Chipping Away at HVAC Energy Costs
Contractors Install Aftermarket SmartChip to Lower Utility Bills, Increase Efficiency
Today’s consumer is smarter and has higher expectations than ever before, according to Paul Bigham, owner of Bigham’s One Hour Heating & Air in Santa Rosa, California.
“In the last five years, the consumer has changed a lot,” he said. “They’re much more educated these days and more demanding than ever.”
While Bigham is certainly focused on customer service to meet these demands, he’s also aware that smart consumers are looking for smart products.
“There’s a ton of things to look at and a lot of different products to choose from, but I always check out new things,” he said. That’s why, earlier this year, Bigham started offering the HVAC SmartChip Plus to his customers.
The SmartChip is an aftermarket product that intelligently controls both the fan and compressor runtimes to maximize HVAC system efficiency and, ultimately, save on utility costs.
“Adding new things into our lineup can distract us from the core of what we do, but when something like this is new and unique and offers such great benefit for customers, it just makes sense,” Bigham said.
Eddie Blanchard, president and owner of 72 Degrees Heating & Air Conditioning in Apex, North Carolina, agreed. He began offering the SmartChip to customers in October.
“Who’s not going to appreciate what you’re doing if you reduce their power bill?” Blanchard said, adding this product fits right into his company’s goal to be at the forefront of saving energy.
Peeking at the Technology
To learn more about how the SmartChip saves energy, the best person to talk to is Chris Leach of L&H Dynamic Business Solutions. L&H is the exclusive distributor of the SmartChip in North America.
Leach explained the SmartChip Plus is the newest version of this product, which now features two microprocessors. Each microprocessor performs a specific function to maximize energy usage.
The first microprocessor is loaded with operational and performance data from all leading HVAC brands, so that, once installed, the chip can monitor the actual length of a system’s cycle. According to Leach, all equipment on the market today features time-delay relays, which are normally set to extend fan runtime for 60 or 90 seconds. In contrast, Leach said, “What the SmartChip does is actually extend the fan beyond the time delay up to an additional two minutes.”
He noted the key phrase is “up to,” because the SmartChip intelligently calculates the exact amount of time needed to deliver the conditioned air to the home.
“Because it has intelligence, it’s able to determine how much energy is truly there within the cabinet and the ductwork,” Leach said.
Leach said this differentiates the SmartChip from a simple time-delay control, since it can potentially change the extended runtime after every cycle.
“After every single cycle period, it’s going to calculate how much energy is present, and then go and extend the blower [runtime] to that point. So, in one case, it could [extend to] the full two minutes, or it could only [extend] for an additional 40 seconds,” Leach said. “The point, is it’s always going to change and calculate based on what energy is present to maximize the savings for the customer.”
The SmartChip’s second microprocessor controls the compressor, so it impacts air conditioning and compressor-driven heat systems. Describing how this aids in energy savings, Leach explained manufactured equipment is engineered to achieve a certain temperature across the coil surface, which is typically achieved 25 minutes into a cycle.
“Even though that temperature is achieved, meaning the coil can’t get any hotter or colder, the compressor continues to run with no inherent benefit to the customer in doing so,” he said. “That’s where the SmartChip is going to turn off the compressor, [which will] allow all of the energy that’s been built up to that point in the cycle naturally into the home without the additional cost or usage of the compressor at the same time.”
And these dual functions add up to one powerful accessory, according to Blanchard.
“We start to see substantial energy savings when it’s actually two microprocessors in one,” he said, noting the addition of the second microprocessor to control the compressor was a big factor in his decision to start offering the chip to his customers.
Substantiating the Savings
Blanchard also pointed out that he did his “due diligence” before he started selling the SmartChip.
“We had to do a lot of research to make sure this was something we wanted to get involved in,” he said, noting that he began discussions with L&H in February, but didn’t start selling the chip until October.
“I don’t recall anything else that a power company has ever really endorsed in my career,” Blanchard said. In addition to reviewing the data published by the utilities, his team also did some testing in his company’s lab.
“We reached a conclusion that this is one of those products that is going to be very important to any consumer — residential or commercial,” he said.
Bigham also noted the utility endorsement has helped his technicians sell the SmartChip.
“PG&E gave it high marks,” he said. Since Bigham’s company serves the Bay Area, he noted there is certainly a green appeal to this product. He said his customers are attracted to saving energy as well as saving money.
“There’s a payback when you install something like this, and the benefit is you’re going to start saving money right away on your utility bill. … It’s certainly going to pay for itself, normally within less than three years,” Bigham said.
Of course, he added, “Someone using [their system] very little won’t get the same benefit as somebody using it a lot.”
Energy savings also vary depending on geographic location, but, overall, Leach said the SmartChip offers 16-24 percent system savings.
Blanchard also noted the savings will vary based on customers’ individual usage and said he will be following up with customers to ask for their testimonials about how the chip saves money.
“Based on our region, we know that [the payback] is going to be inside of two years without any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
And, although his company has only been offering the SmartChip for a short time, he said he is already seeing a great response from customers.
“We are selling [the HVAC SmartChip Plus] now, and it’s met little to no resistance because of what it is,” he said. “I told a guy the other day that 15 cents on every dollar you spend for power is getting wasted inside of the system because you’re allowing the system to cool off without any type of control. …[By installing a SmartChip] I’m going to get all the energy out of that system,” Blanchard said. “This is not something people are going to look back and say, ‘I wish I hadn’t put that on my house.’ They are going to say, ‘Hey, I’m glad I did it, and they were right.’”
Publication date: 12/15/2014