Everyday technology has been undergoing tremendous change in the past 10 years. First, the phone transformed from a simple communication tool into an all-purpose digital device. Then, cars started to operate more on their own, first parking themselves and now driving themselves down the road. And in the past few years, the humble thermostat has become a cutting-edge electronic.
This creates new opportunities for HVAC contractors. Now, instead of being confined to one mechanical section, they can interact with the whole house.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen connected solutions (like the smart thermostat) move from single-point remote controls to entire platform ecosystems that interoperate and automate on behalf of homeowners, helping to simplify ownership,” said Dave Quam, global connected services director at Resideo. “Homeowners also are becoming more informed about their indoor air quality and potential energy inefficiencies, and are actively seeking out solutions, particularly in wellness. “
It seems everyone has a smart thermostat, but as with many technologies, the actual number of devices in use is smaller than the common perception. Kashif Rasheed, director of marketing for White-Rodgers for Emerson, said that while the company is seeing double-digit growth rates in smart thermostats category, penetration is still at about 11% of U.S. households.
“If we look at the technology adoption curve, we believe that smart thermostats are at the verge of getting penetration in the early majority segment of the market,” Rasheed said. “There’s still a lot of untapped potential in this market.”
People Want To Invest Wisely In Their Homes
Justin Pasquale, product management of thermostats and sensors at Johnson Controls, agrees. Pasquale cited research from Parks and Associates, an internationally recognized market research and consulting company, that shows 29% of U.S. broadband households plan to purchase a smart thermostat this year. He said further growth requires increased consumer education.
“When consumers are educated on the fact that their smart thermostat can be controlled by an app on their phone, the benefits become clearer to them,” Pasquale said. “In the early days, smart home products were only for the technologically savvy.”
The increased focus on the home during the coronavirus pandemic helps drive this adoption. People are spending more time in their homes, using them for everything from offices to schools. They are spending less on other areas, such as vacations and dining out. This means they have more money to invest in their home environment.
At the same time, economic uncertainty does have more consumers looking for ways to cut costs. This also benefits smart thermostats. They are an effective tool for improving energy efficiency, Pasquale said.
“Energy and money savings continue to be a motivating factor in smart thermostat purchases,” he said. “Automating your savings has become even easier with the ability to set up a schedule or geofencing — where your thermostat adjusts whether you are at home or away.”
Detect Trouble Early With Smart Thermostats
Smart thermostats help consumers save money in another way — by avoiding costly repairs. Systems don’t just suddenly break down. There are early warning signs, but they are internal. Quam said smart thermostats can help monitor for early warning signs of trouble and alert both consumers and HVAC contractors. This eliminates the stress of a sudden breakage, he said.
“The thermostat on the wall is the command center that controls the critical appliances behind the wall: the home’s heating and cooling system and overall air quality,” Quam said. “The challenge is that prior to the Internet of Things, these warning signs remained hidden inside the system and only became evident to homeowners after a failure, and usually after the home became uncomfortable.”
Consumers expect more from a smart thermostat than they did from traditional thermostats. Before, the main concern was function. Today, they want devices that they can personalize and that look
good, Pasquale said. Personalized settings can include concerns about allergies, such as setting greater fan cycles to control pet dander and limit outside irritants. There are even settings to improve sleep quality.
“Not only do consumers want the device on their wall to be attractive, they also want an enhanced user experience and interface,” he said. “With more options than ever before, consumers are leaning into personalization to make their homes efficient yet functional.”
Some Consumers Still Want Simple Thermostats
Not everyone wants a smart thermostat, Quam said. There is still a market for programmable thermostats that aren’t connected. Some customers do want a simple programmable or non-programmable solution and are not looking for additional screens or Wi-Fi set-up.
In addition to a desire for simplicity, some consumers have concerns about privacy, while others worry about data use. Pasquale said the units use very little data. They just use data while being accessed from an app. They do not consume data when running in the background.
Still, Quam said, the market is moving toward smart thermostats and smart homes in general. He said that with the increased adoption of smart home solutions, consumers are seeking out connected thermostats as a standalone upgrade, rather than just as an accessory sale to a new or replacement HVAC system. Contractors can take advantage of this trend, but they need the proper training to ensure a quick and correct installation. Quam said the training is a worthwhile investment.
“Now more than ever before, consumers are looking for their homes to be safe, efficient, and comfortable, and they use home automation to establish that safety, simplicity, and comfort,” Quam said. “Homeowners should expect smart home companies to work together to further streamline any complexities.”
Nest Unveils New Thermostat with More Features, Lower Price
Consumers clamor for latest smart device
Nest has arguably done more to place smart thermostats in the consumer’s mind than any other brand, and the company keeps making news. A new Nest thermostat recently rolled out with a suggested retail price of $130. This is a price drop of almost 25%.
There is more to this new Nest than just a lower price. The thermostat features new user-friendly features that make it both easier to use and more attractive, such as completely touchscreen controls. The new Nest also features new diagnostic tools. Gene LaNois, head of professional industry partnerships for Nest’s parent company, Google, said these function like a check engine light for the HVAC system.
Nest thermostats will look for unusual or unexpected patterns in a customer’s heating and cooling systems and send them an alert if something might be wrong. Customers will also get alerts when it’s time for routine maintenance. The customer can then contact a Nest Pro via Handy.
“They don’t have to worry about handing out a refrigerator magnet or putting a sticker on the equipment,” LaNois said.
Not only did the new Nest receive plenty of coverage from the consumer electronics media, there were even rumors circulating online about what those features would be. LaNois, a long-time industry veteran, said buzz like that is new for an HVAC product.
He saw Nest take off at the start. LaNois worked for Watsco Inc. when Nest units were only available at the company’s website and a few Home Depots. When Watsco started carrying the products through two of its subsidiaries, Nest executives cautioned them to have plenty in stock.
LaNois took that as the usual hype from a manufacturer. It wasn’t.
“When it did happen, I had never seen anything like it,” Nest said. “Every news article was about this new thermostat.”
Watsco couldn’t get them in fast enough. LaNois said he and others at the company watched as $249 Nest thermostats sold for $700 online. Consumers were ahead of contractors in adapting to this new technology.
“Contractors have finally caught up to that consumer demand where they are making it a standard part of their business,” LaNois said.
Now the race is on among big companies to “own the home.” This concept includes all aspects, from the smart HVAC system to a smart coffee pot. The new Nest operates within the Google Home environment rather than as a standalone product. LaNois said his company wants HVAC contractors to understand their role in this smart home future.
“We’re working hard so HVAC contractors understand how much opportunity is in front of them,” he said.