What are the differences between Ecobee3 and Ecobee3 Lite?

What are the differences between Ecobee3 and Ecobee3 Lite?

When Ecobee introduced the Ecobee3 Lite version, they nicknamed it the “Smarter Thermostat.” I had to see it to believe it. The Ecobee3 is a great smart thermostat in its own right, and I was excited to get to test the Lite version to see if it really was smarter.

Competing with Nest and Honeywell, Ecobee was the first to include a mobile app to control the thermostat; they still try to make a name for themselves by flying under the radar.

This guide will compare the Ecobee3 against the Ecobee3 Lite to find out what the differences are and help you decide which one you should consider buying for your smart home.

Read the entire article below to get my first hand take on these two smart thermostats and decide for yourself which version is the best option for you. If you find yourself in a hurry, then just know that I found the Ecobee3 to be the better option for almost every circumstance.

The Differences Between Ecobee3 and Ecobee3 Lite

When I get a new product to review I like to see what they do or don’t offer. Some features I can live without, while others I deem a necessity. For the Ecobee3 and the Ecobee3 Lite the differences are very small:

  • The Ecobee3 Lite did away with the sensor cover that protrudes from the face of the Ecobee3 thermostat
  • The Ecobee3 Lite does not support humidifiers, dehumidifiers, or ventilators while the Ecobee3 does.
  • The Lite does not come with room sensors. The Ecobee3 comes with up to 3 room sensors depending on the size kit you buy.
  • The physical appearance is slightly different, with the Ecobee3 Lite having more rounded corners than the Ecobee3.

The Similarities Between Ecobee3 and Ecobee3 Lite

The commonalities of the two thermostat units cover pretty much everything else.

  • They both have the same 3.5-inch touchscreen.
  • Each unit can be controlled by the mobile app.
  • Installation for each is identical and just as simple.
  • Each thermostat comes with a Power Extender Kit for homes without the blue C wire.
  • Both the Ecobee3 and the Ecobee3 Lite integrate with smart home voice controls such as Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit
  • As will all Ecobee products you get a three-year warranty.
  • Both thermostats still claim the average annual savings of 23 percent.

Comparison Chart

Take a look at the side-by-side comparison of each of the models:

  Ecobee3 Lite Ecobee3
Touch Screen 3.5 inch 3.5 inch
Mobile App Compatible Yes Yes
Voice Command Yes Yes
Apple HomeKit Yes Yes
Sensors Included None 1
Humidifier, Dehumidifier, Ventilation Control No Yes
PEK Included Yes Yes
DIY Installation Yes Yes
Price Check on Amazon Check on Amazon

Product Features Detail

I like to go over each of the various features to explain what they are and why you should know about them. I believe this helps you make a better choice, especially if there is a feature you think you can do without.

1. Room Sensors

The Ecobee3 Lite does not come with any room sensors. It also did not support not support the room sensors upon release. They have since upgraded the firmware and software, and the Lite version is now fully compatible with room sensors.

The room sensor that comes with Ecobee3 is a wireless sensor that you can place around your home. Most people will place it in the room that they frequent the most, such as the living room or the bedroom. The sensor will detect motion to know when that room is occupied.

The sensor can also tell if the room occupant is a pet or a human. It reports back to the thermostat to give a wider angled view of the temperature and use of your home.

By adjusting the thermostat with a room sensor, you won’t waste money heating or cooling rooms (or the entire home) when no one is in it.

The room sensor is a nice addition, but I feel that they might be a little bit of an overkill. I already have enough wireless gadgets throughout my home, and the addition of another per room seems a little over the top for negligible savings.

However, with that being said, it does work very well, and you will notice some efficiency which will translate into annual savings. If you have a small home or apartment, the sensor may be too redundant as the thermostat is very adept at reading the temperatures.

Bottom Line: Ecobee3 wins this round by including a room sensor that adds efficiency and functionality to your HVAC system and allows you to use more features of the thermostat.

