This year’s AHR Expo in Las Vegas was billed as being the largest ever and it may have been.

Certainly there were huge crowds, which made walking the show quite a challenge because there were not only more booths, but the booths also seemed to be larger.

And what did I carry away? The one message that came across loud and clear is that if your HVACR system or your tools can’t communicate with a smartphone, they now are obsolete.

Carrier Corp. held a press briefing to show us why such a large portion of its offerings are either smartphone-accessible or why they can communicate with systems that can be viewed remotely by operators or contractors.

According to Carrier statistics, 54% of millennials (and a growing number of us older folks) now expect to be able to communicate with every device in their home or business — from their HVACR system to their toothbrush — no matter where they may be. So if your company is still based around wired or flip-phone technology, you are probably losing business.

Of course, every company at the expo that now has online-accessible products felt they were the only ones doing it so they were touting their own entry into the early 21st century. As a result, what we would have considered absolutely miraculous just 10 years ago seemed a tad humdrum. The things I was looking for were the other innovations that made certain products stand out from the crowd.

When it comes to communicating with devices in the home via smartphone, probably No. 1 on the list of wants (second only to communicating with a home security system) is an easy, inexpensive and programmable thermostat that can be checked and set from an office or car. No, the old manual round thermostat is not what they’re looking for today. And from the number of thermostat manufacturers I saw, it is clear one brand no longer dominates our industry.

In particular, I was impressed with a new line of smart thermostats from LUX Products that touts a choice of replaceable designer covers that come in at least six colors and patterns — no more “any color you want so long as it’s ivory.”

And though it is fully programmable, there is a simple one-button control that seems to have a sensor to detect the presence of a person in the room. This thermostat retails in the $100 to $150 range and is compatible with Apple’s HomeKit and Google’s Alexa. For more information, check out

Another smart thermostat line that has a unique feature I found interesting is the EcoTouch+Battery from Telkonet. This appears to be primarily targeted at commercial jobs, but the thermostat (which also has a built-in people detector) is battery operated so it can be located anywhere in the building.

There’s a lot more that I saw at the expo and I’ll cover those new innovations in next month’s column.