From talking thermostats that prompt homeowners into actually using their programmable features and calling their contractor for maintenance to flexible thermostats and zoning controls that can be quickly configured for a whole slew of system configurations, high-end residential controls have moved into exciting territories.

They haven't exactly boldly gone where no one has gone before, but they have turned rough roads marked by trailblazers into more comfortable paths.

Cos Caronna, UPG senior director, Residential Design Engineering and Product Management, demonstrates a new programmable thermostat for Coleman dealers Roy Checketts of Affordable Air Care, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Steve Gill of Action Air, Vista, Calif.

Let's Talk

Luxaire Heating and Air Conditioning has taken its new, programmable Talking Thermostat on the road this summer in a traveling trailer. Contractors have been checking out the thermostat's EZ Talk feature, which audibly guides homeowners through setup temperature options and communicates setpoints.

When service is required, homeowners can listen to a help message from a prerecorded male- or female - voice message. This message can be customized to provide the name and contact information of the Luxaire dealer or contractor who installed the equipment, the company pointed out.

Additional features include a lighted LCD display that shows current temperature, setpoints, and heating or cooling mode.

"This feature, in combination with the audible setup guide, makes the Talking Thermostat the perfect unit for elderly or visually impaired customers," said Doug Widenmann, Luxaire brand director. "The instructions are simple, easy-to-read, and reinforced verbally, making it easy for customers to program their homes for perfect comfort settings."

Separate weekday and weekend programs allow homeowners to set four different time/temperature settings each day, while a manual override feature makes it possible to override and change these settings simply and instantly.

The thermostat also provides a number of alerts. A low-battery warning informs homeowners when it is time to change the control's batteries. A backup battery system prevents the need to reprogram after power outages. The thermostat will also automatically call for heat at 40 degrees F, "even if the batteries are dead or not installed," the company said.

According to Widenmann, contractors and technicians will appreciate the unit's diagnostic features.

"It has the ability to identify problems with the heating-cooling system," he said. "By improving the accuracy and efficiency of troubleshooting, the diagnostic feature saves the contractor time, reduces callbacks for misdiagnosed problems, and ultimately improves customer service."

The thermostat is also flexible, the company said, "with the capability of replacing most two-, three-, four-, and five-wire analog and digital thermostats."

Carrier’s Infinity control panel is capable of showing a variety of functions and is easy to navigate, the company says.

To Infinity And Beyond

One product that made a big splash earlier this year is Carrier Corp.'s "Infinity" system. While Infinity is comprised of the entire HVAC system - furnace, condensing unit and/or heat pump, ventilation/air cleaning, and thermostat - the crux of it is in the controls.

"They all communicate together," said Chad Johnson, senior product manager, Carrier Corp. "It's a fully integrated system."

The system targets homeowners who are most interested in comfort savings, in maximizing variable-speed technology performance, and who spend a good deal of time in their homes, Johnson said. It offers enhanced comfort by controlling temperature, humidity, and ventilation, thereby maximizing comfort and minimizing energy consumption.

"You can control humidity without the demand for cooling," Johnson said. That is, when there is a humidity load but temperatures are low, the relative humidity sensor puts the system into cooling operation on a very low fan speed, wringing moisture out of the air without overcooling the home. The system uses communications software and hardware to achieve this. The homeowner sets the preferred rh level.

The Luxaire programmable Talking Thermostat alerts the homeowner when there is a problem and has a help button that provides the name and phone number of the HVAC contractor that installed the unit.

Setup And Use

"Contractors can install the Infinity system with confidence," said Johnson.

Its simplified four-wire installation also includes automatic setup and start-up - "plug and play and walk away," Johnson said. "The most experienced HVAC technicians will find it simple to install," and even some "lesser experienced" techs can walk away from an Infinity installation "with confidence," he said.

The controls have built-in Energy Star® settings for savings in the setback mode. If the homeowner overrides these settings - which they can do easily, Johnson said - the system returns itself to its setback schedule after a predetermined number of hours.

"Kind of like a snooze setting," said Johnson, referring to some TVs and alarm clocks.

In Johnson's estimation, this gives homeowners an easy (mindless, actually) way to override for a few hours, without having to remember to put the system back to its setback program, which is where optimum energy savings are achieved.

Of course, "The display is easy to navigate and user friendly," Johnson said.

