BEDFORD HEIGHTS, Ohio — Almost everyone, including distributors, contractors, and consumers, believe that programmable thermostats will save energy when used properly. That being true, why is it that so many people tend to manually override the programmable features and potentially lose energy-saving benefits?

According to Brad Overholt, Overholt Heating & Air Conditioning, “They don’t tend to be a good user experience.” Overholt, a contractor from Wickliffe, Ohio, was one of many to visit Wolf Brothers Supply Inc. in Bedford Heights for an ecobee™ Road Trip exhibit in the parking lot of the HVAC, electrical, and plumbing wholesaler on June 11.

The stop was part of a seven-week-long tour that began May 17 at Gensco Kirkland in Kirkland, Wash., and will end at Control Solutions Design in Boise, Idaho, on June 25. An ecobee-branded Winnebago RV visited 27 cities in the United States. Each week a different team of company executives hit the road to promote a variety of ecobee products, including ecobee’s latest Wi-Fi-enabled residential and commercial products, the new Smart Si and EMS Si thermostats.

The designated driver for the Northeastern portion of the trek was Jason Mackinnon, a regional sales manager serving Canada. Ann Souter, manager, inside sales, jumped on the tour in Boston, and Jay Kress, a regional sales manager based in Indianapolis, met up in Cleveland to join the traveling entourage.

Kress said, “More customers want to remotely access their thermostats, and contractors want to know ahead of time if there is ever a problem with their customers’ systems. Our products allow contractors to receive notification alerts, so they can notify their customers before a critical problem might develop.” The technology of the ecobeee Smart Si and the EMS Si also allows customers to make adjustments to their thermostat program on the go from their tablet, computer, iPhone, or other smart phone.

“Customers are accustomed to having an app for everything — they want the peace of mind of knowing that they can remotely control their HVAC settings even at multiple thermostats, lighting, or even monitor septic system operations,” Kress said.

The Smart Si or EMS Si also provides a live weather report and mobile apps.

Money in the Bank

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star website, homeowners can save about $180 a year by properly setting their programmable thermostats and maintaining those settings. However, many contractors find those thermostats set to “manual” or “override” mode when they enter a residence.

Some of the questions asked by contractors attending the Wolf Brothers’ Bedford Heights event included: “What does the customer screen look like? How easy is it to program for the customer?”

To the latter question, Kress at one point simply replied, “Well, let’s just do it right here.” Kress handed the stat to Overholt, who then completed the programming task with almost no direction within three minutes.

“That is pretty slick,” said Overholt. “I really like the programming feature. It’s very easy compared to everything else we have to deal with.” He added, “I think being on the Internet is very attractive; it’s where our customers spend a lot of their time anyway.”

Overholt purchased one of the Smart Si products while at the ecobee event, to install in his own home for trial purposes. “I always try out everything first before I sell it to my customers,” he said.

Kress related the ease of operating not only HVAC, but lighting, and other systems using the Wi-Fi enabled technology. He compared the user interface screens to personal banking. Anyone that is accustomed to online banking knows that there are several functions available on the home page to either pay bills, review account history, or perform other banking tasks. The ecobee Web Portal is similar in layout and has the flexibility to manage an unlimited number of thermostats.

According to a research study performed by ecobee’s Energy Modeling Team, over 80 percent of ecobee users are running a program on their thermostats; in other words, the programs are not being placed in manual or override modes. The study also revealed that 78 percent of users who have downloaded the app access it at least once per week; and 70 percent of users log on to their web portal at least once per week. In addition, according to the research, users are saving an average of 26 percent on energy costs annually. And 96 percent of ecobee customers have said they would recommend ecobee products to their friends and family.

Contractor Web Portal

Ecobee also recently announced the launch of its completely redesigned free Contractor Web Portal™. The portal is equipped with tools to make it even easier to service customers, and increase overall business efficiency, especially for the management of a service customer base. The active alert feature is one of the interesting facets of the ecobee Contractor Web Portal that several contractors were impressed to see. Stephen Chervenak of Comfort Control Systems, North Royalton, Ohio, wanted to know if a contractor logo was available for the screen. In addition to a logo on all alerts and reminders, other messages may be sent from the contractor to the thermostat, with the customer’s consent.

Detailed customer HVAC reports are accessible through the Contractor Portal, which allow contractors to conduct remote diagnostics and troubleshooting.

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Publication date: 6/25/2012