Picking the Brains of Smart Thermostats

April2016_Thermostat

By Samuel Diamond

Right now, in homes and businesses all across the country, thermostats are thinking for themselves. They’re not merely following pre-set schedules to switch on and off at certain times of the day; they’re constantly sensing conditions inside and outside of the building and reacting; tracking energy usage and savings; being controlled by owners’ smartphones and tablets; and automatically detecting the presence of these devices.

Smart thermostats are real, responsive, user-intuitive, and by all indications, they’re here to stay. Homeowners who don’t have them see their friends and neighbors using them and want to enjoy the same kind of style and convenience. As a result, smart thermostat sales and installations represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the home comfort industry, and contractors are integrating “connectivity” into their product and service offerings.

With demand for thermostats rising, Oil & Energy spoke with representatives from Honeywell, Nest Labs and Bosch Thermotechnology about the various features of their smart thermostat products, as well as the kinds of training and support these companies offer for contractors.

Honeywell
Much has changed since Oil & Energy featured the Honeywell Lyric™ thermostat back in October 2014 (oilandenergyonline.com/competing-in-connectivity). Namely, the smart thermostat’s features are now more intuitive and convenient in order to make life simpler for homeowners, while providing contractors with a product that is just as easy to set up as it is to sell. As Honeywell Software Channel Marketing Leader Dave Crussel puts it, “Lyric’s features focus on simplicity: simple to install, simple to use, and integrates simply into our customers’ lives and businesses.”

The Lyric Round™ Wi-Fi Thermostat (Second Generation) is Honeywell’s latest addition to its growing roster of Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats. Now engineered to work as part of Apple’s HomeKit framework—which links smart accessories to users’ iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices—the second-gen Lyric can be integrated into a customer’s preferred smart home app, and will respond to Siri™ commands when powered by a C wire. It also connects to Samsung smartphones, tablets and computers via the Samsung SmartThings™ Hub, and is compatible with a number of other smart home platforms, including Iris by Lowe’s, Wink and Logitech.

For those customers who aren’t interested in complete smart home integration, the Lyric thermostat works by itself too and can be controlled via smartphone using the Lyric App, which allows a user to adjust both humidity and temperature and can send notifications to the user. Lyric can be linked up with multiple smartphones, tablets and computers, or just a single device, putting control in as many or as few hands as the customer wants.

Available for free in Google Play and the Apple App Store, the Lyric App is regularly updated with user experience enhancements. A key carryover from the first-generation Lyric, one of the thermostat’s most popular features is GPS-based geofencing technology, which has been updated to allow for further user customization. After syncing with a smartphone’s GPS software, Lyric’s geofence uses the location of the phone to trigger changes in temperature settings. If the customer leaves home with his or her phone, the thermostat will enter energy-saving Away mode. Upon return, the thermostat will readjust itself to Home mode.

Honeywell Contractor Pro
“Our customers run the gamut between those interested in do it yourself (DIY) to HVAC contractors and installation professionals, and the Lyric App enables all of them to be successful with simple step-by-step instructions or on-the-wall setup,” says Crussel. “While Honeywell does go to market through multiple channels, HVAC professionals and distributors represent our strongest channel to market.”

Honeywell Lyric thermostats are designed to work with most low voltage heating and cooling systems at 24 volts, including gas and oil furnaces, heat pumps and hot water heaters, as well as multi-stage heating and cooling systems.

Furthermore, the intuitiveness of the Lyric thermostat works both ways, as it’s just as easy for contractors to install as it is for homeowners to use. Honeywell offers a number of dealer incentives through the Honeywell Contractor Pro program, including a listing in the “Contact a Pro” section of the company website, a wide range of sales kits and support materials, plus free Honeywell products and sales leads, as well as “a host of online and classroom trainings for contractors and distributors to grow their business,” Crussel says.

“All of our contractors have access to the training and information [on the] contractor dedicated site www.forwardthinking.honeywell.com,” Crussel adds. This site also provides the latest information on Honeywell’s professional offerings.

Nest Labs
The brand that some might argue fired the opening shot in the home automation revolution, Nest Labs, may be more deeply rooted in the technology sector than the home comfort industry. The company was founded by former Apple engineers and is currently owned by Google, but no one can deny the impact Nest has had on the thermostat market. According to the company website, “Since 2011, the Nest Thermostat has saved over 4 billion kWh of energy in millions of homes worldwide. And independent studies showed that it saved people an average of 10 to 12 percent on heating bills and 15 percent on cooling bills.” A spokesperson for Nest Labs put these savings in monetary terms, writing to Oil & Energy, “Independent studies have proven that Nest can save homeowners on average $131 to $145 a year.”

Now in its third generation, the Nest Learning Thermostat continues to support each of the features that have come to define the product—Auto-Schedule, Auto-Away, Remote Control and Nest Leaf—and has added a Farsight feature to enhance and highlight the brand’s recognizable display.

While Auto-Schedule learns the preferred temperatures of the thermostats’ users within about a week, Auto-Away is ready to work out of box and automatically turns the thermostat down to help save energy when no one is home. Using similar sensory technology, a new feature known as “Farsight” detects the presence of people in the same room as Nest and lights up the thermostat to display time or temperature. The Nest Leaf is displayed when a user chooses a temperature setting that will save energy. Wi-Fi® connectivity allows users to monitor and adjust these settings remotely via smartphone, tablet or laptop.

