Jim Wheeler: 'Smart house' is here to stay
Back in the late 1980s when I first started working for an HVACR magazine, we heard a lot about the coming of “the smart house” where all systems and equipment within a home could be integrated and controlled.
But the problem back then was a lack of so-called “smart” devices and systems. Most appliances, including HVACR systems and thermostats, were largely on-off devices, and the means of connecting and communicating between them was pretty rudimentary. Also, the price for installing such systems was prohibitive for the average consumer and no one could figure out what could be gained by having the ability to communicate with, for example, a washing machine.
Times, technology and people have changed.
One of the things that changed is people’s (especially the younger generation’s) interest in and acceptance of the type of technology that can communicate with electronic and mechanical devices. In fact, I was surprised to hear at a recent press conference put on by Carrier Corp., where it revealed more than half of all customers it surveyed said the ability to communicate with an A/C system through a cell phone or computer is a highly desirable option; therefore, this is the direction their group is heading.
Me? I’ve been computerized and online since the 1980s, but I’m not quite as convinced. I can see from my computer and cell phone that I can now communicate with my refrigerator, but I’m just not sure why I would want to do that. However, my eldest son (an HVACR salesperson) is totally sold on the value of such communication ability and he has been using smart thermostats as a leading sales tool. In fact, he was telling me he thinks every system should now go in with communicating digital controls. So, smart house, you now are almost here!
What has changed when it comes to communication? Two things:
- The advent of digital technology; and
- The availability of very low-cost computer chips.
As a result, almost all new HVACR systems and almost all appliances now are digitally controlled and have some ability to communicate through digital (typically Bluetooth or WiFi) technology. People want that! So, whether we older ones understand it or not, it’s here and people are buying it.
I recently was contacted by EPRI (the Electric Power Research Institute) and they wanted to talk to me about why they are so supportive of this digital integration into HVACR systems. EPRI’s interest, of course, is in helping electric companies to keep control of peak demand for electrical consumption. Of course, on a hot day where all A/C units are running, the generating and operating capacities of electric companies is challenged, and this is what EPRI technology is primarily trying to address.
What EPRI was interested in telling me about was thermostats that can sense the presence of a person or people in a room so the system isn’t running when there is no need for extra heating or cooling. It also wanted to talk about thermostats that allow electric companies to remotely throttle back compressor and/or fan operation during peak electrical demand periods (with the customer’s approval, of course).
Then, what am I saying? Well, if your company still considers “night-setback” thermostats the latest and greatest thing, you’re probably out of date and losing business.
Rather, it appears as though your company (if it isn’t already doing this) should be doing all it can to bring all your contractor customers into the field of HVACR digital communications.
At about the same price we once sold night-setback thermostats, we now can sell digital-communication thermostats that can totally integrate into whole-house “smart” systems that include communication with all the appliances and even with home or business security systems.
Is your company embracing the “smart” movement?