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My experience with a Nest & Ecobee smart wifi thermostat

JMphoto
8 years ago

I wanted to post a review of my personal findings of the Ecobee touchscreen thermostat for other people who were in a similar situation like me. Like many other homeowners, I bought into the sleek and sexy marketing of the Nest smart thermostat. Before I make a purchase like this, I try to do as much internet research on the product. Some of the Nest press was good, but a fair amount was not good. I tried to convince myself that having a new home and HVAC unit would put me in the group of people with a good experience. How wrong was I!! I have a heat pump HVAC unit and the Nest was costing me an outrageous amount of electric. I turned to the Nest community and had great feedback from many users like myself who were experiencing the same thing. First, my situation: I live in a brand new home built 2011, approx 3000sg ft, well insulated 2x6 exterior walls, insulated basement in Eastern Pennsylvania. Our HVAC is brand new, installed when the home was built in 2011, 4 ton Amana Distinctions heat pump with electric auxiliary as a backup. Our contractor had installed a Honeywell Vision Pro 8000 Thermostat. We also have a Aprilaire 600 humidifier with manual humidistat. We prefer the house a little cooler at 67� and set back to 64� in the evening and away temp.

The Honeywell VP8000 was a fine thermostat that offered basic program schedule, however, not the easiest thing to program. I wanted a wifi thermostat with energy history reporting, so in early November I purchased and installed a Nest. The Nest was sleek looking, however it did stick out a bit in our country style home which consist of more hardwood, and tile, rustic fireplace etc. No problem, it was kinda cool looking though. I started using the Nest on the "Heat Pump balance" feature set to "Max Savings". When I started looking at the energy history a few days later, I noticed Aux heat being used quite frequently toward the end of a cycle, even in November when the temps were in the mid 40�s and 30�s at night. I continued to watch it and noticed even more Aux usage as the weeks went on. I was not sure if this was normal since I had no energy reporting on the Honeywell VP8000, but I rarely recall seeing that go into aux, except for when it was bitterly cold. So, I began comparing electrical usage and noticed about a 30 to 40% increase in usage. I took to posting on the Nest community and quickly learned about the problems with algorithms and the Nest. With the help and suggestion of other Nest community users, I tried some other options of turning heat pump balance off and setting a manual lockout, basically providing false info to overcome the programming problems on the Nest. However, as Nest users with heat pumps are aware, the lowest lockout is 35�. So to work around this you have to play a game of fooling it with programming a zip codes in warmer climates to create a lower aux lockout. That seemed to work OK until I got burned one night and had a zip code programmed from a climate a little too south and my aux never came on and caused my house to go down to about 55� overnight. I had contacted Nest and the customer service on the phone was clueless. I took to their facebook page and email and was contacted by a higher level tech that said "they had not seen this problem with any other users". I suggested they check their own community page as this was an ongoing problem with many heat pump users. Tech support never got back to me after that. One of my other major faults of the Nest was the big 3 to 4� temp swings. If I had the heat set to 67, it would wait until it got down to 66 or often 65 and then have to run long to make up the difference until it would get to 1� above the set point. I feel this would often cause the Aux to have to run to make up such a difference. As January approached the aux usage was through the roof, so enough was enough with the Nest. Tech support was not getting back to me so it was time to go. Back to Home Depot. Thankfully HD has a generous return policy and I did not lose any money.

With the suggestion of others I purchased an Ecobee touchscreen. A local HVAC supply house had them in stock. The first thing I noticed was the install was not as basic as the Nest, however it did not seem overly complicated. This unit came with an additional box, the equipment interface module, which added to the installation. I am a little more tech savvy, so the installation was not an issue for me. The benefit for me was I was now able to connect my Aprilaire humidifier to the EIM and have the thermostat control the humidity level based on the the actual levels in the living space. The EIM is a nice feature and allows for future sensors to be added if so desired for options like moisture detection, additional temp sensors etc. Most of the standard connections that went into the thermostat now went into the EIM. Then using my existing wire that ran to my Tstat upstairs, I only had to connect 4 wires from the EIM to the Ecobee touchscreen Tstat.

