5 ecobee Smart Thermostat Features You’re Missing Out On

Time flies! It seems like just yesterday that we first got our hands on the ecobee3 smart thermostat. Now, the Toronto-based company behind the ingenious technology is rolling out the ecobee4 in Canada. This next-generation device improves on its predecessors and comes fully-equipped with Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa.

If you haven’t seen an ecobee smart thermostat in action, you’re missing out. There’s a lot you can do with an ecobee beyond setting the temperature. Read on to learn a few of the top ecobee smart thermostat features we’ve seen over the years — and the best way to install one.

1. It Can Be in Two Places at Once

Most thermostats only read the temperature in one place: the vicinity surrounding the device itself. It works, but it’s not ideal. After all, the temperature can vary from one room to the next.

The ecobee3 and ecobee4 have a novel solution to this problem. The thermostat pairs with small, wireless sensors that can read the temperature in other rooms. The sensors also act as motion detectors, allowing ecobee to ensure the room you occupy is always at the right temperature.

Essentially, it’s like ecobee can be in two (or more) places at once!

2. It Watches the House While You’re Away

Worried about the temperature dropping too low or rising too high? You can set the device to notify you by email or text message when the temperature passes a certain threshold. The same goes for the level of humidity in the home.

This feature lets you keep track of what’s happening inside the house while you’re away. If you’re vacationing over the winter, for instance, you can ensure the temperature doesn’t drop to the point where you risk the pipes freezing. In the summer, you’ll know if the air conditioning stops working while you’re at work.

3. It Follows Your Routine

It’s usually unnecessary to run the furnace or air conditioning at full capacity 24/7. Powering down when you’re asleep or out of the house is one of the best ways to save energy. But switching the thermostat on or off manually is inconvenient, and many people don’t take advantage of a programmable thermostat’s energy-saving potential.

The ecobee has a fix for this. You can create three separate heating or cooling profiles: Home, Away, and Sleep. If you work from 9 to 5, for example, you can set the thermostat to Away until 5:30PM. That way, you’ll save energy while you’re gone and still arrive home to a comfortable temperature.

4. You Can Control It With Your Voice

The ecobee4 smart thermostat gives you the option of hands-free voice control with Amazon’s smart assistant software, Alexa. Plus, there’s no end of other cool things you can do with Alexa, from setting reminders to playing music to getting the latest weather forecast.

5. It Crunches Data to Save Energy

Ever wondered how a few degrees’ difference impacts your heating bill? The ecobee3 and ecobee4 can tell you. Using ecobee’s straightforward web interface, you can see the history of your usage in detail. It displays information graphically so you can understand changes over time.

So, what can you do with this information? For one, it can help you spot potential issues with your heating and cooling equipment. A decline in energy-efficiency is often one of the first signs of trouble with your unit. With the ecobee4, you can also ask Amazon Alexa for personalized energy-saving tips.

Installing an ecobee Smart Thermostat

Smart thermostats are powerful tools that can enable homeowners to cut their energy use by 8% or more.

However, there’s a catch:

These devices only work to their full potential when people install and use them properly.

When these ingenious devices hit the mainstream, it’s no surprise many people set their minds to buying and installing one on their own. Unfortunately, getting a smart thermostat up and running is not as easy as it looks. There’s more to installing an ecobee than re-connecting a few wires, many homeowners have found themselves stuck trying to do it themselves.

Whenever one of our technicians installs an ecobee smart thermostat, they take time to ensure the device is fully functional and train the homeowners to use it properly. We want to see people getting the most out of their ecobee.

This March only, we’re offering steep discounts on our complete package for both the ecobee3 and next-generation ecobee4 smart thermostats. That includes full installation of the device and training on how to use it. Included in all ecobee purchases is a three-year manufacturer warranty – another reason to take advantage of a great product.

5 Products to Turn Your Home Smart!

By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz about technology that can turn your home ‘smart’. But what is it that makes these devices so smart?

Man using a smart thermostat app on his mobile phone.

A smart home device is one you can control with a remote, smartphone, tablet or even your own voice. Wireless connectivity has become a feature in everything from appliances to home heating and cooling systems.

Need help getting started? These five easy-to-use products can turn your home smart — and save energy while they’re at it!

1. Smart Thermostat

Gone are the days when thermostats were only meant for turning the temperature up or down. Smart thermostats come with many cool and convenient features, along with user-friendly controls anyone can learn to use.

