As the owner of a couple of vacation homes in climates more extreme than Seattle’s, I’ve had plans for a while now to eventually install thermostats in those houses which I could control remotely. In the winter, I could turn on the heat at my Utah house the day before I arrive so it’s nice and toasty when I arrive. In the summer, I could turn in the A/C at the log cabin in Eastern Washington right when we jump in the car to head over there, so it’s not too hot to sleep when we show up. Unfortunately, I could never find the perfect thermostat for the job. All of the ones I considered were either too expensive, or required proprietary furnaces, or weren’t user-friendly, or required subscription fees to monitor and manage.
Then I stumbled across the ecobee (pronounced EE-ko-bee).
The ecobee Thermostat at a glance
With an MSRP of $469 (but you can find them online for under $400), the ecobee thermostat isn’t cheap – but for what it can do, it’s still a bargain. ecobee’s marketing pitch says “The Internet enabled, wireless ecobee Smart Thermostat allows you to manage your home comfort from anywhere at anytime. Unique features automate energy conservation to help you conserve energy, save money and reduce your environmental impact.” At first glance, it functions as an elegant-yet-simple high definition touch screen replacement for your standard thermostat. But what makes the ecobee really sexy from a geek’s perspective is that it communicates with ecobee’s servers over your WiFi network and through your broadband connection, making your thermostat accessible via ecobee’s website and free iPhone app (more on that later). ecobee’s current offerings include a residential model (designed for homes) and a commercial model (designed for offices).
Buying an ecobee thermostat
I first contacted a heating supply wholesaler near my Utah house (I found their contact info on ecobee’s site) to see if they would sell me an ecobee thermostat directly. They claimed that they only sell to HVAC contractors, so I called the guys who had originally installed my HVAC system to see if they could make me a deal. They quoted me $475 for the unit, plus about 2 hours of install time. Ouch! I knew I could buy the ecobee online for under $400, so I asked if I could pay them just to install it. They refused, so I decided I’d just take a crack at installing it myself.
After a little bit of online research, I purchased a residential model from Alpine Home Air Products. They were helpful, friendly, and extremely knowledgeable about HVAC products, including the ecobee. The sales rep informed me that they used one at their office, and love it. If you’re considering buying an ecobee thermostat online, I highly recommend Alpine Home Air Products. I completed my purchase over the phone and chose the two-day shipping option so that it would arrive in Utah a couple days before I went back home to Seattle.
Getting Ready to Install the ecobee
During my two-day wait, I read the very well-written installation manual online as well as a few comments across the web from current ecobee owners. Most of what I read suggested that unless you’re familiar with HVAC units, you should have a professional installer help you. While I’m not very familiar with HVAC units (I’ve replaced “dumb” thermostats in the past, but that’s about it), I do consider myself pretty handy and I decided that I’d give it a shot myself before calling in an expert. I was emboldened by the guys at Alpine who assured me that they would happily help walk me through any questions over the phone – even if that meant going wire-by-wire with me as I installed it. As it turns out, the installation was a breeze. As long as you know the particulars about your HVAC setup (such as how many stages in your heating and cooling systems, whether you have a heat-pump, humidifier, an A/C unit, a dehumidifier, a ventilator, etc.) then you should be able to install your Ecobee in about an hour. However, I had no idea what type of system I had, so I called Alpine again. One of their reps instructed me to take the cover off my existing thermostat and read to him the wire colors and letters:
I also told the Alpine rep that I had an after-market humidifier attached to my furnace, but that it was operated by a separate (and very cheap looking) humidistat with a low-tech plastic control knob. To my geeky delight, he informed me that I could disconnect that low-tech device and wire the thermostat directly to the ecobee, which also has a built-in humidity sensor. My awesome sense started tingling, and I waited impatiently for my ecobee thermostat to arrive.
Installing the ecobee thermostat
My ecobee arrived at the end of the next day and I tore into the box, which contained:
- the thermostat unit
- a small battery
- an equipment interface Unit (referred to as an EI)
- an installation manual, a quick-start guide, and a full user manual
Installation is done in two parts: First, all of the wiring from your furnace connects to the equipment interface, which is designed to be mounted near your furnace. Second, you only need four wires to connect the interface unit to the thermostat (which is likely less than the number of wires you already have running between your currently thermostat and your furnace). My existing thermostat had 6-conductor wire, which you can see above. The only additional item I needed to purchase to complete the job was six feet of 8-conductor thermostat wire (readily available from any local hardware store). I already had some screws in my toolbox which I needed to mount the equipment interface unit to the wall next to my furnace.
