Canada's Condominium Magazine
It must have seemed like a Blackberry moment for the founder of Toronto-based ecobee and his team. In 2009, the start-up, an early client of the MaRS Discovery District, launched the world’s first Wi-Fi-enabled smart thermostat. Its main competitor at the time was Honeywell, which had a commanding 60 per cent share in the non-smart home thermostat market. Ecobee founder Stuart Lombard has said that from the beginning, the ecobee, which was the only product of its kind at the time, was “kicking Honeywell’s butt.” And then, in 2012, along came the Nest, created by a former Apple executive and backed by none other than the gigantic and all-devouring Google. Would this mean the end of ecobee, a great Canadian idea squashed in its infancy by the American behemoth, as Apple had destroyed Blackberry in the smartphone category?
Happily, it hasn’t turned out that way. Ecobee 3, the most recent version of the thermostat product, launched in 2014 and is now ranked second for market share, behind Nest but ahead of Honeywell, in part because of an exclusive endorsement by—irony of ironies—Apple. Apple actually stopped selling Nest in its stores in July 2015, replacing them with ecobee 3. According to Forbes magazine, ecobee sales doubled after the Apple endorsement. Ecobee now reportedly has 24 per cent market share in the US for internet-connected thermostats. The product is also sold at Home Depot and has Carrier, the giant air-conditioning company, as a backer.
Ecobee has earned high praise from the cleantech community too. CNET, the online authority and source of information and reviews of high tech products, has installed the Ecobee 3 in its Smart Home, a sort of living lab for testing the best tech products on the market. Originally, CNET had picked the Nest for the Smart Home, but then replaced it with the ecobee 3 after its “great strides in interoperability” and its integration with the Amazon Echo. Amazon Echo, some may know, is the always-listening Wi-Fi connected little speaker that responds to voice commands, such as “Alexa, turn off the lights” or “Alexa, turn down the thermostat to 18 degrees.” Ecobee 3 is also certified by Apple to work with its smart home program HomeKit. Ecobee users can thus talk to Siri or Alexa.
One of the features that ecobee says really distinguishes it from the competition is its use of multiple wireless sensors, which can be placed in rooms throughout the home to keep temperatures well controlled. Other thermostats have only one sensor, so the temperature is only measured in that one location. This can cause quite severe variations in temperature throughout the home.
The ecobee 3 sensors also measure occupancy and can adjust the temperature according to whether people are home or out. A “follow me” feature tells the thermostat when a person is in a room and adjusts the temperature accordingly. The sensors are also smart enough to know the difference between people and pets. Ecobee claims that its users save an average of 23 per cent on their home energy bills annually. The thermostat can be controlled and monitored via mobile app and web portal. The Ecobee 3 sells for about $250.
Is the Ecobee 3 something that will appeal just to early adopters and tech savvy types who are ahead of the curve? Not according to Lombard. The company is focused on families who use technology, and what family these days doesn’t, but who aren’t necessarily very technical. “They’re people who love their iPhones, love their tablets, are engaged on the internet . . . and are looking for other ways for technology to simplify their lives,” he said in an interview with MaRS Discovery District. About 90 per cent of ecobee’s sales are in the US. As for the future, “world domination” is the company’s ultimate goal.
In a recent development, ecobee has teamed with US solar power company SunPower. Homeowners in California and New York who use ecobee thermostats can receive a $500 rebate if they choose to purchase their home electricity from SunPower.