I was not 100% sure on connecting my Aprilaire, so I gave a call to Ecobee. This was not my first call to them. I had called earlier in the morning with questions before I purchased the product about features and programming options for the aux lockout. Both times I quickly (less than 2 minute hold) got an experienced tech. He easily walked me through the connection of my humidifier. I was now up and running. I began the setup process. Connecting to my wifi was a breeze with no problems. I signed up on Ecobee�s web portal with no problem and downloaded the iPhone and iPad app. The colorful display of the touchscreen is very nice. My only small complaint is the touch portion is sensitive and some of the sliders are clunky, especially if you have larger fingers. No problem though, I grabbed my soft touch tip pen that I use on the phone and it was a breeze. I had a couple setup questions specific to my HVAC that I was not totally clear on, so I thought I would give their tech support another ring. Again, less than a 2 minute wait and I actually got the same guy that helped me earlier. I said I was probably being a pain and he chuckled and said "not at all, what can I help you with" and he continued to walk me through any initial setup questions. It was clear that he was not only extremely knowledgable of the product, but the HVAC industry in general as well.

Its now been over a week. We had some mild temps (40�s) and some colder temps (20�s and teens in the evening). For the entire first week I did not see the Aux run one time. In fact my energy usage went from averaging 75 to 110 KWH a day with the Nest to 50 to 55 KWH a day with the Ecobee. I did see the Aux appear on the energy history for a couple minutes the other day when the temps neared the single digits overnight , but it was very minimal. As of right now, I am thrilled with the Ecobee.

My Pros:
Much better use of equipment and auxiliary heat
Nice mobil app
Maintains a 1� temp set point, unlike the 3 to 4� swings of the Nest.
A ton of customization for equipment lockout, such as Aux heat outdoor temps down to 0�, delta to aux, compressor lockout temps, compressor minimum outdoor temp, indoor temp delta, heat to cool deltas etc..and more
Options to add remote sensors and zigbee smart plugs
Nice color touchscreen with the ability to quickly see the local weather. click on the weather icon on the Tstat and you can see several days of forecast for your area.
I like the fact that you can program the screen to stay on all the time and choose how dim you want it to be when it is in rest. This is nice because I can easily look across the room to view the temp whereas the Nest required me to walk past it or wave my hand.
The energy reporting is real time! I don�t have to wait until the next day to see energy usage.
I can customize the energy report by simply toggling on or off the options I do or don�t want to see. This includes, set temp (separate heat and cool lines), outdoor temp, humidity level, separate lines for compressor and auxiliary.
Scheduling set temps is very easy using the web portal
Humidity level can be set manually to a specified humidity percentage or I can choose a "frost control level" which automatically balances it based on outdoor temp and indoor temp settings.
While not the simplest to install given the addition of the EIM, the Ecobee tech support team was easy to reach, extremely knowledgeable of the product and patient and courteous with my many questions.
I won�t call this a pro or a con, but lets just say the Ecobee may not win any artistic design awards for its looks. I�m totally fine with it, its what�s under the hood that counts. It does not look like an old-fashioned Tstat like some of the Honeywell, or a new-age tech gadget like the Nest, but in my home decor it fits in nicely and I like the look.
Tech support team is extremely knowledgeable of the both the product and general HVAC equipment

Cons:
My only real con would be the touchscreen being a little tough to navigate for larger fingers, but with the use of a soft touch tip pen designed for phones and a very light touch, it works just fine.
Again, not necessarily a Con, but installation for the basic person can be a little tricky, which is why I assume they are only available at contractor supply. If you are not the tech savvy person, I suggest a pro install. However, if you are even somewhat handy, Ecobees tech support is awesome. (see above PRO)

I am sure I am forgetting some things, but overall I couldn't be any happier with my decision to ditch the Nest and go to Ecobee. My electric usage is back down to where it should be and even lower than it was last year. And for the record, I am just a home user with no affiliation to Ecobee or any other company. I just wanted to post my findings to help the other homeowners like myself. I, like many other homeowners, bought into the fancy marketing, sleek looking Nest unit that is driven soley by marketing. In my honest opinion, Ecobee is a company driven by functionality and engineering and truly committed to the thermostat and HVAC industry.

Comments (28)

  • JMphoto
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    A quick pic of the EIM box.

  • pbx2_gw
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thank you for the detailed review of the Nest vs. Ecobee.

    From what I have gathered in the national press & forums: a lot of people out there buy the notion that the NEST is the greatest thing since slice cheese.
    But speaking to knowledgeable owners & HVAC pros' my interpretation is that what it basically does is turn your HVAC on a scheduler & cuts the power of your HVAC.

    Otherwise, I don't see any of the customization with the NEST that is crucial to comfort:
    Equipment lockout, Aux heat controls, Zoning & variable speed control.