First, after shutting off the breaker to the furnace, I disconnected the 6 existing thermostat wires from inside the furnace and pulled the existing 6-conductor cable out of the furnace (again, the other ends of these wires were still connected to my existing thermostat upstairs). Here’s what the existing furnace connections looked like before I unhooked them (it’s always smart to take a photo of existing installations BEFORE unhooking anything):
In addition to the six wires in this photo that are connected to the existing thermostat (W2->Blue, G->Green, COM->Brown, W->White, Y->Yellow, R->Red), there is an additional Red wire with a spade connector near the top of the image that connects to the humidifier (labelled HUM) and a Red/White pair that connects to the A/C unit via Y and COM (common ground for 24V powered devices) terminals.
After disconnecting the existing thermostat from the furnace, I used my new 8-conductor cable to connect the furnace to the six matching terminals on the ecobee equipment interface, then I used the two remaining (Orange and Black) wires in the 8-conductor cable to connect the R and COM terminals in the furnace to the 24V power connection on the interface. You could optionally power the interface unit with a 12V adapter available from your ecobee dealer or Radio Shack, but it’s more convenient to wire it directly as I did.
I also removed the existing White (COM) cable that previously connected my humidifier to the low-tech humidistat and reconnected it directly to the ACC1 (Accessory 1) connection on the equipment interface. All of the connections were clearly explained in the installation manual.
Here’s what my ecobee equipment interface unit looks like after it was all wired up:
Notice that the six connections on the top-right are the same as the existing connections on my old thermostat. The Orange/Black pair in the top-left are 24V power, and the single white connection from the cable at the bottom of the photo connects to the humidifier.
The final connection is shown in the lower-left corner of the above photo. Because the main wiring is done between the equipment interface and the furnace, you only need four wires to connect the equipment interface to the touch-screen thermostat unit: Red (Power), Green (Ground), Blue (D+), and (D-). The two “D” wires (which I assume stands for “Data”) handle the communication between the thermostat and the equipment interface units. I merely re-used 4 wires from the existing 6-conductor thermostat cable that ran upstairs to the thermostat location.
After prettying up the wire connections, here’s how the connection between the equipment interface and the furnace looks:
The Red wire at the top of the image connects the humidifier to the HUM connector in the furnace and the White wire connects to the ACC1 terminal in the equipment interface. The three cables coming from the left side of the equipment interface are (from top to bottom): the 8-conductor wire providing the main connections and power from the furnace, the other end of the white wire from the humidifier, and the re-purposed 6-conductor wire running upstairs to the existing thermostat location (with only 4 wires connected).
Installing the Touch Screen
Connecting the touch-screen thermostat unit was the final step. The thermostat comes apart into two pieces: the rear piece acts like a wiring harness, into which the four wires from the equipment interface connect. I snapped the small battery into the thermostat, then clicked it into place. I ran back downstairs, did a quick visual inspection to verify all my connections, then turned on the furnace’s breaker to power everything up. I ran upstairs and was greeted with a glowing thermostat:
Setup and Configuration
I spent the next few minutes tinkering with the ecobee’s interface. I went into Settings and walked through the Installation Wizard, which asks a number of questions about your setup (I answered 2 stage heat, 1 stage cool, and a humidifier connected to ACC1). I then ran the WiFi connection wizard which scanned and found my network, prompted me for my wireless password, and then verified that everything was working by connecting to ecobee’s website. It also allowed me to create a free monitoring account right on the unit, which I found very cool.
The ecobee’s interface is extremely intuitive and reminded me very much of my iPhone. Sliding your finger to adjust the temperature set point is easy. If you tap the weather icon in the lower left corner, you’ll get a weather forecast for your area (based on your zip code). You can quickly program Wake, Away, Home, and Sleep times for any combination of days so that your thermostat conserves energy when you’re not at home. Vacation Mode allows you to tell your thermostat when you’ll be away from the house so that it conserves energy while you’re gone, but has the place back to cozy (or cool) when you return. Quick Save Mode lets you move your set point up or down any number of degrees (the default is 4) for a few hours with a single button press if you decide to leave the house and want to save energy while you’re gone.
