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Review: Ecobee 4 Smart Thermostat

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Ecobee is one of the most recognizable names in the smart thermostat market. These thermostats are reliable, easy to use, and capable. Is the Ecobee 4 worth buying?

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Installation

Most thermostats install roughly the same way: kill the power, pull off the old unit, unhook the wires, plug wires into new unit, pop on thermostat, power on. Ecobee followed the same formula and was a relative breeze to install.

Note: there are exceptions to every rule. Some HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) units lack the C-Wire or Common Wire. This is what powers the thermostats. Many thermostats include a power adapter that’s installed at the furnace. This adapter runs power through an alternate wire, essentially making a C-Wire.

Alternatively, some units may utilize 120 volts. If you have baseboard heaters, this is probably you. Most smart thermostats are incompatible with this setup.

Power Down the HVAC

Before playing with electricity of any kind ever, turn off the power!

As simple as a flip of the switch

HVAC systems vary but there are typically two ways to turn off the power: a switch on the furnace or the flipping the breaker. The switch above is mounted directly on my furnace. A quick flip and the furnace was off.

I feel more confident flipping breakers. Locate your breaker box (or fuse box) and locate the appropriate breaker. Flip the switch. With the power turned off at the breaker box, there is no doubt that the system is off.

Failure to turn off the system correctly could result in injury, death, or damage to the electrical components. If you have trouble locating the off switch, consider consulting an electrician or HVAC specialist to replace your thermostat.

Removing the Old Unit

A Nest Thermostat was previously installed. It replaced a Wyze Thermostat before that.

Before permanently removing the Nest Thermostat, I reset the device so that the next owner will be able to easily set it up. I then powered it down. Removing it was as simple as giving it a firm tug. The Nest Thermostat was a very basic unit with minimal wiring.

To remove the wires, push down on the outside tabs, then pull each wire out of the respective slot. I find needle nose pliers help as my fingers are too big. After all of the wires are removed, remove the screws at the top and bottoms. Pull the wiring adapter from the wall. You may need to guide the wires through the center.

I had already labeled each wire when installing the Wyze Thermostat. If your wires were not previously labeled, follow the instructions in the app. Its mostly common sense. The white wire is W1, the green is G, and so on. Some HVAC systems may have additional features that require more wires. That’s why it is important to label wires correctly.

Installing Ecobee

Ecobee follows roughly the same basic setup as Nest and Wyze. A printed installation guide is included but the app also provides step by step instructions.

The Ecobee 4 includes a similar wiring unit along with the larger plate. Nest offers a similar piece to cover old holes and missing paint but it was not included with the thermostat. Definitely a nice bonus on the part of Ecobee.

Like Nest and Wyze, a bubble level is present to ensure the thermostat is installed level. Its a thoughtful touch for homeowners who may not own a level.

The wires install in a similar fashion here. Again, I found a pair of needle nose pliers to be helpful. Grasping a wire with the pliers, I would press the outside tab and push in each respective wire. If the wire is installed correctly, it should withstand a gentle tug.

After the wires are installed, place the thermostat over the wiring and firmly push. The back of the thermostat has wire prongs designed to make contact in the wiring adapter. As long as the prongs are lined up correctly, the unit will pop into place easily.

Power On

Go back to the breaker or furnace switch. Flip it back on. If everything is installed correctly, the thermostat will power on. If the unit does not power on or gives an error message, refer to the thermostat or the app for specifics.

If there is no power, the C-Wire is incorrectly installed. If it powers on but gives an error message, one of the ones is probably installed wrong. I tested this out by installing an unused blue wire. The blue wire doesn’t connect to any in the HVAC system so the thermostat recognized it as a useless wire that did not belong. Another likely issue is poor contact. A wire may need pushed in farther to make better connection.

Setup

Hopefully everything was installed correctly. If so, you’re ready to setup your HVAC system on the thermostat.

The thermostat will guide the setup process with questions about WiFi, location name, and the type of HVAC system such as central air and gas or electric heat.