    Now the bigggest selling point for the NEST besides its looks is that it 'learns" your habits & even can tell when you are in or out of the house & adjust to create your own bespoke schedule. That to me is a good feature & wondered if you got a chance to test 'Nest Sense' out?

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  • JMphoto
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    For me, Nest sense was a waste. I had to turn all the auto stuff off and go with a manual schedule. Nest is not designed well for heat pump users. The setbacks it chose were too great for heat pumps to recover from and ended up using more electric. I was excited about the heat pump balance feature in nest sense, but that was a joke. I had it set to "max savings" and all it did was suck up my electric by over use of auxiliary heat. I can't even imagine what "max comfort" setting would have been like. The algorithms it used were archaic and a major waste of energy. Plus the 3 degree temp swings were ridiculous.

  • geoffrey_b
    8 years ago

    I'm from Eastern PA. Why do you have a heat pump?? There's an abundance of natural gas. Electric is the most expensive method of heating.

    As for these thermostats: I'm a long time software developer - I have no time for these sorts of gagets.

  • JMphoto
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    We are located in rural farm country and our little development does not have gas lines. It was oil, propane, or electric.

  • mike_home
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I really enjoyed reading your detailed reviews. Please keep us updated.

    I find it amazing Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion. Wonder what happens when the Board of Directors finds out the Nest thermostat does not work very well.

    The new generation of programmable thermostats are no longer gadgets. They can help save money and provide diagnostic information. This assumes the people writing the software understand basic HVAC principles.

  • geoffrey_b
    8 years ago

    @mike_home: "The new generation of programmable thermostats are no longer gadgets. They can help save money "

    I looked at the Nest - sells for about $250, the Ecobee looks like $400. Plus the time and materials needed to install. The average person is not going to install one of these - so there is additional HVAC tech labor.

    The OP has already lost money on the Nest because of high Aux usage.

    I wonder exactly how much one will save a heating season?

    Also, if you have a problem with one of these devices who troublshoots? How quickly can you get a replacement, and get it reprogrammed?

    This is why I call it a gadget. Maybe some tech guy can implement this - but support is another thing - especially when you're away, and your wife is having trouble.

    After 40 years in the software business, these are the questions I've learned to ask.

  • geoffrey_b
    8 years ago

    Oh yes - wait till someone hacks into Nest.com or your thermostat and uses it as an entry point into your home computers.

  • mike_home
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I would hope the Nest software developers would be smart enough to put password protection on their devices. It is a potential security problem just like all the other wireless devices in your house.

    I did not say everyone needs to run out and buy an Ecobee. I have read several reviews about the Nest not performing well. I have not seen any bad Ecobee reviews. Yes it is expensive and overkill for most people.

    HVAC equipment is getting more sophisticated. There is a need for control algorithms to take advantage of what this equipment can do.

    I think it is sad when a consumer buys an expensive multi-stage furnace only to have it controlled by a timer on its control board, or a the auxiliary back up heating for a heat pump controlled by a two degree set point differential.

    There are plenty of choices out there at all price points and features. We have come a long way since the Honeywell round mechanical thermostat.

  • geoffrey_b
    8 years ago

    @mike: "HVAC equipment is getting more sophisticated. There is a need for control algorithms to take advantage of what this equipment can do. "

    So the manufacturers make sophiscticated equipment - but don't have the proper thermostats to control their own equipment?

    The more sophiscation, the more things to go wrong, and more money on service calls. I have rarely heard of a plain old setback thermostat going haywire. If one of these new generation thermostats takes a dump - (perhaps a bad relay?) how do you get a replacement? How do you diagnose it?

    I'd bet one service call because of these thermostats could wipe out the savings - forever.

    I like my Honeywell Chronotherm - I have an analog one - with the clock and the little red/blue pins. Works great and my wife can understand it.

    Heating is especially critical in northern climates. Today it's -15 F in Minneapolis. I trust simple!

  • mike_home
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Very few HVAC equipment manufacturers sell thermostats. Carrier and Trane have a few. But I think the Trane for the most part are modified versions of Honeywell models.

    You are right that more gadgets leads to more problems. The Nest is an example of this. Is it the classic Murphy's law "every solution breeds new problems".

    I had Honeywell Chronotherms on my systems. I had to replace them because the mechanical gears wore out. Changing the built in battery was no fun either. They were probably the best thermostats in the early 80s. They work fine with a basic furnace.

