Ecobee Enters Emerging ‘Smart’ Thermostat Fray

We’re in an age in which consumers expect their gadgets to have brains. There’s smart phones, smart dishwashers, and smart coffee makers. Add to that the fact that so many of us are looking for ways to cut our energy usage, and it’s no surprise that the latest device to get a “smart” make-over has been the up-till-now-humble thermostat.

Just last week we wrote about the futuristic-looking Nest thermostat, which was created by a couple of former Apple engineers. Now Honeywell, one of the largest manufacturers of thermostats, is suing that company for copyright infringement, claiming, essentially, that it cornered the market on the “smart” technology features first.

Meanwhile, yet another thermostat maker, ecobee (pronounced “ecko-bee”), recently launched yet another entry into the smart thermostat market, with a device that seems to more closely resemble a smartphone than a home appliance. At last month’s AHR Expo in Chicago, ecobee introduced its Smart Si thermostat, which features Wi-Fi connectivity, a built-in weather-checking function, a slick interface, and, perhaps most significantly, a dynamic contractor internet portal that’s unique to the industry. It’s not ecobee’s first “smart” thermostat — they’ve produced them for nearly four years — but it’s their most interactive one yet.

ecobee only sells its thermostats through distributors and contractors, who then sell to customers, and a big selling point is the contractor portal, which can digitally check if something is amiss, and alert both the contractor and customer (through its Wi-Fi connection) what’s up. The portal also offers contractors full HVAC reports that offer insight into their customers’ HVAC performance, regular service reminders, and details that allow the contractor to see the make and model of a customers’ equipment before they show up to the home for a service call. ecobee’s contractors — there are about 2,000 of them — can become “ecobee preferred” through an online form.

“ecobee is 100 percent committed to the channel — we’re all about not only delivering superior products to our end users, but delivering one tool that will help our contractors build their business and delivering products to the contractor that their customers will love,” said Chris Carradine, ecobee’s vice president of marketing. “Anything that we can do to help contractors build their business and become more profitable and make more money is really important to us.”

While Nest has targeted DIY home-installers, ecobee pretty clearly has the contractor in mind here, with an eye toward mobility. Carradine quoted a recent survey conducted by his company that found that 80 percent of its contractors said ecobee’s most important features were the remote connectivity and mobile apps (it has an app for the iPhone, iPad and the Android). The same survey, said Carradine, found that 24 percent of its contractors carried an iPod touch, 39 percent had an iPad, and 40 percent carried an iPhone.

“The idea of remote connectivity — being able to reach out and control heating and cooling on the customers’ own terms through tablets, smartphones and browsers — is really important,” he said. “That’s where we believe the future of the HVAC industry is going.”

Let the smart thermostat wars begin.