May 05, 2024

Today’s Residential HVAC Controls Are Smarter Than Ever

Programmable thermostats that can be accessed through an internet device are old hat.

Manufacturers now have technology that lets contractors monitor HVAC systems remotely, apps that link them directly to their customers, and ignition modules that can be configured with the touch of a button on a smartphone and provide diagnostics as well. Accessory integration — thermostats that control not just heating and cooling, but also a humidifier or dehumidifier, and can monitor IAQ security — plus programs that help less experienced technicians learn faster were also in the mix from controls makers at the 2023 AHR Expo in Atlanta.

Here are just a few of the residential HVAC controls products featured at the Georgia World Congress Center, the host venue for this year’s Expo.

“For us, the value that we think we’re bringing to pros is that we’re keeping them connected here,” said Gene LaNois, director of professional industry partnerships at Google, which was showing off the capabilities of its Nest brand of thermostats. “We’re creating a better experience for the homeowners by letting them know when their system may not be running correctly and enabling them to get in touch with their pro when they need them.”

LaNois was referring to Google’s Nest Pro technology, which features HVAC monitoring that sends an alert to a customer when a system is not operating properly and can then immediately provide the contact information for a trusted HVAC firm.

DIRECT LINK: Google’s Nest Pro technology sends homeowners plain-English messages about system problems and offers a direct link to a customer’s preferred service contractor in the event of system issues. (Courtesy of Google Nest)

“So they press the blue button on the app and they can schedule that call with that contractor,” he said. “And that is a paid visit, a paid job to that home.” The monitoring is “conservative,” LaNois said, meaning it’s recognized a real problem that needs professional service before providing an alert and isn’t sending out a technician just to troubleshoot.

LaNois said some contractors have found that installing Nest thermostats is a good way to expand their businesses and keep technicians busy during slower times of the year.

“There’s electrical wiring involved. There’s a whole demographic of people (homeowners) that don’t want to do anything with that,” he said. But it’s well within the capabilities of contractors, he said, many of whom get into the sideline after they’ve put a Nest product in their own home.

Emerson took advantage of the Expo to launch its White-Rodgers brand All-Spark universal furnace ignition module, which can replace more than 800 types of intermittent-pilot and direct-spark modules and offer configuration and diagnostics through near-field communication (NFC) with the White-Rodgers Connect app.

The idea is to streamline inventory — contractors don’t have to carry a lot of different modules — and speed up installation and troubleshooting, said Ed Blittschau, vice president of marketing for White-Rodgers. That adds up to time savings.

“One of the biggest challenges faced by contractors today is balancing the abundance of service calls with the shortage of hours in the day,” said Blittschau. “With fewer techs and contractors in the field, the less time HVAC professionals spend looking for the right replacement part, the more customers they can serve and the more money they can earn each day.”

Emerson also announced the results of a survey of 2,000 thermostat owners on the subject of smart devices, done on behalf of its Sensi line of smart thermostats.

The survey found that 73% of those with smart thermostats were concerned about manufacturers having access to their personal data. And some 70%, Blittschau said, would consider replacing a working smart thermostat with another from a manufacturer that does not share data with third parties or use it to target advertising.

Emerson, Blittschau said, meets those standards of user privacy, and that’s valuable information for contractors to have.

“As they talk to homeowners and install smart thermostats, we want them to be at least prepared for some of the questions that they ask,” he said.

Resideo announced its Pro IQ Services technology, a platform that allows contractors to brand the Resideo app with their company logo and contact information, thereby boosting marketing and customer retention. The top tier, Pro IQ Advanced, has diagnostics that let technicians remotely monitor customers’ HVAC systems, alerting them to any issues that need servicing before they become major problems.

BRAND MARKETING: Resideo’s Pro IQ Services technology features an end-user app that can be branded with a contractors logo and contact details. The higher-tier platform offers contractors remote monitoring and diagnostics of customers’ systems. (Courtesy of Resideo)

“This allows the contractor to smooth out and streamline their labor base,” said Levi Bouwman, director of distribution products and solutions at Resideo. “So you get different types of alerts: You could get a critical alert that says you have no heat, you have no air conditioning. That’s something that we need to roll a truck for right now. You could get an alert that’s less urgent.”

The system helps contractors prioritize their service calls, assign the right technician for the job, and give him or her an idea of what’s going on with the system before getting in the truck.

The Pro IQ technology works with many kinds of systems, Bouwman said, and with new installations as well as retrofits. The Advanced option, he said, uses artificial intelligence to learn the system as part of its monitoring capability.

Resideo also launched the Resideo Academy, an app-based learning platform for technicians who work with the company’s products. The lessons come in “bite-sized snippets that contractors can watch,” Bouwman said.

“It has everything we do in the HVAC industry, from thermostats to indoor air quality, to how to install products, and how to sell products,” Bouwman said. The Academy also has lessons on non-HVAC Resideo products, such as security and plumbing products, he said.

The home automation company ecobee touted its Smart Thermostat Premium and Smart Thermostat Enhanced thermostats, which let users control accessory HVAC components, such as dehumidifiers and air exchangers, in addition to heating and cooling. The Smart Thermostat Enhanced has a terminal for a one-wire accessory, while the Smart Thermostat Premium can accommodate one two-wire accessory or two one-wire accessories.

VOICE CONTROL: The ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium can control up to two auxiliary HVAC devices in addition to heating and cooling, and offers IAQ monitoring and compatibility with smart home systems. (Courtesy of ecobee)

Smart Thermostat Premium also has a built-in speaker that can work with Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, and other smart home systems, and also has IAQ monitoring, which has a readout showing the air quality on a sliding scale relative to the home’s baseline.

“We provide a relative score between clean and poor air quality, both on the VOC (volatile organic chemicals) level and on the carbon dioxide level,” said Adam Welton, director of channel marketing, pro and retail, at ecobee.

“We detect a deterioration in the air quality, we can actually run the air exchanger to circulate fresh air in order to try to improve the air quality,” Welton continued. “And often that will be sufficient” because the IAQ deteriorated because of a temporary activity, like cooking, he added.

Ecobee introduced the first smart thermostat in 2009, and founder and CEO Stuart Lombard said the new thermostat lineup is the company’s smartest yet.

“At ecobee, we believe the future smart home will be more resilient and efficient, and we remain committed to achieving these goals by offering advanced technologies designed to improve everyday life and create a more sustainable world,” Lombard said.

Matt Jachman is the legislation editor at the ACHR NEWS. He has 30-plus years of experience in community journalism and a bachelor’s degree in English from Wayne State University in Detroit.