Remote Access of the ecobee
While you can access all the settings and programming options for your ecobee through its well thought-out interface, you don’t need to. Using the email address and password I entered when I set up the thermostat, I was able to quickly log in on ecobee.com and gain access to all the available settings on my thermostat, in addition to detailed reports on temperature and humidity, and precise details on exactly when my HVAC system heats or cools and for how long. This is the best way to access the full array of features and settings of your ecobee.
However, as powerful as ecobee’s web interface is, my favorite way to access my thermostat is with ecobee’s free iPhone app. It doesn’t let you access anywhere near as many settings as the web interface or touch-screen, but it does allow you to access the most commonly used features, such as temperature set point, System Mode (Heat, Cool, Auto, or Off), fan settings, Vacation Mode, and Quick Save Mode. The iPhone app’s interface looks almost identical to the touch-screen interface:
The day after I installed the ecobee, I woke up in the wee hours early and felt cold. I grabbed my iPhone from my nightstand charger, clicked the ecobee app icon (which automatically logged me in) and slid the temperature two degrees warmer. By the time I placed my iPhone back in its clock-radio charging station, the furnace was blowing warmer air into my bedroom. I went back to sleep for a couple more hours before my alarm went off. Bumping up the heat without having to remove my covers? Now that’s geeky goodness I could get used to.
Drawbacks and Suggestions
I’ve been back home in Seattle for a few days now, and I’ve been checking in on my ecobee remotely with my iPhone app and the web interface. So far, it’s been operating as it should. However, I do have one major concern with the unit, as well as a few suggestions for some minor improvements.
First, while the iPhone app and ecobee.com web interface are great, both remote access methods rely on ecobee’s private servers to provide remote access to your thermostat. If ecobee ever disappears, or their web server dies, so does your ability to use this thermostat for its intended purpose. Any device this smart that sits on your network and has an IP address should have a user-accessible web interface. But the ecobee doesn’t, which is a big drawback for me. Just as I can with my router, modem, wireless printer, and a host of other network-enabled devices in my house (including my Yamaha piano), I should be able to access and control my ecobee thermostat directly from any web browser on the local network, as well as set up a port forwarding rule on my router to access my ecobee from any remote browser using a dynamic DNS service. If that functionality were added, I’d also like to see the ability for the iPhone app to optionally bypass ecobee.com’s server and control the thermostat directly via an IP address. I’m not a fan of doing away with the hosted application altogether. There are a number of good reasons to give a hosted app the ability to control the thermostat and also to have the thermostat report status back to “the mothership.” The perfect scenario for me would be to allow both.
While we’re on the subject of networking, I was a little disappointed that the ecobee’s equipment interface required a WiFi connection and didn’t also support an Ethernet cable connection. I realize I’m probably the minority, but my furnace happens to be in the same room as my wireless router, so running a cable would have been preferable to relying on a wireless connection. Wired Ethernet is generally more reliable than WiFi and less prone to interference.
Compared with older touch-screens I’ve used, the ecobee’s touch screen is pretty good. But perhaps because I’m so used to using my fingers on an iPhone touch-screen, I sometimes get unexpected results when using the touch-screen on the ecobee. The screen sometimes scrolls unexpectedly when I want to select an option, or selects an option when I actually wanted to scroll. To be fair, this isn’t a “showstopper” type of bug, but it is a minor annoyance that I experience every now and then when I’m forced to use the touch screen. If the iPhone app allowed me access to all the same functions as the touch screen interface, this wouldn’t be an issue, but it doesn’t. Which actually brings me to my next drawback.
Another problem with the ecobee is the limited feature set in its iPhone app. An iPhone screen is about the same size as the thermostat’s touch screen, and both operate without the need for any hard buttons (yay!). But the iPhone app doesn’t allow you to do any programming on the ecobee, or access any of the main settings. Of course, I can understand why ecobee wouldn’t want you to be able to change the wireless settings remotely (you could accidentally cut off your remote access), but everything else really should be fair game. I’m hoping we’ll see this in a future iPhone app update.
Another weakness of the iPhone app is that if you connect to your ecobee while it’s in Vacation Mode (which mine is most of the time because it’s a vacation house) you can’t see the current temperature or humidity. The screen merely displays that you’re in Vacation Mode, and your only option is to press “OK” to return it to its regular mode. The ecobee.com web interface allows you to see the current settings, but I’d rather the iPhone app let me see more.
