Indoor Climate Control
When to use Thermostats vs a software-based Management System
It is easy to know that a simple 1 or 2 zone system can be well-controlled using traditional wall-mounted thermostats at strategic locations within a home or building. However, when the number of zones increases and/or the amount of equipment that needs to be managed within a system begins to require an advanced degree in science, it may be time to consider a more comprehensive solution.
Automated Climate Control systems are not new. Indeed, they have been around for many years, but for the average homeowner or small business, they may have been out-of-reach from a cost standpoint. New technology and new software are changing that scenario.
Before considering the software based management solution, we must first consider what the customer – the end-user – is looking for in the way of control for their HVAC system.
Simplicity – Thermostat systems are easy to use. The input is a desired temperature, the outcome is hopefully the same. Not a lot of thought required by the end-user. A software-based system needs to be straight forward in asking for inputs and desired outcomes from the end-user. Menus should be simple (e.g. – point & click).
Minimal Intervention – At its most basic level, a thermostat can be set and then ignored. However, each time a different temperature level is required, it requires interaction by the end-user. Ideally, a software-based system does not require repeated inputs by an end-user. It should always have enough information to control the system and produce the appropriate comfort level.
Access to information (and reassurance) – People want to be comfortable with the idea that their equipment and systems are working as they are expected. They want to be able to access information from anywhere at anytime. At the same time, they don’t want just anyone to be able to do this, so security is just as important.
Easy Troubleshooting – When both mechanical and electronic components are in the mix (not to mention the human element), there are bound to be problems. People want to be able to identify the source of their problem as quickly as possible so they can determine appropriate action.
Easy Service – Once a problem has been identified, people want to be able to identify and engage the best resource to solve the problem as quickly as possible. As systems get more complicated, the need to assist the end-user in this process becomes more important.
What is a dealer looking for in the same system:
Simplicity – The system must be easy to explain to the customer. The product itself must demonstrate that it will handle their complicated equipment while not requiring them to become experts in the technology.
Easy to design and install – The contractor wants to be able to provide a system cost and then come in on time and on-budget without requiring expensive or specialized on-site resources. In addition, the system should use products that are non-proprietary, readily available, and are easy to maintain, repair, or replace.
Access to information (for easy troubleshooting) – The contractor wants to be able to access the system so they can quickly determine what resources will be required and when. Ideally, the dealer will get this information at the same time or even before the customer does.
Long-term relationship with the customer – A system that contacts the contractor for service provides an excellent opportunity for a high-value customer relationship that includes an assured revenue stream over a long-term period and an opportunity for customer referrals.
WHEN IS IT APPROPRIATE TO CONSIDER A CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEM OVER A SIMPLE THERMOSTAT CONTROL?
The more complicated the system, the easier it is to justify the additional expense of a true climate control system. The presence of multiple zones, multiple heat sources, multiple methods of heat distribution – e.g., radiant and forced air, or simply a variety of other system elements (snow melt system, heat recovery ventilators, etc.) will point toward a more comprehensive solution. The point is to keep the control simple and easy for the end-user. While there are new thermostat products and even smart-phone apps out there that can bring system controls right into the hands of the end-user, the fact is that most of these are not self-managing systems and do not really provide the maximum value to either the end user or the contractor. A climate control system that ties all the inputs and controls together and is flexible enough to handle all types of heating systems including a mix of forced air and radiant floor systems is the optimal solution.
ECÔ – THE CLIMATE CONTROL AND ENERGY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM THAT BRINGS IT ALL TOGETHER.
For the Contractor – Simply define the inputs (zones, temperature, humidity, power-monitoring points) and equipment (furnaces, heat pumps, boilers, air handlers, HRV’s, ERV’s, etc.) to be controlled while planning the rest of the HVAC system and obtaining a cost estimate for the system is easy. Better yet, rough-in work is just as easy with all wiring coming back to a single point (typically the mechanical area). The system ships already partially configured. All that is left is for the desired outcomes (e.g. – zone temps based on time, day, season, event, etc.) to be set up through the easy to use menus.
Once the system is up and running, it allows for the dealer/service provider to automatically be notified (via e-mail or text) of any problems with the system. What value will an end-user apply to the dealer that proactively calls them to discuss a potential problem with their HVAC system? What value will the dealer apply to a product that allows them to access and view the system through a web-based connection to potentially troubleshoot the problem without having to roll a truck?
For the customer – once the initial work with the contractor and the system is set up, they will have full ability to monitor their system. While they will have the ability to make adjustments to their system, they should rarely need to do so. By prearranging a service agreement with their dealer, they will have the confidence and the comfort of knowing that through automatic system notification that any problems will be addressed quickly and cost effectively.
The contractor should not be afraid to discuss automated climate control systems with their customer. Trying to manage multiple zone systems using traditional thermostats may sound simple at first, but the practical day-to-day management of this approach may prove to be frustrating as well as tedious, resulting in an unhappy consumer. Technology is meant to simplify our lives. It doesn’t get much simpler than a climate control system that proactively monitors the weather forecast, knows both your work and vacation schedule, sets the climate accordingly without any intervention at all.