Smart home technology is rapidly becoming commonplace, with 24 percent of American households owning a smart speaker in late 2018, per a study by Nielsen Holdings Inc. Of those smart speaker owners, 40 percent own multiple speakers, and 45 percent of them plan to purchase more smart devices for their home.
“This industry is growing fast,” said Micah Ogé, marketing manager, residential portfolio marketing, Johnson Controls Inc. “A few years ago, options were limited and expensive. Today, a homeowner can find smart technology to solve many challenges they have around the home — locking the doors, managing security, or even feeding their pets.”
Home service providers should pay attention to the trends, technology, and their customers, so they can adapt as the industry moves forward.
CONNECTED DEVICE MARKET
For home comfort controls, benefits have evolved beyond energy savings to include functionalities that improve home management and ‘make decisions’ for homeowners through system monitoring, alerts, and performance optimization.
“We’re starting to see the beginnings of the actual smart home, where products talk to one another, controlled in a single place, and help the contractor be a better service provider than maybe they were before that data,” said Scott Harkins, vice president and general manager of connected homes for Resideo. “It’s been in fits and starts over the past five or six years. It’s a connected device market, not even a smart products market, in the home automation world.
“In the past little while, probably the past 12 to 18 months and really speeding up at back end of 2017, we’re starting to see both consumer demand and manufacturers like ourselves moving into a place where these products — thermostat, hot water heater, security system, leak detector — all work together to create intelligence or ‘smarts,’ to allow convenient control by the consumer via a single app,” Harkins continued. “I think throughout this year and next, you’re really going to see it come to market.”
In the past, smart home devices could be controlled remotely or via an app, but they required the homeowner to operate them individually, said AJ Smith, vice president and general manager, home comfort products, Resideo.
“It really wasn’t doing what they expected it to do in the first place, because they were needing to orchestrate that all themselves,” he said. “Now, things are starting to come together, where the orchestra knows the score to play and can go ahead and execute that on behalf of the homeowner.”
OPPORTUNITIES FOR CONTRACTORS
From a consumer perspective, the smart home market can look really confusing, Harkins said. That’s where savvy HVAC contractors have a chance to step in.
“Our contractors are the ones that can simplify it,” he said. “The HVAC contractor that has historically defined himself as an HVAC contractor might become a very significant player in the home automation market. What’s holding us back is their willingness to take that step en masse.”
The contractors who really ‘get it’ are viewing connectivity and home automation not as a necessary burden, but as an opportunity, said Jeff Stewart, director, systems and controls engineering at Ingersoll Rand.
“Old paradigms and an aging workforce are two of the biggest challenges I see contractors facing,” he said. “Those who do not stay ahead, or at least keep up, will go the way of the ice delivery business. Technology is changing rapidly, and they need to be viewed as a company that is ahead of that curve, not one that is stuck in old ways of doing things. Projecting the right image will make them more likely to get new business.”
Integrating more courses on wireless technology and communications into HVAC technician training, hiring young talent that is trained in and more comfortable with electronics, and adding new support roles within the company will help a business stay on the cutting edge, he said.
For those who embrace new technology, manufacturers say two big benefits await. One is the efficiency that comes with being able to do a remote check of a customer’s equipment so the technician can show up with all the tools and parts they need.
“Knowing exactly what’s needed for a job, exactly what they have on the truck when they do a truck roll — it’s human capital, and time is dollars,” Smith said. “For every hour they have to spend on a particular job, that’s one less job they can do that day.”
Smart technology also enables a less experienced technician “by things working together naturally and out of the box … to work on things that previously only a 20-, 30-year tenured technician could,” he added.
Many connected products offer features with contractors in mind. For example, York has developed a contractor-dedicated app to accompany the Hx3 Smart Thermostat, which can provide remote monitoring and access, allowing a system assessment prior to arriving to the site.
“This enhanced connection allows contractors to arrive at the site with increased knowledge and the right tools for the job,” said Ogé. “It can also reduce service time or the need for a home visit altogether.”
ALWAYS ON: Nexia Diagnostics supports Trane and American Standard products and provides remote data to servicing dealers, allowing them to provide continuous monitoring of their customers’ systems.
Another example is Nexia Diagnostics, which supports Trane and American Standard products and provides remote data to servicing dealers, allowing them to provide continuous monitoring of their customers’ systems. Trane and American Standard have three different Wi-Fi thermostats that also include a Z-wave bridge on board: XL824, XL850, and XL1050.
“Just last year, we also added the capability to connect up to four remote, wireless sensors per zone,” Stewart said. “These all enable cloud connectivity to Nexia, as well as the ability to add numerous wireless Z-wave accessory products.”
The company will be launching a fourth, lower-cost connected thermostat later this spring.
Selling home automation products has another benefit for contractors: ‘stickiness,’ as Stewart called it.
“Contractors want an ongoing relationship with their customers, so they will get any future service or replacement business,” he said.
Providing the extra support for connectivity and home automation gives them continuing attachment to that customer. A customer might start with a smart thermostat, then graduate to something like a water leak detector.
“Your average sale price goes up a little bit,” Harkins said. “Then they add a camera, and suddenly the customer’s engaging with it every day. [The contractor] becomes front of mind, and when it’s time to actually do a big upgrade, suddenly that HVAC contractor, who provided a lot of cool things that are important in their lives, is the first on their list for a shot at a $5,000 or $8,000 or $10,000 sale.”
When it comes to who’s interested in smart home systems, the demographics are all over the map.
Millennials who are entering homeownership have advanced home automation trends, said Ogé, as they approach home maintenance with a greater knowledge base of connected technology than previous generations.
“The new up-and-coming generation doesn’t want to mess with a bunch of mechanical devices,” said Smith. “So to have things operate on their own and automatically is very appealing to some of the first-time homeowners who don’t really want to get a toolbox for Christmas.”
Baby boomers, too, are hungry for the latest technologies and trends, said Stewart. Many of them are quite tech savvy and a great target for the IoT space — or, their 55-year-old kids are, and they’re urging their 85-year-old parents to put cameras or leak detectors in their homes to help them stay safe while aging in place.
Resideo’s users tend to own single-family homes, use iPhones (suggesting a higher-income household), and come from families that are very active.
“From a consumer perspective, they just have a lot fewer hands to do a lot more things in a home,” Smith said. “Things are busier; we’re always ‘on,’ so anything that can help support them in their homes or add convenience to things that, frankly, we don’t have time for, I think is a benefit. The smart devices tried to do that, but really, the homeowners need something to act on their behalves, knowing what the right thing is to do.”
For that reason, geofencing remains a top aspect of Resideo’s products; it allows users to set parameters and adjusts them automatically based on the location of their smartphones. From a comfort perspective, it assures users they will be comfortable in their home, and will save dollars when they are away, Smith said.
“From the standpoint of things working together, take zoning,” he said. “To know the main floor is too warm and the basement is too cold, take our new Honeywell Home T10 Pro smart thermostat and the distributed sensors that come along with it. [It’s] able to automatically direct the heating and cooling system to do what it needs to do to make the comfort level what it’s supposed to be, wherever that homeowner is.”
Connected smart thermostats have come down in price by more than half in the last few years, Harkins said.
“I think if people understood the benefits around energy efficiency — saving money while also being comfortable in your home, particularly in the HVAC space — you’d see a more mass market adoption. I think you’ll see the demographic expand and be constrained by, do you have broadband in your home, and I think about 80 percent of homes have broadband.”
Publication date: 4/8/2019