Like programmable thermostats, you can program a smart thermostat to adjust the temperature automatically at set times. However, with a smart thermostat, you can do it wirelessly using a smartphone or other device. This means you can adjust the temperature from anywhere in the home, while you’re at work or school, or even while on vacation!

Some high-tech models of smart thermostats can learn about your habits and adjust the temperature automatically. The popular ecobee3 smart WiFi thermostat, for example, uses wireless sensors to read the temperature in different rooms.

2. Smart Speakers / Smart Home Assistants

The latest crop of smart speakers do more than just play music. Smart speakers can serve as a central ‘hub’ for various smart devices, letting you control everything from thermostats to smart TVs with the sound of your voice. Products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home also come with a virtual assistant able to keep track of your schedule, shopping list, and other useful bits of information.

Manufacturers are increasingly designing smart home devices to work with smart speakers right out of the box. However, not all devices are compatible with the various smart speakers on the market, so it’s important to do your research before you invest in one. If you already own a smart home device, be sure to opt for a hub able to speak its language.

3. Smart Water Sensors

If you’ve ever had a pipe burst in the winter, you know how important it is to catch leaks early on. Trouble is, an old-fashioned leak detector is only useful if someone’s around to hear the alarm!

Fortunately, manufacturers have patched this flaw with smart water sensors. Smart home water sensors are battery-powered leak detectors that include wireless technology, allowing them to connect with smart speakers and other devices. If the sensor detects water, it can instantly send an alert to your computer or smartphone.

Like a smart thermostat, smart water sensors give homeowners more control over the home while they’re away. This peace of mind is more than worth the modest price tag!

4. Smart Shades and Blinds

You may not realize it, but windows have a big impact on the temperature inside your home. The sun’s rays bump up the temperature in the summer, and in the winter, warm air can escape through a poorly-sealed window.

A simple way to control the amount of heat entering or exiting through the windows is to install heavy curtains or blinds. Unfortunately, we tend to leave them in one position most of the time. This makes automated smart shades and blinds a great choice for energy-conscious homeowners. You can also combine smart shades and blinds with a smart thermostat for even bigger energy savings!

5. Smart Light Bulbs

Remember The Clapper? It seems we have always been looking for ways to control the lights without flicking a switch. Smart light bulbs are the next big leap in this technology, allowing you to turn the lights on or off from afar with the use of a smartphone or smart speaker.

Smart lights are more expensive than traditional bulbs, especially if you plan to convert the entire house, but they also use less energy and last longer than incandescent bulbs.


Image: Prykhodo

8 Ways To Improve Energy Efficiency In Your Home

Whether we want to admit it or not, fall is just around the corner and now is a perfect time to think about how to prevent the cold from creeping through our home…and wallets!

Take the time to inspect your entire house and ensure there aren’t any major concerns before you begin winter-proofing your home.

Here are eight easy ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency:

  1. Weather-strip your doors and windows. Weather-stripping can easily close up any cracks. Stopping the cold from coming in and preventing the heat from going out.
  2. Clear the way. Make sure there aren’t any objects obstructing the registers and preventing heat from coming through.
  3. Switch out old lightbulbs. Replacing incandescent bulbs to fluorescent is an easy and efficient upgrade. It can also help with that late-night reading.
  4. Stop wasting water. Switching to a low-flow showerhead and a modern two-flush toilet will save the amount of water and energy used – it can be that easy!
  5. Thicker curtains. This quick fix can prevent heat from escaping and cold from coming through. They’re also great for the summer when you want to block the sun from heating your home.
  6. Retire your appliances. Your appliances should match your needs. These can be pricy purchases, but if done right, can save you money in the long run. Bigger isn’t always better.
  7. Turn your heat down and grab a sweater. Sounds simple right? It is. By turning your heat down just a little, you will improve your efficiency and save on your energy bill. Don’t worry, your body will adjust – you won’t freeze.
  8. Insulate the attic. A properly insulated home will trap your desired temperature in, and keep the exterior temperatures out. An insulated attic is the perfect way to control heat or air.

These useful tips are handy for the cold months and summer. If you choose just a few of the suggestions, you’ll see an improvement in your energy bill and know that you’re doing the earth a big favour.


Energy Changes on the Horizon

Much is being reported in the press these days about the rising cost of energy. There is talk about renewable energy versus fossil fuel versus nuclear generated electricity; the merits of electricity versus natural gas and electric vehicles versus combustion engines. Don’t forget climate change and carbon reduction.

