Having just returned from two major trade shows - the International Builders' Show (IBS) and the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) - it was obvious that home automation is ubiquitous. (First time I've been able to use that word in a real sentence.) But, do we really want to have all those gadgets intertwined in a computerized home reminiscent of "The Jetsons," a 1960s-era Saturday morning cartoon series?

For those not old enough to recall, each episode cast George Jetson in some odd predicament, invariably trying to extricate himself from the jaws of a high tech appliance in his space age home. His wife Jane, his girl Judy, and his boy Elroy never had such difficulties with the home gadgetry. George was the fatherly idiot who couldn't understand the universal remote control for the entertainment center. (This is sounding entirely too familiar.)

In past years, the national homebuilder show event was the domicile of the Smart House, a vision of things to come. It was the consummate demonstration home of how appliances and electronics were wired together. At this year's Orlando IBS, the Next Genâ„¢ home in the parking lot was a working example of how home systems actually work together.

The NextGen "Peace of Mind" home featured an HVAC system that allows homeowners to control a home's temperature, humidity, airflow, ventilation, indoor air quality, and zoning, all from a single control that can be accessed remotely at any time via the telephone or Internet. While providing homeowners with the opportunity for energy savings, the system also includes electronic air cleaners, UV lights, and an air purifier.

Control technologies such as the Honeywell Future- Smart® intelligent system, and Eaton Corp.'s Home Heartbeat™ home awareness system, provide services that can fill your hot tub automatically at a preset time or monitor up to 32 points in your home. For example, a wireless sensor on the garage door will e-mail or text-message your cell phone with an alert if the door is left open at night.

Of course, the mundane tasks of coordinating all appliances, lighting, entertainment, security, satellite or cable, and home computing with a single control are pretty standard fare these days.

Still, do we want all of this control in our life? I don't want every programmed telephone in my house to ring when someone rings the doorbell. I don't want a daily reminder on my cell phone that tells me to feed the fish.

However, much of the new technology available is very practical and useful. An alert at the thermostat reminding me to change the air filter, or an automatic call on the cell phone when a sensor notices a rapid temperature change indicating a malfunctioning air conditioner or heating system - now that's worthwhile. Well, maybe for HVAC aficionados and people who are concerned about paying higher energy prices. Regular people (your customers) probably would get a kick out of feeding the goldfish at the same time every day.


A challenge in the coming years may be to get your customers more interested in their comfort systems. Whether for the automation of lighting, HVAC, and security or the really tricked-out systems that can call them on the phone when a problem arises, many of your customers are becoming aware of the options available to them. Why should you care? After all, most people just want to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer, right? Maybe.

A 1994 study confirmed that consumers who became pre-educated by way of Internet research tended not only to purchase higher efficiency HVAC systems, but also purchased more ancillary products to complement their equipment. In this high-tech age when nearly everyone can, and does, conduct product research on the Internet, high-efficiency equipment alone isn't going to be enough to satisfy their curiosity.

Two weeks ago the world of residential air conditioning changed - nothing less than 13 SEER is rolling off of the production lines. For the next two years many contractors will have a tough time differentiating themselves from other HVAC contractors. What have you done lately to be perceived as any different from the guy down the street? Reaching out to those customers who find value in getting a special alert when it's time to feed the family pet might be the same ones who will spend money on the extras in life that you can provide. Those high-tech people may help you through the early transition of this high efficiency world.

Mike Murphy, Editor-In-Chief, 248-244-6446, 248-244-2905 (fax), mikemurphy@achrnews.com

Publication date: 02/06/2006