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Ecobee adds more smarts to its connected thermostats

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The new eco+ feature combines five new settings for improved comfort and efficiency

Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Ecobee is announcing today a new feature for its smart thermostats that adds improved home and away detection and schedule recommendation capabilities. Called eco+, this new feature combines some of the Ecobee thermostat’s existing capabilities with more advanced artificial intelligence and predictive algorithms to make heating and cooling a home even more efficient and environmentally friendly. The free eco+ feature will be available on Ecobee’s most recent thermostat, the SmartThermostat, starting today before rolling out to the Ecobee 4, Ecobee 3, and Ecobee 3 Lite models beginning in January of next year.

The eco+ feature is actually a suite of five different features, one of which is already available on Ecobee thermostats, and four entirely new features. Ecobee’s existing Smart Home and Away controls, which use the Ecobee remote sensors to attempt to determine whether you’re home and adjust the system to save energy, are getting upgraded as part of the eco+ platform and will make their adjustments quicker than before. Prior to this, Smart Home and Away would take two hours to confirm that you weren’t home and then adjust the thermostat — with eco+ they will switch the system in as little as one hour of no occupancy detected.

The other four new features are a schedule recommendation engine; a “feels like” setting that combines humidity readings and air temperature to reduce how long the system needs to work when air is dry; time of use controls to avoid using the system during peak hours; and a community energy savings function that works with utility providers to make small adjustments during peak demand to avoid brownouts and heavy strain on the grid.

Image: Ecobee

Automatic schedule adjustments are something Nest owners have been familiar with for years, but Ecobee’s approach is a little different. Instead of just automatically changing the thermostat’s program without informing you of what it’s doing, eco+’s schedule recommendations will prompt owners with suggestions for adjustments, which they can choose to accept or skip. Ecobee CEO Stuart Lombard says this was designed to keep the control of the thermostat in the hands of homeowners and to prevent surprises as to what it’s doing.

All of the eco+ features can be enabled or disabled independently and there’s a slider control in the app to go from Level 1 (eco+ off) to Level 5 (most aggressive savings). The company says that out of its test pool of 75,000 customers, most landed at Level 3 or 4, depending on which features were most valuable to them.

Lombard says that eco+ represents a giant step forward in Ecobee’s use of AI and predictive algorithms, and provides an opportunity to use them at a significant scale across the millions of people that have Ecobee thermostats installed in their homes. The system creates a thermal model for how efficiently a home is able to heat or cool, and comfort model based on the settings chosen by homeowners. It then uses those models to determine the best balance of settings for efficiency and comfort. Lombard says it takes about two weeks to build the model and start to see the effects from its learnings, and that in an independent study of 250,000 Ecobee customers, those who used eco+ (120,000 of the participants) were able to save an average of 6 percent on their HVAC costs. That’s in addition to the 23 percent that Ecobee claims to save on energy costs with its standard features.

The eco+ upgrade is offered for free to existing owners of Ecobee thermostats and for now, Ecobee doesn’t have plans to offer a paid subscription for more upgrades or features in the future.

Correction, 11:30AM ET, November 5th, 2019: An earlier version of this article misstated when older Ecobee thermostats would be getting the eco+ features and the number of participants in the study on eco+’s effectiveness.