There are a lot of “versus” on this song sheet, and the changes in these major areas will have profound impacts on our future.

Two things jump out at me: first, change is necessary, and it’s coming like a freight train. It is illogical and irresponsible of us to stick to our old ways of doing things. If we are knowledgeable about our options, we’re in a better place to make smart decisions about our energy use. And, second, governments at every level and of every political stripe have a dog in the fight. They are going to be involved in every step of the process, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. They are stumbling around like bulls in a china shop, and they don’t always get it right because they don’t always consider the concerns of key stakeholders. It will be critical that we make our voices heard to best represent the interests of our customers.

Amongst individuals (not industry), the biggest consumers of energy in our day-to-day lives are vehicles and buildings. Cars appear to be heading towards being self-driving and our choices for energy source may get limited very quickly in that space.

That leaves buildings as a key area for change. The biggest consumer of energy in most buildings is the HVAC system and that is true for your home. This is something AtlasCare has a vested interest in, and where we hope to drive change in the right direction. Our provincial government is looking to introduce mandatory energy labeling for homes so that a potential buyer of your home will know how efficient it is on an overall basis. This edition of An Engineer’s Opinion is dedicated to the notion of how to “future proof” your home to make it more livable and cost efficient to enhance its long term value.

More Control = More Comfort

One of the big revolutions in the HVAC industry is around thermostats and controls in general.


The old round or rectangular thermostat with two switches and a mercury bulb are real dinosaurs. In fact, they’re being changed out with such volume that we have an industry recycling program to recover the mercury from old thermostats.

Unlike some home changes, it is doubtful that anyone will miss these old thermostat controls. Thermostats first appeared in the 1830s as a way of regulating the temperatures in chicken incubators. While they helped provide environmental control in a manner that no doubt seemed revolutionary back then, technology moves on and we now have something much better.

The new controls are more precise, more intuitive and offer much better control of your HVAC system. They can deliver improved comfort through temperature averaging and be set in energy saving mode automatically when you leave your home. With hydro working on an on-peak/mid-peak/off-peak basis, it is now easier to cut back on energy use during the most expensive times. A sophisticated thermostat makes it almost effortless to attain those savings and you now don’t even have to be home to do the programming. Pretty cool.

The S30 iComfort thermostat from Lennox and the thermostats from ecobee are industry leaders, saving energy and money for homes and businesses alike. Fun fact: did you know the original ecobee prototype was developed in the AtlasCare boardroom by entrepreneur Stuart Lombard? Frustrated by the fact that the current products required an energy calculator to use successfully, innovators like Stuart harnessed the power and resources of the internet to fashion a product that made use of the latest data to regulate power usage. Today smart thermostats are an increasingly common part of homes and will soon be the exclusive form of temperature regulators as the modern house becomes more and more sophisticated.

Demystifying Duct Cleaning

Over the past couple of years, it has been a rare day when I have not received a phone call at dinner time from an overseas telemarketer trying to sell me duct cleaning, despite the best efforts of our government to establish do not call lists and issuing penalties for violators.

In January 2013 CBC Marketplace even did a segment on these companies, exposing the kind of work they do or, more accurately, don’t do. The existing lack of trust with duct cleaning services was the principal reason AtlasCare entered the business in the first place. Our customers wanted their ducts cleaned by someone they could trust. They sought someone who would not only do the work right, but who would also respect them and their home in the process.

I am proud to say that AtlasCare fits the bill completely in responding to what customers want in their duct cleaning. In the six years we have now been in the business, we have completed more than 5,000 duct cleanings to the complete satisfaction of our customers.

The message we want potential customers to know is that there are a number of ways to clean ducts and they are not all the same. You will find duct cleaners who use every method from a shop vac to sophisticated vacuum trucks and everything in between. It’s hard to see the finished product because it is enclosed inside the duct. Since the end product is so hard to see, we feel it’s important to let customers know our approach to duct cleaning so they can feel confident choosing our services.

First off, we use only the highest end truck mounted vacuum and compression systems, which is the only way to guarantee that the ducts will be completely cleaned.

In fact, this month we just added another truck to our fleet. We seal off all vents to ensure that dirt does not get blown back into the home. Should a vent cover ever come loose (a rare occurrence) it’s important that you are dealing with a contractor with good insurance coverage and a commitment to customer care so that things are cleaned up to your satisfaction.

