Smart thermostats add both efficiency and ease of use to your house. Two of the most popular models are the Nest or Ecobee, competing brands that both offer great products. Which in all likelihood means you’re stuck pondering “Ecobee vs Nest” and which one to buy.
To find the best model, we took a look at the current generation of thermostats for both brands, what features they provided, and how they’ll work in your home and which is most compatible for your not only your needs but your HVAC system.
We tested settings, opened apps, and turned dials to see how interfaces worked, how much information the thermostats provided, and how visible their data was. We also tweaked settings to see how well thermostats responded, and what advice they gave about
However, the Ecobee4 is also a remarkable smart thermostat, especially if you like your thermostat screen to show more data, or if you don’t have an Alexa voice assistant yet and are intrigued by the idea.
And in case you missed it, we also take a look at some of the alternative best smart thermostats on the market in a previous post.
Ecobee vs Nest Compared 2018
Ecobee4 vs Nest Thermostat 3rd Generation
Ecobee3 vs Nest Thermostat 3rd Generation
At-a Glance Screen Data
This refers to what the thermostat shows you when you walk past. At first glance, this is one of the biggest differences between the Nest and Ecobee models. The Ecobee has a much more traditional touchscreen appearance, with the current temperature display in bold white numerals. The screen also gives you information on the thermostat’s current temperature range, a little icon for the weather outside, and the current humidity: however, for all these extras, you need to step very close to the thermostat to see them, so they aren’t quite as useful.
The Nest takes the opposite approach. It only shows the temperature at a glance, popping it up in big, bright numerals whenever it detects someone is nearby. While you can change whether it shows the current or target temperature, this is the only information that the Nest gives (plus a small range icon showing how far the current temperature is from the set temperature). The Nest cannot display humidity, weather, or other information on its physical screen. The screen can be used when you are manually changing settings – but this isn’t really at-a-glance information.
Both the Ecobee4 and the Nest 3rd gen provide energy monitoring. In practice, this means that you can go into either app and see your heating/cooling history over time, along with how much energy you’ve been using.
Both thermostats will also email you energy reports, typically on a monthly basis, that show how much energy your HVAC system has used that month and how it compares to previous reports. Obviously the goal is to lower your energy consumption and save money on your bills, and both companies do a good job of aiding you in this. However, it’s important to remember that some months your energy use will naturally rise as you turn up the heat in winter or the AC during hot months.
Sensors For Automation
Smart thermostats depend on a much broader variety of sensors than traditional thermostats, allowing them to pick up on all kinds of information. Both the Ecobee and Nest have the basics like temperature and humidity sensors, but they diverge from there.
The Ecobee4 specializes in satellite temperature readings. It comes with a satellite sensor option that you can set up in a remote location and then connect to the primary thermostat. Have you ever been in a house where one side was too hot and the other side too cold? A satellite sensor can help fix this by providing information on temperatures far away from the thermostat itself.
The Ecobee can also read occupancy and proximity, a.k.a. how many people are moving around in the room, and how close someone is getting to the thermostat (so it can light up).
The Nest, on the hand, is far more focused on those occupancy and proximity sensors. It includes high-tech movement sensors that detect “near-field” and “far-field” activity so it can judge how many people are in the room, where they are, and how they are moving. This helps the Nest set more accurate automatic schedules even if you’re not close to it.
But it’s worth noting that Nest has officially announced it will also be offering satellite sensors for its thermostats as well, although it is not currently an option.
How big do you want your thermostat screen to be? The Ecobee4 offers a larger 3.5-inch screen that’s easier to use and navigate, but also takes up more space on the wall (and can be brighter at night).
The Nest goes for a more minimalistic route with a tiny, round 2-inch screen. It doesn’t take up much room at all (and remember, doesn’t display much extra information). However, you have to get particularly close if you want to view and change any settings, which could take some time.
This spec is a little more complicated, because there are many different types of HVAC setups based on the units installed and how they are wired into your electrical system. The thermostats are designed to work with as many units as possible, but they aren’t 100% compatible with everything. This spec covers:
- Fuel type: Not really an issue, since both thermostats can work with gas, oil, electricity, and many dual fuel systems (the Ecobee makes a point of mentioned dual fuel compatibility, but we can’t see much difference between the two on this point).
- Heating and cooling stages: This is all that 2C, 3H business. This refers to how many sources of hot or cold air the HVAC system has. In a 2C (two-stage cooling) system, cool air is pulled from two different types of air conditioners. In a 2H (two-stage heating) system, warm air may be pulled from a furnace and a solar heating panel, or a furnace and a boiler. This allows for all sorts of combinations – most of which are pretty rare. The average home has a one-stage HVAC system and won’t need to worry about compatibility, but it’s good to be aware.
- Heat pumps: Heat pumps are an oddball, since they reverse their refrigerant systems to heat or cool as needed. It’s very efficient, but hard to lump in with the rest. The Ecobee model supports 4H/2C heat pump setups, which is basically every residential heat pump. Nest specifically states that it supports heat pumps with auxiliary or emergency heating (usually from an electric heating element), which is slightly narrower but should still work with most HVAC systems.
- Humidifiers/Dehumidifiers: This refers to humidifier and dehumidifier devices that are wired into your HVAC system and work alongside heating and cooling. This isn’t very common except in extremely dry or humid climates. Both units support these features.
- HRV and ERV: You’ll notice that Ecobee4 has HRV and ERV compatibility. This refers to Heat Recovery Ventilation and Energy Recovery Ventilation, features that help save energy at the cost of a certain amount of fresh air. Ecobee4 supports these features, but with a Nest you will have to set a separate timer for these functions via a different method.
We will discuss this more thoroughly below, but the Ecobee4 model has built-in Alexa, which means you can talk directly to the thermostat with commands and questions. The Nest thermostat is compatible with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Home, which means you have to link the Nest with other devices (like an Amazon Echo), and give those devices the commands instead of talking to the thermostat yourself.
Some Resources We Read and Considered:
- How People Actually Use Thermostats – UC Davis
- Energy Star and EPA Gathered Data – Energy Star
- Existing and Future Residential Use Case For Connected Thermstats – US Dept of Energy
- How a Smart Thermostat Can Save You Money – Airserv