It’s no secret that the world is going digital. You check your bank account balance on your iPhone, pay your energy bill via email, and can tell Amazon Echo to play your favorite song — or adjust the temperature in your home — it’s a digital world. So, thermostat manufacturers are keeping this trend in mind while developing products that will pique customers’ interests.
According to a study conducted by Grand View Research Inc., the global smart thermostat market is forecast to reach $2.99 billion by 2022. In a world that is seeking connectivity via smartphones and mobile apps, energy management technologies, like smart thermostats and the benefits associated with them are on the rise. So, what are the latest thermostat offerings on the market, and what do manufacturers see trending?
The first point of interest is typically energy savings.
According to Energy Star, “For the average American household, almost half the annual energy bill goes to heating and cooling — more than $900 a year.”
Energy costs are a reason customers are seeking out smart thermostats. In an American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) report titled “New Horizons for Energy Efficiency,” ACEEE reviewed six recent studies on energy savings from smart thermostats, finding that they can reduce energy use for home heating and cooling by an average of 8–15 percent. The study estimates that smart thermostats can provide electricity savings for 2-3 cents per kWh saved, and that, overall, they can reduce total U.S. electricity use across all sectors by about .05 percent.
Therefore, thermostat manufacturers have been coming out with more and more energy efficiency features to incorporate into their smart thermostat offerings. The first common tool is for thermostats to have the ability to learn an occupant’s schedule.
Gene LaNois, head of professional channel, Nest Labs, said the Nest Learning thermostat brings out all the stops when it comes to saving a customer money on energy.
“The role of a Nest thermostat in the home is to first save energy,” said LaNois. “The Nest thermostat has earned the Energy Star logo for proven energy savings, an occupancy sensor that helps allow Nest to learn your schedule to help optimize energy savings opportunities, and has the Nest learning algorithm which learns scheduling, how the space heats and cools, and will continue to adapt to the customer’s habits the longer it is used.”
Similarly, the iComfort E30 by Lennox Intl. Inc. also learns a homeowner’s schedule to save energy costs by utilizing its “Smart Away” feature. This mode automatically knows when the homeowner is home or away, based on the homeowners’ smartphone GPS, creating the desired energy-savings schedule.
“Unlike some smart thermostats in the market, the E30 creates the desired energy-savings schedule without the confusion or aggravation of a constant learning feature, which can never seem to provide a proper schedule,” said Blake Edwards, senior product marketing manager, controls, Lennox Intl. Inc.
Another energy-savings tool that thermostat manufacturers are featuring is real-time energy-savings updates for the consumer.
KONO Smart Pro offers a Smart Tips feature as part of its LUX App that automatically sends seasonal tips to homeowners on ways to help save energy. The Smart Tips feature offers general tips as well as proactive suggestions based on the user’s behavior on how to best save money and be more energy efficient. These year-round recommendations help consumers manage their wallet as well as their energy usage.
According to Siva Iyer, head of smart homes, residential, Carrier Corp., the Côr 5C and Côr 7C thermostats offer an estimated real-time savings forecast based on adjustments made to the thermostat. Additionally, the improved “Smart Setback” feature optimizes the system performance based on each home’s individual thermal characteristics to enhance energy savings and owner comfort.
“The introduction of these new Côr thermostats will provide even more homeowners with the ability to adopt a smart climate control interface that helps save on their heating and cooling costs,” said Matthew Pine, vice president, marketing, residential, Carrier Corp.
TOUCH AND CONNECT
It seems nobody can function without being connected these days, so, naturally, connectivity is a key component driving the thermostat market. Consumers are looking to be connected to their devices, and they will choose a device with these capabilities over one without.
The biggest trend with connectivity is a manufacturer being able to offer smart integration. Things like Apple HomeKit, Amazon Echo, other smart platforms, and manufacturer apps allow customers to connect with their home thermostat in ways they were unable to do so before.
Emerson put a huge emphasis on connectivity and compatibility as selling points for its Sensi smart thermostat.
