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Ecobee Sensors Guide (And Can You Use 3rd Party Sensors?)

ecobee produce a range of smart home devices, although they’re best known for their smart thermostat which rivals the Nest Learning Thermostat. ecobee also produce two smart sensors: a SmartSensor for their thermostat, and a SmartSensor for windows and doors (compatible with their ecobee Haven system. There’s also some support for 3rd party sensors.

ecobee produce a SmartSensor for their thermostat, and separate sensors for windows/doors (as part of home monitoring). They also have some support for other company’s sensors, but only via a separate smart home hub.

ecobee’s sensors

As already touched upon, ecobee have two sensors:

  • A SmartSensor for their thermostat, which provides motion detection to see if anyone’s in, along with tracking the temperature of the room. This currently retails at $79 for two thermostat sensors.
  • A SmartSensor for your windows and doors, which integrates with ecobee’s Haven home monitoring system which was released in April 2020. This requires a subscription of $5 or $10 per month, but then it also includes recordings on your ecobee smart camera(s) too. The sensors also retail for $79 for two.

I go into each these sensors in more detail below, but I wanted to touch on a key question first:

Do you have to buy and use ecobee’s sensors?

If you’ve just spent $249 on a fancy new ecobee thermostat, you probably won’t want to go out and spend another $79 for two room sensors. So what gives: are these separate sensors required?

Well, the ecobee thermostat sensors are entirely optional. They provide temperature (and motion) readings in a room of your choosing, which then allows the thermostat to potentially adjust the heating to suit that room (or zone).

In other words, if you just had a thermostat in your hallway, it will assume that the hallway’s temperature is the same as the rest of the house – even though if the front door’s open/closed a lot, the hallway probably will be a different temperature. As a result, you can use ecobee’s thermostat sensors to get a better overall picture of each part of your house’s temperature and ecobee can adjust your heating accordingly.

So the thermostat sensor is optional, but it’s useful if you find that your thermostat install location isn’t representative of your whole house’s temperature.

ecobee’s window and door sensors are slightly different because whilst they are also optional (you don’t need them for their Haven home monitoring system), receiving information about visitors and potential break-ins does seem really important to any home monitoring solution.

So you can skip the window/door sensors and the Haven system will continue to record via your ecobee cameras, and provide data based on your ecobee thermostat, but buying the window/door sensors is a sensible choice in this case.

ecobee SmartSensor for thermostats

An ecobee room sensor on a bookcase shelf.
ecobee’s room sensor on a bookcase shelf.

One of my concerns with smart thermostats is that usually you have just a single thermostat installed, which only provides temperature/occupancy information about a single fixed point in your house, which isn’t too helpful in today’s busy modern life with various occupied rooms and people coming/going potentially from multiple doors.

Therefore ecobee’s optional sensors for your thermostat help resolve this problem, by providing greater room-by-room information: who’s in each room, and how hot/cold it is. This helps to build up a greater picture of your whole house’s climate, which is essential for any smart thermostat to function in a way that saves you the most money.

They do this by firstly using PIR detection (which pick up on passive infrared radiation that all objects and humans give off) to determine whether someone’s in a room or not. They can detect motion up to around 15 feet (4.5 metres), and in a fairly wide 120 degree angle range.

They also support ‘Follow Me’ mode, which is smart enough to know that someone has left room A, and then entered room B straight after – thereby knowing that they can dial down the temperature in room A and crank it up in room B.

Having said all of this, there’s an important caveat that the ecobee marketing doesn’t mention. ecobee can only control the room-by-room temperature if your room has automatic dampers fitted (essentially, a way for individual radiator valves to turn on/off, in a way that is hooked up to the central system). Most houses don’t have this. If yours doesn’t either, ecobee’s thermostat room sensors cannot magically control your room-by-room temperature: you will still be limited to the number of heating zones you have installed.

So what’s the point of the room sensors? Well, they help to build a better picture up of which parts of your house is used (and at what times). This allows ecobee to average out this data and apply smarter heating for these specific uses/times of day. This is therefore a definite improvement over single-zone thermostats and some cheaper smart thermostats (that don’t support sensors), even if it’s not quite as good as ecobee’s marketing would imply.

ecobee Haven and the SmartSensor for windows and doors

ecobee Haven: released on 15th April 2020, costing $5-$10 per month and aiming to offer an intelligent smart home monitoring system that Amazon and Google don’t yet offer.

