Along with providing premium comfort and higher efficiencies, homeowners want their high-end heating and cooling systems to be smart. That sentiment is reflected in a recent MarketsandMarkets study that showed the $20.38 billion global smart homes market is forecast to reach $58.68 billion by 2020. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are responding to this trend by offering their own smart energy management systems that they say satisfy this demand by offering the ultimate in convenience, comfort, and energy savings.
There are numerous third-party smart controls available — including the Nest thermostat, which some feel initiated the trend toward smart controls — but control platforms offered by OEMs can often lead to more robust system performance. As Scott Evans, EcoNet product manager, Rheem Mfg. Co., noted: “OEMs have a deeper knowledge of low-level functions and fully understand the role of the equipment within an ecosystem. For example, our Control Center operates both air and water systems and provides diagnostic information that’s unique to us, making it difficult for a third party to connect and make that information available to homeowners.”
Rheem’s EcoNet smart home system connects and controls a home’s Rheem or Ruud high-efficiency heating, cooling, and water-heating equipment, and homeowners can control settings and regulate temperatures through an app on their smartphones, tablets, or Web portals. The system’s Control Center acts as both a thermostat and a remote control for connected water heaters. It features a simple touchscreen interface to make temporary temperature modifications, create weekly schedules, or plan for vacations.
“EcoNet is a fully communicating system that is designed to get the maximum efficiencies out of an HVAC system, and, without the detailed equipment knowledge, third parties can’t do this as accurately,” said Evans. The EcoNet system uses a proprietary protocol, and enabled products are connected through standard HVAC wiring. Contractors can then add an EcoNet Wi-Fi kit, allowing homeowners to access everything remotely and securely through a free mobile app or mobile-friendly website.
Third-party smart controls also don’t work as well with geothermal heat pumps, said Tim Litton, director of marketing communications, WaterFurnace Intl. Inc., because they have to be more general in order to be compatible with multiple technologies, equipment, and brands. “Geothermal heat pumps don’t operate in the same way as traditional furnaces, air conditioners, or air-source heat pumps, and trying to shoehorn control schemes onto geothermal units often results in higher operating costs.”
To better control its high-efficiency offerings, WaterFurnace recently introduced Symphony, a Web-enabled home comfort platform specifically designed for the company’s 3 Series, 5 Series, and 7 Series geothermal heat pump systems. “Symphony was engineered specifically to control WaterFurnace geothermal heat pumps,” said Litton. “It provides detailed feedback of temperature and system status in real time and includes the tools to control them from any Web-enabled smartphone, tablet, or computer.”
Symphony is cloud-based, so there’s no software to install, and it provides control over the entire geothermal system, not just the temperature. Detailed analytics enable users to track trends visually, and personalized dashboards provide quick access to system settings, operational status and history, alert history, energy usage, zone temperatures, and local weather. Symphony utilizes Wi-Fi to provide easy setup and configuration for contractors and homeowners, said Litton, and, best of all, “Symphony was developed in-house, so it isn’t reliant on third parties for updates, feature upgrades, or strategic direction.”
Catie Sheppick, product manager, advanced systems, Carrier Corp., also believes OEMs have the edge when it comes to smart controls. “With more than 100 years of industry experience, the ex-
perts at Carrier understand home comfort systems and how they operate, allowing them to engineer a better thermostat. Local Carrier dealers are the HVAC experts who can optimize the thermostat’s features and functionality for each homeowner. By relying on the experts, homeowners are ensured the best results.”
That is why Carrier experts designed the Côr™ thermostat with intelligent controls, which allows owners to control their home comfort from any smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer with Wi-Fi connectivity. The Côr thermostat app makes it easy to change temperatures, update a schedule, and maintain control of a comfort system’s energy use with the touch of a finger. Smart features learn the characteristics of a home — and how homeowners live in it — and then use outdoor weather conditions to intelligently adapt every day for greater efficiency while keeping occupants comfortable.
Monthly energy reports available through the Web portal help homeowners understand their system’s performance, allowing them to modify settings to maximize savings.
While homeowners will appreciate the many features smart controls have to offer, contractors will also benefit from their use. For example, Symphony can provide equipment alerts and service reminders via email, text message, and in-app notifications to not only the homeowner but also dealers/contractors, said Litton. “A service technician can log into a homeowner’s system to view faults, operating conditions, and sensor readings — all without having to visit the home. WaterFurnace dealers can also access richly detailed data via a technician portal, which displays information commonly reviewed when troubleshooting a heat pump.”
Symphony’s historical data tool completes a system snapshot of more than 100 parameters every 10 seconds, and a technician can search for fault events and review detailed performance graphs to more easily diagnose issues. System notes, including unlimited project and equipment details along with any service notes and history, can also be stored.
Evans noted that EcoNet automatically detects newly connected HVAC equipment for hassle-free installation, and the system also gives descriptive equipment alerts in plain language that help homeowners identify specific parts in need of attention before making a service call to their contractors. The contractor, in turn, knows what’s needed at the job site ahead of time. “If service is needed, contractor contact information can be automatically displayed in the EcoNet app when equipment alerts occur, which can help with customer-contractor relationships and sales.”
Increasing sales is a primary concern of contractors, and smart controls will do that, said Sheppick. “We continue to see growth in remote access thermostats and smart home control systems. The Côr thermostat allows Carrier contractors to deliver a product with high consumer interest and engagement. Plus, its installation flexibility and wide system compatibility allow it to be sold with new systems or by service technicians on service calls. For customers with older, outdated thermostats, the Côr thermostat offers the opportunity for increased comfort, control, and efficiency of homeowners’ current systems, all with the touch of a finger — from anywhere.”
Homeowners are increasingly attracted to smart home controls, and OEMs are continuing to tempt them by providing a wide array of products that can not only improve energy efficiency but also increase security, convenience, and comfort.
Publication date: 6/22/2015