We do little things like covering up the air conditioner coil so it doesn’t get plugged with dirt. We also protect your walls and baseboards from the impact of large vacuum hoses. And, of course, we put down the AtlasCare red carpet to protect your floors.

It isn’t that complicated to get into the duct cleaning business, which is why so many folks do it. Doing it right, though, takes a big investment in people and technology and a commitment to delivering what customers expect and more.

Rental Furnaces and Air Conditioners

The whole issue of renting furnaces and air conditioners has been getting a lot of attention lately – largely for the wrong reasons.

One reason why so many companies, including the big water heater monopolies, have gotten into renting furnaces and air conditioners is that they made so much money renting water heaters. While the Ontario government passed a law some time ago to protect consumers from door-to-door sales agents trying to switch their hot water heaters, the door was left open on other equipment, which is another reason we are hearing so much about it.

Do you know someone selling a home?

The issue of furnace and AC rentals is too big to tackle quickly, but I wanted to provide some information to help our customers and their families avoid some of the pitfalls with some rental contracts, especially if you are looking at selling a home.

We have recently become aware of the potential challenges with rental contracts that occur when you go to sell your home. Better real estate agents are advising customers to make vendors buy out their rental contracts. They have done the math and figured out that it is not a good deal to assume someone else’s rental contract. The buyouts with some contracts can still be very costly, even after several years of ownership. The initial capital cost that you agreed to can be as much as 50% higher than the cost of purchasing the system outright. After five years of paying $150/month or more to rent, you might still have to pay more to buy out the contract than the equipment was originally worth.

Rental companies can register a lien against your home

These rental contracts are rock solid and there is no getting out of them. In fact, these companies can register a lien against your property to protect their interest. It’s a high price to pay for short term cost certainty.

New home builders like rentals a lot. They get to reduce their costs without having to reduce their prices. This makes first time homebuyers particularly vulnerable, since most of them often move up within five years of their initial purchase. The end result: when they go to sell their home, they find out they have a lot less equity in their home than they thought.

So, if you have children who are buying their first home, please advise them to be careful so they are not taken in. We’ll be watching this issue closely and providing more information to help our customers and families in the future.

Why Replace a Furnace and Air Conditioner Together?

I recently had to buy a new car, not because I wanted to but because my last one was stolen (that’s a story for another day). I decided to get the same model as one I had owned 10 years ago.

The car was essentially the same in look and feel but was totally different in most other aspects. It was the same size, had roughly the same power and handled essentially the same. That’s where the similarities ended. My new car has superior gas mileage, improved comfort, more advanced technology and improved convenience and safety — all features that enhance my enjoyment of the vehicle.

Sure, the more basic car of 10 years ago would have gotten me from A to B, but not in quite the same way.

So, how is this story relevant to air-conditioning? The relevance is actually in how buying a car and buying air conditioning or other HVAC equipment is different.

In a car, all the pieces of the system are contained in a single package. While they are discreet pieces of equipment, they are integrated into a system where everything works together. You can replace a single component and get essentially the same performance as you had previously.

However, with air conditioning or your furnace, to take full advantage of recent technological improvements, they should be upgraded together. This is especially true if they are more than 10 years old as there has been a lot of technological change in this time.

We now have air conditioners that are up to three times as efficient as the models they’ve replaced. New high efficiency air conditioners come with multi stage and even fully variable speed compressors to match the output of the air conditioner with the load required by the home, so no energy gets wasted. To reach these efficiencies, however, they must be matched with a compatible furnace that also has a variable speed blower motor. Coupled with the right thermostat you can get better temperature distribution throughout your home and enjoy the added benefit of managing it through your smart phone, wherever you happen to be.

While energy efficiency is a big feature of today’s furnaces and air conditioners, moisture management is equally important. When a high efficiency air conditioner is matched with a variable speed furnace, you can also improve humidity control, particularly in the spring and fall, which can be quite damp. They can also work together with an energy recovery ventilator to bring fresh air into your home for optimal moisture control year round. There have also been significant improvements in sound reduction, inside and outside the home.

Contractors anxious to make a quick sale and then move on will often focus on the one piece that needs changing now. They might propose replacing the furnace or air conditioner as well but only at the entry product level. As you might suspect, the best efficiencies and features are only available on the higher end products. There is no question they can cost more, which is why we try to make them more accessible for our customers with financing plans that can put leading edge technology into your home for as little as $165/month.

The next time you are replacing a key piece of HVAC equipment, consider how it will work most efficiently with other equipment in your home.