Lessons of the Thermostat: The New ecobee3 lite Continued.

Friday, February 1, 2019

One of the major pluses to having this blog has been the documentation of All Things House.  Whether it's a product I purchased that I forgot the name of or a paint color or before and after photos that shock my system, this here lil' blog has been great for me personally.  I hope it's been great for you too!

A major case in point:  photos.

If you remember last time, I broke up with the Nest thermostat and went a new route with an ecobee.*

But yet, why was our furnace still on/off/on, off/on, off/on'ing and acting crazy weird??  Flashes of worry all through the air.  Air.  Pun.  Ha.

First I hit up the Venstar Add-a-Wire website seeking troubleshooting info, discovering none to be had so I popped off an email thinking maybe this gizmo was causing the janky.  Considering the Nest fail in June after so long, it was a sound theory.

Several days later I received essentially a non-response:  check your filter, see if it's clogged and if that's not it, call a professional.

Uuhhh, ok.

Thanks.  That's great.

Next I thought, hmm, I'll hit up ecobee support.

This time I opted to place a phone call as my time was at a severe premium given the holiday season and the sudden workload on my desk.

And luckily for me, Dane picked up.  Never in my life have I ever, and I mean ever never ever ever, encountered a customer service person as gracious and tenacious, thoroughly ensuring a problem has been solved with such inspiration, patience, and determination.

Dane spent a full hour and a half with me on the phone.  Super patient the entire time.  Hour and a half.  No joke.

Most of the conversation at this point is a blur but he had me check and tweak some thermostat settings.  No such luck.  After a couple of holds to consult with others, he thought maybe the Venstar wire addition* was the issue.

"Let's take the Venstar off and put the ecobee power extender in," Dane said.  Uh.  Wait, what?

I didn't realize, and despite seeing it in the box but having zero clue what it was and not having a lick of time to read the manual...turns out ecobee packages in a gizmo of their own if you don't have a C wire.
ecobee3 lite thermostat in box parts
Ah.  See?  It's that gizmo inside the box,  top left with the nubbies on it.  Huh.

When I purchased the thermostat, in all the research I read, I only read that the ecobee requires a C wire, nothing about we include a thingie if you don't have one.  Ok.

"But uh, Dane..."  Terror-stricken I was.  Why?  He was asking me to rewire the furnace.

That's frightening.

Have you peeked inside your furnace?   No?  It's intimidatingly scary.

Lamps, no problem.  Changing a recessed can light to a pendant, eh, in my sleep.  Changing out a fixture, in a cold hard sleep.  Or even changing a hardwire sconce to a plug in.....you get the gist here.

HVAC wiring rats nest in cryptic HVAC not-human-language?  Omg.  Dane!

Round back to my point at the top?  Thank holy bejebus I'd taken photos of wiring.  Nest wiring, furnace wiring, Venstar furnace wiring, wiring changes, wiring.

Several times Dane requested photos of previous wirings and I had them.  What. A. Help.  Oh my.  First lesson from this post?  Take photos of things you do.

furnace wiring with Venstar add a wire
Here's the wiring.  Yeeoowza.  What the hell....This is obviously post Venstar Add-a-Wire.  Obviously.  Duh.
"It's ok, you can do this."  That's all he said.  So matter of factly too like what, like so easy I can't even think of a...like boiling water.  I'm some random chick on the phone yet he decides that I could do this.

Rewire a freakin' furnace.  Omg.

So I did.

venstar add-a-wire furnace removal
Oooooh-kay, Venstar disconnected Dane!
Dane stayed on the phone with me the entire time, explaining precisely, clearly, what I needed to do and had me send further photos to verify I wired properly.

wiring furnace ecobee power extender thermostat
FYI, your wiring situation may be different than mine, do not blow up your furnace and copy me.  This is how my power extender wiring went.  Go with a professional if this is not something you are comfortable with.  What's hard to see is the white wire is in with the Y.
ecobee3 lite wiring in furnace
Again, our particular scenario, your mileage could vary but here's the power extender wired up to the thermostat wiring and furnace.
Then?  Joy of joys, the ecobee powered back up!  Holy tootie kapooties.  I did it!  I rewired the freakin' furnace!!  I about pooped my pants.  Seriously, I....ok, I won't belabor that point.