In addition to the new Farsight feature, the third-gen Nest Learning Thermostat is promoted online as being “slimmer and sleeker, with a bigger, sharper display.” The brand’s dedicated thermostat webpage (nest.com/thermostat) also offers an interactive timeline that shows consumers how the Nest Learning Thermostat operates throughout the day.

Nest Pro
A separate website portal is provided specifically for contractor sign-up and support at pro.nest.com, where potential providers are invited to “Become a Nest Pro and start to sell and install the award-winning products that are making the home more thoughtful.” The Nest Learning Thermostat will work with a range of Nest Labs products available exclusively to Nest Pro partners, including Rachio sprinkler controls, Zuli SmartPlugs, Philips hue lightbulbs and LIFX lightbulbs. Comfort providers looking to diversify their offerings to include home automation and security products might find several avenues of opportunity as Nest Pros.

According to Nest Labs’ spokesperson, “Nest devices … get better over time with regular software updates and can work with a growing list of third-party products that integrate with Nest.”

Bosch Thermotechnology
Having sold some 50,000 networked heating systems throughout Europe, Bosch Thermotechnology is no stranger to wireless or otherwise “intelligent” temperature controls. The company currently produces an intelligent control for its Buderus oil conventional boilers called the Logamatic. “The Buderus Logamatic control monitors both indoor and outdoor temperature and accordingly adjusts boiler temperature to actual demand,” says Kristen Metropoulos, product manager for tankless products at Bosch Thermotechnology. “Lower operating water temperature decreases cool-down and flue gas losses, which lowers energy consumption and fuel bills up to 30 percent,” she adds.

For contractors who sell and install gas-fired equipment, the Bosch Control CT100 is “the first of a new generation of Bosch smart controls,” according to Metropoulos. An Internet-connected programmable thermostat that can be operated using a “compatible smart device,” the CT100 offers advanced features, including home entrance detection and self-learning, “plus the choice of load or weather compensation to optimize efficiency and comfort,” she noted. Compatible smart devices include Apple® devices running iOS 7.1 or higher and Android™ devices running 4.0.3 or higher.

Although the CT100 was designed specifically to work with Bosch and Buderus gas and gas condensing boilers and water heaters, it does offer what some may see as a welcome advantage over competing smart thermostats: privacy protection. Kristen explains: “Many smart Wi-Fi-enabled controls collect and distribute user data, but the Bosch Control stores users’ information within the unit in their home, not on an external server or cloud. This ensures personal information is secure and won’t be shared.”

Accredited Bosch Contractor
Bosch is prepared to assist heating and cooling companies with both customer service and technical support, offering professional training at the company’s live-fire training facilities in New Hampshire and Florida, as well as several other locations run by Bosch-authorized sales representatives. The company also provides on-the-job technical support for qualified contractors via telephone.

Customer service and technical support are also available online, as are thermostat-specific training courses. “The Bosch training department offers courses on controls and programmable thermostats to professional installers of Bosch and Buderus equipment,” says Metropoulos. Courses may be viewed and registration achieved online at boschprohvac.com/training-event-calendar.

Carrier
“The word Côr is Latin for heart, and we have designed the Côr thermostat to be the heart of a smarter home,” said Carrier Vice President of Marketing Matthew Pine in a press release. “This innovative smart thermostat adapts to each home’s needs and system capabilities, continually updating itself and learning the ideal settings to ensure comfort and energy efficiency.”

Remotely accessible via the Internet, as well as Apple® and Android™ apps, Côr provides automated alerts, energy reports and saving tips, as well as a four-day forecast of local weather conditions. While a one-button “Touch-N-Go” feature allows for quick setting changes, “smart setback” automatically determines the optimal temperature for maximum comfort and energy savings.

As expected, homeowners already using Carrier heating and cooling systems will get the most out of the Côr thermostat, including Ideal Humidity System® and Hybrid Heat® system management. In January 2016, Carrier announced the arrival of the Côr home automation system, which has been designed to connect Carrier systems with products by two other brands managed by parent company United Technologies—security technology provider Interlogix and fire safety products manufacture Kidde. System sales are targeted to launch late this month.

Carrier Factory Authorized Dealers
Though Côr thermostats are compatible with a number of HVAC system types and brands, Carrier recommends that customers consult a Carrier Factory Authorized Dealer to determine exact compatibility.

Perhaps most attractive to consumers, Factory Authorized Dealers offer a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. According to the Carrier website, “If, for any reason, you are dissatisfied with your Carrier equipment within one year of the installation date, your Carrier Factory Authorized dealer will correct the problem or remove the equipment and refund your purchase price.”

For additional information about the Carrier Factory Authorized Dealer program, companies should contact the nearest Carrier distributor.

Contractors and Smart Thermostats
Whether introduced to the home as a heating/cooling system enhancement, or as a component of a fully integrated home automation system, smart thermostats are redefining the status quo for home comfort control and related energy savings. Some energy and comfort providers will recognize in them a welcome opportunity to “own the home” and establish their companies as trusted providers of workable conservation solutions and next-generation comfort technology.

As such, a smart thermostat can be marketed as an energy-saving enhancement to an existing compatible heating/cooling system, or as an added convenience of a system replacement or upgrade; instead of simply improving heating/cooling performance and energy efficiency, the upgrade now introduces the customer to a new home comfort experience. And with home heating and cooling technology moving in this direction anyway, it might be smart for contractors to offer this convenience to the customer before someone else does.

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