Ecobee Smart Thermostat User Review

Ecobee Smart Thermostat Review | The Downside of Smart Home Technology

A word of warning to those considering an Ecobee Smart Thermostat or other smart thermostat purchase. They will probably become obsolete before you would expect.

Ah, the 21st century—a time when asking Siri or Google to dim the lights or lock the doors doesn’t require a second thought. Naturally, upgrading your thermostat to a so-called “smart” model like the Ecobee Smart Thermostat with voice control seems like a no-brainer, right? It promises a cornucopia of features: compatibility with almost every device you own, energy savings that’ll supposedly make your wallet a bit heavier, and control so fine-tuned it knows when you’re home and when you’re not.

I must admit, I enjoy my Smart Home technology. I’m certainly not as wired as some folks are, but I appreciate the convenience of telling my little Google Home device to stream my current favorite Netflix show on the TV or turn off (or on) the living room light. And what is more important in life than comfort?

Picture this: It’s a chilly winter morning, and your Ecobee smart sensor (if you have them) detects that the room is cooler than usual. It springs into action and slightly adjusts the heating. Through the magic of your smartphone app, you even get a notification on your device praising your energy use prowess. You’ve saved up to 26% on heating and cooling costs. You give yourself a little mental high-five, all the while, your air quality monitor indicates that you’re breathing cleaner air than a yogi at a mountaintop retreat. Ah, the marvels of modern life!

Those are among the promises that Ecobee offers.

But there is a downside to Smart Home technology, and that is the programmed obsolescence that comes hand-in-hand with modern technology.

Back in the old, old, old days, household products were built to last.

You didn’t need to buy a new phone every year, your fridge would last 10 to 20 years easy, etc… but those days are long gone.

I’ve learned to expect it when it comes to computers, mobile phones, and even television sets & other electronics. What I wasn’t expecting was that my thermostat would become obsolete long before my furnace did.

It’s not like a thermostat has (or needs) some kind of high-tech capabilities that let you take pictures, browse the Internet, or call people around the world. It just turns your HVAC on and off. Pretty freaking simple. Or, at least, it should be.

But here we are, with our smart thermostat that’s as confusing as a Rubik’s Cube and as reliable as a weather forecast. In the next sections, we’ll dig into what went wrong and how this supposed best smart thermostat became the bane of my home’s existence. Stay tuned, if you dare.

I Used to Love my Ecobee Smart Thermostat

My Ecobee Smart Thermostat was really cool… for a little while. If I had written this review years ago, it would have been very different.

Full disclosure, I started my Ecobee journey with an earlier model of the Ecobee Smart Thermostat.

I had a new, high-efficiency furnace & air conditioner installed a few years ago, and at the same time I purchased what — at the time — was a fancy Ecobee WiFi programmable thermostat. I must admit, I had never heard of Ecobee before it was recommended by the team installing my HVAC system. They had been around for a few years, but had not yet (at least as far as I could tell) gained popular-kid status.

The WiFi features were pretty cool, giving me the ability to control my heating and cooling from my computer, with my phone, or based on a set schedule. It even gave me alerts if the humidity or temperature inside my house went out of normal range. It really took the thermostat game up a few notches.

I even spent the money to have a custom sticker printed to decorate the face plate of the Ecobee Smart Thermostat. Because, why not!

We were very happy together for a few years.

We lost a bit of our happiness glow when the people at Ecobee decided to NOT make this version compatible with voice control through Google Home or Google Assistant, for reasons beyond my comprehension. It would have been nice, on a hot summer’s day, to simply say, “Hey Google, Turn on the Air Conditioner”. But I was able to live without that. I don’t have Amazon Echo or Apple Homekit, so I’m not sure if it was ever compatible with Alexa or Siri.

Alas, when I recently upgraded my Internet system, my Ecobee Smart Thermostat decided that it did not like my WiFi anymore. And I mean, it REALLY didn’t like it.

It didn’t matter what I did, what setting I changed, whatever I tried, I could not get this Ecobee smart thermostat to connect. Even when the device said it was connected, it wasn’t actually connected.

I tried contacting customer support, but the phone lines were ALWAYS jammed, and their recorded promise to call me back within 24 hours — but that return call never materialized.

However, I did receive a response to my email inquiry, which gave me some things I could try…. none of which worked. My follow-up email received no response.