Another iPhone app drawback
that I’ve heard about (but not seen for myself yet) is that if the Internet connection to the ecobee is lost, the iPhone app displays the last known temperature readings and settings for the device instead of the actual ones, and doesn’t alert the user that the WiFi connection is down, so there’s no way of knowing while you’re using the iPhone app if you’re really connecting to the ecobee and controlling it. The ecobee can alert you via email for a number of reasons (temperatures or humidity outside specific ranges, reminders to change filters) so I know this is possible. I’d really like to see ecobee fix this iPhone app issue with an update, as well as add support to their web interface to alert the owner if ecobee loses network connection to the thermostat for a specified period of time.
My final suggestion for improvement is driven by my own usage of the ecobee. I have mine installed in my Utah house where I usually spend one week every month. During that week, my wake, sleep, away, home schedule is pretty consistent – and so I’d love to be able to program my preferred temperature set points for those times and then put the unit into Vacation Mode when I’m not there. The problem is that while actual vacation dates are usually known in advance, my travel schedule to my Utah house isn’t 100% consistent and I usually don’t know the exact date of my next trip before I end a current trip. I’m afraid that if I guess at a Vacation Mode end date and then end up going a week or a month later than planned, the system would come out of vacation mode way before I arrive there and I would heat and/or cool an empty house and waste a lot of money.
Another option is foregoing Vacation Mode and just putting the unit into an indefinite hold at a low (or high) set point right before I leave, and then remotely telling it to resume normal operation the day before I return.
However I’m afraid that a power failure might return the unit to normal operating mode weeks before I return. I may have to check with ecobee support to see what happens if power to the equipment interface and/or thermostat is interrupted. ecobee support informed me that the ecobee uses a non-volatile FlashRam and will maintain its settings, programs and preferences indefinitely. So if I have my ecobee into a Hold event when it loses power, it will resume the Hold after the power has been restored.
Another option is to have my ecobee set so that all-day every day is “Away” mode and have it set to heat below 50 degrees and cool above 95 degrees – and then use a manual hold at a comfortable temperature when I’m at the Utah house. But I’d love to have some sort of option for an alternate “Occupied” program that I could remotely switch over to the day before I leave that includes my wake, sleep, away, and home settings for when I’m there, and then switch back to the “Unoccupied” program when I’m not. Another solution would be to allow an open-ended Vacation mode, since I always know when I’m going to leave the Utah house but I don’t always know when I’ll be back. Or perhaps there could be a combination of Vacation Mode with the my suggested Occupied/Unoccupied Modes in some sort of “Inverse Vacation Mode.” I could use the web interface to manually set an Occupied start and end date once I know my travel schedule for an upcoming visit, and it would use my Occupied settings for wake, sleep, away, and home settings during that date range, and then automatically return to the Unoccupied settings at the end of that date range.
I suppose I could just reprogram the device before every trip, which wouldn’t be very difficult. Still, I’d much rather have the ability to have two sets of complete programs and then just switch back and forth. And I bet other vacation or part-time residence owners would love an option like that, too.
Final Thoughts on the ecobee Thermostat
Here are my final impressions of ecobee’s Smart Thermostat:
- Relatively easy to install
- Initial configuration is very easy
- Complete and detailed documentation
- Extremely easy to use
- Good set of features
- Free iPhone app with intuitive interface
- No subscription fee required for web access
- Priced for early adopters
- No direct access or embedded web interface (requires third-party interaction for remote access)
- Requires wireless network (has no Ethernet interface)
- Touch screen can be finicky (minor annoyance only)
- iPhone app doesn’t allow programming, access to system settings, or Vacation Mode temperature display
- iPhone app may display inaccurate information if connection is lost
- ecobee’s servers don’t proactively alert owner if connection is lost
- Only one “main” program, so programming for part-time or vacation residences could be improved
Overall, the ecobee is a great smart thermostat with an excellent interface, detailed documentation, and terrific features. The small annoyances shouldn’t be enough to scare anyone off, particularly since bugs can be fixed and new features added via firmware and/or app updates (it’s already connected to ecobee’s servers so updates should be a breeze).
ecobee’s got a winner on its hands, and you should get one in yours.
If you really wanna geek out with the ecobee, check out this link over at the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology site to see internal photos and bunches of technical documents.
