The Internet of Things (IoT) is easily one of the most exciting technologies in the HVAC industry today. Its ability to integrate data from heating and cooling equipment can give end users a real-time picture of how their systems are performing, as well as more visibility into their energy utilization and whether their equipment needs immediate service.
For contractors and technicians, this last point is especially important, and it is here where IoT really shines. With this technology, algorithms are able to analyze current and historical data to look for anomalies, which technicians can act on preemptively in order to keep equipment operating smoothly and efficiently. As Gundeep Singh, executive director of digital and analytics at Carrier, noted, “Diagnostics is a foundational capability to unlock the more advanced prescriptive and predictive capabilities that will surely be life changing for our channel and consumers.”
By providing real-time and historical system performance, diagnostic IoT technology allows HVAC contractors to remotely monitor their customers’ systems anytime, anywhere, said Carri Norton, director of digital product development, residential HVAC and supply at Trane Technologies. She explained that to enable this functionality, sensors in the thermostat and/or the equipment take periodic readings, which are routed via the internet to servers in the cloud, thus enabling mobile or web-based applications to manipulate and present this data in different ways.
“Diagnostics tools can help with installation by providing guidance with configuration of a new system and verification that the installation was done correctly,” she said. “It can also allow a more experienced technician who is not onsite to review configuration settings remotely during and after the install. Diagnostics can help with service calls by allowing a dealer to gather more information before heading to a customer’s home. Trane Diagnostics even allows dealers to make changes to a customer's thermostat remotely, potentially eliminating the need for a service call altogether.”
OFFERING GUIDANCE: Diagnostics tools can help with installation by providing guidance with configuration of a new system and verification that the installation was done correctly. (Courtesy of Trane Technologies)
Another major benefit of diagnostic IoT technology is that it can be used to monitor intermittent issues, which often require callbacks, said Brian Courtney, vice president and general manager of home analytics at Resideo. While technicians can fix problems they see while they’re in a home, when intermittent issues exist, they may not be able to see these issues during their visit.
“Repairing one component, while leaving a second in an intermittent failure state, creates unnecessary frustration with homeowners,” said Courtney. “With a complete report of all intermittent issues, homeowners can sign off on what they want repaired, and exclusions can be made for items they choose not to fix. If an excluded item is the cause of a future issue, the technician can prove, with data, that the issue was presented and the homeowner chose not to have that serviced, eliminating the need for a free callback from the contractor. Increased transparency allows for fewer callbacks while improving overall customer satisfaction.”
INTERMITTENT ISSUES: Diagnostic IoT technology can be used to monitor intermittent issues, which often require callbacks. (Courtesy of Resideo)
A true IoT system — which Rick Warner, president of Ecoer North America, defines as a two-way communication system that can be used to view performance, as well as store data for later use and allow the performance settings to be changed remotely — also takes human error out of the equation during the startup of a system.
“Instead of relying on a particular technician’s ability or training, the sensors’ output walks the installer through the startup cycle step-by-step,” said Warner. “Not only will the IoT app give the installer current conditions, a true IoT control will provide troubleshooting flow charts with pictures and videos that help take the guess work out of the process. It dramatically cuts down the time and allows for a less technically advanced installer to perform tasks above their capabilities without IoT.”
While diagnostic IoT technology offers the ability to monitor and manage the health of a system remotely, assess current operating status, and possibly identify leading indicators of future issues, Singh believes it can go much further than that.
“I imagine a world that is fully connected, predictive, and most importantly, collaborative,” he said. “IoT allows us to think about our products as part of a broader ecosystem where data is shared appropriately and safely, and all the actors of the smart home and smart city work together with a common goal of improving customer lives. This would provide life changing benefits to HVAC contractors and technicians.”
As an example, Singh cites the technician shortage, which would no longer be a limiting factor if prognostics and remote service mature to the point where time in the field has been drastically reduced.
“Imagine an HVAC installation where all the supplies, consumables, and even equipment are waiting for you at the home,” he said. “Imagine never having to submit a warranty claim again or a connected HVAC system that populates claims automatically. Yes, this requires a sophisticated communicating control at the house that measures all the system’s conditions and realizing foundational diagnostics capabilities. But this world also requires teaming with actors across the smart home including third-party logistics (3PLs), distributors, security providers, utility companies, and more to realize the true potential of IoT. We are getting there.”
President, Ecoer North America
Peace of Mind
End users also benefit from IoT diagnostics, as the technology can provide homeowners with additional peace of mind about their HVAC system, said Paul Parish, digital adoption manager of residential HVAC and supply at Trane Technologies.
“Using data from Trane Diagnostics, for example, dealers can see issues and fix them proactively, sometimes preventing major problems from occurring,” he said. “In addition, technician visits can often be shorter, or not needed at all, since the dealer has data available online without having to enter the home, and (if the feature is available) can potentially configure the system remotely as well.”
Peace of mind is a definite benefit of a true IoT system, agreed Warner, as the end user can be assured that through technology, their system has been started up properly and is running at peak performance.
“A true IoT device will also notify the installing contractor should there be any performance issues,” he said. “The IoT device will not only provide an error code (which easily identifies the bad part of issue), but it will show the technician how the system has been operating over a given timeframe. IoT gives a homeowner peace of mind.”
More peace of mind is gained through the remote monitoring and diagnostics available with IoT-enabled equipment, which means professionals are keeping an eye on the equipment and only providing service when truly needed, said Courtney. This can be a very appealing feature for homeowners.
“Most of the appliances that run in a home are hidden in spaces like an attic, backyard, or basement,” he said. “Though critical to comfort, homeowners are largely unaware of these appliances, until they break. With 24/7 monitoring, a pro is watching all the time and can provide warning of pending failures days and weeks in advance, allowing the homeowner to plan better.”
Finally, buying a new HVAC system is usually a rare event for most homeowners, so IoT diagnostics can help make that expensive purchase a little easier, said Singh. That’s because with the technology, homeowners can expect longer life expectancy of systems, preventive maintenance, improved energy efficiency, and lower cost of ownership.
“But again, this only scratches the surface of how the connected IoT ecosystem will change the lives of homeowners forever,” he said. “Imagine an HVAC operation that includes smart windows, doors, and fire safety to truly provide 360° comfort to homeowners. Imagine never having to set a temperature schedule, configure profiles, or manually control any of your smart products ever again. This, of course, requires us as OEMs to invest in our diagnostic IoT capabilities but more importantly, requires us to change the aperture around our operations and participate with ecosystem partners.”
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how the connected IoT ecosystem could potentially change everyone’s lives in the near future. With the IoT diagnostics available today, the smart home industry is already well on its way to reaching that goal.