If you’re new to smart home technology, and use Apple devices, the Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat is a great first step towards creating a smart home.
As the smart home market continues to grow, the number of different devices available can overwhelm beginners. But building a smart home is easier than it seems. One of the most important choices you will make is what device to purchase first. There are tons of different options on the market, and that first selection can often dictate future accessory purchases.
If you’re an Apple device user and are looking to start building a HomeKit-compatible system, the Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat is a great place to start.
What Exactly Is HomeKit Compatibility?
While the Ecobee3 is also compatible with the Amazon Echo ecosystem, we’ll be focusing on using it with Apple’s HomeKit. One of the most obvious questions any smart home newcomer might have is: “What, exactly, is HomeKit?”
Apple created the HomeKit framework to give your different Smart devices a way to communicate with each other using specific hardware and software.
Using more than one HomeKit-enabled device, you can accomplish tasks like setting different scenes (pre-set control patterns for your devices) and other complex automations.
All smart home devices can usually be controlled with a specific app, but with HomeKit compatibility, the accessories can all be accessed through a single app. Better yet? All iOS devices have Apple’s Home app built in to their system, including the Apple Watch.
Another big plus is that you can control all HomeKit devices with a quick and easy Siri command. After setting up the device, you can simply tell Apple’s virtual assistant exactly what to control. And thanks to the “Hey Siri” command, you can control a smart home from across the room.
As long as you have a Home Hub at a home (which can be a fourth-generation Apple TV or iPad with iOS 10 or later) you can operate all HomeKit devices from anywhere with an internet connection.
The first HomeKit devices started hitting the market in June 2015, and the ecosystem has steadily grown. It now includes diverse accessories including doorbells, air conditioners, fans, and humidifiers, along with the usual smart home accessories like lights and switches.
Why the Ecobee3?
Arriving in late 2015, the Ecobee3 was the first smart thermostat to offer HomeKit support.
While everyone is familiar with using a regular thermostat to control heating and/or air conditioning, Smart thermostats (pioneered by Nest) take this concept to the next level. The Ecobee3 builds on Nest’s success by adding several unique features of its own.
One big difference of the Ecobee3 is obvious simply by looking at the thermostat itself. Instead of the retro, round shape of the Nest, it sports more of a more modern aesthetic and offers a 3.5-inch touchscreen interface. Think of it as an old-school iPhone mounted on the wall.
Instead of turning a dial like on the Nest, you control the Ecobee3 by using the touchscreen.
Nest places a big emphasis on learning your routine and automatically adjusting heating or AC when needed. In contrast, the Ecobee3 doesn’t feature an independent learning system, but you can manually create different schedules through the companion app.
The main draw of of the Ecobee3 is its remote sensors. Ecobee includes one with each thermostat, and you can also purchase an additional two-pack if needed. Along with the main thermostat itself, the remote sensors act as HomeKit-enabled temperature recording and motion detection stations. That information powers the Follow Me and Smart Home/Away feature we’ll explore in a bit.
The Big Step: Installation
Even though the Ecobee3 is a great foundation for a HomeKit smart home, you’ll first need to conquer the biggest obstacle: installation. While this make take more work than other devices, the benefits of the Ecobee3 are definitely worth the effort!
Anyone with basic DIY knowledge should be able to install the thermostat without any issue as Ecobee includes most everything needed to complete the job, short of a screwdriver and drill. If that makes you nervous, you can hire professional installation, though it will add anywhere from $100 to $200 to the thermostat’s $249 retail cost.
Before you make the purchase, definitely head to Ecboee’s site and see if there are any rebates, incentives, or special offers in your area. At least near me, there were two opportunities to earn a bill credit if using specific energy providers.
One issue that might trip you up during installation is the common wire, better known as a c-wire. The c-wire provides full-time power to the unit and the always-on display. Even when you’re not adjusting the unit, the screen will show the current weather conditions outside and the temperature inside.
Your current thermostat may or may not have a c-wire. The only way to tell for sure is to remove the front housing and do a wire check. Find the port with a “C” and look for a wire.
If there is no c-wire, Ecobee includes a power extender kit that uses the current wires to power the unit. Installing that takes a bit more work with your heating/cooling system itself and may require a professional.
If you choose to tackle the wire situation on your own, you should be done in less than 30 minutes. Most of the process includes removing the wires from the current thermostat and transferring them over to the new control plate. After that, simply push the thermostat itself into the control plate, and let the fun begin.
First, and most importantly, you’ll need to download the companion Ecobee app that can be used on either an iPhone or iPad. After answering a few questions on the thermostat itself about the heating system and air conditioner, you’ll connect to Wi-Fi.
Getting the thermostat linked to HomeKit is the final step. That can be done through either the Ecobee or Home app. You’ll need to have an iOS device located near the thermostat itself.
The Ecobee3 will display a special setup code that needs to be entered on the iOS device. You can do that manually or just snap a quick picture, and the app will take care of the rest.
After that’s done, assign the thermostat to a specific room in a HomeKit setup. For example, if the Ecobee is in the living room you can assign it to that area. Doing this step will be helpful down the road if you choose to add automation with other accessories or with Siri.
You can also set up the remote sensor using the thermostat’s screen.
At least on the iPhone, the app looks exactly like the thermostat interface itself, making it easy to do the same tasks no matter where you are. You can set it for cooling, heating, or a combination of both in the automatic mode. The main display will show the current conditions at your house. Just pull the small button on the left side to adjust.
Now it’s time for the remote sensors, including one built into the thermostat, to shine.
In more than two years of use, my favorite feature by far is Follow Me. The system will determine any rooms where motion has been detected. It will then only use that room’s temperature reading to determine if heating or air conditioning is needed. So in practical use, that means only the room, or rooms, you’re using will be the most comfortable. No matter the weather outside, that can definitely come in handy.
Living in Texas, my air conditioner operates at least 9 months out of the year. And even though it does a good job cooling my house, there are a number of hot and cool spots. But using Follow Me, my family and I are comfortable every day of the year.
Another way to use the remote sensor is with the Smart Home/Away feature. Acting as a backup to any preset schedules, the sensor overrides those on motion detection. For example, if you happen to come home early from work, the motion will cancel any preset schedule automatically.
These two features combined make the Ecobee3 worth every penny. And if you’ve got a larger home or a multi-story residence, I would definitely recommend purchasing additional sensors.
Siri, Is It Getting Hot in Here?
Using Siri to control the thermostat is definitely useful, especially if you have a number of different iOS devices and the Apple Watch.
You can head to Ecboee’s site to see the entire list of Siri commands to control the unit. Along with being able to control the heating or air conditioning, you can ask Siri the current temperature at the thermostat and any remote sensors.
Building your own smart home might seem daunting, but taking it one step at a time can make the entire process easier as you can take time to plan and budget for different accessories.
The Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat is a great choice for your first building block, and it’s hard to argue with something that could eventually pay for itself thanks to lowering your heating or AC bills and maybe even improving your health.
And, if you continue to build a HomeKit-compatible system, you can use the thermostat in a number of different automations and scenes to make life just a bit easier.
What was your first smart home device? Was it the right choice? Let us know in the comments.