2. Follow Me Plus Home and Away

Both of the smart thermostats have Home and Away mode as well as Follow Me mode. These modes use the sensors on the thermostat as well as the room sensors (if you have them) to note when you are home and when you are in a particular room.

With the Home and Away mode, you will save on your heating and cooling costs by allowing the system to turn off and on depending on your location. If you are away, the system will turn off and save the electricity. When you enter the home and pass a sensor, the system will automatically come on and resume heating or cooling as needed.

The Follow Me mode will utilize the room sensors to know your location around the house and heat or cool in those areas as required. As you pass the sensors, the system will update with the populated rooms and adjust the HVAC system accordingly.

If you leave a room for an extended time, the system won’t continue to waste energy on keeping that room at the optimal temperature.

I have found that one very useful method for the Follow Me mode is when I do my nighttime routine. I usually leave my living room and head to the kitchen to prepare for the following morning. Then I will head upstairs, clean up and head to the bedroom for sleep.

Follow Me mode uses the room sensors to know where I am at in the home. Doing this will force the system to use the temperature reading of my current room to control the overall temperature. So when I enter the kitchen from the living room, the heating will come on for a few minutes (or the AC will shut off) because the kitchen was colder than the living room. When this mode is disabled, the system uses all room sensor readings to create an average of the house.

Bottom Line: Both versions have these modes, they work well and should be utilized to minimize energy consumption.

3. Voice Controls

I have found that smart home integration is more effective with voice control aspects enabled. It doesn’t matter if you use Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home or even SmartThings, IFTTT or other smart home connected devices. The Ecobee3 and Ecobee3 Lite can connect to them all.

I was wary when I first began the integration and set up. I read a lot in my research with troubles connecting or staying connected and difficulty in using some of the functions with the varying devices.

I can tell you that the Apple HomeKit setup, as well as the Google Home and Amazon Alexa (or Echo or Dot), was simple and fast. The only problems with connectivity I could emulate were with the wireless network itself. The thermostat had no problem staying connected, and I had it installed fairly far from the access point.

When I tried to get IFTTT to load there were some minor complications but using SmartThings proved to get it in the end.

Bottom Line: A tie. Voice control allows you to control most features of your thermostat and home heating and cooling with just your voice and should be used whenever possible.

4. The C Wire and the Power Extender Kit

I was impressed that the Ecobee3 and the Ecobee3 Lite came with a Power Extender Kit. Basically what this kit is for is to replace the blue C wire that comes with most new HVAC installations. This is a power wire to give your thermostat a live power supply.

Some older installations do not have the C Wire and will need to utilize the PEK to get power from the control board to the thermostat. I do not recommend trying to install the PEK yourself. You can cause damage to your HVAC control board, the thermostat or even worse, yourself.

I don’t like the use of the PEK, but I was glad to see it as an option. However, the PEK must run off the control board and will basically drain energy from your HVAC system to run the thermostat.

If you are moving to a smart thermostat for the energy efficiency and lower electric and heating or cooling bills, the PEK will all but take that away. It will still be more efficient, but the energy savings won’t be near as much as they could be.

Bottom Line: If you need to use the PEK, have it professionally installed. If you have the C wire, use that instead.

5. Humidifier, Dehumidifier and Ventilation Controls

The main draw to the Ecobee3 Lite over the Ecobee3 is the overall cost. The Ecobee3 Lite is cheaper, but to allow for the lower cost, Ecobee had to remove some features from the Ecobee3.

One cut was the support of humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and ventilation within the HVAC system. If your system does not have these items, then I suggest you opt for the Lite over the standard. This feature alone is the only major difference in the two systems.

However, if your system does include a humidifier, dehumidifier or ventilation, then the Ecobee3 Lite will not work for you, and you will need to go with the Ecobee3. This is the only reason I would suggest getting one version over the other.

