A round-table luncheon sponsored by Rheem, brought together builders and tech experts to explore the future of smart HVAC.
NOT FAR FROM THE PCBC EXHIBITION in San Diego last month, some of our Green Builder staff joined leading green pros for a lunch brainstorming session. The guest list included building specialists, purchasing agents, electronics specifiers, and builders. The topic du jour, what will it take to bring home energy management into the mainstream of homebuilding?
“First of all, we need to realize that this is just beginning,” noted Erik Randolph, owner of Home Technology Center in San Diego. “We haven’t even learned to crawl yet in the energy management business. But we need to learn to get up and walk, then run.”
Comments from other attendees supported that analysis. Most that I spoke to were either just learning about wifi controls for the home, or focused on one specific application. This is all good news for manufacturers such as Rheem. While energy management brands on the commercial side have been active for several years, the homebuilding arena is a true “white space,” where the future of smart grids, smart homes and smart hvac is yet to be written.
Rheem, the company that sponsored the event, has a keen interest in HVAC management. They see the brand white space that exists, and want to be among the first to claim it. They have just introduced an integrated home control system called EcoNet that controls a home's heating, cooling and water heating under one umbrella.
What will get homeowners on board with wifi-control of their heating and cooling. Lunch guests made the following suggestions:
Start by getting consumers onboard by understanding their priorities and getting them excited about the possibilities with gadgets and tools they already use:
- Wifi Speed—They already stream video and use facebook, etc. Make the connection the fastest possible-reliable throughout the house. There’s no such thing as too fast.
- Keyless—Introduce them early to keyless locks and sensors. This is an easy sell and major entry point for educating consumers about wifi advantages.
- Lighting controls—This time-tested technology is mature, includes sensors and energy saving features. Use this as a pathway to introduce them to energy saving aspects with a sense of fun. Create moods in rooms, not just basic controls.
- Thermostats and Comfort—Programmable thermostats are now familiar to most people, but be sure to emphasise how they enhance comfort, not just how whiz-bang they are. For most people energy efficiency is a side benefit, not the reason they go wifi. Water management also comes in at this phase of the conversation.
For builders, Randolph offered several technological tip to success.
Research Local ISP Providers, but Don’t Forget Cellular
Local service providers vary greatly in both speed and reliability. Also, what upgrades are planned in the near future. Far too often, homes do not take advantage of the full capacity of local internet service available. For example builders often install category 5 and RG6 wiring, when they should be installing Category 6.
On the other hand, hardwired ISPs could quickly become obsolete, given current trends in cellular data service. . For example, T-mobile already offers portable 4G data hubs with speeds that far exceed many local wired service providers. “It’s possible that the fastest energy management systems in the near future will not require fiberoptic cable on the street. They will be satellite based. 5G is on the way.
Wifi Heat Maps
Often overlooked is the wifi “heat map” of the house. A home should be analyzed to map out the best wireless points to create a complete wifi web in the home—with no "dead" spot for signal reception.
The Fun Factor
A missing element in selling wifi home management to customers—and it’s almost always customers that have to buy in—is to get builders on board, is the sense of fun. They need to revisit their wifi household control apps because they’re fun to check and tweak.
Need for Speed
Speed is perhaps the number one most important thing to consumers with regard to home wifi devices. All of the wifi competitors are looking at how to increase speed of access to the web. Builders often wire homes “with a garden hose instead of a fire hose,” Randolph says. It’s still of critical importance to provide high bandwidth wiring to connect the internal wifi with the service provider.
Contact Erik Randolph at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Rheem's EcoNet offerings HERE.