Both of Emerson’s Wi-Fi Sensi thermostats support Apple HomeKit and Amazon Echo and are also integrated into the home with geofencing, remote controls, and smart alerts as well.
Craig Rossman, president, White-Rodgers, said, “24/7 connectivity is what we strive for, but if you think of it [the thermostat] as an iPhone, it also has all of the latest updates, which is allowed for by Wi-Fi long after installation.”
Similarly, Robertshaw is capitalizing on connectivity with its RS456 Wi-Fi module thermostat.
“This module is all about connectivity,” said John Brower, general manager, Robertshaw, “There is full thermostat control with the IOS/Android app, and it is Amazon Echo- and Google Home- compliant. It also provides notification emails such as high/low temperature warnings, inefficient operation notification, replace filter notice, and network loss warnings.”
Show a child born in the 2000s a camera, cellphone, or tablet, and their natural instinct is to control or navigate it via touch. This behavior is even translating into older generations as technology continues to evolve. Touchscreen capability is becoming a given, especially within the thermostat industry.
In a forecast by DisplaySearch, a provider of research reports, consulting, and events on the global LED and FPD supply chains, the market for touchscreen modules is expected to double from $16 billion in 2012 to $31.9 billion in 2018.
According to Edwards, the touchscreen capability is one component that is moving the thermostat market forward.
“Consumers want a good-looking touchscreen option that is easy to use, read, and, let’s face it, looks good in their home,” said Edwards. “At Lennox, we offer leading smart thermostats with an easy-to-read, easy-to-use, high-definition, 7-inch, capacitive touchscreen display similar to a smartphone. This provides the best functionality for use and visibility for our important end users.”
Manufacturers are taking the touchscreen offering one step further, ensuring the screen is so clear, visible, and user-friendly that outside tools are unnecessary for operating the thermostat.
“While many manufacturers offer products with limited screen space, Bosch designed the BCC100 with a 5-inch, full-color touchscreen that allows users to access all of the functions without having to use the app,” said Joey Sung, project manager, Bosch Thermotechnology Corp.
Overall, manufacturers like the idea that touchscreen provides customers with a more connected interaction with their products.
“Aside from voice, we believe the touchscreen is the most intuitive way for customers to interact with their thermostat,” said Derrick Boyce, vice president of sales, ecobee. “That’s why the ecobee4 comes with a 3.5-inch, full-color touchscreen that has an almost identical interface on the mobile app.”
No matter what, though, most manufacturers are still offering non-touchscreen, non-connected thermostats to meet the needs of those customers who aren’t tech-savvy or are looking for a lower price point.
“I think there is always going to be a low-cost market for less expensive thermostats; there is always going to be that market, and we address that by continuing to offer non-connected thermostats for a number of different spaces,” said Rossman. “It all depends on the consumer itself and the market.”
CONSUMER AND CONTRACTOR
There are a wide variety of features on the thermostats offered in today’s market, but what are consumers and contractors looking for? Manufacturers are seeking to target a healthy balance between consumer and contractor wants in their new thermostat offerings.
According to Nate Kraft, senior director, product marketing, Honeywell Intl. Inc., there are four key components that benefit both contractors and consumers with a well-rounded thermostat: “The ability to interact at the wall or on the app; super-simple homeowner hand-off; flexible comfort control; and smart integrations.” Such can be seen in the company’s Lyric T6 pro Wi-Fi thermostat.
Interacting with the thermostat directly, or via the manufacturer’s app, is something both contractors and installers are looking for — it’s all about being user-friendly and easy.
“The Lennox iComfort E30 offers a beautiful HD 7-inch capacitive touchscreen display that provides great design, weather and air quality forecasts at the touch of a finger, incredible screen savers mimicking the outdoor weather conditions, remote control using a smart device or PC, and ‘Smart Away’ mode that uses geofencing technology to pair with the homeowner’s smartphone to take all of the thinking out of having to program a schedule to gain energy savings,” said Edwards. “Lennox ensures both its customers and consumers who trust the products are highly satisfied.”