  • ionized_gw
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I am concerned about hacking thermostats and "home automation" in general. Apparently it is easy to do. An enemy, opportunist or prankster can turn on all your lights, turn control your thermostat, see what is in your refrigerator or make that refrigerator to send out spam email.

    My Dad has two mechanical Chronotherms of slightly different design. On one of them changing pin position can take an hour or more because the pins are smaller and difficult to take off and attach. This means that one or more will be dropped in a dark carpet in a poorly-lit area. It takes a long time to find the pins :-( The other one is great in all respect, but I would not want it with a heat pump.

    I am also sensitive to the problem of expensive t-stats failing and replacement eating up any savings that they might offer.

  • pbx2_gw
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The OP's post is the first real world experience that I have seen where it has detailed the 'practical' limitations of the NEST.

    I would love to see the NEST succeed but not at the expense of comfort & customization.
    If I or my HVAC contractor are limited to what we can setup with our newer HVAC communicating equipment - then we are disadvantaged.

    Would love it if some pro can list all the functionality that a Honeywell IAQ or Trane Comfortlink2 has & line them up against the NEST & see if the latter can do them.

    vice versa too.

  • Elmer J Fudd
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Google has thousands of brilliant employees. You can be sure that the intentions relative to buying Nest don't spring from a sudden infatuation with heating and A/C equipment.

    The first "anythings" (fill in the blank) always need lots of redirection, rethinking, and change. A view that's widely held is that the future of the home is one of connected and accessible devices and machines, appliances, sensors, controls, etc,.

    There are still people who don't have smart phones, others who don't have cell phones. Makes no sense to me (other than when due to affordability), but as always, progress is progress and those wanting to stay behind are welcome to do so.

  • kheflw
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Does anyone know if there is a lesser expensive solution, one that allows Heat Pump Lockout settings, and shows when Aux Heat is working, either with a wi-fi report or a simple light on the Tstat when Aux is running. Like the OP here, I'm already in for $250 for NEST, also bought at Home Depot so I can return. Do the Honeywell WiFi systems allow HP Lockout?
    And a question for OP - What temp did you set your lockout to with this new Tstat?

    Thanks - High electric bills suck.

  • JMphoto
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Kheflw, the Honeywell's at HD or Lowes don't allow the HP locout adjustment, nor do they have energy reporting. The only Wi-fi honeywell that does is a vision pro 8320. If you can take the nest back to HD, you can find the Ecobee on Amazon for around $270. I currently have my lockout set to 24, but a lot of that has to do with your HP's efficiency and home efficiency. Good luck, but run, run as fast as you can, get that Nest back to HD for a refund!

  • JMphoto
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Here is a screen shot of the Ecobee's energy reporting. Now, keep in mind, we are in historical low temps for the last week here in the northeast.

  • airstarsupply
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    We've found that the Ecobee's reporting thru the Portal is 2nd to none. Additionally , sales of the 'Non-Touchscreen' are now exceeding the touchscreen stat since everyone is typically accessing via a 'Smart Device'....easy way to save $75 to $100 compared to the NEST.

  • Jeff
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    What thermostat line do I need to run? 8 wire? Looking to control variable speed furnace, 2 speed A/C and aprilaire dehumidifier.
    Thanks,
    Jeff

  • pprioroh
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I've never yet seen a programable thermostat used with a heat pump that didn't waste more electricity than it saved. Backup heat is expensive (ESP electric!). Just set a temp and hold it was my experience when I had heat pumps.

    Sounds like the nest is just a fancy face on the same old algorithms that screw heat pump users every time....

    The whole idea of it knowing when you're home or not just seems silly to me unless you have an absolutely regimented life like you work for the army or something where you get up and leave and get home the EXACT same time every day.

  • nerdyshopper
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I ran across this thread a couple days ago. I was interested because our electric service provider offered one free as a test to see if it would reduce energy usage. Ours has been a nightmare of stupid learned settings that refused to readjust when we attempted to retrain it. When we installed it the installer (our heat pump service provider) told us not to use auto with both heating and cooling set-up. When we switched from heat to cool, it refused to let us change the set points for summer. I had to go into the programs and delete all its settings and change to manual setup. I set the daytime temperature to 75 at 8 am and the night temperature to 73 at 9:30 pm. All seemed to be OK until my wife started complaining she was cold at 10:30 pm. I found that the heat pump was cooling madly when the indoor temperature was way below 73 (not sure where because I lost my thermometer but it was cold). I had to reset it to just stay at 75 degrees all the time. It gets cold at night here even when days are over 80 outside. The NEST seemed to think the house wouldn't cool that fast. It must not measure the temperature or else it overshoots badly. I am going to call the PUD that bought it and complain because I had to sign an agreement that I would not remove it for a year when they bought it.

