Smart HVAC Systems

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Intro

Want to manage your HVAC’s energy performance and functioning? Sure, you could get a smart thermostat. But that won’t rule out all your heating and cooling system’s unknowns, like when a part is getting ready to break down, or when it’s time for a little routine maintenance.

But by leveraging environmental sensor technology, your whole unit, including the ducts and individual components, could get a smart overhaul. Here’s an introduction to the new world of smart HVAC systems—and how this technology might change your home energy use down the line.

hvac repair testing

Why a Smart HVAC System?

Most homeowners are aware of smart HVAC products. After all, by now, smart thermostats like the Nest or the Lyric aren’t exactly brand new. But a thermostat only knows so much about your system. Currently, these products can’t tell you much about the condition of your HVAC’s components or whether or not you need a repair.

As we move into the future of home technology, however, experts predict that our homes will increasingly be dotted with sensors that test for various environmental stimuli to feed machine to machine communications. To put it another way, your home may one day be able to “read” certain conditions and then prompt you with an appropriate response. How would this translate to your HVAC system? The different components would be studded with sensors that could feel for minute changes in your system’s inner workings. The second these sensors picked up on any abnormal activity, they’d notify you that it was time for a repair—just like your car likely does now.

Sensors could also remind you of routine maintenance—not only filter replacements, but service checkups, as well. And that would help homeowners avoid the kinds of costly repairs that can take air conditioners and heaters out of commission. At least, that’s the idea behind Emerson Heating and Cooling’s ComfortGuard system, one of the first of these kinds of HVAC monitoring systems.

How Does the ComfortGuard System Change HVAC Philosophy?

Currently, most homeowners have a reactive—rather than proactive—approach to their HVAC systems. Sure, they may change their air filters every once in awhile, but most aren’t having their systems checked regularly for routine maintenance. But HVAC systems are just like any machine—they last longer and work better with a little regular TLC.

An annual or biannual visit from an HVAC professional can help suss out problems that may present issues down the line. For instance, HVAC repairmen can clean and test system wiring—a cautionary measure that can prevent home fires. They can also inspect and clean your refrigerant lines and check the exhaust levels in your furnace, both of which can help you avoid potentially hazardous conditions in your home.

So having a system that pings homeowners for regular inspections and cleanings would be a complete shift in the philosophy that most homeowners have regarding HVAC maintenance. The ComfortGuard system leverages analytics from component functioning to predict breakdowns and repairs ahead of time, as well. So Emerson believes it would offer more complete insight into system condition.

air conditioner repair man

The Improved Energy Efficiency Potential of Smart HVAC

Another thing a smart HVAC system might do is help homeowners understand their unit’s efficiency. A smart thermostat can provide temperature settings suggestions, but it can’t tell you if your unit is losing energy due to a leaking duct or if an attic unit isn’t properly sealed.

Potentially, a fully sensored HVAC system could quickly detect problems like these, which cause your units to run inefficiently. And if you know anything about home efficiency, you can probably see where these ideas lead. Homes might eventually function as a full unit, where your windows, insulation, and air sealing was similarly monitored, with the data fed back to a central control unit. That’s far in the future, of course, but a sensored HVAC system definitely represents some of the first signs in this shift in thinking.

Professional Resistance to Sensored HVAC Systems

While most home professionals agree that sensored products are where home appliances are moving, homeowners haven’t exactly rushed to adopt these items like manufacturers expected. While smart thermostats have seen some success, there’s also been pushback, as more security flaws and device incompatibilities have been uncovered.

Emerson has seen much of the same pattern in their ComfortGuard product—but the company says the resistance isn’t coming from homeowners. They are concerned that HVAC professionals are the ones discouraging customers away from these full-service products. They believe that’s because a proactive approach would cut down on emergency repairs—a big part of HVAC repair revenue.

Whether or not this is true remains to be seen. However, with a wider proliferation of smart products on the market, it seems likely that the technology will continue to evolve to accommodate more complex data. In other words, your HVAC system is about to get smart—really smart.