11/24/2010 Usage Update:
After being away from the Utah house for almost a week, I’m happy to report that the ecobee is still working great. I’ve been enjoying using the reporting feature to see how things are going, so I thought I’d share a copy of the current graph:
The ecobee seems to collect and report data back to the mothership (ecobee.com) every 5 minutes or so. There are a couple gaps in the data collection (Nov 22 after midnight and Nov 22 after 4PM) which I believe were caused by network issues (could be my wireless connection, or my router, or my ISP, or ecobee’s servers).
The key at the bottom of the image helps identify the different values on the chart. The top chart shows temperatures (left Y axis) and humidity (right Y axis) over time (X axis showing dates and hours). The bottom chart shows HVAC system usage such as heating, cooling, and fan activity using the same X axis as the top chart. The bottom chart also shows how many of the minutes in the 5-minute data collection cycle were used for that HVAC activity.
Looking at the charts, the red and blue dotted lines show my desired heat and cool settings (the set points I chose in my programming). You can see where I changed the programming a couple times as I experimented with the unit. I’ve now got my ecobee programmed to my normal wake, away, home, sleep schedule when I’m in Utah. Rather than use Vacation Mode (see above for why I don’t like Vacation Mode), I’m using an indefinite hold to keep the house above 50F while I’m not there.
The green sloping line is the indoor temperature at the Utah house. As would be expected, this has been slowly drifting down since I left last week. The black line is the outdoor temperature. Utah got hit with a cold front last night, and you can see how the big drop in the black line affected the green line – it helped pull the indoor temperature down to 50F, which is where I told the thermostat I wanted to keep the house while I’m gone so that the water pipes don’t freeze.
Because I was aware that a cold front was coming, I remotely set the ecobee to run the fan for at least 10 mins per hour in an attempt to see if circulating the air in the house would help pull insulated warmer air from the basement and to slow the decent of the indoor temperature and reduce the need for heating. You can see the grey lines showing when the fan turned on in the bottom graph starting at around midnight on the 24th. Then, at approximately 4:40am, the indoor temperature finally hit my set point of 50F, so my ecobee gave the house a shot of stage 1 heat (shown in red in the bottom graph). It needed another short blast at 6:45am, and then a couple bigger ones at 9:45am and then again at 10:45am. My wallet is crying.
I turned the fan-only settings off early this morning, because it didn’t seem to make much difference. However, now that it’s cold enough that it looks like the furnace will be turning on regularly throughout the day, I’m going to tell the thermostat to run the fan for at least 5 mins per hour in an attempt to circulate the heated air around the house. Will it work? I don’t know yet – but that’s the beauty of the ecobee. I can sit in my warm house in Seattle and play with the thermostat settings in my cold house in Utah – and I get geeky charts to show me the effects of my tinkering!
I’ve lost contact with my ecobee. I can access my router at the Utah house and I see all my other wired and wireless devices active in my device list, but I don’t see the ecobee on the list and the reporting function on the ecobee.com website shows no reported data after 11/26. So either it’s lost power or lost connectivity to the network. I really wish the ecobee had a feature that alerted the homeowner via email and/or SMS when connection is lost for a set amount of time. Also, this outage allowed me confirm the iPhone app bug I’d heard about where the app appears like it’s connecting just fine to the ecobee, even though I KNOW the ecobee is offline. There’s no error message on the iPhone app
or the web interface telling me they’ve lost the connection with the thermostat. The only reason I noticed is because the reports are empty. I’ve called a techie friend in Utah who is going to head over to the house later today to tell me what he sees on the ecobee screen and then we’ll try to troubleshoot. I’ll post another update here later tonight after we (hopefully) get it back online.
11/29/2010 Update 2:
My friend Kevin was kind enough to go by my place and check on my thermostat. He called me on the phone and acted as my eyes and ears as we walked through some troubleshooting. When he checked the thermostat upstairs, the screen on the ecobee was dark and it didn’t respond to any input. Not good. He went downstairs to the furnace room to check on the ecobee interface module, and the green power light was not on. Still not good. We checked the breaker – it was fine (but we flipped it off and on for good measure anyway). I walked Kevin through opening the main access panel and then removing the lower panel that hides the wiring. He remarked that the Status Code light on the furnace circuit board was blinking: 2 fast blinks then 4 slow blinks. A quick Google search told me that this probably means the 3 amp fuse on the circuit board is blown. Kevin checked the fuse. Yep! It’s blown.