Every other WiFi-enabled device in my home was able to connect to the new WiFi network. Even ones that clearly stated they can only work with 2.4 ghz WiFi. Everything except my not-so-fancy-anymore Ecobee smart thermostat.

Just in case, I even bypassed the Mesh network and turned back on the old WiFi router to give the Ecobee smart thermostat some good, old-fashioned 2.4 ghz WiFi to connect to. But to no avail. Now that it has “decided” to disconnect, there seems to be nothing I can do to convince it to reconnect. Maybe that’s part of the plan.

This, basically, means that my “smart” Ecobee thermostat is now dumb as a door knob.

Without a working WiFi connection, my “Smart” Ecobee thermostat is just a really expensive old-fashioned manual thermostat.

I would be OK with this if a smart thermostat cost about the same as an old-school thermostat back in the day. I can see we spending $50 to $60 every few years for the added convenience of smart controls. But $150 to $200 for a thermostat, with no guarantee that it is still going to connect to whatever WiFi router or system you have two years from now… To me, that’s unacceptable.

I get it. These companies need to make money. And if you only buy a thermostat every 20 years or so, they are not going to make much money.

That’s why programmed obsolescence exists, even if they try to pretend it doesn’t. They want/need you to replace these devices every few years so that they can make more money.

That’s one of the reasons modern technology is only built to last a few years. And it is not built to be adaptable to new technology that comes along. So as the world continues to advance… which it will… your device will no longer function, and you will need to buy a new one. It’s good for the company’s revenue, bad for the customer.

That is the terrible game we now play.

The cost of smart technology is something you’ll keep paying over and over and over again. Is it worth it?

But you’d think that concept of making more money over a customer’s lifespan was already built into these exceptionally inflated prices.

Let’s say that a basic thermostat costs around $50 and should last at least 10 years before needing to be replaced (I’ve seen some of these basic, original thermostats in houses that are 50 – 60 years old, but let’s just use 10 years for the illustration). If you own your home for 20 years, you’ll need to spend $100 on thermostats.

On the contrary, with the Ecobee Smart Thermostat, you’re paying around $150.00 for the device (about $200 if you go for the Nest Thermostat), which will likely – if your experience is anything like mine – become completely obsolete for some reason or another within four years. If you own your home for 20 years, you’ll need to spend $750 on thermostats.

In today’s technologically savvy world, you cannot tell me that one of these devices actually costs that much to make to warrant a $150 – $200 price tag. In fact, they probably only cost a tiny bit more to make than the basic thermostats used back in the day.

We are paying 7.5x as much for the coolness factor. Nothing more. Nothing less. And we are NOT getting the value for it.

Years ago, I would have highly recommended an Ecobee smart thermostat to anyone who asked. Now, not so much.

The support team at Ecobee finally responded with a new set of instructions on how to fix my WiFi issues, and they seem to have worked. So my Ecobee has connected to the Internet again…. but for how long??

Well, I can now answer that question. Fast-forward a few years, and the Ecobee Smart Thermostat disconnected again. Only, this time, it wasn’t just the WiFi. It was also the entire backend system that was no longer compatible. The online interface, the app, nothing works anymore. My device disconnected and–according to Ecobee’s own customer support (if you can really call it that), you simply cannot connect these old Ecobee devices to their platform.

My Ecobee thermostat is not compatible with Ecobee controls. How ridiculous is that! I believe that is referred to as either planned or forced obsolescence, I’m not sure which applies here.

Either way, the only option they provided was to put me onto this weird alternative system (which they didn’t do) or for me to upgrade to the new version of the Ecobee Smart Thermostat Enhanced.

Despite my misgivings based on my previous experience with Ecobee, I thought—maybe—they had improved with time. After all, their new Ecobee Smart Thermostat Enhanced is practically yelling, “Look at me! I’ve got features!” Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, because why stick to just one when you can juggle multiple voice assistants? Siri is still on the outs, but two out of three isn’t bad, right?

The SmartSensor is another shiny bauble in this premium model. It’s like the thermostat got a PhD and decided to come back home to show off. Oh, and let’s not forget the Ecobee app, which lets you use your thermostat from anywhere as if it’s your home’s personal puppeteer. Wi-Fi thermostat? Check. App control? Double-check. Built-in occupancy sensor to automatically adjust the temperature when you walk in and out? Oh, you better believe that’s a check.

