it doesn’t detect activity for a while, then it’ll enter Away mode, automatically saving you money.  I personally prefer to use schedules, but that option does exist.

Normally thermostats are in high-traffic rooms, so they can tell somewhat reliably if you’re home.  Sometimes, though, they aren’t great at this and may make your system enter Away mode even when you’re home.  The room sensors exist for you to basically monitor activity in rooms that you frequently use but don’t have a thermostat in.  They can detect activity and adjust the system as necessary, which is the only reason you should consider buying them.  Ecobee advertises that if you have a room that’s too hot or too cold, room sensors are a great addition to your smart thermostat ecosystem, but that’s entirely unnecessary unless you have individually controlled vents in your house (unless you have a very fancy/expensive house relative to your area, you almost definitely don’t have that type of vent).

See, if a room is cold, all you need to do is adjust your thermostat manually, because that’s all the room sensors would do.  Without individual vent control, the entire zone has to turn on, so you might as well just keep the heat set a degree or two higher.

I have been very satisfied with my Ecobees, and in every way except for their support, the product has met or exceeded my expectations.  It feels so incredibly good to be able to save money on heating my house, but still wake up in the morning to a warm bedroom.  And it’s hard to put a price on peace of mind.