I didn’t have any extra fuses on hand, but Kevin is going to pick some up tomorrow morning and we’ll try simply replacing it. However, I have a hunch that the fuse will simply blow again, so what I really want to do is figure out what’s causing the fuse to blow. The furnace worked for years with the old thermostat without a single glitch, so the problem must stem from my recent installation of the ecobee. However, at this point, it’s impossible to know if the ecobee itself is causing the issue, or if perhaps as I wired it up I inadvertently left part of a wire exposed which, after a week’s worth of vibration (as the furnace worked to keep the house above 50F during a spell of extremely cold weather) has moved to the point where it’s now touching something it shouldn’t be, thereby creating an unwanted short.
Kevin is heading back out there tomorrow morning with a box of 3 amp fuses and we’ll try to figure it out (Kev – you should REALLY get an iPhone 4 so we could FaceTime this! ). Again, our first step will be to simply pop in a new fuse and see if it blows. If it does (and I really think it will), we’ll need to find out if it’s the furnace or the thermostat that is blowing it. I’ll have him disconnect all the wires from the furnace terminals that connect to the ecobee. Then, I’ll have him jump the R and W terminals (connect them together) on the furnace manually, which will tell the furnace to heat. If that blows the fuse, then the problem is with the furnace, and I’ll have to hire an HVAC specialist to check it out. If it doesn’t blow the fuse, then we’ll reconnect the wires to the ecobee’s interface unit and then I’ll remotely tell the thermostat to heat. If that blows the fuse, then we know we’ve either got a problem with the ecobee itself or the wiring to it, and we’ll keep troubleshooting from there.
Stay tuned to see how this exciting HVAC saga turns out (and thanks, Kevin, for helping me out)!
Kevin called me this morning after visiting a few home improvement and auto parts stores in the area – all of which were out of 3 amp fuses. Apparently they are popular with furnaces this time of year. He eventually found one at O’Reilly Auto Parts, and bought a five pack.
Kevin called me from my house and the first thing we did was what all geeks should do: connect his laptop to my WiFi and try to establish a video conference! I was able to hear him, and he was able to see and hear me, but we weren’t able to get his camera going so we bagged the idea and reverted to ancient VoIP technology. Kevin popped in the fuse and the green light on the ecobee’s interface module system lit up as the ecobee came back online. I watched via my router interface as the ecobee made itself aware to my router and received its reserved IP address. I then logged in to the ecobee.com web interface to try and control the router, and noticed a feature that I had previously ignored. In the top right corner of the interface (next to the Logout button) it read “Thermostat is not connected.” I’m glad to see that the web interface keeps track of whether or not the ecobee is commmunicating back to the mothership, so I’ll keep bugging ecobee to add functionality to their web interface that allows the system to proactively alert me of that fact. After a few minutes, that message changed to “Thermostat is connected” and I had full remote control of my ecobee once again!
Kevin let the heat run for 10 minutes or so before he buttoned everything back up on the furnace. We also pulled apart some of the wires that run from the furnace to the ecobee, just in case any were shorting. Hopefully, I won’t blow any more fuses before I head back to Utah in a a little over a week. When I get there, I’ll rewire everything and keep a close eye out for any nicks in the wire insulation. So, while I’m glad the system is working again, I’m a little uneasy about the fact that I have no idea what caused the fuse to blow, and I still have some investigating ahead of me.
Big thanks to Kevin for taking time off work (and dragging his son along with him) to help out a friend in need. L&L is on me next time I’m in town, Kev!
Here’s the graph showing my ecobee is back to life (and that the furnace is back with it and heating the house back up to 50F):
11/30/2010 Update 2:
About 10 mins after making the above blog post, ecobee.com lost connection to my thermostat. I connected to my router remotely and saw that while the DHCP lease was still active, the wireless signal from the ecobee wasn’t shown. That means it’s offline. I suspected the fuse was blown again.
I contacted PPM Plumbing Heating and Cooling and they dispatched a technician, who was at my house in less than 30 minutes (impressive). He called me when he arrived (as requested) so I could talk him through getting into the house (note to self – change access code on next trip) and downstairs to the furnace. I explained how the ecobee worked (to which he replied “that sounds really cool!”) and he took the panel off the furnace. Blown fuse. He’s troubleshooting now and should call me back with an update (although I can see that he at least got it powered up again – the ecobee website says it’s connected again and my router confirms wireless signal). Stay tuned!
