Thermostats

For the few times I actually used a smart thermostat, I couldn't imagine living without one.

: Dan LeFebvre on Unsplash
Categories > Gadgets > Home Automation
Competitors in this space: Nest, Ecobee, Honeywell, Emerson
Nov 7, 2019: A workaround for Home Assistant was created to access Nest devices, despite Google ending the Nest Developer program.

Google announced the end of the Works with Nest program, meaning all existing integrations (SmartThings and Home Assistant included) will stop functioning on August 31, 2019. As a result, I’ve changed my thermostat recommendation to Ecobee as their official API is still available for SmartThings and Home Assistant integration. A workaround exists for Home Assistant using the Badnest custom component.

I’ve personally tested the following:

Nest 3rd Gen Ecobee 3
Ecobee 4

What you need to know

The one time when my smart thermostat showed its value was on an especially cold night–I finished eating dinner at a restaurant and was sitting in my car, knowing I would be driving home to a freezing cold house.

The thought of it wasn’t appealing, but that was when I realized I could open the Nest app on my phone and crank up the thermostat temperature remotely. Instantly, the cold thoughts in my mind melted away, and I was excited to head home. That feeling of entering a warm house after spending hours in the cold was like taking a hot a shower after days of sweaty hiking—it was amazing—the very definition of comfort.

Living in California, I rarely use a smart thermostat to its full potential, but I can see the value for others. For people who regularly use the furnace, a smart thermostat will warm up the house at the right times and electricity cost will be slightly less than without a smart thermostat. If you live in a colder climate where chilly nights are frequent, then the thermostat’s value definitely shows. For instance, you can use a Nest thermostat to heat up the house and prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. If you’re a frugal person who never turns on the thermostat in the first place, then there is no benefit to be gained here.

Smart thermostats like Nest and Ecobee regularly go on sale so it’s easy to snag one at a reasonable price of $170.

Considerations Before Buying A Smart Thermostat

  • If integration and local data is important to you, then do not buy a Nest thermostat. Google is closing off the Nest API, which allowed other devices to control the Nest thermostat.
  • Use the Nest compatibility checker to see if your home’s existing wiring is compatible.
  • If you have two thermostats and two separate zones, you may need two smart thermostats. Some furnaces cannot maintain dual temperatures that vary too widely. Having the first floor at 60°F and the second floor at 70°F may put too much strain on your system.

What You Get With a Smart Thermostat

  • Warm up or cool down the house before arriving at home.
  • Forget about adjusting the thermostat—the home/away assist feature on the mobile app turns off the thermostat for you.
  • Get safety alerts and reminders, like extremely cold weather, to turn on the heating.
  • The thermostat learns your behaviors, like if you tend to turn on the heater after waking up.
  • Give roommates control of the thermostat via the app, if they cannot physically access it.
  • Change the thermostat temperature while staying cozy in bed.

The Ecobee4. | Ecobee

Ecobee Thermostats

I have a confession to make: I only purchased the Ecobee4 instead of a Nest thermostat because it was currently on sale. I read comparison articles but didn’t find many notable differences between the two, so I went ahead and bought it for my friend.

And lo and behold, the Ecobee is just as good as the Nest but is better in a few ways. Ecobee officially supports the SmartThings platform and is easy to set up with both SmartThings and Home Assistant. Nest is disallowing outside control of its thermostats after August 31, 2019, making Ecobee the most widely known Wi-Fi thermostat that still supports integrations. The Ecobee also includes room sensors, which can also act as really slow room occupancy sensors. In a large house where temperature varies greatly, I can see this being useful, but not a must-have.

Both the Ecobee 3 and Ecobee 4 are still available for sale. The only difference I noted was the inclusion of Amazon Alexa on the Ecobee 4, which I found to be a useless feature. The location of my thermostats are in low traffic areas (hallways, stairs), and there was rarely a time when I needed Alexa to answer a question while standing in the hallway. If I did use it, I ended up yelling while the wrong Echo speaker responded. I’m still unsure why I paid extra money for this feature.

