The cooling season has begun and contractors across the nation are gearing up for what meteorologists predict is going to be a hot summer. Temperature gains will depend widely on the region of the country a contractor does business in, but according to sources like The Weather Channel and The Farmers’ Almanac, there should be plenty of a/c demand to go around.

The Thermostat Revolution

Butch Welsch
Butch Welsch

If you haven’t noticed, there is a revolution going on in our industry. This revolution has to do with that little device that hangs on the wall that used to be called a thermostat. For those old-timers like me, that device was typically round and it did one of three things; it turned on the furnace, turned on the air conditioner, and/or turned on the blower. They were simple to operate, as they say even a child could do it. Then came the programmable thermostat, which allowed the homeowner to set the temperatures in his home based on his lifestyle. As an aside, we have avoided selling programmable thermostats to customers unless they specifically requested them. The reason is that we found that those not familiar with the programmable stat, more often than not, would require an extra service call because the programming was off cycle. But all of that was before the thermostat revolution came to be.

Now, as you can see just from looking through the pages of this publication, we have devices on the wall that do much more than just the relatively simple things that the old stats did. We have devices that will allow us to operate our furnaces and air conditioners from our phones, regardless of where we are located. On a personal note, I am not able to utilize this function because, while I could undoubtedly save some operating costs by adjusting our home stat from my office, the divorce costs would far exceed any savings.

Technical Technology

Some current stats have methods of communicating with the furnace and air conditioner to provide information regarding possible service issues while others can adjust to outdoor temperatures and humidity, and cycle the equipment as necessary to provide, in theory, the maximum amount of comfort.

The features provided by these new devices definitely can provide some positive benefits to the homeowner who properly utilizes them. And, of course, using them properly is not necessarily a given. How many of us really use all of the functions provided by our new cell phones? While it’s likely that some homeowners will use many of the features available on these devices, after the newness has worn off, I suspect many will just utilize them to control the equipment for which they were intended.

None of the above really addresses the revolution that is coming. It appears that in the near future, the device we used to call a thermostat will be designed to provide control of all or nearly all of the electrical components in the home. It doesn’t take too much imagination for us to see a device that will control the HVAC equipment, allow programming of televisions and DVRs, control all of the lights in the home, set the security system, and probably dozens of other things that I’m not creative enough to imagine. It is entirely possible that this device and system will be connected into the home computer system in some manner to allow even more functions to be performed. Certainly as a precursor to this thought is the startling purchase of the Nest Thermostat by Google. Something is definitely in the works tying these components together. One manufacturer has indicated that they are concerned that the security industry will also get involved in selling some type of device. That manufacturer feels there is going to be a real battle to see who — that is, whose device — is going to control the home.

Equip Your Troops

I believe it is clear that we are just at the beginning of this revolution, and it is likely that the changes and improvements in these devices are going to be released nearly as frequently as new cell phones enter the market. There is both a challenge and an opportunity for us as contractors in this revolution. Obviously, the opportunity provides us with the chance to sell a higher margin piece of equipment to hopefully improve our bottom lines. The challenges are several. First, we have to make sure that our technicians are trained in the operation of these new devices. This will require constant training as the devices are upgraded. The other challenge is that we need to make sure that we, as HVAC contractors, are the ones providing the device and, therefore, controlling the home.

The thermostat revolution is certainly here, and we aren’t going to stop it. We just need to make sure we are at the forefront of utilizing this new opportunity and that we conquer the challenges it presents.

Publication date: 3/17/2014 

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