11/30/2010 Update 3:
PPM’s technician (Ben) called within seconds of me finishing that last update.
He said he replaced the fuse and that the system fired up again (not a big surprise) and that it had been running for about 10 mins now without blowing the fuse. Ben then actually asked me if I just wanted him to just leave it like that. I politely explained that since I had already replaced one fuse today less than an hour ago, simply replacing another and crossing our fingers just didn’t feel like the right option. He quoted me $187 to rewire everything, to which I reluctantly agreed (although I suppose busted pipes would be much more expensive). Let’s hope Ben’s re-wiring does the trick. Stay tuned!
11/30/2010 Update 4:
Ben called back after re-wiring everything and reported that the system seemed to be working…. for a few minutes. He said that when he first turned on the system after the rewire he came upstairs and saw that the thermostat was dark, so he went back downstairs to check the connections (everything seemed fine) and that when he went upstairs again the thermostat was powered and the heat turned on. Yay! But victory was short-lived. Ben said a few minutes later, the fan stopped and the screen on the thermostat went dark. However, this time, the fuse was NOT blown.
Ben’s voltage meter is showing that we are getting 24V coming from the furnace to the ecobee interface unit, but that we’re not getting 12V coming out to power the wall-mount unit. Diagnosis? We think the equipment interface may have been causing the short and is now fried. Whats interesting is that it’s not completely dead – the status lights on the equipment interface motherboard still light up (the power light is on and the communication failure light is on). So while it may not be totally dead, there’s no 12V power coming out to power the thermostat unit, so we can’t use it.
While Ben and I were on one phone doing all this, I called ecobee tech support and spoke with Bobby, who was very friendly and helpful. He walked us through a few different troubleshooting attempts, but in the end his diagnosis matched ours: the equipment interface needs to be replaced. Bobby took my contact info and explained that everyone except tech support had already left the office for the day (ecobee is a few time zones ahead of me in Toronto), but that he would contact me again tomorrow morning to arrange a warranty swap of the interface. That’s the true measure of a company’s customer service – not that they have glitch free products (hey, I’ve been a geek long enough to know that all hardware goes bad eventually), but how they handle it when the inevitable happens. ecobee seems to be handling it well.
I asked Ben to re-install my old-school thermostat so that I can keep the house above 50F until I arrive back in Utah in a couple weeks (to a cold house, unfortunately). That should give me plenty of time to get the replacement equipment interface unit from ecobee, and verify that the system doesn’t blow any fuses using the original thermostat (but only if I can convince my friend Kevin to drop by the house a few times between now and then).
Last week, before returning to Utah, I spoke on the phone with David in tech support at Alpine Home Air Products and got a few more suggestions for troubleshooting. He said that even though the ecobee manual says it shouldn’t matter, he recommends wiring the 24V power lead from the furnace to the top connector on the ecobee interface unit and the COM to the bottom one, and that it’s possible my short could have been caused by something as simple as that. He recommended I try that first, and if it didn’t work he’d gladly replace my ecobee under warranty.
I arrived back at my Utah house yesterday. The old-school thermostat was still functioning, and the furnace had been keeping the house above 50F. This confirms in my mind that whatever was causing the 3 amp fuse to blow had to be related to the ecobee thermostat, the ecobee interface unit, or the wiring to either of these devices. I wanted to do some troubleshooting for myself, because as I mentioned in my 11/30 Update #4, I found it extremely strange that Ben from PPM’s voltage meter showed 24V going in to the ecobee interface unit and turning on the green LED status light, but that 12V was not coming out of the interface unit to feed power to the thermostat. I found this strange because when electronics short out, they generally won’t power up at all. If the interface unit was fried, I would have expected the LED light to be off.
I switched off the furnace and disconnected all the wiring that Ben from PPM had done. Then I rewired power to the ecobee interface unit, making sure (as suggested by David at Alpine) to connect the orange wire from the furnace’s R terminal to the top 24V connector on the ecobee interface unit and the black wire from the furnace’s common ground (COM) to the bottom connector. During my original install, I had connected the back on top and the orange on bottom, since the ecobee manual said it didn’t matter which went where. I switched the furnace back on. The ecobee interface unit’s LED lights ran through a test (all four lights fire sequentially). When the test was over, two lights remained lit: the top green light indicating power (always a good sign) and the bottom red light indicating a communications error – which I totally expected since I hadn’t connected the thermostat.