The display also prompts occupants on furnace or air conditioner maintenance issues; it can provide the phone number of an authorized dealer. The TrueSenseâ„¢ dirty-filter detection alerts owners when their air filter is dirty and needs to be changed, the company said.

The control is expected to have the ability to phone home if there is a system problem. If a system problem requires service, the system will automatically contact the dealer or homeowner through a wireless network, generating phone and e-mail messages.

Bryant's Evolution control is "much more than just a thermostat," the company said. "It is your single source of precision temperature, humidity, and indoor air quality control." The company said the control is intuitive and easy to use, with a large, continuously backlit display.

It is said to automatically adjust the heating humidity in a home to maximize comfort while reducing condensation on windows. It also can track furnace, air conditioner, and indoor air quality accessory operation, reminding homeowners when it is time for routine maintenance. Its customizable comfort scheduling encourages owners to "just set it and forget it," said the company.

Additional features include four speed settings for customized fan control, accessory (filter, UV lamp, humidifier) maintenance reminders, and single-button access to comfort settings appropriate for vacations or other periods of changed occupancy.

The Luxaire programmable thermostat with talking feature guides homeowners audibly through steps to program their heating-cooling system.

Low End To High End

Many new residential comfort control products are taking advantage of increasingly accessible technologies that build a great deal of flexibility into their design. What it means to contractors is that they will need to stock fewer thermostats, and technicians will not need to return to the home base or wholesaler to get the right thermostat for a customer's system.

"In its most basic form, the Evolution System requires a variable-speed gas furnace, the Evolution control, and any Bryant air conditioner or heat pump," the company said. "With the option to add a two-speed outdoor unit, wireless remote system monitoring, indoor air quality products and zoning, the Evolution System can be configured to meet a variety of indoor comfort needs and consumer preferences."

Aprilaire said its Model 8570 thermostat can be used in a wide range of applications, from relatively low-tech, single-speed HVAC systems that have no zoning to variable-speed systems with multiple zones.

The thermostat is the crux of the company's Intelligent Zoned Comfort Control, part of the Intelligent Solutions for Indoor Environments, a family of whole-house air quality products with "built-in intelligence." When installed together in a heating-cooling system, they work together, all designed to enhance performance, convenience, comfort, health, energy efficiency, and ease of use, the company said.

"Intelligent Solutions for Indoor Environments is built on the concept that all of Aprilaire's indoor air quality products individually contain valuable information," said Robin Pharo, channel manager for the manufacturer. "When this information is shared between products, they achieve even higher levels of performance and efficiency, while raising the bar in consumer benefits.

"These products work with all standard forced-air heating and cooling systems," she stressed, "putting ultimate comfort and convenience within reach of every homeowner."

The system is said to provide a healthier indoor environment by providing optimum whole-house air cleaning and humidification.

It also provides reminders to change filters and service equipment, and gives the ability to view and control all thermostats from any thermostat.

The company said it used consumer focus groups to develop the Model 8570 thermostat. It features cell phone-like programming (using plain-language text), and tells the homeowners when they are done making changes.

"No longer will [homeowners] have to think about individual products and separate controls," said Pharo.

"The system is designed to share information and make decisions."

Aprilaire’s Model 8570 thermostat, when combined with the Model 6504 Intelligent Zoned Comfort Control Panel, allows for control of any other thermostat on the system.

How About Fewer Callbacks?

Honeywell calls its VisionPRO touch-screen programmable thermostat, "an innovation in climate control that reduces customer service calls, is easy to install, and is easy for customers to use."

"For years, homeowners have complained about the difficulty of setting their programmable thermostats," said Brent Vick, thermostat product manager.

"We listened and watched hundreds of homeowners interact with their thermostats to create VisionPRO."

Contractors can expect fewer callbacks, he said, because the new thermostat is much easier for consumers to use.

For example, it guides homeowners through the programming process with a user-friendly touchscreen, reducing the need for an owner's manual. It also controls temperature to ±1 degree.

The product's "universal" compatibility allows contractors to carry one thermostat that can be configured for virtually any application, reducing the number contractors and techs need to carry on their trucks.

The VisionPRO features a 10-square-inch, backlit touchscreen display showing current temperature, set temperature, and current time. Its real-time clock keeps time during a power failure and automatically updates for daylight savings. It can be detached from the wall during programming. Various hold options allow users to modify their programmed climate schedule as needed.

Publication date: 06/28/2004