But wait, there’s more! This premium thermostat offers a comfort setting feature that reads like a menu at a five-star resort. Ah, comfort, that elusive creature that only high-end technology can apparently provide. Even your old thermostat feels like it should pack its bags and move to a technology retirement home. And if you’re torn between Nest or Ecobee, let’s just say the new enhanced version tries really hard to tip the scale in favor of Ecobee.

If you’re feeling like an overlord of energy conservation, you can log into your Ecobee account to see charts and graphs that make you feel like a Wall Street trader, but for thermostats. So there it is, a laundry list of features so impressive it’s practically begging you to forget any past transgressions. Ah, technology—the gift that keeps on giving until it takes away your sanity.

So, yes, I fell for the hype – again. I didn’t go all in with smart security, the smoke alarm, room sensors, or all of the other bells and whistles. I just wanted my temperature control back. Let’s explore what happened when I decided to give Ecobee another try, shall we?

Maybe the New Ecobee Smart Thermostat Enhanced Is Better?

Is there hope for the future of Smart Home technology, or will history repeat itself? So far, it’s not a happy story!

I thought to myself, “Self, perhaps the new models are much improved. Perhaps they will be able to remain functional for much longer than my old Ecobee did.”

They are good for helping save money on electricity bills and to cut heating costs. A smart thermostat with voice control would be handy. And I have to admit, they look super slick! I’m not sure if I would ever need the other smart features some of these thermostats now offer, like the occupancy sensor or a smart speaker. Really, all a smart thermostat should need to do is keep you comfortable.

I briefly toyed with the idea of getting the Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium, but the enhanced version pictured below seemed to have all of the features I would need. So, when I did end up caving, I got the Ecobee Smart Thermostat Enhanced pictured below, as it seemed to have all of the features I would need. With one GLARING exception (that I didn’t realize until I tried to install it). That exception just opened up a whole new world of hurt.

Ecobee Smart Enhanced Thermostat Review

You would think that if you’re upgrading from an older Ecobee model to a newer Ecobee model, the installation would be a snap! Compatibility with the thermostat wiring shouldn’t be an issue because it is – after all – another Ecobee.

You’d be wrong.

From what I’ve gathered so far, if you were an earlier adopter of the Ecobee technology (aka one of the people who helped the company grow to where it is today), you are now being punished because the wiring required to install the new device is completely incompatible, so it needs to be bypassed and rewired into your HVAC system.

I tried contacting their support line, who kept saying it was super simple to remove these wires from what is called an Equipment Interface Module (EIM) board and wire them directly into the HVAC equipment. In essense, you need to bypass the Ecobee board that was originally installed, which had the D-, D+, GND, and +12V wires, and those wires then lead into a board that has more wires that run your actual HVAC equipment. The newer Ecobee Smart thermostats cannot plug into the wiring created by the older Ecobee systems, so you need to bypass that EIM board and wire the new Ecobee directly.

There are multiple configurations of these wires, so you just need to figure out which configuration matches what you need. Basically, thanks to the diagrams provided by Ecobee themselves, you just need to turn this (or something like it because the wire terminals will differ depending on your HVAC system):

Into something like this, although yours may be different. If you only have four wires, you can use the PEK adapter to connect five furnace wires with your four wires coming from the thermostat bundle. Or something along those lines, I got lost about halfway through because I am NOT an HVAC technician.

Sounds simple, right?

After spending about 2 hours trying to install a new thermostat (that I shouldn’t have needed in the first place), the Ecobee Smart Thermostat Enhanced is officially back in its box and the old — now practically useless — Ecobee Smart Thermostat remains on the wall. I didn’t even make it far enough to get the dreaded “Apple Home Hub required to enable Siri” error.

The fact that Ecobee does not sell a thermostat that is compatible with the same wiring they forced on us with their earlier models astounds me! Maybe a handier person than I would be able to unravel the tangled wires needed to connect the new to the old, but that person is not me. Now, I have to decide if I’m going to spend the money to have an HVAC contractor install it for me or simply send it back.

And part of that decision is wondering how long it will be before they decide to make everything in the backend incompatible with this model as well.

