NEW YORK — The smart home — and its wealth of intelligent, connected devices and technologies — remains a bit of a mystery to most consumers.
Honeywell Intl. Inc. aimed to better synchronize smart home consumers, contractors, and conglomerates through its “Smart Tech, Smarter Experts” initiative, April 26, in New York City.
The event brought representatives from Samsung SmartThings, Schlage, Skybell, Chamberlain, IFTTT (If This Then That), and Honeywell together for a roundtable discussion that centered on the present and future of the smart home, the HVACR contractor’s potential role, the future of the connected thermostat, and more.
NOW OR LATER?
Stacey Higginbotham, owner and founder, Stacey on IoT, emceed the event and declared that, sooner rather than later, every home will be equipped with smart technologies.
“My theory is that connected devices are like toilets, eventually every home will have them and you’ll take them for granted,” she said. “More than 6 million Amazon Echo devices have been sold, Comcast said homeowners have an average of 11 Wi-Fi devices in each home, and more than $2.3 billion has gone into the smart home since 2011. Homebuilders are building smart homes, and they’re making everyone’s lives better.”
Despite the immense growth, the market remains largely untapped as, per a Forrester report, only 6 percent of U.S. homes utilized smart devices in 2016.
Citing cost, security, privacy, and shelf life of the technology as their primary barriers, many HVACR contractors are tip-toeing into the field, preferring to proceed with caution. However, the acclaimed panel of smart home experts stated the time to invest in these products and services is now.
“The transition from pulling cable and traditional trades work is pivoting,” said Rob Martens, futurist and vice president of strategy and partnerships at Allegion, maker of Schlage locks, which specializes in smart door locks. “We think it’s the right time for people to start to expand their opportunities. You can either grasp it and really go for it and grow your footprint as a business or franchise or someone else is going to come in and do it. We’ve been encouraging people in the nonresidential and multifamily sectors to get educated and jump in with both feet.”
Ted Booth, senior director, user experience, Honeywell Intl. Inc., said new Wi-Fi technologies tend to intimidate contractors.
“Once Wi-Fi is added to the equation, techs are suddenly turned into the IT department,” Booth said. “Some struggle with that — they hate it. It’s a new skill set with a lot of dependencies. People are calling HVAC companies and complaining about their phones, and contractors are responding with, ‘Well, call Apple. I handle your air conditioner, not your phone.’”
While there will be bumps in the road, contractors should embrace connectivity and consider it as part of today’s installation procedures, Booth said.
“A number of contractors are embracing new technologies,” he said. “They recognize that installing apps on phones is now part of installing HVAC systems. To consumers, their phones are their thermostats.”
Contractors who do endure the potential headaches of the connected home tend to unlock a plethora of opportunities as they’re viewed as the experts for all connected things going forward, Booth added.
“The smart home offers a wealth of upselling and add-on products you’d normally never sell,” he said. “Because of Wi-Fi and product integrations, contractors may now install more than comfort — they can offer customers video cameras, security systems, leak detectors, locks, and more. This really opens up new opportunities, but they have to be driven to go there.”
THE ROLE OF THE THERMOSTAT
The intelligent thermostat has evolved immensely since such models first flooded the market in 2011.
Thermostats, such as Honeywell’s Lyric T6 Pro, can now sense if a user is near via geofencing; respond to voice commands through a voice-controlled hub, like Amazon’s Echo; be scheduled to hit a set point temperature at a specific time; and more.
But, given all these advancements, have manufacturers tapped the smart thermostat’s full potential?
The answer: No.
“I’d say we’re only just beginning to reach the smart thermostat’s potential,” Booth said. “The smart thermostat is an essential, core element of the smart home. It’s a big source of saving money and energy and offers users control from miles away or from their beds through a screen tap.”
“Going forward, the thermostat will revolve around the automation system within the home,” he continued. “The thermostat will likely play a larger role in preventive maintenance, system service, and energy efficiency. We’re trending toward more personalized room-to-room control, where homeowners may choose to only heat or cool individual rooms at a time.”
Martens called the thermostat a critical core component.
“We don’t see anyone talking about the connected home space without incorporating the thermostat,” he said. “That means there’s great potential to build off of it. Its growth won’t stop. There will be more and more functionality attached to it as we go forward. There’s a lot of possibility going forward.”
Linden Tibbets, cofounder and CEO, IFTTT, said the thermostat has provided a template for other smart devices to emulate.
“The thermostat is the original customizable piece of smart home equipment,” he said. “It’s all about preference — how hot or cold do you want the home? That pattern will widen to a number of other things, such as when do you want a specific camera to turn on and off? Thanks to the thermostat, people now have numerous options when it comes to a number of devices.”
A SMART INVESTMENT
According to Higginbotham, the smart home’s sprawl is inevitable.
“People tend to buy security first, energy savings second, and automation third,” she said. “These technologies make people experts of their homes, help them feel secure, and make their lives easier.”
Once you start tinkering with smart home devices, it’s hard to stop, Higginbotham said.
“The first device is like a gateway drug,” she said. “Once you have a little, you want more. People tend to start with an average of six devices per household and expand to an average of 10-plus devices within six months.”
Martin Heckmann, director, emerging business, Chamberlain Group Inc., offered a closing thought for contractors: “As smart devices proliferate the home, you have to figure out who’s going to manage them. The experts and installers can create a recipe for the full homeowner experience if they’re willing. There’s certainly a lot of opportunity out there.”
Publication date: 7/10/2017