Likewise, if you plan to include any of those options in your HVAC system at a later time, or if you are getting the thermostat before the completion of the HVAC install, then the Ecobee3 is the one you want to look at closer.

Bottom Line: If you have a humidifier, dehumidifier or ventilation then you have to go with the Ecobee3; otherwise, you can go with either option.

Frequently Asked Questions

I will attempt to answer your questions by supplying the answers to the more commonly asked ones here:

Q: Does the thermostat use a cloud service for connectivity? What happens if the network is down?

The Ecobee is a proprietary cloud service. It utilizes this service to connect the sensors in your home for usage reports, monitoring and control.

In the event your network goes down, you can still operate the thermostat. However, you can only do so manually at the thermostat itself. The room sensors, mobile app and voice control will all be disabled because the network is not responding.

Q: I only have a single venting system, how does it control which rooms get heat or air?

In essence, it doesn’t. I know it sounds misleading but here is how it works:

The sensors placed throughout the home send temperature readings to the thermostat based on your settings. It will run the heat or air longer or shorter based on those readings.

When you are in a room, the thermostat will give preference to that room’s sensor readings instead of taking an average. So, for example, if you are in the living room with the heat set to 75, the system will run until the living room is reading 75 degrees. Other rooms in your home may be warmer or colder, but the room you are in will be at the temperature you set. When you change rooms, the thermostat switches reading preferences to the nearest sensor.

Q: Does the thermostat come with room sensors?

The Ecobee3 comes with up to 3 sensors depending on the kit you purchase. The Ecobee3 Lite does not come with any room sensors (as of this writing) which is one major reason for the price difference.

Q: My pets run all over the house when I am not home, is there a way to disable the sensors so the system isn’t constantly following them to adjust the temperature?

You cannot disable the sensors. However you can use the settings to disable the Follow Me feature. This will enable the system to run an average temperature of your home instead of using the active room sensor that your pets have activated.

Q: We have the app on more than one phone and have activated the Home and Away option. Is there a way to have it work when all phones are away, instead of just one?

Short answer: No. The long answer is: Yes you can, by using a third party application such as IFTTT. You can set a trigger in IFTTT to tell the system to trigger the Away mode when all phones are out of the range.

Q: Some thermostats have a degree variance of 5 to 10 degrees. With the room sensors, how accurate is the Ecobee?

It is fairly accurate. During testing I noted a small (1 to 2 degree) variance across the entire home. It is more accurate than the Nest thermostat, but either way a variance is going to occur in every home.

Q: My old thermostat was huge, and when I removed it there was an unpainted patch underneath. Will the Ecobee thermostat cover this so I don’t have to repaint the entire wall?

Yes. Ecobee took into account how lazy we all are. They have included two back plates (large and small) to help you avoid doing any maintenance work to your home, like painting.

What to Like about the Ecobee3 Lite

  • Cost effective solution for a smart thermostat.
  • Enough bells and whistles without all the extras you may not need.
  • Mobile app control and set up is user friendly and quick.
  • The new look of the LCD panel is smooth and aesthetic.

What to Like about the Ecobee3

  • Everything about the lite, plus:
  • Full HVAC control, including humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and ventilators.
  • A room sensor is included to get you started with geofencing.
  • The PEK allows for simple installation in any home.
  • Voice control using Amazon Alexa or other 3rd party apps.

In Conclusion

Smart thermostats go a long way to adding efficiency, cost savings, and management to your HVAC system. Turning a home into a smart home usually starts with the thermostat and builds out from there.

If you are on a budget, do not have humidifiers, dehumidifiers, or ventilators added on, you can’t go wrong with the Ecobee3 Lite. The cost savings will benefit you the most.

However, if you have a newer HVAC install or plan to add on later, the Ecobee3 is the choice I recommend. You will pay a little more, but you will have full functionality, and you will have at least one room sensor you don’t have to purchase separately.

Since the systems are near identical, the only real choice you have is based on your setup and budget.

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