How? Well, it’s centered around their $179 indoor smart cameras which offers 1080p full HD recording and a 180 degree wide angle view. Having one of these cameras will cost $5 per month, but two or more then only cost $10 per month total (i.e. if you had 5 cameras, it’d still only be $10 per month) – this covers the cost of the Haven system, and unlimited recording storage for these cameras.

The idea of Haven is that it integrates with your ecobee thermostat too, to provide a better overall view of exactly what’s happening in your house. If you’re going out, you won’t have to just rely on your thermostat detecting this: Haven’s app can use WiFi, geofencing and more to also detect that you’ve gone on.

Whilst this might not seem like much right now, I suspect that ecobee will be launching more smart products in the future – and Haven will be central to this. It’ll be like Alexa or Google Assistant, but a lot more home focussed (i.e. more information about ‘what’s happening in my house’).

Haven also integrates in with third party systems, such as offering HomeKit and SmartThings support. This therefore brings me onto the SmartSensor door/window sensors.

They are door/window sensors.

Uhm, there’s nothing much more to say about them really. Each sensor is a pair, and sits on each side of a door or window frame. If the door/window opens, this is detected (since the magnetic ‘touch’ between each sensor has now been broken) – and this information is relied back to ecobee.

ecobee, in turn, can notify you of this information.

The beauty of these sensors is that it continues to build up a picture of who’s at home (hopefully not a burglar, of course!) and your ecobee thermostat can turn on/off accordingly.

ecobee are also quick to point out that these door/window sensors support Apple HomeKit, which is handy if you use Apple’s smart home ecosystem.

Can you use any 3rd party sensors with ecobee?

There are a range of 3rd party motion and temperature smart sensors on the market, most of which support HomeKit, SmartThings and more. And since ecobee also supports HomeKit and SmartThings, it makes sense that these 3rd party sensors also work with ecobee, right?

Well, it’s not quite that simple.

ecobee sell their own SmartSensor which obviously integrates fully into their thermostat (and Haven) systems, and the sensors work in a specialized way to deliver the exact functionality that ecobee want. As a result, there’s no real incentive for ecobee to start supporting dozens of third party sensors.

Certainly, you can’t just go to Amazon and purchase a smart sensor, and import it into your ecobee system. It won’t work that easily.

You do, however, have a few of options available to you:

Option 1: HomeKit integration

If your ecobee is hooked up to your HomeKit system, you can create automation rules. These automation rules can be powered by data from other sensors which are also hooked up to your HomeKit system.

In other words, you can purchase HomeKit-compatible sensors and control these within HomeKit. Then you can setup automation rules to use the data from these sensors, and control your ecobee thermostat.

Option 2: use MyEcobeeDevice (via SmartThings)

Yves Racine, a software developer, started to create his own ecobee integration back in 2015, eventually packaging this up as a paid-for system/app in 2016 called MyEcobeeDevice.

This is an ecobee approved app and there’s lots of information about it on the SmartThings forums.

So if you have ecobee setup and integrated with SmartThings already, you can then use this paid-for third party app to integrate other company’s temperature and motion sensors into your ecobee thermostat.

There is support around the internet for this option, but it’s probably the hardest to get started with.

Option 3: integrate with Home Assistant

Screenshot taken of the desktop view of Home Assistant's demo.
Desktop view of Home Assistant’s smart hub demo.

Home Assistant, the free smart home hub software that can be run on a Raspberry Pi, offers ecobee intergration.

Since ecobee is z-wave based, you can purchase z-wave temperature/motion sensors and then hook this up to your Home Assistant system (using a z-wave USB stick attached to your Pi).

This then allows you to use the data from the temperature/motion sensors, and automate actions on your ecobee thermostat using this data.

Option 4: Using SmartThings compatible sensors with ecobee

The final option that I’m aware of is to use SmartThing’s semi-official support for ecobee, as outlined in the SmartThing’s forums.

In other words, you can take sensors which are connected to your SmartThings hub, and use this to control your ecobee system (whether that’s to turn off AC, increase the main temperature or more).

If you do use ecobee’s own sensors, you can also ‘push’ this data back into your SmartThings hub and create automation rules based on this – albeit there are some known shortcomings with this approach.

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