A few more settings tweaked, he'll monitor from up 'dere in Toronto (yes, creepy but it proved to be handy), I'll keep an eye out here, thanks, we'll be in touch.

So?  Nope, no such luck.  Now the situation was rapidly getting worse.

Now the house kept dropping to 62° at which point the furnace would finally kick on.  At times, it wouldn't even do that.  Yes, as a perma-cold lifeform, this was rough.  Very rough.

That and the ecobee stats online showed the furnace and fan were running when in actuality, they were not.

ecobee online graph stats
See, the orange bar at top shows that the furnace is on, running, the gaps represent "off."  The gray bar below, the fan running.  Now, the orange line in the graph shows what the temp was set at.  The white line shows actual temps.  You can see the huge dips, that's me freezing because the darn heat was not running and the bump ups are when it finally did run.  The graph gap blank blips are me removing the ecobee from the wall.
Dane and I emailed daily, multiple emails daily for an entire week.  Me shivering blue, layered up, trying to work and merry between.

I am an incredibly patient person; at times my patience was quite tested but Dane stuck with me and I him.

We reached a point where the thermostat was disconnected, two wires taped together to get the furnace to run.  But it wouldn't run long.  "I think it's your furnace.  Call a professional," he said.  Stressed to the gills, deflated, tired, and freezin' my flippin' a** off, I obliged.

Next day, a super nice guy from Heatmasters arrives, I missed his name, Mike biting his nails to a nub, resolving himself to the wallet pain of furnace replacement.  Dane emailed early in the day asking to be appraised of the goings-on.

First off, the service guy is testing things.  "This looks good, yep, this is fine, this is fine too..."  Despite the chilly air I'm sweating bullets, panicked we need a new furnace.  This lump of metal has been here six years now.

"When was the last time you had it serviced?" he gently asked.  Uh, well, uh, right when we moved in?  "Ok.  Yeah, you should do that more often."

"Let's check the sensor," he said giddily, sliding out a metal rod.  "Ooh yeah, uh huh," scrub scrub with just a plain ol' freakin' green kitchen scrubby,* "Yeah, that was dirty."

He pops the sensor back in, the furnace powers Right Up, he tests a few other things, dusts off ("are you like cutting drywall or rehabbing or something?" uuuuhhh) other parts, we wait.  "We're all good," he says.

What?  That's it?  It was a freakin' metal rod with a couple dirt smudges?  "Yep, that's all it was."

"Here, why don't you sign up for a year's worth of maintenance with us."

Big second lesson here folks?  Despite the high cost and seeming like a they-don't-do-diddly sham, get your furnace serviced and cleaned every so often.  It's not a ploy.

Having not heard from me in hours, Dane sent a mildly nervous email asking what was up.  "Dirty sensor," I said.  "Oh.  Ok," he said, calmly relieved.

After reinstalling the thermostat and a stutter step or two, all was calm on the ecobee/furnace front, we had heat when we wanted it again.

I repeatedly showered deserving Dane with oodles of praise and thanks, wrote a nice review on the survey ecobee sent.  I totally would've baked something for him as a thanks, as I do.  Kinda miss Dane now, but surely he's doing good throughout the land, making people warm and comfortable.

By the way, as an addendum, it was -21° outside the other day, yes actual daytime outdoor air temperature and even though the ecobee disconnected from the internet briefly, it was still on, still working.  Unlike a Nest.  Anytime the Nest lost its internet juice, it stopped working, no heat.

Mad props to the lil' ecobee.  Mad props to Dane.  Ditch the Nest people, get an ecobee.

Man, the cold I had after all this?  Harsh, dude.  Sick sick sick.

Finn is not the best nurse but he was very good at keeping me company in bed.
Now if only we could insulate the walls, sigh.

*The ecobees, thermostat add-a-wires, and green kitchen scrubbers are Amazon affiliate links.  Mwah, thanks!  Please see the "boring stuff" tab for more info.

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