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As people spend more time at home due to remote work and the lingering effects of the pandemic, buzzwords that come to mind are comfort and convenience — homeowners want both. The influx of smart controls and thermostats can help fulfill these desires, which is why more contractors should be adding them to their service offerings. Gene LaNois, director of professional industry partnerships for Google Nest Devices and Services – Americas, said that while smart thermostats used to be considered high tech, they are starting to become the norm.

“We're watching this trend where you go from exceptional to kind of every day, which is great for the industry. We've been saying contractors should be using smart and connected thermostats in their business from day one,” said LaNois.

An HVAC contractor in his past life, LaNois explained that whenever a new product or technology comes into the industry, contractors have to learn to adopt it. They have to make sure their installation and service teams are willing to learn as well. He said in order for contractors to retain the customers they spent time, money, and effort on, they have to be willing to stay on top of the game and adopt new technologies that meet customer demands.

Smart thermostats grant contractors the ability to stay connected with customers within the home. Many of these controls provide HVAC monitoring services, which track system health and alert the consumer if their system is not running correctly. They can also provide contractor contact information so homeowners can request help.

“When there is something wrong, you're not relying on a sticker on the unit or disappointing a customer by your name being on their designer wall. Consumers know exactly how to get in touch,” said LaNois.


Geofencing and Protection

Mainstream users of smart controls might associate smart thermostats with benefits like convenience, energy efficiency, and ease of use, but many of these attributes connect back to communication. Smart controls are all about communication; however, not every consumer sees this as an advantage. According to Brendan O’Toole, vice president, Sensi product platform, Comfort Control for Emerson, data privacy is a top concern among consumers who purchase smart products for their homes. He quoted a recent study by Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative, which revealed that “45% of smart home non-adopters said data privacy is a barrier for not owning a smart home device, and 63% of consumers are concerned about potential data leaks.”

To combat some of these worries, some smart thermostat providers — including Emerson/White-Rodgers — offer privacy promises to their consumers, confirming that the company will not sell personal information or use smart control data for advertising purposes.

Along with reassuring consumers that their data will be safe, contactors who are trying to offer smart control services can focus on the benefits of being connected to a smart thermostat. These devices allow homeowners to set temperatures according to their presence in or out of the home, what rooms they are in, and what the weather is like outside. Raheel Chaudhry, senior product manager, IoT and controls, Rheem Manufacturing, said some smart thermostats also offer geofencing, which uses a smartphone’s GPS to set a radius around the house and adjusts home temperature settings based on the user’s location.

Smart thermostats can provide an extra level of safety during the pandemic. Chaudhry said most smart controls allow the opportunity for contractors to see what might be wrong with the system before they even get to the house, which saves them a trip and protects both their technicians and consumers from potential health risks. He also said many of these devices and integrations include IAQ sensors, which help keep track of the air quality within a home.

“Some [smart thermostats] can detect when your filter needs to be replaced and can flag the homeowner to replace it, which is something that a lot of people are paying attention to because of COVID,” added Chaudhry.


Interoperability and the Home Ecosystem

Although there are many different types of smart products available to consumers, many of these purchasing decisions are based on the home’s current “ecosystem.” Lanois explained that when smart controls first started out, consumers might have purchased three different products, from three different brands, and used three different apps, but now they have higher standards for what constitutes as “convenient.”

Resideo Honeywell Thermostats.

ECOSYSTEM: Although there are many different smart products available to consumers, purchasing decisions are often based on the home’s ecosystem. With the new Matter standard, homeowners will have more smart controls options to choose from. (Courtesy of Resideo)

“You have people that have started to really understand what an ecosystem is and how when you buy products that work inside of an ecosystem, it’s much easier to be able to control off of one app or one voice assistant,” said Lanois.

A new smart home interoperability standard, Matter, was created to help address these concerns. According to Consumer Reports, Matter was created through the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) as joint effort from companies like Amazon, Samsung, and Google. The new connectivity standard for smart home devices is set to launch in mid-2022.

Shilpa Anand, senior product manager, Resideo, said the Matter specification is at the top of manufacturers’ minds as they think about future designs to help simplify smart home technology. With the new standard, Anand said smart thermostats will enable consumers to choose from a wide variety of products because there will no longer be a need to stick to a single manufacturer for all their smart home needs. She added that Matter is the HVAC industry’s opportunity to push themselves forward in the market.

Although there will always be a place in the market for non-connected thermostats, Anand said the popularity of smart thermostats is only going to rise. Whether it’s an upgrade on a current HVAC system or a request during new construction, modernization of the home through smart controls is trending.

“In order to stay competitive and meet the demands of the consumers, smart thermostats are a must-have for contractors,” said Anand.