  • juno_barks
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I understand that everyone's experiences are different, and so I thought I should share my NEST experience.

    Last winter, as the temperatures were dropping, my old (and ugly) thermostat bit the dust. I read lots of reviews, and decided to go with the NEST, despite some bad reviews (such as above). Installation was pretty easy, and it looks good on my wall. But what you really want to know is how does it perform, right?

    We have natural gas/forced air heating and central air. The NEST very quickly learned our patterns, including the schedules for my children to return home from school. It performed for us as advertised.

    Air conditioning was similar. My kids are teenagers are are in and out of the house all summer. We tend to be misers with the AC, and I'm guessing our usage was a bit higher than normal, but that was during a very hot month.

    But the best use was being able to check it when we had contractors in and out of the house. One drywall guy had it turned up to 85˚ on a fairly nice warm day - was it to dry the mud? If it was, he didn't talk to me. I was easily able to use my phone to turn the heat down. Another time my 15 year old daughter called me to rat out another contractor who was working with glass doors wide open and heat turned up above 80˚F. She didn't want the guy to see her turning the heat down, but I could do it covertly from work.

    I guess many different thermostats can be controlled remotely. But I do love our NEST.

  • robfos
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Just a note from a newbee.... I tried using the Honeywell RTH9580WF WiFi Thermostat with my 1 y/o Trane elec Heat Pump. The Aux/Emergency heat comes on all the time when increasing the heat even by 1 degree. There is no adjustment for this Honeywell Thermostat.
    My old (reinstalled) Trane touch pad lets me make a 3 degree adjustment without aux heat.

  • ionized_gw
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Wow, you went from marginal to jumping off the cliff into sucky. Glad that you still had an alternative to go back to.

  • hvtech42
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I would NOT recommend the Nest whatsoever. Many have had good experiences with it, but from a service perspective I have seen WAY more issues with it than any other thermostat on the market currently. That's not even including how they have ignored the feedback on their community support forum for years, and their control algorithms suck.

    If you must have a Nest, I would only put it on a super basic, 1 heat 1 cool system. It chokes on multistage systems and heat pumps (dual fuel or not), which is just inexcusable on a thermostat that costs that much.

  • smokey0066
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    One of my thermostats recently died after 10yrs so I started looking for a "smart" thermostat. After browsing the web I concluded I'd try the Nest (crowd fav) and the Ecobee3 (newest model but ecobee seems to have a very good reputation online). I wanted to share some of my initial thoughts between the two since there isn't much out there yet.

    Before buying these stats I realized I needed the 24v common wire connected and luckily our house was wired with 6 strand wire and all I had to do was hook up the 5th wire to the C terminal. This made life easy for me.

    I bought the Nest from Lowe's so I had that immediately. The Ecobee3 was bought direct a week later and it was 2 day shipping. The Nest had more heft and solid feel. It felt like it was worth the $250 whereas the Ecobee3 is very lightweight plasticy cheap feeling like my existing stat was. It was a bit hard to believe it was more then the Nest. I did have some cosmetic damage on my Ecobee3 and am in the process of exchanging the unit with them.

    Installation was similar on both. I had 5 wires and both units started right up after I turned the power back on. Ecobee3 has more initial questions than the Nest if I remember correctly. Once setup the Ecobee3 definitely has more things configurable for your HVAC system vs the Nest.

    The Nest app is smoother to operate. Ecobee3 app is a little clunky but has more settings to customize. Ecobee3 doesn't show the energy savings/usage yet but it says that feature is coming soon.

    The one thing that really interested me was the remote sensor on the Ecobee3. This stat is on our 2nd floor. We primarily occupy 2 bedrooms and if this thing can average the two rooms to better even out the temperature that would be great. We have tried adjusting the vents but there is still quite a bit of difference.

    Its a bad time to review these stats right now because my HVAC system isn't really running much. Just a tad at night to keep the house warm. I've decided to keep the Ecobee3 and return the Nest based on the more configurable settings and the remote sensor with comfort in mind.

  • hvtech42
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Good decision! The Nest will fool you with the better build quality and better interface/app, but under the hood it is an inferior thermostat, and I'm not just talking about how few options it has (though that is a big con).