On the heels of its successful Wi-Fi-enabled Smart Thermostat, ecobee is set to launch a streamlined version called the Smart Si, in April.
The new thermostat has a smaller 2.4-inch color touchscreen (versus the Smart Thermostat’s 3.5-inch touchscreen), a push-button interface, controls up to three stages of heating and does not control humidification and dehumidification, like ecobee’s flagship Smart Thermostat. It can be used independently or as individual zone control in conjunction with the more feature-laden Smart Thermostat, says ecobee founder and CEO Stuart Lombard.
Pricing will reflect the streamlined features. Although ecobee sells through home automation dealers, HVAC installers and builders, Lombard says the Si thermostat will have an MSRP of around $250, versus $469 for the flagship model.
Humidity and dehumidification can still be delivered to a zone with the Si, via a central Smart Thermostat, Lombard says.
In addition, the Smart Si has a built-in live weather function and uses advanced algorithms to be sure the thermostat is always saving the most energy possible. Automatic alerts and reminders notify you when your HVAC equipment is due for service, if there is an equipment malfunction or when it’s time to change your filter.
The thermostats offer seven-day programming and can be fitted with ZigBee wireless radios for communication with a utility smart meter for smart grid applications.
Mobile Connectivity Rules
The original ecobee Smart Thermostat helped break the mundane thermostat mold by offering Wi-Fi connectivity. Apps for mobile smartphone use are available, and Lombard says checking and changing thermostat controls via smartphones is about the most popular feature among users.
“Between BlackBerries, Android phones and iPhones, that’s how people live their lives, and they expect it to be on their phones, so as a company we’re focused on that and reporting analytics,” he says.
Is a Web Portal Needed?
Ecobee’s web portal provides users information on how much energy they’re using and saving, and results can be downloaded to spreadsheets for those who want that kind of detailed information. The web portal can tell a user how much he or she might save if the temperature is set at 70, 72 or 74 degrees (Fahrenheit), Lombard says.
A big part of ecobee’s appeal has been, that “people don’t want to fiddle with their thermostats, but want to know it’s working. They prefer to set it and forget it,” Lombard says. However, he says some people want the web portal and information to analyze their energy usage and savings.
“Managing heating and cooling as a home user is the best return on investment you can make [in terms of energy efficiency],” he says. After all, heating and cooling uses more than 50 percent of a home’s energy.
Learning and Micro-adjustments Not Needed
Ecobee thermostats don’t “learn” your patterns like the Nest Learning Thermostat is designed to do, because “we don’t live our lives by the same schedule seven days a week,” Lombard says.
And although ecobee thermostats are intelligent enough to determine how well insulated a home is and how well the HVAC system is working, Lombard is not a big believer in using that information to make automated micro-adjustments to the temperature set point, as EcoFactor software does. “We’re big on modeling the home for energy efficiency, but we’re not convinced that making micro-adjustments will drive significant savings—and it may even lead to more costs. It’s not something our customers are pushing us for.”
However, Lombard is convinced that smart and connected thermostats like ecobee’s will become the norm. “This type of technology going to be in at least 50 percent of thermostats sold in next few years,” he says.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates