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Hands On with the Drivers Lab’s Control4 Driver for ecobee Thermostats

Sections: HVAC, Reviews, Smart Home

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The Drivers Lab ecobee Control4Anyone who has visited my home in the past year or so has probably gotten tired of me talking about all of the things my Control4 home automation and Lutron lighting control systems can do. Sure, there’s the touch-of-a-button home theater control. Yes, I can turn my lights on with a flick on my iPhone. Yes, I can remotely unlock my doors and monitor my security cameras from anywhere in the world. But… There’s always the “but.” But, I’ve grown used to saying, it can’t operate my ecobee Smart Thermostat. Yet. Now, thanks to The Drivers Lab, I can wipe that sentence entirely from my vernacular.

You, like many of my beleaguered guests, may be wondering why, exactly, I would want to integrate my ecobee into my Control4 system at large. After all, ecobee’s app control is amazing, its setup and online monitoring tools are beyond compare, and once the thing is set up, you rarely if ever need to touch it, aside from letting it know that you’ve replaced your filter (or if you’re walking by and just want to check the local weather conditions and forecast). One of the things that I tried hard to stress in my review of the Control4 HC-250, though, is that remote control isn’t the coolest thing about the system. Yes, Control4 is amazing at it. Yes, having one app to rule all of the connected electronic devices in my home is wicked cool.

But more than anything else, the real selling point of a control system like Control4 is the ability to have your electronics automatically do all of the things that you would normally do to them yourself. The few seconds of programming here and there that shaves literally minutes off of your day-to-day routine, every single day.

So why did I want my Ecobee tied into my Control system? Let me give you a ferinstance. Every night when I sit down to watch TV in the home theater, if the temperature is above 70 degrees or so, I turn on the ceiling fan. It’s just a given. Or, better yet, I should say that I sit down, fire up the home theater, and then remember that I forgot to turn on the ceiling fan, which means I have to get out of my comfy chair again. What if my ceiling fan knew what the temperature was, both inside and out, and could turn itself on automatically whenever I fired up the home theater?

Forget what ifs. That’s exactly the kind of thing that this driver allows for.

Granted, setup of The Drivers Lab’s Ecobee driver is a little trickier than most setup within the Control4 system is. It involves plugging in an activation key (generated by The Drivers Lab, based on the MAC address of your Control4 system). Then you have to activate app support on the ecobee website, plug in a PIN here and there. The first time around it was a bit of a daunting task for me, and I recently set up an entirely new second zone for my Control4 system all by my lonesome. I should also note that I aced my Control4 dealer training — both written and practical. So I’m not a total newb at this.

Just for kicks, though, I deleted the driver and went through the installation again, just to see if it gets easier. It does. And The Drivers Lab’s new documentation helps a lot. The point is, if you’re a dealer looking to install this driver or a homeowner worried about how long your dealer will be at your house installing it, just know that the first one is a booger, but the second one is a breeze. There’s just a bit of a learning curve.

One installed, the ecobee works much like any other thermostat in the Control4 environment, with a few exceptions. The key difference here is that the programming within the ecobee takes priority over anything the Control4 system wants to do to it. It’s still very much in charge of itself. You can use the Control4 Navigator UI to change temperatures, but unlike going straight up to the ecobee or using its own app, you don’t get a pop-up that asks you whether to hold your new temp for two hours, four hours, until the next transition, or permanently for the scheduled window that you’re presently in. It simply changes the temp until your next transition. (In other words, if you have your thermostat set to cool to 77° on Thursdays from 7pm to 9pm, and switch to 79° after 9, and you use the Control4 navigator to drop the temp to 75° at, say, 8pm, the ecobee will take back over at 9pm and resume its regularly scheduled programming).

You can use the Navigator to change your ecobee schedule, but honestly, ecobee’s interface is so much better. It’s all drag and drop and graphical and intuitive and awesome.

ecobee Smart Thermostat, web portal, and iOS app

Rarely, if ever, do I find myself doing any of that, though. At this point, my thermostat is entirely in set-it-and-forget-it mode, unless I stay up past my bedtime and need a little extra cooling on late nights.

Again, though, the point is that my Control4 system now has access to all of the indoor temperature and outdoor meteorological data that the ecobee provides, which has enabled me to set up all sorts of automated events based on those data. After having expanded my Control4 system to the bedroom (full updated review coming soon — hopefully right after CEDIA), I think my next upgrade is probably going to be automated Lutron shades. Before ecobee integration, yes, I could have used Control4’s astronomical clock and calendar to set up all sorts of automated shading events. Now I’ll be able to program them based on outdoor and indoor temps. In other words, if it gets a little too toasty and I’m in AC mode — no matter what my default programming may be — the system can go ahead and start closing shades. If we’re having an abnormally cool spring or autumn day and the sun is up, but my shades would normally be closed due to programming, the system could go ahead and open them to let a little solar heat in. The possibilities are nigh endless.

Now for the bad news. My trial review period for The Drivers Labs’ ecobee Smart Thermostat Control4 driver has just come to an end. And I’m faced with the decision as to whether or not to buy the retail version. After everything you’ve just read, you’d think I wouldn’t be struggling with this in the slightest. It should be a no-brainer, right?

Except for the fact that the driver is $160.

Yeah.

That’s about sixty percent of the purchase cost of the ecobee EB-STAT-02 itself.

On the one hand, The Drivers Lab had to put a lot of R&D into this driver, and it’s safe to assume that a Venn diagram that included both Control4 owners and ecobee owners would involve a very small intersection. In other words, the number of drivers that can be sold is incredibly finite at this point. Divide the total number of potential customers by the cost of development, add in a little profit, and the cost is what it is. And nobody else has an ecobee Control4 driver yet.

On the other hand, ouch.

In the end, though, I think I’ll grit my teeth and go ahead and buy the driver. Now that my trial period is over, I miss the functionality. A lot. And the price of the driver also includes The Drivers Lab’s upcoming support for ecobee’s Smart Plugs, as well, which I’ve definitely been considering adding to my system.

Contact info:
The Drivers Lab
ecobee
Control4

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