Whet Your HVACR Mobile App-etite
An inside look at some of apps available to HVAC contractors
Apps seemingly are everywhere and can do everything — from keeping an individual up to date on how his or her favorite sports teams are doing to letting a user know the exact minute a snowstorm is going to arrive at his or her location. There also are many apps that can help make contracting businesses run smoother and easier and can allow owners to offer added value to their customers.
One example is Carrier Corp.’s Commercial Rooftop mobile app, which is compatible with Apple® iOS 6.0 and above, Android™ 4.0 and above, and Windows® 8.0 and above. It features integrated and automatic updates to ensure users always have the most up-to-date information available.
Ted Cherubin, new product marketing manager, Carrier, said the app was developed through a partners-in-development initiative that included input from contractors, engineers, and distributors.
“We were getting feedback from the field that people wanted an on-the-spot decision-making tool,” Cherubin said. “We have a very broad line of rooftop products — three efficiency levels and many sizes within each level — and people in the field needed an easy way to navigate it all.”
Cherubin explained the app starts with a simple decision tree, inviting users to answer: Which level of efficiency do you require, and is the job in question a new construction or replacement situation? If the user chooses new construction, all he or she needs to do it enter the tonnage and the app provides all the available Carrier choices. With the click of another button, it can spell out the important parameters from Carrier’s product catalog, such as performance, weight, external static pressure, and volume.
If the user chooses replacement, he or she simply enters the brand and model of the unit already on the roof, and the app provides all the information on Carrier replacement options.
Both the new construction and replacement sides of the app provide energy use comparisons to other products. A simple push of a button allows a user to contact a local distributor or go to the Carrier website.
“The app provides the user all the data he or she needs on the spot,” Cherubin said. “On the replacement side, it enables a user to have all the information necessary to replace a unit without ever having to get down from the roof.”
Scott Terrell, owner of Cooney Air Conditioning & Heating in Syracuse, New York, said the Commercial Rooftop app is a handy tool to have in the field, particularly when it comes to unit replacements. It provides information not only on the rooftop unit itself, but also on curb adapters (if necessary) and electrical requirements.
“In the old days, we would have to look up all that information back at the office,” Terrell said. “Now, while I’m on the roof, I can get dimensional data and tell right away if we’re going to need a new circuit or a fused disconnect instead of a non-fused unit.”
The app also is impressive to customers as it allows contractors to answer questions on-site.
“I was in a job meeting recently, and the electrician wanted to know a unit’s MOCP, or maximum over-current protection,” Terrell said. “I was able to pull that information up instantly. The customer and electrician were both impressed that I had that data right there on my phone.
“It’s a really handy tool to have out in the field,” he added. “Carrier did a nice job putting it together.”
THE KEY IS SIMPLICITY
The Sensi Wi-Fi programmable thermostat mobile app from Emerson Climate Technologies Inc. is designed to be simple to use both by contractors who are installing the thermostat and by homeowners who use the app daily to manage their home comfort.
“A priority for us in designing the thermostat and the app was to combine an easy installation with the ease of a Wi-Fi connection to help our contractors introduce more customers to the benefits of having a connected home,” said Stephen Bolen, user experience lead, Sensi, commercial and residential solutions, Emerson.
According to Bolen, contractor feedback is crucial to the success of the Sensi app. He said he travels the country meeting and talking with technicians about the Sensi platform to get their insights on what is working well and in what ways the app could be improved to meet the specific needs of contractors and technicians.
“In addition to an easy installation and fast connection, another insight we gleaned is how important the leave-behind business card is for this industry,” Bolen said. “Understanding how valuable this touchpoint is for customer retention helped us to develop our in-app contractor branding. By simply entering their phone numbers, contractors can leave a virtual business card in the application for customers to reference and get assistance whenever they need it.”
Bolen added that feedback from the contracting community will continue to shape changes to the Sensi app in 2017.
“The best feature of the Sensi app is its simplicity. It makes scheduling very easy for homeowners,” said Brian Peters, chief encouragement officer, Evergreen Heating & Air, Waco, Texas. “Homeowners really enjoy the scheduling feature and find it very useful. I use this feature to sell the Sensi thermostat, as well.”
A SEAMLESS HANDOFF
The Honeywell Lyric app, along with the company’s T6 thermostat, offers a range of features, including real-time status of when a system is on or off; vacation mode options; temperature holds; the ability to schedule multiple thermostats at the same time; and the ability to access the thermostat via third-parties, such as Amazon Alexa, Siri, and others.
Sandhya Rao, senior director of IoT software and mobile apps product management, connected home product management, Honeywell Intl. Inc., said configuring the thermostat and app takes just minutes and features a seamless handoff functionality, which allows contractors to invite consumers to connect their thermostats to their own Wi-Fi networks quickly and easily, eliminating the awkwardness of contractors asking for Wi-Fi passwords or the customer’s phone.
