In a world of connected devices, thermostats and controls are the key to success

Unless you’ve been living in a cave and/or not reading your weekly edition of The NEWS, you are aware that the new important buzzwords in the HVAC industry are “thermostats” and “controls.” I say thermostats and controls because what most of us are interested in is providing a thermostat that will regulate the heating and cooling in our customers’ homes. However, others have seen an opportunity to control several functions in the home using one single device. These devices are being sold by the millions, and in most cases, the distribution is directly to the consumer — the sellers are avoiding the traditional manufacturer-to-wholesaler-to-contractor model that our industry has used for years.

With the appropriate app, the homeowner can control alarm systems, lights, TVs, and just about anything else that is electric. As contractors, the time has passed for us to put our head in the sand and say these things are going away. They aren’t — we and the equipment manufacturers with whom we work are going to have to deal with this issue.

The major problem confronting the manufacturers is that they want to sell their higher-end equipment, which often has communicating features. This means that the furnace, air conditioner, and thermostat can all “talk” to each other, or communicate. But that can only occur when one uses the manufacturer’s proprietary thermostat. The communicating doesn’t occur if the customer has an “over-the-counter” thermostat. We have had customers who so like the features of their recently purchased thermostat that they aren’t interested in higher-end communicating equipment. Helping to make their decision for them is that, without the wholesaler and contractor mark-ups, direct-to-consumer thermostats are often considerably lower in price (by hundreds of dollars) than the beautiful new thermostats developed by the manufacturers. Complicating the matter even further is the fact that the manufacturer’s rebate programs are typically only available when their proprietary thermostat is installed.

From our perspective as contractors, we see two distinct types of homeowners. On the one hand, we see those who are tech savvy and want as many gadgets and devices as they can obtain. On the other hand, there are those homeowners who have programmable thermostats but either don’t know how to use them or don’t bother to. The dilemma going forward for us is determining how to do the very best thing for our customers. I believe this starts with being aware of everything that is out there and available. In obtaining that knowledge, it is important to be aware of the fact that where and how the individual purchased their thermostat can affect the warranty on it. Contractors need to be aware of the differences when failures occur in two, five, or seven years and who is responsible for the cost of the thermostat.

There are two other reasons why it is important to know as many details about the thermostat being used and the equipment it is controlling. The first is that we have seen equipment that will not function with some thermostats if the proper common wire is not installed. The second is that we have found that some of the new stats are so smart that they know if you are not at home, and they will set the air conditioning temperature up several degrees during the unoccupied time. If this is in the middle of the day, the heat builds up, and there is no way a properly sized air conditioning unit can bring the temperature down to the desired temperature. This setback feature can be bypassed, but how many homeowners will understand the need to disable that feature?

In a perfect world, the solution would be for all manufacturers to agree to utilize the same platform for their electronics so that equipment would be interchangeable. Since the likelihood of that happening is nil, contractors are going to have to be sure that they keep informed regarding all of the controls that are available, stock up their trucks with a ridiculously large number of replacement stats, and be ready for unhappy customers when a service call is needed just to disable a setback feature or connect a common wire.

Publication date: 10/8/2018

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