ACHRNEWS

Smart Controls Put Homeowners and Contractors in Charge

September 19, 2011
Communicating Controls
For years, the heating and cooling system in a home was controlled by a wall-mounted thermostat. Homeowners set temperatures that determined when the air conditioner/heat pump and furnace/air handler turned on and off to meet heating and cooling requirements. Life was easy, or so it seemed. The challenge came when the system malfunctioned or performed inefficiently, sometimes for extended periods of time without the homeowner’s knowledge. Things got complicated as homeowners searched for clues to explain their higher utility bills, uncomfortable temperatures, and a system that did not perform to expectations.

Today, that simple thermostat is evolving into a much more complex digital device, still mounted on the wall, but providing homeowners with far greater control over their environment while offering detailed information about the performance of their home comfort system. Maintenance tips are communicated, potential problems identified, and contractor contact information displayed to help prevent problems and quickly and efficiently address those that do arise. Homeowners are far more likely to be comfortable, and contractors find it easier to install and service these smart systems, experiencing fewer customer callbacks and enjoying the credit that comes with increased customer satisfaction.

The new smart controls, often called communicating controls, take advantage of advanced digital technology to build a real-time system profile, displaying equipment and accessory status that provides contractors and homeowners with precise information and better control. Contractors benefit from a number of features designed to make installation and service easy, while increasing opportunities to sell service and system components.

Installation and Service

A communicating control provides total system integration as it reaches out to and communicates with all the key components in a home comfort system, including air conditioners, furnaces, and other system accessories, to ensure maximum efficiency and ideal home comfort. For contractors, the simple plug-and-play design of digital controls eliminates time-consuming wiring and system checking at installation.

Because the control is matched to a specific manufacturer’s system, the control automatically recognizes the system components, by model and serial number, and configures all of them — air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, dehumidifiers, humidifiers, air cleaners, and other smart devices. This auto configuration capability further reduces installation time for the contractor and eliminates errors in the installation process. The contractor never has to touch the indoor or outdoor unit, except for wiring purposes. When new compatible components are added to a system, the auto configuration feature automatically recognizes and configures them, based on the comfort settings and operation requirements of the existing system. As the system operates, the control offers a centralized location for every component.

This same centralized control provides contractors with important diagnostic capabilities. Not only is the control able to diagnose a problem, providing on-screen text explanations of fault codes, but the device can also indicate when the problem occurred and how many times it occurred. As a result, the contractor is better equipped to troubleshoot, diagnose, and service a system.

Business Promotion

The communicating control’s intuitive, high-definition touch screen can be configured to prominently display the contractor’s contact information. In the event of a fault code, this display encourages the homeowner to call the contractor for service. The control further maximizes contractor business opportunities by automatically providing maintenance reminders that encourage homeowners to continue working with their contractor to maintain their home comfort system and ensure it operates at top efficiency.

And because today’s smart controls are associated with high-end, premium equipment, the contractor is associated with these same high quality products.

Meanwhile, homeowners appreciate the benefits that a communicating control delivers, beginning with their ability to exercise greater control over their environment, including temperature and humidity control. Easy programming makes it possible to create custom schedules that satisfy unique comfort requirements throughout the day and take into account travel and work schedules, providing more heat or cooling when a home is occupied. As a result, comfort levels increase, energy efficiency improves, and energy costs decrease. The abundance of information the control is able to produce also helps homeowners to understand the operating parameters of their system and its efficiency performance.

Homeowners also receive reminders of regular maintenance that the system requires to operate efficiently. Their contractor’s name and number will be displayed with these reminders and also in response to alerts regarding problems within the system. Newer communicating controls empower homeowners to take the necessary steps that will help to avoid system failure and instill peace of mind.

This, in turn, provides contractors with several other important benefits that can be attributed to communicating controls. First, the features that homeowners appreciate most about the new digital controls make it easier to sell these higher-end units. Second, the controls produce satisfied customers, which is always good for business. And third, communicating controls result in fewer callbacks, freeing up time and technicians to tackle additional work.

Meanwhile, technology continues to evolve and will likely result in additional enhancements to existing controls. Wireless technology and remote connectivity, for example, will offer homeowners the ability to control their home comfort system from remote locations. Similarly, contractors will have the ability to remotely monitor their customers’ heating and cooling systems and respond even more quickly to alerts and fault codes that are sent directly to them via email or text messaging. Remote monitoring capabilities will also help contractors sell preventive maintenance programs, increasing the value of the programs by offering weekly monitoring as opposed to the annual monitoring typically associated with today’s service agreements.

Tomorrow’s controls will also open up opportunities for energy management as the devices communicate with smart meters and utility companies, identifying periods of peak demands and subsequently switching to less expensive alternative power sources. At the same time, smart control technology will migrate from premium products to mid-tier offerings.

As these changes appear in second- and third-generation communicating controls, homeowners will continue to reap the benefits of comfort, efficiency, reduced costs, and peace of mind. But contractors will benefit from their ability to provide quick installations, timely service, and targeted diagnostics.

Publication date: 09/19/2011