As a new homebuyer headed down the path of home automation, I knew as much about modern thermostats, smart bulbs, and security systems as my golden retriever. Even after hours of Googling, the smart-home landscape was pretty confusing.
Despite all efforts to make the internet of things (IoT) speak the same language, there are still various compatibility nightmares. So I was happy when I learned that one company, Ecobee, did (almost) everything I wanted. Why use various third-party systems and fragment my household?
Ecobee, via an Alexa-integrated smart thermostat and security system, has made my house both safer and more comfortable. Its products are easy to install and use, and they mostly stay out of my way. The system does nearly everything I need—and nothing I’m uncomfortable with.
When I first signed up to try an Ecobee system, the company had slightly different bundles than it offers now. I received three motion SmartSensors, two door/window sensors, a SmartCamera, and the SmartThermostat with Voice Control in the Security Bundle. The most similar bundle available now is “Sweet Dreams,” which includes the thermostat, security camera, and one room sensor, but you can always add other items individually or hunt for another bundle suited to your needs.
Regardless of what you choose, everything is either tied to the company’s excellent touchscreen smart thermostat or its indoor security camera as a hub. Since I had both the camera and the thermostat, I chose to pair it all to the latter, as it was in the most central space of my home.
Both hubs do exactly what you think—regulate temperature and watch for intruders, respectively—while the door/window and smart sensors detect both motion and temperature. That means you really only need one door/window sensor or one other smart sensor per room, never both.
The individual sensors collect detailed real-time data about your home, viewable in a companion app, going so far as to know when you’re home using location data. (You can turn this off if you want.) When you’re home, you can set it to never have the camera on, which is a nice privacy perk (though this is also available on many smart security cameras).
Building a Hive
Apart from having to install one wiring harness near our furnace (included with the Ecobee, and not always necessary for those with houses newer than my 1950s bungalow), the entire system was fairly easy to slot into place.
The thermostat didn’t take much effort to hardwire into my home, and the door sensors simply stick to the door frame using included 3M tape. The room sensors have cute little cone-shaped pedestals that make them easy to hide on shelves or bedside tables, and they don’t require any additional batteries (a small watch battery in each sensor lasts for 18-24 months, and I haven’t changed one yet). The only thing you might struggle to place is the SmartCamera, which needs a nearby power outlet. We put ours on top of the fridge, where the wide-angle lens had a good view of the living room.
The included instructions are excellent, and outside of the thermostat, which took around 30 minutes to install, I had everything else set up in the span of a single coffee break. Ecobee also has video instructions on YouTube if that’s your jam.
The rounded-square touchscreen of the thermostat acts as a mini smart display of sorts. It shows the weather, the current indoor temperature setting, and it serves as an Alexa hub, should you want to set any timers or have any questions for the voice assistant. It has a shockingly good microphone for such a little device, routinely hearing me shout “Alexa” more clearly than the similarly placed Echo speaker. (Alexa is exclusively built into the thermostat, but you can also control everything via Google Assistant, Apple’s HomeKit, Samsung’s Smartthings, or IFTTT.)
I sleep hot, so my first test was to have it change our evening temperature to something chillier, and then ramp it up to a warmer daytime setting in the morning. It’s been performing this task flawlessly ever since.
The Ecobee smartphone app is an excellent companion too. You can see everything from the live camera view to real-time temperatures in each room. I can quickly see when my dog jumps on the couch when no one’s home (and even yell at him to get off via the included speaker in the SmartCamera). It can also tell you which rooms are currently occupied if you’re hunting for someone, like a child.
Like most smart thermostat makers, Ecobee claims you may see up to a 23 percent reduction in heating and cooling costs thanks to its smarter use of your HVAC system. I can’t speak to this, as we installed ours right after moving in and promptly had the house re-insulated. It’s hard to see any savings from the device itself considering the upgrades we made to the home.
But I will say that, unlike many smart home gadgets I have tried in the past, Ecobee’s system continues to be rock solid after more than six months of continuous use, with zero issues at all to speak of. It even reminds me to change my air filters. Nice.
The door alerts and motion sensors work well, and there’s even a way to make sure they don’t go off every time your pets move around the house. The camera has similar options.
By default, you’ll need to manually arm or disarm the Ecobee system when you leave or enter your home so that it doesn’t blare an alarm. If an intruder is entering, the system doesn’t actually talk to the local police. You’ll have to hope the alarm scares them away. I feel uncomfortable having an alarm system directly linked to the police (and potentially burdening them with false alarms), so this is actually a perk for me.
If you subscribe to Ecobee Haven for $5 per month, it’ll automatically arm and disarm the system for you, and it’s smart enough to know when you’re the one that’s entering your home. This service also enables smoke alarm detection (the sensors listen for it, they don’t actually detect smoke) and 30-day video history so you can save clips. I paid for it—less than $100 per year for cloud video backup alone was worth it for me.
If you’re worried about potential hacks (and you should be), Ecobee is generally in a good place. It has had no known incidents in the last two years, according to the Mozilla Foundation, and the company also uses the HackerOne platform to allow hackers to suss out potential vulnerabilities.
Down the line, I’d like to add an outdoor camera to monitor the large shed where I do most of my work, as well as smart light switches, air quality detectors and alarms, and maybe even a smart lock. Out of that list, the company only currently offers the smart switch, but I hope to see it expand so I can equip my entire home with one system.
Still, six months in, it’s the perfect starter toward a fully automated home.