Which Thermostat is the Smartest?
Some of the biggest spending in your home budget goes to heating and cooling. If the thermostat that controls your heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning, or HVAC, system is smart enough, though, you can save money while enjoying optimal temperature comfort. So lets dive right into these products…
Nest 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat
Seems it can do it all; even tell the time. $249 & Free shipping here.
With an attractive round appearance on your wall the Nest is probably the thermostat most likely to start a conversation with a new visitor to your home. It looks both familiar and new, and has a lot of the features that smart home users love.
- Doesn’t require a C-wire for simpler installation
- Works seamlessly with other Nest Home products
- Attractive retro-mod style and color choices fit with a lot of different homes
- Data usage reports less detailed
- Lack of C-wire means unit “borrows” power from other places in your home
- Not compatible with Apple HomeKit voice system
Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat
A little bigger and a little more money. $249.99 here.
Flat black plastic face of the ecobee4 is not unattractive, and it is not especially beautiful. It is functional and sleek and interactive and the touchscreen is responsive and effective. Designed around the idea of adding multiple room sensors throughout the house (the system can handle up to 32 sensors), the ecobee4 factors in a lot of complex data, from weather forecasts to energy rates, to keep your home comfortable and efficient.
- Works with Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, and Amazon Alexa (built in to system)
- Provides 18 months of detailed energy usage data
- Simple to program and customize settings
- Requires C-wire connection, or extra wiring installation
- Only supports geofencing with one phone device
- Black plastic touchscreen only available appearance option
Nest versus Ecobee overview
Two top names face off with competing smart thermostats that each claim to help you achieve ideal home comfort level with peak energy efficiency. From companies called Nest and ecobee come a pair of home thermostats that are sleek, well made, and full of many intriguing details and features.
Which one is for you? Compare features side-by-side and consider the specifications of your current device to see what is right for your home and your family’s comfort.
Learning as They Go
Both the Nest 3d Generation Learning Thermostat and the ecobee4 are smart thermostats designed to integrate with other smart home devices while providing efficient and smooth controls for your home’s heating and cooling systems. Both company’s product names and numbers show that they have been on the market for some time. Along the way they have learned a few things, and changed through generations of technology advancements.
Look & Feel
The look of the two is the most noticeable difference on the surface.
Nest thermostats are part of a family of Nest Home products. The 3d Generation Learning Thermostat is known for a retro round look reminiscent of old analog thermostats controls that were common in many mid-20th century American homes.
Metal and Color Choices
Now available in a range of colors as well as metal base plates in copper or silver, the Nest combines a comfortably familiar round thermostat body with a thoroughly modern digital screen. The Nest 3d generation allows the display to switch to clock or weather conditions, in addition to the temperature controls for the house.
The distinctive look of the ecobee4 is very much like previous generations in its family tree, as well, and not out of place on the wall, either. A square black touch screen with rounded corners is reminiscent of digital thermostat control panels in homes of recent decades, but with a few space age touches.
Selections of screens allow access to settings, home information, and other options of your thermostat. The current version includes Alexa built in for voice activation that works with other smart home devices, along with a blue light on top to indicate Alexa activation.
Some Similarities and Some Differences
Both smart thermostats are made to replace your home’s current HVAC control, and both require some fairly simple wiring to remove the old control panel and install the new. Only the ecobee requires a wire in your system called a “C-wire” or control wire, however.
C-wire Stress Relieved
If your current thermostat doesn’t have a C-wire, don’t fear! Boxed with the ecobee4 is a Power Extension Kit, or PEK, that allows you (or an expert) to add the needed C-wire from your home heater to the thermostat control.
To C-wire or Not to C-wire? While Nest has never required connection to a C-wire, and so is somewhat simpler to install if your home’s system does not have one, still some experts recommend that you go through a similar process to add a C-wire. Essentially the lack of the C-wire causes the Nest thermostat to “borrow” or draw power from the rest of the home, which can be a problem in some situations. If possible, it makes sense to add a C-wire for peak operation. If you are not comfortable with electrical wiring, consult with an expert.