I grabbed my voltage meter and tested the 24V terminals on the ecobee interface unit. My meter showed 25.8 volts AC. This is also what Ben from PPM saw, and was also exactly what I expected (otherwise, the LED lights wouldn’t have lit up). Next, I tested the bottom two terminals on interface unit that supply 12V power to the thermostat. My tester showed some strange negative numbers. That’s when I remembered something else that David at Alpine had mentioned on the phone: the incoming voltage to the ecobee interface unit is 24V AC (alternating current) but the power going to the thermostat is 12V DC (direct current). Of course, I would have realized this had I paid closer attention to pages 5 and 6 of the ecobee’s installation manual. I switched my voltage meter to DC and presto: 12.22 volts DC was coming from the terminals. Ben from PPM was wrong. The thermostat power terminals on the interface unit weren’t dead, he just wasn’t measuring it right!
But Ben had also reported that even with the ecobee interface unit connected to the furnace and powered on, the ecobee thermostat upstairs didn’t work. That what I decided to check next. I finished wiring the rest of the furnace terminals to the ecobee interface unit as I had originally, then I reconnected the 4 wires going upstairs to the bottom left terminals on the interface unit. Finally, I went back upstairs to disconnect the old thermostat and reconnect the ecobee’s wiring harness bracket. After completing all the wiring and powering the system back on, I carefully pushed the ecobee thermostat back into the wiring harness bracket… and it sprang to life! After its boot sequence (which displays a bee with wings flapping for a few minutes), the normal interface appeared – with my original settings and programming intact! This confirms what ecobee support told me about its solid state memory.
However, this was both good and bad news. Good news, of course, because my ecobee wasn’t fried and seemed to be operating normally. But the bad news was that I still didn’t know what was causing the short in the first place. I had already switched the 24V wiring into the interface unit as suggested, so maybe that solved it. I let the furnace heat for an hour, and the fuse didn’t blow. And while that was encouraging, before declaring victory I wanted to make sure the system wouldn’t short out and blow the fuse again during a cold snap in my absence, so I decided to do one more wiring change.
Any electrician will tell you that most electrical shorts are caused by grounding problems. And while I was rewiring the ecobee interface unit back to the furnace this time around, I had some difficulty getting all three wires that needed to use the furnace’s common ground terminal (the ecobee interface unit, the humidifier, and the A/C unit) to stay in place with a good connection. I could get two connected well, but I was always able to wiggle the third one free with little effort. So I decided to used a wire nut to connect the three device’s ground wires to a fourth wire: a short piece of red wire that Ben had left of the ground. Then I connected that short red wire to the COM terminal on the furnace. This ensures that all the ground wires stay connected, and greatly reduce the risk of any shorts.
Here’s what everything looks like now:
The only difference to the wiring in the above photo is the orange wire from the furnace’s R terminal is connected to the top 24V terminal on the ecobee interface unit and the black wire COM wire is on the bottom.
The terminals in the furnace in the above photo are the same as I wired them originally, with the exception of the wire nut connecting the white wire from the humidifier, the brown wire from the ecobee interface unit’s ACC1r terminal, and the black wire from the ecobee’s 24V power terminal to a small red wire connected to the furnace’s COM terminal. This should ensure a good ground to all the devices that require one.
The furnace ran just fine for the rest of the afternoon and evening (and it worked hard to get the house back to 73 degrees). It also ran fine overnight and has been working normally all day today so far. Hopefully, whatever was causing the short that blew the fuse was solved either by switching the 24V leads to the interface unit as suggested by David at Alpine, consolidating all the ground wires with the wire nut, or a combination of both.
So far, so good! Hopefully, I’ll only have to post one more update when I leave next week to say that everything worked great all week!
I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m hoping this will be my last update for this post. It’s been 9 days since I re-wired the ecobee, and so far it’s still performing flawlessly. I enjoy being able to check on the house remotely, and I’ve currently got the thermostat set in Vacation Mode. I’ve purchased three more for other properties, and look forward to further enjoying the benefits of this great product.
I’ve written a new follow-up post here.
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