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Devices in homes continue getting smarter all the time, and that includes those connected to the HVAC system, such as smart thermostats. Consumers show interest in everything from blinds that close with a voice command to ovens that can be turned on before a homeowner arrives. But in many cases, these smart devices operate independently of each other. Most come with their own individual apps, loading down consumers’ phones.

Many observers are starting to wonder if there isn’t a better way. After all, there’s no question of an HVAC system’s important role in a smart home.

“HVAC is the largest energy consumer in the home,” said Matt Wall, director of product management and application for Samsung. “HVAC also impacts comfort the most out of all devices in the home. Automating heating and cooling in the home to add convenience and improve comfort while reducing overall home energy consumption is something that is desirable for all homeowners.”

The question is the approach to providing the best smart home experience for consumers. Some companies that offer an array of products are presenting the idea of a single-brand home. At the same time, home builders are starting to offer a bundle of smart products to new-home buyers. Where does this leave HVAC manufacturers, and where does it leave contractors?


A Complete Experience for Consumers

Samsung is the type of company that can offer consumers an array of smart devices. This includes thermostats, light switches, and televisions. Samsung is also one of the largest manufacturers of smartphones. Wall said Samsung’s SmartThings app is the backbone of all home appliance connectivity for Samsung. SmartThings is also open to non-Samsung devices that are found in the home.

Samsung HVAC App.

SMARTER THINGS: Apps such as this one from Samsung allow home owners to easily interact with a range of smart devices. (Courtesy of Samsung)

Samsung has expanded to create an entire smart home ecosystem for new home construction. The company allows for full home automation using the SmartThings app or advanced software that provides a different GUI and other features that overlay on top of the SmartThings cloud. This provides a customizable interface and feature set for single-family and multifamily developments.

LG has a similar product, ThinQ, that covers LG’s entire line of consumer products. The LG ThinQ app allows a consumer to automate how the products work and how they work together.

“Homeowners expect to have a solution that provides a complete comfort experience, which includes the ease of operation through their smartphone and/or smart devices,” said Glenn Savage, manager of controls engineering for LG Electronics U.S.A. Air Conditioning Technologies.

Many early adopters not only control their HVAC systems but also lighting and access to their homes using these apps, Savage said.

“A small portion of technology aficionados have pulled all their systems into a single point of control and have automated some or most of its operation,” he said. “Adoption going forward will be based on the perceived value by consumers that home automation provides.”


Partnering With Home Builders

Savage said LG’s goal is to make its customers’ lives easier and their interaction with their home and the products in it more efficient. That’s the goal for many companies. Recently, home builder Lennar brought together a number of smart home feature providers, including the Honeywell Home smart thermostat by Resideo.

David Quam, Resideo’s global director of connected services, said the company has partnered with many home builders in recent years, although Lennar’s Everything’s Included is more ambitious than most. HVAC plays a central role in that, Quam said, because it’s one of the critical systems that make customers feel right in their homes. He understands the issue of app overload some smart device owners face. Quam said the issue will be resolved in part as devices get smarter and consumers come to trust them more.

“When you can start to convey information in a meaningful way that builds trust and engagement with the homeowner, that gets them to the point where they say, ‘You know how this runs, do it for me,’” he said.

Consumers should also learn to trust HVAC contractors more over time. With the consumer’s approval, they have the ability to look at a constant stream of data. This allows them to head off problems before they become major. This creates a close connection between the consumer and the contractor.

So the advantage for an HVAC contractor is basically being in a customer’s house every day. The risk is never getting into that consumer’s house because the smart ecosystem shuts them out.


Consumers Go With What They Know

Gene LaNois, head of professional industry partnerships at Google, said it’s similar to HVAC contractors who deal in a certain line of air conditioners. They risk losing some customers due to their focus, but gain others due to their expertise. LaNois said it’s better to become an expert than to attempt serving everyone.

Consumers are looking for one solution for their smart house needs, he said. Much of that is based off whatever tools they already use and are familiar with.

“These ancillary products that work better together and fall within one app is the point of least resistance for the installing contractor, and it’s the direction consumers are headed to,” LaNois said.

Most systems are open. An Amazon Alexa device can control a Google Nest thermostat, and a Google Assistant can control a Honeywell Home thermostat. HVAC contractors can look for opportunities to add devices into these systems for consumers, LaNois said.

For example, every doorbell a technician rings can easily be turned into a smart doorbell. This falls well within the skill set of an HVAC technician, LaNois said. It’s two wires and 24 volts.

Jason Johnson, connected home program manager for Service Nation, said HVAC contractors need to be the ones connecting a consumer’s smart devices or someone else will. Johnson compares it to the way insurance companies offer bundles. It creates more points of contact. He recommends contractors offer their own app to interact with a home’s smart devices.

LaNois said some HVAC contractors may feel uncomfortable about becoming more involved with smart homes. He compares it to the early days of ductless units. HVAC contractors eased into this technology, which at the time seemed strange.

“They didn’t decide to install a multi-head VRF unit on day one,” LaNois said. “They started out with a 12,000 BTU ductless unit.”

HVAC contractors need to do something to get involved with smart homes. A study from research firm found that more than 80 million US households intend to purchase a new type of smart home device in the next year. The choice lies between becoming part of that home or getting shut out at the front door.