The problems

I haven’t encountered any major problems to note. Once, the Ecobee/SmartThings integration broke and I had to log in again. I have not tested the accuracy of the Home/Away feature, but I don’t think it will be any better than Nest, so expect delayed updates up to an hour. If you want to come home to a warm house, you will (still) need to use the app.

Installation and Smart Home Integration

The physical installation process is just as easy as Nest–all steps are covered in the mobile app, with instructional videos. Labels are included for you to properly label the existing thermostat wires . There is a compatibility checker section on the Ecobee app to confirm if your home supports the Ecobee. Physical installation requires some basic do-it-yourself DIY skills like drilling holes and basic electrical wiring.

Connecting the occupancy sensors to the Ecobee is incredibly easy. Just remove the tape from the battery and the thermostat will detect the sensor and confirm with you to add to your home.

Ecobee is officially supported by SmartThings and integrates easily using a SmartThings SmartApp. Integrating with Home Assistant using the Ecobee component requires an Ecobee developer account, which is free, and the API key that comes with it.

Like the Nest, the Ecobee comes with a wall plate to hide the hole or any visible wires from the previous installation.

Home Assistant: Good
Requires an Ecobee developer account, then add the API key to the HA config. Has full functionality in HA.
Voice: Great
Officially supports Google Assistant. I rarely used it though!
SmartThings: Great
Officially supports SmartThings, easy to set up.
Ecobee App: Great
It's simple and easy to use.

The Nest 3rd Gen | Alphabet, Inc.

Nest Thermostats

Nest thermostats were my original recommendation, but Google announced it is ending the Developers for Nest program by August 31, 2019, which will break SmartThings and Home Assistant integration. Though I never used the integration in any meaningful way, it was still nice to have indoor temperature data reported in Home Assistant. With Google’s current plans to close off its smart home ecosystem, I see no reason to continue recommending Nest when Ecobee thermostats can do the same job. I just hope Ecobee doesn’t follow the same path as Nest.

If you’re fine controlling the thermostat through the app or voice control, then I recommend any smart thermostat currently on sale, which is usually the Nest E. It has all important features of the Nest 3rd Gen, but regularly goes on sale for $130 or less. Get the Nest 3rd Gen for $180 if you want a nicer looking, metal finish on your thermostat. Ecobees are just as good as Nest, so there is no wrong choice here.

Honestly, there is not much to rave or complain about – the Nest is what you expect out of a smart thermostat. The Nest app is straightforward to use, and according to this security study of smart home apps, Nest is one of the few apps that encrypts communication between the thermostat and Nest app, even when on the same local network.

The Problems

Google ended the Developers for Nest program, meaning it is not possible (through conventional ways) to control the thermostat to a home automation platform like Home Assistant or SmartThings. A workaround exists for Home Assistant using the Badnest custom component, but it uses an unadvertised web API that could be shut down in the future.

There aren’t any major problems with Nest, but the Home/Away Assist feature can be very slow to detect changes in location. I’ve compared Nest times to actual times (tracked with Home Assistant) and have seen hour-long gaps in detection. I’ve also arrived home to see that the Nest cameras remained on (should be off when someone is home) and the thermostat not adjusted. If you want to come home to a warm house, the most reliable way is to use the Nest app before heading home.

Installation and Smart Home Integration

Physical installation is not difficult, but you need to use the Nest compatibility checker if your home’s existing wiring is compatible. I had to call tech support once because there were more wires in my existing installation than what was covered in the installation guide. Physical installation requires some basic do-it-yourself DIY skills like drilling holes and handling of electrical wires.

Nest thermostats come with a wall plate to cover the gaping hole left by the previous thermostat. How nice!

Nest integrations with SmartThings and Home Assistant will break after August 31, 2019, due to the end of the Developers for Nest program. A workaround exists for Home Assistant with the Badnest custom component, but it uses an unadvertised web API that could be shut down in the future.

Very rarely do I need to change the temperature, so home automation integration is not all that important to me. I find that using the app is the most convenient way to fiddle with the thermostat.

Home Assistant: Bad
It works now, but integration will stop working after August 31, 2019.
Voice: Great
Really easy to set up through Google Home.
SmartThings: Bad
Works now, but integration will stop working after August 31, 2019.
Nest App: Great
Simple, easy-to-use.


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