CHICAGO — Wi-Fi thermostat advancements have been talked about by many inside and outside the HVAC industry the last couple of years. The AHR Expo was no exception as a plethora of companies showcased just how smart their thermostats have become.

A Connected Consumer

According to consumer research by Emerson Climate Technologies Inc., 40 percent of thermostats purchased in 2014 featured wireless capabilities. “The advancement in technology has been incredible. This is forcing a lot of perfectly good thermostats to come off the wall,” said Geoffrey Godwin, vice president of marketing, Emerson Climate Technologies.

While some may argue the exact quantity of connected thermostats now in homes, what is not up for debate is the fact the market is growing quickly.

“This growth is going to continue at breakneck speed and this is changing consumer expectations. The needs and wants of consumers is also changing the direction of HVAC manufacturers. Big data is the play in terms of what all this information means,” said Matthew Pine, vice president of marketing for Carrier Corp.

Risk Factor

And, while these products are gathering a lot of information, that does not come without risks. Consumers — and, in turn, contractors — have shown concerns about where this data will end up.

“People talk about owning the data,” said Tony Uttley, vice president and general manager, home comfort and energy systems, Honeywell Intl. Inc. “The consumer owns the data. We have been given the right to use the data to further our offerings and to give homeowners an option of sharing that information with the contractors to see trends, alerts, etc. The two of them can have the relationship. We are just not going to give that to somebody without the homeowner giving us approval. We hear it all the time. People are very worried about their privacy and data.”

Despite the concerns, manufacturers and contractors know smart thermostats can help the bottom line.

“The best contractors use the knowledge of the customer to their advantage. They have the information, and when the consumer asks about thermostats, the contractors have the answer. Contractors that do not want to be part of this product category are being hurt by it,” said Godwin.

Wi-Fi Products

Carrier made news with the introduction of the Côr™ thermostat. This was aided by the expansion of the company’s strategic relationship with ecobee, as the thermostat was built on the ecobee platform. It has the same backend program but a different user interface.

To maximize energy efficiency, the Côr thermostat offers features like smart setback, which automatically determines the optimal temperature for home comfort and energy savings. Wi-Fi connectivity, compatible with 802.11 b/g/n wireless routers, allows remote access to the Côr thermostat from virtually anywhere. Homeowners can wirelessly control home temperatures and energy savings via mobile and tablet apps. A comprehensive analysis of energy consumption is available through the online Web portal.

The Côr thermostat also provides in-depth energy reports with detailed system performance data available back to the installation date. Each report includes interactive energy-efficiency tips, providing homeowners the ability to instantly modify settings for maximum savings.

“We have the expertise — we invented modern air conditioning,” said Pine. “We have a rich history of how an HVAC system works, so we can optimize the system for the consumer. We feel like we can take it to the next level.”

With 61 percent of adults having a smartphone and 42 percent having a tablet, Carrier thought the time was right for this product.

“People are acting in a different way, and they want to engage products in a digital way,” Pine said. “One of our core demographics is the baby boomers, and we found out that 65 percent of them surf the Internet, watch TV, and text at the same time.”

The Côr has the same interface on the mobile device as it has on the thermostat. It is able to take information on the weather outside along with data from the HVAC system to serve the customer.

“We build a thermal model of the house in two weeks. We can optimize the system for the house,” Pine said.

Emerson Climate Technologies showcased the Sensi Wi-Fi thermostat. “The product was launched in April 2014, and the sales volume exceeded our plan. It was embraced wholeheartedly by one of our key wholesalers — Johnstone. They purchased a large quantity out of the gate, and we had a lot of success in the professional channel,” Godwin said. “We’ve been thrilled with the online reviews. It is getting four-plus stars. We’ve also been really pleased with the volume sales.”

Sensi will meet the tight temperature control required to be Energy Aware-certified. It can be hardwired for power or use two replaceable AA batteries for most applications.

“We believe homeowners and contractors will appreciate the simple approach we took to create the thermostat on the wall, and will really be impressed with the results weachieved in the design of the installation and control app. While designed with the end consumer in mind, we did not forget that contractors are vital to the success of any thermostat product,” Godwin added.

The Sensi thermostat stores and provides single-touch access for a homeowner to reach the registered installing contractor if any issues arise with the system. Contractor branding is available directly in the Sensi app. Registered contractors enter their phone numbers during the installation process, then the homeowner is one touch away from calling them the next time they need service.

The mobile app helps the homeowner store up to nine different schedules and manage multiple thermostats on the same app.

“The consumer’s expectations continue to change as you continue to add capabilities to systems. If you’d asked someone before they had an iPhone if they needed an iPhone, they would have told you they did not need one. Now, they can’t live without one. That is similar to the thermostat,” Godwin said.

In addition to making news with the Carrier agreement, ecobee introduced the ecobee3 Wi-Fi thermostat and wireless connected sensors. “We say it’s designed for homes with more than one room,” ecobee co-CEO Stuart
Lombard said.

The thermostat and sensors measure temperatures in multiple locations to address hot and cold spots in the home and deliver comfort in rooms that matter most. In addition, working with its remote sensors, ecobee3 recognizes which rooms are occupied and automatically adjusts the temperature based on readings in those rooms. It uses DataRhythm technology and thousands of data points to accomplish this.

“The No. 1 customer complaint is ‘It may be comfortable where my thermostat is, but I don’t live in the hallway.’ This addresses that,” Lombard said. “We know when you are home and when you are away. If you are supposed to be home and nobody is there, we will automatically turn it down.”

The smartphone app looks just like the touchscreen and is easy to use.

Honeywell was showing the Lyric thermostat they introduced last June. “If you are at home, you are comfortable, and if you are gone, it saves you money,” said Uttley.

The Lyric thermostat knows when you are coming and going, based on smartphone location. The geofencing feature automatically turns the Lyric thermostat into energy-saving mode when a home is empty. It also senses when you are coming home and heats or cools the house to your preferred temperature.

The Fine Tune feature factors indoor and outdoor temperature, humidity, and weather into its algorithm, enabling it to provide a comfortable environment for homeowners.

Beyond a smartphone, the temperature can be managed using Honeywell’s familiar round dial control on the thermostat itself. With the Lyric app, homeowners can adjust their homes’ temperatures. When a homeowner walks up to the Lyric thermostat, a built-in proximity sensor signals the display to turn on and show current temperature and the home’s heating or cooling status. A soft halo of light in orange (heating), blue (cooling), or green (away/energy savings) momentarily illuminates around the thermostat to indicate it’s making temperature adjustments. Additionally, touch-sensitive buttons flank the center display — one for accessing current and upcoming weather information, and one for setting back your temperature while you’re away. The Lyric thermostat alerts the user on when to change a filter, if and when your furnace needs servicing, and where to find a trusted
service professional.

Aprilaire focused on IAQ when designing its Model 8800 home automation thermostat. In addition to controlling temperature, the consumer also controls humidity, air purity, and fresh air ventilation from the app.

“The contractor does it all by selling the comfort package and using our Wi-Fi products to provide easy access to all aspects of that. It is integrating our entire product line,” said Mike Rimrodt, director of marketing at Aprilaire.

Publication date: 2/23/2015

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