Me and my Ecobee

For the past month, I have been messing around with an Ecobee “smart” thermostat for my condo’s heat pump. The reason for the quotes will become clear as you follow along in my journey.

I live in a high-rise condo and it was time for the regular servicing of our heat pump, if by regular you mean a spousal request that I should finally get the AC tech out to tend to it. The tech came, said everything was looking good but that you might want to get a new thermostat, for reasons that I don’t recall now. That provided enough motivation for me to start down my Ecobee journey, which is the brand that the tech recommended.

My electric utility was offering half off if I bought it through them. They also had free Nest thermostats, which my tech said I should steer clear of. Given that they were free I figured that something was wrong with them. So I got the mid-priced model and it arrived a few days later. It did take three phone calls to find the webpage to order the thing, let’s just put that there in terms of pain points.

Now, I have to say right up front that I am not a handy guy. Generally, I know my limitations. I was going to give the Ecobee a try, until I saw that I had to deal with putting a bunch of tiny wires in the right places. (You can see what I mean in the photo above. The putty around the edges is to block out airflows from behind the wall, which was suggested by the hot line folks.) I put in a call to my AC repair folks, who happily charged me more than I paid for the device to come install it with tech #2 (a different guy from the first one). Some drilling was involved. I made the right choice not to fly solo on this install.

I was impressed with the level of support from Ecobee: their smartphone app will take you step by step through the initial installation and also help troubleshoot any problems. There is also a phone hotline that is answered promptly and by native English speakers who have tremendous patience to deal with your issues, and I had plenty. One concerned the fact that the temperature reported by the thermostat was off by four degrees with a thermometer that we were using to verify that it was working. After several calls to the hot line, they told me that I could adjust the temperature with a “fudge factor” (that wasn’t the term they used but that is what it was) so they could match.

But we also had another problem, which the kind folks at Ecobee put the blame squarely on my heat pump. It turns out the water drain from the unit would clog up, but only after the unit would operate for an hour. Another visit from the AC tech, at least this one was free where tech #2 (the same guy who installed the thermostat) found the problem.

So I think we finally have all systems go. One issue that still remains is that the Ecobee has three different ways to control its operation: a touch screen on its front panel, a web page or via its smartphone app. All three have slightly to majorly different user interfaces. Some things are quickly accessed with one or the other interface, which doesn’t make it spousal friendly. But one nice thing is that you can control it when you aren’t home, which is helpful in debugging problems and also when you are on vacation and want the home cooled or heated to your requirements before you walk in the door.

Do I regret buying the Ecobee? No. I regret that it takes an IT guy 10 phone calls and an outlay of cash to get professional help to get it operational. Hence why I put the “smart” in quotes: maybe if it was used by a “smarter” home owner I would feel differently. Now if only I could get my “smart” TV to work the way I want it to.

6 thoughts on “Me and my Ecobee

  1. I prefer up/down-warm/hot/cold on a thermostat. You and your wife must have chewed a lot of gum to stick Ecobee on that pretty red wall.

  2. In fairness, I think this is less Ecobee and more the complexity of historical HVAC control systems based on bizarre wiring that is made up as they went along. They run old telephone wires and then connect up colored wires mostly using the correct schema.
    That is unless one of the wires has a fault – highly likely with the snake-like runs and twists and holes they run through. At which time some tech decides to change the wire format and only they know (no documentation like any good programmer :-))
    I am technical and put in Ecobee some time ago but had a similar experience when my system was adjusted for a return that messed with the wires and took forever of old style tap and trace to work out wire faults
    In what can only be described as a classic rail car track width experience – they continue to use this archaic system on brand-new systems installed. So even if you update to a new unit you’ll still find yourself dealing with this morass of wires. And as for compatibility – uh uh! The last house had which was not compatible with any of the latest wifi style digital thermostats. Grrr. I’m still seeing mercury switch thermostats in many homes I visit so this space might….just might be further behind than healthcare when it comes to technology
    Just sayin’

  3. I agree with Nick – Ecobee and Nest are applying modern tech approaches to something that was designed (and hasn’t really changed) many decades ago. I’ve used an Ecobee smart thermostat since about the time they were released, and it’s still working well (I had it professionally installed). I also installed one in my new home, and the instructions were pretty clear – it only took a little trial & error to get it to work, and it works great! It’s also Homekit compatible, which i find occasionally useful.

  4. We cut the cord on Spectrum cable TV and went with Google Chromecast and its TV and other offerings. We have saved some money compared to Spectrum’s overpriced TV offering of ads, shopping networks, religious channels, and game shows. Google offers more TV shows plus the possibility of watching YouTube, a treasure of music and some pretty serious and interesting stuff.

    But the Chromecast device and what it shows on the screen drives us crazy. When you speak through the Chromecast device, you do not get what you want. You can’t say, for example, “TNT” and get TNT. Instead it’s a mish-mash, so we resort to scrolling down one at a time for the TV channel offerings, until we get to the right one. On our 40+” TV, many of the fonts are tiny. This is not “smart”.

  5. I’m wary of “smart” home technology as I think it’s rather dumb to be unable to do laundry or make coffee – or worse yet, control my house’s hear or AC – if my internet goes down. And unless I continue to carry my house key, wouldn’t I risk being locked out of my house? Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t get the appeal of house systems being online. I do have Nest video doorbells and that’s about it. That has not been trouble-free, as often get “Front door doorbell is not working due to low power” message. The ADT tech who installed it said my electrician didn’t give the video doorbell enough juice when he added the wiring in the basement. My electrician says ADT is wrong. What am I supposed to do? Anyhow, Bruce Schneier wrote several years ago about the near impossibility of purchasing a new washing machine or car that was not connected to the internet. They were no longer being manufactured, it seemed. And this was several years ago. I don’t need my washing machine to discern the washing requirements of a given article of clothing and adjust the soap dosage and water temperature to suit – that’s just absurd. And we’ve heard the dangers of cars being online. This whole thing (mostly) creeps me out.

  6. I too am a tech guy and have done quite a few smart home improvements over the years. I have an apartment and a condo both with ecobees and installed them myself. They seem pretty straightforward in regular type homes if the original thermostat was installed properly. The only place I had total failure installing one was in a condo with zoned floor heat.

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