For decades, mercury switch thermostats controlled residential space heating and cooling. Over the past 20 years, programmable thermostats became the standard. These manual interface thermostats allowed consumers the opportunity to optimize their heating and cooling systems by programming different temperature settings based on their work and sleep schedules. The problem with this technology is that most residential electricity consumers have varying schedules and programming the thermostats is too time-consuming.
This is where smart thermostats enter the picture. Smart thermostats are still a new technology for most homeowners. The concept behind the technology is simple. The thermostat uses occupancy sensors, outdoor temperature data, and inputs from consumers to learn their behavior patterns and program itself. Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat dominates the market along with offerings from traditional heating and cooling technology providers like Honeywell’s Lyric. A relatively new entrant into the smart thermostat market is the ecobee3.
Ecobee, a Toronto-based home automation company, is making significant inroads into the smart thermostat market with its ecobee3 product. The list of product features is extensive. First, wireless remote sensors provide the ecobee3 with temperature inputs from multiple rooms. This allows the ecobee3 to know the temperature in a room on the far side of a home, for example. Instead of operating the heating cooling system based solely on the temperature of the air immediately surrounding the thermostat, ecobee3 can factor in the temperature from other important areas of the home.
Ecobee3 also uses occupancy detectors to optimize heating and cooling system operation. The thermostat can average temperatures from all remote sensors or just those sensors detecting motion.
In addition, ecobee3 learns how a given home heats up and cools down. It tracks local weather using wi-fi connectivity and optimizes how to bring the home to the desired comfort level. There are a number of efficiency algorithms ecobee3 can execute including system staging management, fan dissipation, and overcooling to reduce indoor humidity. The ecobee3 thermostat also monitors system performance and alerts the homeowner of the need for filter changes or other maintenance.
Ecobee claims customers save an average of 23% on their heating and cooling costs. This is on par with Nest’s 20% energy savings claim.
Ecobee Aligns with Apple
Nest is known for collaborating with electricity providers and utilities to increase the market penetration of its product. Lyric relies heavily on heating and air conditioning installers with an established history of using Honneywell thermostats. Ecobee, however, took a different approach by aligning with Apple.
Apple retail stores already sell the ecobee thermostat. More importantly, the new ecobee3 with remote sensor is compatible with Apple’s Homekit smart home platform. Ecobee3 is the first HomeKit-supported thermostat available to consumers. This allows the homeowner to control temperature settings through Siri commands on their iPhone and iPad.
This interface gives ecobee3 a potentially significant advantage in consumers adopting its technology. While Nest and Lyric have very well-designed mobile apps, ecobee3’s Apple integration will undoubtedly encourage more consumers to look into smart thermostats..
As smart thermostat technology becomes more prevalent, it will be interesting to see which brand truly proves it is the best at optimizing heating and cooling performance. Claims of saving up to 20 or 25% are very encouraging given the amount of energy used to heat and cool homes. Residential electricity customers will need independent verification of savings across a broad spectrum of housing types and climates to fully embrace these devices.