Ah, the promises of smart technology in our homes. They shimmer in front of us like a mirage in a desert, only to dissipate into dust when we reach out to grasp them. Saving up to 26% on energy costs? A mirage. Having a smart sensor and air quality monitor that seamlessly works? Another puff of sand in the wind. “Just use your smartphone app to control it,” they said. “It’s Energy Star certified; you’re doing the Earth a favor,” they proclaimed. Reality check: I’m losing control of my thermostat faster than a toddler loses interest in a toy. So yes, the dreams of this enhanced thermostat and all its promised glory are as solid as a cloud.

This poetic dance with my temperamental Ecobee has — at least — made one decision crystal clear for me: venturing into the Ecobee smart security world is off the table. I mean, if getting the thermostat to simply work without making me want to pull my hair out is a Herculean task, then I can’t even fathom the Shakespearean tragedy that would unfold with Ecobee Smart Security. Imagine it: Sensors going haywire the moment you leave home, notifications galore about false alarms, and the ever-so-reliable smartphone app control causing more headaches than it resolves.

I don’t know if that would happen, but given my experience with Ecobee so far, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. So, no, Ecobee, your smart security plan will have to wait for another brave—or should I say, naive—soul.

If you are planning on upgrading your HVAC, think twice before investing in a Smart thermostat unless you are fully aware that you will probably need to spend that money – again and again, and again – for however long you own your home.

Maybe you’re OK with that. I’m not.

End of rant.

Think you can convince me otherwise? Feel free to comment with your own pros and cons of Smart Thermostats below.

18 thoughts on “Ecobee Smart Thermostat Review | The Downside of Smart Home Technology”

  1. Nest is crap and the main issue with it is that it draws much too much juice from your furnace control board, so the chances that it will intermittently drop it’s power connection eventually notifying you on your phone that you lost power to the thermostat is high. It also is incompatible with a lot of older furnaces due to this fact as well.

    The opinion of the HVAC technician that recommended you a NEST stat instead is questionable at best and it makes me wonder how long he has been doing HVAC as a whole because most HVAC techs will be the first ones to recommend you an Ecobee before a nest.

    Now while I do agree that Ecobee should have offered an easier transition from older models into new ones or they should have continued support of their now legacy thermostats, I do have to point out that the fact that they are now making it less of a proprietary wiring setup is a step forward in the right direction (as far as universal integration is concerned) that of which is ultimately something that falls upon the experience of a technically inclined person to install.

    Remember, these guys are in the business of providing hardware for the HVAC industry, not for the end consumer even though these devices do ultimately fall into the hands of the end consumer. The harsh reality of this and any situation is that they owe the end consumer nothing as far as ease of install is concerned and if something is not understood by the installer then it is up to their discretion to understand whether or not it is beyond their scope of knowledge and call a person who possesses more knowledge in the subject matter.

    The EIM board you ran on your older thermostat is now replaced by a PEK board which accomplishes the same thing if a common wire is missing from the furnace control board. On paper it is an easy carryover but I entirely understand your confusion regarding the matter. Sometimes it is better to just call a tech when needed.

    1. Hi Rob,

      All very fair points. I suppose my issue isn’t as much with the tech changes, but with how the customer support team handled it all when my older Ecobee stopped working.

      They offered two options:

      1) We’ll send you a different version of the app, and you can use that — followed by Radio Silence.
      2) Upgrade to the new device — with absolutely ZERO warning that it would have to be complete rewired to accomplish this. If anyone should know that it’s not an easy swap, it should be Ecobee and they waited until I had purchased the replacement item before saying “Oh, yeah – the wiring is different and we didn’t make this at all backwards compatible”.

      Perhaps if I had known in advance what was required, it would have been an easier pill to swallow. Or, I would have stuck with my now-manual older Ecobee thermostat.

      The only thing I would disagree with you on is the note about “these guys are in the business of providing hardware for the HVAC industry, not for the end consumer even though these devices do ultimately fall into the hands of the end consumer.” Once you set up a store on Amazon, you should be pretty aware that these are being purchased by end consumers. 🙂

  2. I live life as a IT guy. I bought a house and upgraded it with a ecobee thermostat pro. With absolutely no knowledge whatsoever I opened my furnace rewired the thermostat and replaced the old mercury containing one in under 30 minutes. I was surprised at how easy it was installing a network rack is more complicated than this. Heck if you have a home theater system some of them are even more difficult to setup than this thermostat is. It has been up and running now for 2 plus years no issues so far.