Basic Operation

At the most basic level, a smart thermostat is still a thermostat and should be able to adjust the temperature accordingly. And simply.

Ecobee easily handles the simple function of changing the temperature and adjusting from heating to cooling. Click on the snow flake to change from Heat to Cool, Auto or Off. A flame is shown when the system is switched to heating. The slider on the right sets the temperature. The bold white number in the middle (73 above) is the current temperature. Above the temperature is the current humidity.

All of the thermostats previously tested (Nest and Wyze) handled this task easily. While the Ecobee 4 leaves the physical task of changing temperatures to a touchscreen, some older Nests offered a physical dial. Newer Nest thermostats have replaced the mechanical motion for a touch sensitive one. The Wyze Thermostat offers a physical dial below the screen for adjust the temperature and navigating menus.

While I would personally prefer a mechanical, tangible dial to use, its mostly a relic due to scheduling.

Features

Scheduling

Smart thermostats can handle simple to rather complex granular scheduling.

I’ve only enabled a basic daily schedule above. Its possible to override the schedule manually or with geofencing. The schedule can accommodate much more fine control than listed above.

Geofencing

Geofencing is a fancy way to say the air doesn’t need to run when you’re not home.

While Wyze and Nest both offered geofencing in some form, Ecobee offers more options. The radius can be manually selected inside a map view. When entering or leaving the selected area, the thermostat can go back to Home, Away, Sleep, Resume Schedule, or do nothing.

Ecobee geofence notification

Upon entering or leaving the geofenced area, Ecobee will notify you about the current status of the thermostat. For example, upon entering geofence, the thermostat switches to Home. Upon leaving, it changes to Away. These settings can be changed in the app.

This is mostly helpful knowing when and where the changes happen. When I’ve been on the edge of the geofence, I have experienced frequent app notifications as I jumped from Home to Away back to Home.

Smart Home Integrations

The Ecobee 4 works with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Alexa is built-in so the thermostat can handle voice commands, calls, or even play music.

Vacation Mode

Vacation Mode sets a separate schedule for vacations. This could be useful to keep temperatures stable for plants or pets.

Eco+

Trying to save the Earth and a few bucks at the same time? Eco+ features are geared towards reducing usage while maintaining a comfortable environment.

It does this by looking at occupancy, weather, and electricity rates. Yes, Ecobee can connect with some utility companies for discounts in exchange for occasional control over the thermostat during peak hours. It will also alter use if an electric company has variable time-of-use rates.

Remote Sensors

Remote sensors allow the thermostat to reach into other rooms for better control. In a smaller home, the differences between rooms may not be as noticeable. In a larger home, especially one with more than one story, the temperature can vary dramatically.

Remote Sensor displays current temperature

With remote sensors in place, the thermostat can read each room’s temperature and humidity. With that information, it will attempt to balance the temperature.

The sensor can also detect if the room is occupied. If the thermostat or the sensors show occupied, the thermostat will switch to Home mode and begin heating or cooling.

Conclusion

The two big questions out of this are “Is the Ecobee 4 worth buying” and “Is it worth buying over the competition.” Yes and, well, yes.

Many of the features are comparable between brands. Nest and Wyze track energy use, follow schedules, and offer geofencing. Ecobee simply handles those tasks better. Wyze is still playing catch up to eco+ and still hasn’t released remote sensors. Wyze would be a great thermostat if it was a complete package. Wyze is also the cheapest of the options here at $72 plus shipping on the Wyze website or $73 on Amazon.

Nest is the real competition here. Unfortunately for Nest, Ecobee handles the same tasks better. Nest is more restrictive about using remote sensors. Not all Nest Thermostats work with them. The proper Nest app would help too but with Google in charge, Nest is slowly moving into the Google Home app. The app lacks the fine controls and information that most smart thermostat buyers will expect.

If you’ve already bought into another ecosystem like Nest or Wyze, then it may make more sense to go that direction but most consumers will be happier with what Ecobee offers.

The Ecobee 4 is currently $300 on Amazon.

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