Finding Your Customer's Comfort With Controls

Last month we discussed some system areas that need to be checked when a customer has complaints of being too hot or too cold. Of course, first you must make sure that the entire system is working as it should, and that sufficient amounts of air are being delivered throughout the home's ductwork (if the home has ductwork), or that the hydronic system is circulating as designed.

Once you have done this, you can offer control solutions to help improve your customer's comfort, IAQ, and even energy consumption.

Thermostat Evolution

For many years, thermostats had a very basic function: call for heat/don't call for heat. When air conditioning became a more commonly installed product, thermostats were modified so that they would call for heat or call for cooling. "Fan only" was added for air circulation without running the furnace or air conditioner - just the blower.

With the energy crisis of the 1970s, thermostat manufacturers designed an innovative product called a "setback thermostat." Using early programming codes, homeowners could set the thermostat so that it would start and stop the system automatically depending on the occupants' work, school, and sleep schedules.

It sounded like a great solution to comfort and energy problems. The only thing was, some consumers found them confusing to program. Research from the Energy Center of Wisconsin (ECW) confirmed that in the wrong consumers' hands, programmable setback thermostats would not provide the energy savings they seemed to promise.

According to the 1999 report, "The average self-reported winter thermostat setting does not vary substantially by type of thermostat used," whether manual or programmable.

In short, the study found that Wisconsin homeowners who learn how to work the programming on their setback thermostats, would also set back temperatures with manual stats, and usually to the same degree of difference. Homeowners with little or no interest in energy conservation will resort to the "hold" function on programmable stats, bringing it back to a steady temperature with no setback.

Manufacturers, many of whom had already been working on thermostat improvements, took the report to heart. Since then, the market has blossomed with products that place ease of use above almost everything else.

Thermostat Revolution

In order to find the right thermostat for your customer, you need to take several things into account:

  • What kind of comfort system do they have?

    If it's a newer system with a variable-speed motor, they may need a thermostat that works with the motor's lower-speed settings. Some systems even require the use of manufacturer-specified thermostats in order for the occupants to get full comfort and cost-saving benefits.

    A few thermostat manufacturers offer products that can be used with newer, variable-speed comfort systems or older, single-speed designs. These products offer a great deal of flexibility but you need to take care hooking them up in order to prevent a callback, as you would with any product.

  • How comfortable are your customers with technology?

    Look around and ask some questions. Do they own a computer? Do they use the computer? How complicated is their microwave oven? How comfortable are they using their TV/VCR/DVD controls? Do they own or use a cell phone?

  • Do your customers seem to have any special needs?

    Are there any vision problems that might benefit from a large-display thermostat? Do they wear glasses? What are the occupants' ages? Would they be more comfortable with a "talking" thermostat, which some manufacturers now offer? Do any of the occupants have allergies that might benefit from running an air cleaner when the furnace or air conditioner is not operating?

  • Would these customers benefit from zoning?

    This opens up a whole new array of options, which we will be look at in more detail in next month's Tech Tip.

    For more information, click on the Emerson Climate Technologies logo above.

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