Traneâ??s ComfortLinkâ?¢ II XL950 is an advanced control with a 7-inch touchscreen and Wi-Fi connectivity. It connects with Traneâ??s TruComfortâ?¢ variable-speed systems and is zoning capable for up to eight zones.
Trane’s ComfortLink™ II XL950 is an advanced control with a 7-inch touchscreen and Wi-Fi connectivity. It connects with Trane’s TruComfort™ variable-speed systems and is zoning capable for up to eight zones.

While other aspects of the HVAC industry may have scattered focuses and are chasing a number of emerging trends, zoning knows exactly where it is headed, and that is toward the connected home. The AHR Expo in February highlighted this trend as manufacturers both big and small showcased products that could be connected to one another over a single wireless network. Thermostats and controls are at the forefront of the connected home charge, and homeowners or facility managers may now control the climates within individual rooms from a million miles away, courtesy of their mobile devices.

“There is a significant transition going on from non-connected controls to connected controls,” said Karl Mutchnik, product manager for connected home solutions, Trane. “That’s why we have both Wi-Fi and Z-Wave offerings. Wi-Fi is clearly gaining a lot of steam throughout the industry, and, I’d imagine, in the next five to 10 years, virtually anything that people can buy will have Wi-Fi controls.”

Creating products for the connected home is absolutely critical, said Kevin Graebel, indoor air and water quality leader, Honeywell Intl. Inc. “It’s provided a great benefit to zoning for those who don’t already have zoning installed and to those who want to upgrade their thermostats to create an Internet-connected solution. Zoning has always been a great way to improve home comfort and connectivity amplifies the experience. Being able to see all the zones in a single application rather than walking to separate areas and setting temperature manually is a great advantage.”

Per the New York Times, the connected home is still a small portion of the overall market right now, as just 1 or 2 percent of people have connected devices to control lighting, climate, energy, appliances, and home monitoring. However, about one-in-three people say they are interested in connecting their homes at some point.

“Connected homes are certainly the wave of the future, and zoning is going to be a huge part of this trend,” said Rick Wilson, director of sales and marketing, Arzel Zoning Technology Inc.

“Once we noticed this trend a few years ago, we knew we needed to develop a system that works with the emerging technology, offers customers the highest level of comfort in their homes, and makes staying connected convenient. Our new product, Haven, which will be available this fall, is controlled by a consumer application allowing the user to control the HVAC system and zoning from anywhere in the world. It also connects with the contractor, allowing the end user and the contractor to communicate.”

Creating a Network

As companies manufacture zoning products that are part of a connected home, they’re also creating networks for those products to communicate over.

Honeywell, for example, has the RedLINK™ Wireless Comfort System, which allows users to do things like view and change their HVAC system settings, set the temperature and indoor humidity, and access multiple thermostats.

“RedLINK is an in-home infrastructure that allows devices to connect wirelessly to each other,” said Graebel. “It’s an ecosystem. Everything in the internal network becomes Internet-accessible and the system is trusted by HVAC installers. It’s very reliable.”

Similarly, Trane has entered the network space with the Nexia™ Home Intelligence System. “Nexia Home Intelligence not only includes an opportunity for homeowners to have connected controls as we refer to them, but they can expand a solution and scale it to include security devices,” said Mutchnik. “It becomes a whole ecosystem well beyond just the connected control.”

However, there are concerns from third parties about the effect that self-contained networks will have on the zoning industry.

Dick Foster, president, ZoneFirst, said the connected world has still not fully reached home heating and air conditioning systems.

“Everyone has their own network, but can’t communicate with each other,” said Foster. “Options for communicating and connecting are really limited to this point. The opportunity for growth is still there in traditional systems.”

Foster highlighted a story of how a friend was building a new home, and the air conditioning went out in his current house.

“Different contractors thought different things were the cause of the problem, and he was frustrated by having two guys come in and give totally different answers. There are still huge issues as to the level of knowledge of contractors when it comes to all these
different networks.”

Some companies, while not necessarily at the forefront of the connected home movement, are still trying to follow the biggest trend in zoning. “[The connected home] is at the top of my mind every day,” said Tom Jackson, CEO, Jackson Systems LLC. “Zoning lends itself very well to the connected home. For suppliers, it’s a train we want to get on, but we don’t know which direction it’s going. We still don’t know which protocol is going to win out.”

“We have never been the company on the bleeding edge of technology,” said Marc Turner, director of sales, Jackson Systems. “Our efforts are centered on making everything easier for contractors to deal with. We have thousands of contractors out there installing our components, so we need to serve them in the best way we can. We are prepared to support our contractors by supporting whatever platform they prefer.”

The Damper Trend

While the connected home continues to be the driving trend in zoning, a secondary trend is certainly emerging in the form of bypass dampers. Bypass dampers and the legislation surrounding them have been a hot topic for some time now, especially in California.

California’s Title 24 states that any newly constructed low-rise residential building that includes zonally controlled central forced-air cooling systems must be capable of simultaneously delivering, in every zonal control mode, an airflow from the dwelling through the air-handler fan and to the dwelling of greater than or equal to 350 cfm per ton of nominal cooling capacity. The air-handling unit fan efficacy must also operate at a value of less than or equal to 0.58 W per cfm, as confirmed by field verification and diagnostic testing, in accordance with the applicable procedures specified by the state’s code.

“Controlling and understanding the bypass is a huge industry trend,” said Mike Reilly, EWC Controls Inc. “There is more awareness recently because of California and Title 24 changes and recent misleading articles on the subject. Many of us consider those changes to Title 24 erroneous. Once done properly, zoning will increase efficiency. We just introduced a smart bypass damper that will sense static pressure automatically and maintain proper airflow. We’ve been hearing about demand for smarter bypass dampers, and this is a solution.”

Publication date: 5/18/2015

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