    1. You lost me at “I live life as a IT guy.” Hahaha

      I’m glad it worked for you. If I was more electrically-savvy, I might have been able to figure it out. I have set up a home theater system (or two) in my time, and this was not the same. And the risk, if you get it wrong, far greater.

      2 years is good, but we’ll see what happens down the road. I had no issues with my original Ecobee for several years, until I did. I just hope they don’t force obsolescence on this one as well.

  3. judging from the diagrams it looks like ecobee finally moved to the traditional HVAC wiring. your whole problem and project is going to be to get rid of the eim board that no other manufacturers use for residential furnace control. label your wire colors and wire yourself up a pull sheet matching wire color and control point to your main furnace control board. it really isn’t terrible once you know the connections on the eim board no longer mean anything. just take them off and go furnace to thermostat. even if you go with a Honeywell or other not smart thermostat this will be necessary. I’ve had both nest and now an ecobee and replaced traditional thermostats. forget the eim and take a deep breath you will be just fine with whatever thermostat you go to.

    1. That all sounds reasonable, but what still frustrates me the most is that the purposefully forced the obsolescence on my previous – and perfectly functional – Ecobee thermostat. I hate that practice to begin with, but if you’re going to do it, you should at least make it easy for your customers to complete the upgrade. I suppose someone who understands EIM boards and traditional HVAC wiring would find this process easy enough. I am not, so I did not.

    1. Thanks for the thought, but the furnace and A/C are relatively new, so I did not go the route of replacing the entire system. Maybe next time….

  4. I’ve had a $99 Ecobee for 8 years and ots been hooked to Google Assistant all that time. Those who are complaining about wiring and HVAC control boards either have to learn about HVAC or call the mfg of your HVAC control board. Most HVAC boards from the past are not going to support things like aito changeover from heat to cool, and you’ll need wire in you walls to support those functions.

    And I’ve called Ecobee recently about an Ecobee 4 I got used from Woot. The answered in 5 minutes.

    So stop whining. Post your question on Reddit – you’ll get sn answer, or pay for an HVAC installer

    1. The Manufacturer of the EIM was Ecobee – and the who reason it was a problem to start with is that they had this weird, proprietary wiring system that they completely forgot about with new models. Two options would have made me perfectly happy:

      1) Keep supporting the original models while customers are still using them. They did say they would send me another version of the software that was compatible with the older thermostat, but then they didn’t bother to do so until several weeks after I had installed the new device.

      2) Include backwards compatibility with their EIM boards.

      They did neither. Yes, I paid for an HVAC installer who told me — quite clearly — that I should have gone with NEST. I will follow his advice next time.

  5. I replaced my old old eco bee with an enhanced last week. Took me 15 minutes to remove the old module at the furnace. About The same to install the PEK. Works great with my google nest and phone.

  6. My mother is having the same issue with her ecobee! She’s tried everything you have and nothing has worked. Ecobee is out of suggestions. She even bought a new ecobee and it has the same problem. Would you mind sharing what fixed your problem?

    1. Hi Lane,

      Unfortunately, I can’t even remember what the instructions were and I checked my inbox and I can’t find them. It was a suggestion from Ecobee, so it was probably one of the ones they already provided and I was lucky enough that it worked for me. I vaguely remember it having something to do with doing a complete reset, but that shouldn’t apply with a brand new Ecobee. I have also switched WiFi networks since, and that seems to have helped keep it stable.

  7. We have an Ecobee3 lite and it is not as flexible as the Trane thermostat that we had. I still have the unit and will probably put back into service.
    I do not see the merit of being able to look at my phone and decide if the hvac system needs to be tweaked. This whole concept is rather silly.
    The whole mesh enhancement without your permission is outrageous.

    1. I agree. I do like the ability to use my phone to monitor adjust the temperature (e.g. if I’m in bed and it’s too hot, or if I’m traveling in the winter it will alert me if the temperature drops below what it should be – which it has done), but that kind of basic functionality should not be this complex or this expensive.

  8. I have the same issue with my brand new ecobee4. I haven’t gotten much help from tech support. Maybe I should write an article too. Might get my wifi problem fixed.

    1. I hope you are able to get your issue resolved. Smart technology is really handy when it works, and really frustrating when it doesn’t!

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