“Contractors can offer a breadth of thermostat options tied to just one Lyric app,” Rao said. “Whether customers are sophisticated or practical, prefer round or square thermostats, require a C-wire or not, and lead scheduled or ever-changing lifestyles, Lyric offers a variety of options that make it extremely versatile for contractors to offer.”
Robert Kunzmann, CEO of Comfort Pro Heating & Cooling Inc., a residential and commercial HVAC contractor in Prescott, Arizona, said the Lyric app has a modern interface that makes it very easy for customers to adjust temperatures and change their systems’ modes.
And from the perspective of the contractor or technician, Kunzmann said the setup of the Lyric is much easier than that of other apps he and his technicians have used.
“The process to set up some apps for customers can be time-consuming,” he said. “It requires you to be in the home with customers and have access to their computers and cellphones. You have to ask customers to set up accounts online so they can access the app and then enter their Apple IDs on their phones so they can download the app. It wasn’t unusual for that whole set up process to take up to an hour.
“The Lyric app, on the other hand, takes us about 15-20 minutes,” Kunzmann said. “It has a contractor mode that I can access from my cellphone or tablet, which allows me to set up the app, make it work, run it, test it, hit a button, and basically hand it off to customers. They receive an email with the instructions necessary to walk them through the rest of the setup. It really saves us a lot of time in the field.”
SHINE A LIGHT
The UV Select™ sizing app from UV Resources is designed to make properly sizing and sourcing fixtures for UV-C applications easy.
The app, which is available for both Android and IOS systems, uses project-specific measurements to generate UV-C fixturing recommendations that best comply with ASHRAE guidelines for ultraviolet surface treatment. According to UV Resources, the user simply inputs the height and width of an air-handler’s coil and plenum, and the UV Select app generates a product selection that ensures the project complies with ASHRAE guidelines.
“Traditionally, how to properly size HVAC UV-C systems has been a mystery to many contractors, facility engineers, and end users” said Dan Jones, president, UV Resources. “This app offers a simple and quantitative approach to system sizing.”
The UV Select app also can request a quote for virtually any replacement UV-C lamp by simply inputting information about the lamp and pressing a button.
Dave Merchan, an engineer in the university facilities office at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, said he appreciates the way the UV Select app streamlines the selection process.
“It’s very straightforward,” he said. “I just input the information from my system, hit a button, and I receive an email with the selection. I then receive a quick follow-up phone call from UV Resources to go over the information and verify the order. I really like that format and flow. In a busy world, it’s nice to have the process automated and streamlined.”
Merchan is likely to get a lot of use from the app as about 10 percent of the university’s air handlers are equipped with UV lights, but the new campus standard is for the lights to be included on all new or replacement air handlers. “Over time, we’re going to standardize the entire campus,” he said.
INSTANT ACCCESS AND CONTROL
Venstar’s Skyport mobile app remotely monitors and controls Venstar’s ColorTouch and Voyager Wi-Fi thermostats, giving contractors and users instant access and control of multiple thermostats at numerous locations.
According to Venstar reps, contractors and users can use the company’s Skyport mobile app to monitor the name and location of a thermostat; check the current weather and forecast; remotely access the thermostat’s wireless temperature sensor for information on supply and return air temperatures and humidity; change heating and cooling set points and thermostat modes; view thermostat alerts, including supply air temperature, service reminders, and more; view daily, weekly, and monthly runtime graphs; view heating and cooling runtimes for the day, current week, and previous week; and set home/away settings (home users) or occupied/unoccupied settings (commercial users).
“By using the Skyport Mobile App with their Apple iOS and Android smartphones or tablets, users can remotely monitor and control heating and cooling functions, including checking information provided by the wireless temperature sensor(s), to help reduce energy usage and costs while maintaining indoor comfort,” said Steve Dushane, president and CEO, Venstar Inc.
Eric Dyer, owner of American Air Works, a residential and commercial HVAC contractor in Simi Valley, California, said the Skyport app is easy to use and serves as a natural extension of the ease of use of Venstar thermostats.
“The thing that separates Venstar thermostats from all others is how easy they are to use,” Dyer said. “Everything is right there on the touchscreen.”
The app is designed to allow the same ease of use remotely. Users can turn systems on or off, adjust the temperatures, and monitor usage.
“You can teach a customer how to use it in five minutes,” Dyer said. “I run into many customers, especially older ones, who hear ‘internet app,’ and are immediately leery. Then they try it and see how easy it is to use, and they’re excited because they feel like they’ve been brought up to date on the technology and are on top of the curve.”
These are just a few examples of the apps available to HVAC contractors, and we add more regularly. Keep track of what’s out there, and you may find the apps that can help make life —and your customers’ lives — a little bit easier.
Publication date: 1/9/2017