From smartphones to online banking to omnipresent Wi-Fi, the world is going high tech, and building products are no different. Recently, a spate of HVAC controls has come to market boasting new technology and features that help improve the controls’ operation and integration into the home.
“There are lots of reasons to go high-tech,” says Rheem product manager Mark King. “Even though industry sales are down in terms of equipment, high-efficiency sales are actually up. Homeowners are being more selective — they’re doing research and looking for a payback. The feature-rich technology we’re seeing in new HVAC products is much simpler to use than before, and gives the homeowner more control over managing his comfort.” Some manufacturers are taking advantage of the popularity of wireless equipment for their thermostats. “We’re living in a wireless world — it’s no secret,” says Audra Carson, channel marketing manager for Honeywell. In looking at HVAC controls, “we decided it shouldn’t be any different,” she says. For Honeywell, the wireless platform of choice is RedLink, a technology inspired by the maker’s work in home security. RedLink has been incorporated into the popular FocusPro thermostat, creating an HVAC controller that’s easier for installers to work with. “Using RedLink technology eliminates the need to run wire,” Carson says. “On the contractor side, the installer might get to the job and find there’s not enough wire available to upgrade the thermostat. They could spend 20 minutes or two hours fishing wires through the wall to complete the job. Now they can work faster and put the thermostat anywhere — not just in the dining room or hallway.”
This is beneficial to the homeowner as well. Not only can they have their thermostat in a more convenient location, but with the FocusPro’s wireless counterpart, the Portable Comfort Control, they can take their thermostat controller with them anywhere in the home. “The Portable Comfort Control is the first remote-control thermostat,” Carson says. “It doesn’t replace the existing thermostat, but it works with the wireless thermostat so it can really offer the user the freedom to sense the temperature and make adjustments from anywhere.” When used with a zoned system, homeowners can take the Portable Comfort Control around the house and make adjustments in each zone, as needed. Wave of the Future
Also capitalizing on wireless technology is Wayne-Dalton. Expanding its product line of wireless home controls, the company now offers a Z-Wave Thermostat. The unit is simultaneously advanced and retro in its design and operation. “The last generation of thermostats was built on the idea of programmability, so you wouldn’t have to heat or cool your home while you were weren’t using it,” explains Yan Rodriguez, director of home controls. “It’s a good idea, but it’s a pain when you have a complicated user manual and a tiny user interface, and you have to spend an hour fiddling with it until you think you have it set right. You also have to manually override the system if your daily pattern changes — if you’re home from work one day, for instance.”
With the Z-Wave Thermostat, homeowners can set broader modes such as “away” and “in-house” and activate them by remote control. The setup retains the energy savings of a programmable thermostat but is more flexible based on the users’s needs, Rodriguez says. “The homeowner could simply press one button on the remote when they leave the house, and one when they return, so the system responds at exactly the right times,” he says. If programmed into room scenes activated by a Z-Wave garage door opener, the thermostat settings could easily coincide with users’ comings and goings.
(A side note: Carson agrees that programmability is both a blessing and a curse of high-tech thermostats. “We know that homeowners really hate programming their thermostats,” she says. “Seventy percent of people that have programmable units don’t even use the programming features.” As such, Honeywell has patented interview-based programming for its Prestige Comfort System HD thermostat. By asking questions such as, “What time does the first person in the household wake up?” and “Is someone home all day?” The thermostat walks the user through an easier programming setup.)
Another feature from Wayne-Dalton that translates into ease-of-use is its ability to be controlled remotely. All of the company’s wireless home-control products can be accessed online or through a call phone so homeowners can change settings at any time and from anywhere.