With the cost of Wi-Fi enabled thermostats falling, HVAC contractors are reconsidering the new technology as a convenient way to control temperatures via a smart phone or tablet. Technical writer, Del Williams, looks at how contractors can reap significant benefits from this trend.
Despite the availability of quality Wi-Fi enabled products from leading thermostat manufacturers, it is only used in a mere 10-15 per cent of residential and light commercial installations. The primary objection: a wholesale price point that is up to five times the cost of a traditional thermostat.
This has created a market dynamic where demand for the technology is only coming from those willing to pay a much higher price for each unit – including installation costs and other mark-ups.
As a result, leading thermostat manufacturers are working to drive down the costs while maintaining quality, superior control and broader options. The aim is to reach a price sweet spot for broad market adoption.
HVAC contractor and owner of Synery Air Specialists, Scott McCleskey, said price has been one of the main hurdles of widespread adoption.
Beyond price, HVAC contractors recognize that quality must remain top-notch to avoid costly warranty and customer callback issues. As they also know well, device ease of use is a top priority because unnecessarily complex thermostat programming can turn off customers.
“Customers do not want equipment that complicates their lives,” McCleskey said. “Many are intimidated by programming. Thermostats and the apps that control them must be as intuitive and easy to use as possible, so customers don’t get frustrated or require a callback, which wastes time for everyone involved.”
Advancing technology has lowered the price of Wi-Fi enabled thermostats in a number of areas. As technology has improved, larger displays and faster, more compact, energy-efficient microprocessors have become available at lower price points.
“Falling component costs along with better technology is allowing some Wi-Fi enabled thermostats to wholesale for under $100,” according to Glenn Moore, president of Braeburn Systems, a manufacturer of thermostats, zoning systems, air filtration, humidification products and accessories.
Yet these advances and lower prices do not mean sacrificing quality or precise temperature control. A few top Wi-Fi enabled thermostats brands, for instance, hold temperatures in a ±1° F range from the desired set point. Less reliable brands may vary by several degrees from the set point.
Moore cautions that some of the Wi-Fi enabled thermostats sold direct to consumers through retail outlets have room to improve in this regard, with some relatively new to the HVAC controls market
When it comes to customer satisfaction and securing the Wi-Fi enabled thermostat sale, contractors understand that a simple, clean, easy to use app interface can make all the difference.
Despite the ability of typical Wi-Fi enabled thermostats to handle a range of functions and schedules, many customers are daunted by the prospect of having to program the thermostat for each change of setting.
Some of the most affordable Wi-Fi enabled thermostats, however, are streamlining their operation with intuitive smartphone apps that customers can understand and use at a glance.
One such app, Braeburn’s BlueLink Smart Connect App for instance, uses smartphones’ familiar icon and menu-based format. This allows easy viewing of indoor/outdoor temperatures as well as control of everything from temperature set points, humidity, fan and system settings, and even multiple thermostat zones while providing easy adjustment without programming.
“With the Smart Connect app, you can make quick, easy adjustments without going through the whole programming process,” McCleskey said.
“Adjusting temperature with up-down arrows and quickly copying temperature settings instead of having to enter them at each thermostat also simplifies the process.
“The intuitive app eliminates frustration for many customers, particularly older ones who are less comfortable with technology.”
For HVAC customers that essentially never part with their smartphones and the contractors who service them, affordable, high-quality, Wi-Fi enabled thermostats controlled by smartphones and tablets are poised to be the next big thing.