Duncan Wilcock


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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ecobee - An Internet Thermostat at My House

Ecobee - Internet Connected Thermostat
A few months ago, I decided I really wanted a thermostat that I could remotely control from my iPhone.   I tend to be home on an irregular schedule, and what I wanted to do was just leave it cold at home and just turn the heat on an hour or two before I knew I was going to be there.

Anyway - long story short - I bought one and recently installed it, and I have to say I'm pretty thrilled.  This one is made by a company called Ecobee - based in Toronto.  Here is a photo of it installed at my house.

Controlling it from my phone from across town!
So what's so fantastic about it?  Well - for me it's the fact that I can control it over the internet, so I can turn the heat on before I head home. Here's what it looks like on my iPhone:

Why is This So Fantastic? 

Did you know that in North America, about 50% of our carbon-footprint is from energy spent heating and cooling our homes?  Better insulation is the first priority of course, as is more efficient heating and cooling technologies, but the sense of control this gives me is very satisfying. And as the biggest slice of my carbon-footprint, it's the most important part to tackle.

Now, if you are a bit of a measurement geek like me, you'll really like the charts the Ecobee records in the background.  Here's a chart of my house for the past 3 days:

The dotted red line is the set-temperature - you can see I was playing with it a lot on November 25th.  The   medium-dark blue line is the actual indoor temperature, and the red blocks on the bottom show when the furnace was actually turned-on.  As a bonus, the black line is the outdoor temperature that it gets for my location from the internet (and uses in it's when-to-turn-on-calculations) and the light blue line is the indoor humidity.

The Nest Thermostat

Now before you run out and buy an Ecobee - and I do think it's a good product - I want to mention the Nest thermostat .  A recently released product from a team of people who used to work at Apple, including Tony Fadell - one of the key guys behind the iPod and iPhone.

All things being equal, I would have bought one of these, but there are several obstacles to buying one in Canada.  First, it was released in the US-only, and that was only a month or two ago to heavy demand so delivery is now quoted in February.  I bet it's a fantastic product, but I didn't want to wait until winter was half over.

In addition, I got so excited by these I set-up with BC Hydro to conduct a "technical trial" of Ecobee thermostats at my small-industrial workplace.  Because I was ordering several thermostats for work, I ordered one for myself as well.

If you're keen for more info and where to buy an Ecobee thermostat, here is a detailed blog post of one guy's experience installing one.  The easiest way to buy one is to contact your local heating contractor or order one online from Alpine Air in the states. Depressingly, I found it was less expensive to order this Canadian product from a retailer in the US and pay duty and shipping, than it was to buy it from a local heating supply store. I'm looking at you Sinclair Supply.

The Nest Thermostat also promises to be cheaper (about $250) than the Ecobee, which via Alpine Air would cost you $465 delivered.  Initial reviews of the Nest are good, but it's a new product, so all the kinks may not be worked out.

Update 19-Dec-2011:
Here's an uh-oh for the Nest thermostat, where Ecobee's two-piece implementation may be superior.

Update 2,  2-Feb-2011:
I'm definitely pleased with my choice of the Ecobee.  While I remain curious about the Nest, I have read reports - including the previous update - that highlight the benefit of it being a more mature product that has been on the market for 2 or 3 years.  For instance, I was surprised to learn that the Nest doesn't have a "smart-recovery" feature that most programmable thermostats have had for sometime.

Also worth mentioning in this update - there is a new & cheaper version of the Ecobee due to be available in April.  I still want to try out a Nest, especially their online interface for comparison.  Get in touch if you have one and want to compare notes - my email is: duncan@wilcock.ca

Update 3, 24-May-2012
At work I've managed to cut our heating bills by over half - 55%!  We're thrilled and a little surprised, stay tuned for a blog update with some detail on how we did this, or get in touch and I'll be happy to tell you more about it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Book Recommendation: Steve Jobs Biography

No, you probably won't be surprised that I've read it.  Yes, it was good, and yes I recommend it.

At times it felt like a history of Apple, which in a way it is, since the two subjects are so intertwined.  It was a trip down memory lane in a lot of ways for me, memories of the Apple ][ that my Dad bought way back when.  Not surprisingly, it linked together a lot of that history for me in new ways.

The best review of the biography that I've read was in the Guardian, by Jean-Louis Gassée, one of Apple's senior executives in the 80's, and featured this outstanding paragraph:
The arc of Steve's life is the stuff of legends: abandoned at birth; raised in Silicon Valley; an acid-dropping, ashram-dwelling college drop-out, hacker, and co-founder of the most iconic of personal computer companies; fired at age 30; re-inventor of animated movies at Pixar; the struggle to create the NeXT big thing; the return to Apple in the most stunning turnaround the industry had ever seen; reshaping the music industry; building a world-class retail network in his own image; re-inventing the smartphone industry and grabbing half of its profits; and, finally, after 30 years of false starts, making tablets a reality and grabbing iPod-like market and profit share as a result. An arc that saw the unmanageable hippie become the head of one of the world's best-managed companies. And he died just as he reached the pinnacle.

It was a very interesting and enjoyable read, and I think even more interesting will be to read it again in 20 years or so.

Update 2-Dec-2011:
I still enjoyed the book, but agree with this criticism by Thomas Q. Brady and John Gruber.