One big difference between the Nest and ecobee in past generations of the thermostats was that the ecobee is designed from the start to include additional room sensors as part of the temperature control system. The idea makes perfect sense, and seems long overdue in the thermostat control world. Why have we not had homes with multiple sensors linked to one central control, giving us a more accurate reading of the temperature throughout the house, not just where the thermostat control is located?
The ecobee4 comes with one room sensor to be placed in another area of the house. The system is designed to be expandable, with additional sensors sold in packages of two. Users can add up to 32 sensors to the system for more detailed information about conditions from room to room.
Sensors for All
Sensors check for occupancy as well as temperature, as part of the smart design intended to shut down heating or cooling when the home is unoccupied. Nest is getting into the sensor game, too, with the current generation. The company now sells optional room sensors to add to the system for more detailed temperature and occupancy information throughout the entire home.
Without buying the two different thermostats and installing them for a test run, how do you know which is right for your home? While the two smart thermostats both do a great job of doing their work of controlling your thermostat, each has some unique stronger and weaker points to consider when deciding which is for you.
The name of the Nest Learning Thermometer gives away one of its key features: it starts with a few basic assumptions about people, homes, and comfort levels, and then it learns what you like and sets the schedule that way. The system gets clues from you as you adjust the heat up or down or add more AC in the first few days of use. The “smart” part of the device is learning what you like in comfort levels for your home, at what times and which conditions, and programming the schedule to follow your lead.
Each time you vary from the initial assumptions of an “average comfort level schedule” the Nest learns more about your preferences. The idea is that in a week or two it knows your unique quirks, when you like a little more heat or cool and when to tone it down, and then figures these into its equation of setting the schedule going forward.
The ecobee system is not much different, but with a bit more emphasis on a starting set of assumptions about normal human habits. You get three main settings for home, away, or sleeping, and the ecobee4 sets levels of heat or cool that you can adjust to your tastes. The main difference between the two seems to be a matter of preference: some people like how the Nest thermostat “learns” without a lot of programming input from you, while others like to control the settings and know when they are set to come on and go off.
As smart devices, both thermostats are compatible with voice activation systems. Nest 3d Generation works with Alexa and Google. The ecobee4 has an Alexa system built-in to integrate with other Alexa devices, including a light that indicates when Alexa is in use, or you can use it with your Google Assistant or Apple HomeKit system.
Report Back to Me
Both controls offer data reports of energy usage, which can be helpful to monitor where your power use has improved and where you could save more. Reports with the ecobee4 are much more detailed, though, providing 18 months of detailed. Called Home IQ, the data shows how local weather effected energy usage, how your home’s efficiency factored into power bills, and how your home’s energy use compares to other homes nearby.
Enough Info, or Just Less
From Nest the reports are more limited. You get 10 days of information tracking when the system went on and off and power costs, but at a lower level of detail than with the ecobee Home IQ feedback. If tracking and improving energy use to save money means a lot to you, the data you get from ecobee4 may make the difference for you.
How About Geofencing?
Since both thermostats are built around the idea of maximizing efficiency in your heating and cooling, both make efforts to not run the system when it is not needed, such as when you are away from home, especially. So, both have intelligent systems that can be programmed to link up with your smartphone’s GPS data to sense when you have left the home to turn off the system, and when you are returning, to turn it on before you arrive.
Just One Post in Your Geofence. The idea, called “geofencing” is included in both Nest 3d Generation and Ecobee4. On the Ecobee, however, the device only works with one phone, so other occupants coming and going don’t activate with the system. Nest works with multiple smartphones to try to fine-tune the system’s settings even more.
The thermostats side-by-side
One of the best ways to size up the features and options that are important to you in choosing a smart thermostat is to look at pros and cons of the two top choices and see if some of them tip the scales in favor of the things that are most important to you.
Time to Get Smart With Energy Usage
Estimates say you can save 20% or more on your power bill with a smart thermostat making the decisions about when to turn on and off your HVAC system. The Nest 3d Generation and the ecobee4 are two great choices to consider if your home is getting smarter or it is just time to upgrade your thermostat.