The installation process is something that all manufacturers agreed needs to be easier for contractors, and that contractors’ biggest complaint is the installation process isn’t simplified enough. In addition, once it is installed, it needs to communicate with both contractor and consumer in order to avoid future problems.
Carrier Corp.’s Côr 5C and Côr 7C were designed to solve this problem. Contractors will benefit from the ease of installation with two wires, instead of the typical five, because no additional electrical wiring will need to be run. The customer can also choose to receive alerts if the system is not functioning properly and increase customer loyalty with increased uptimes by proactively fixing a failing system.
Flexible comfort control is a big one — people want to be able to control the comfort in their home at the click of a button — or app.
“The Braeburn model 7300 offers 7-day, 5-day, or 2-day programmable modes or non-programmable modes; residential or commercial modes; programmable and circulating fan modes; and indoor and outdoor remote sensing,” said Robert Rados, product manager, Braeburn Systems LLC.
For the RS456-Wi-Fi module by RobertShaw, the consumer has comfort control with a few different functions. Some of the features include no limit to the amount of thermostats controlled from one app; when connectivity is lost, the base thermostat functions as normal; advanced voice control via the app; and notification emails that end the consumer high/low temperature warning, inefficient operation notifications, replace filter notice, and network loss warning.
Smart integrations, such as Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, and more, are the future of all smart home automation products and can make one thermostat stand out among the rest.
“Geocompatability with other smart home platforms allows the thermostat to be part of a smart home ecosystem,” said Rossman. “It is the importance of being connected.”
“We were surprised by how quickly contractors gravitated toward the ecobee4,” said Boyce. “We know Amazon Alexa voice service has high awareness in the United States, but we didn’t realize how many contractors would be excited about having this feature built into a smart thermostat; the response has been really exciting.”
Finally, there is an emerging trend that not as many people are hearing about just yet — the idea of leaving a contractor’s contact information in the thermostat for the homeowner’s reference down the line. Furthermore, the ability for a contractor to connect to the homeowner’s thermostat remotely, should an issue ever arise.
The Emerson Sensi offers the ability for a contractor to leave their number in the thermostat, like a virtual business card, so customers always know how to reach them.
RobertShaw also allows contractor information to be stored in their app for easy access to contact information for the homeowner down the road. Also, the contractor, with the homeowner’s approval, can be granted rights to receive emails from the system on alerts such as filter changes, inefficient equipment operation, and more.
“This allows for a contractor to be pro-active with their accounts,” said Brower.
At Lennox, they have a dealer and consumer portal that allows for remote system monitoring and maintenance reminders. Also, contractors can remotely monitor their customers’ systems when they install a Lennox iComfort E30 to see if any system alerts occurred, routine reminders or maintenance calls are due, and to monitor all actions taken from previous calls.
“Contractors can sell peace of mind to their customers with this,” said Edwards. “The best part is there is no additional cost for this service, as we provide this option to our Lennox dealers and customers for free. Also, when these alerts and reminders pop up, the contractor can make sure they are always the first one to be contacted and the first to reach out to the customer.
“Their business information will populate on the thermostat to be the first in the customer’s eyes, and, additionally, the contractor will also get an alert or reminder with the homeowner information to make sure they are the first resource to secure the call for their customers,” Edwards continued.
HERE’S TO THE FUTURE
In the next 10 years, what consumers think of in terms of the thermostat is sure to evolve into a next-level home automation product of the future.
“I think thermostats will have the opportunity to be able to give a health check of the home and possibly a health check on the people inside of it [in the next 10 years],” said LaNois. “That, however, could happen in under 10 years, given the pace of the technology.”
Manufacturers are excited by this idea and continue to stay on top of trends in order to ensure they are developing the products that consumers and contractors will choose.
“I think smart thermostats will continue to include more integrated features for homeowners,” said Iyer. “They can become a complete energy control hub for a home. It’s an incredibly exciting time for manufacturers and contractors to offer greater value to homeowners.”
Publication date: 10/23/201