Temperature controls break free as Wi-Fi devices grow in popularity
Demand for Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats is skyrocketing as consumers seek out the convenience of controlling home or office temperatures through their smartphones or tablets.
This trend is being further fueled by the heavy marketing of sleek new models, like the Nest thermostat, that are now offered through electronics retailers. However, many HVAC construction contractors have yet to reap significant benefits.
Despite the availability of quality Wi-Fi-enabled products from leading thermostat manufacturers, a mere 10-15 percent of residential and light-commercial installations involve such models. The primary objection: a wholesale price point that is four or 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 markups.
As a result, thermostat manufacturers are working to drive down the costs while maintaining quality, superior control and broader options, all while trying to reach a level where price and demand meet in the “sweet spot” for broad market adoption.
“Price has been one of the main hurdles to homeowners and small businesses turning to Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats en masse,” said Scott McCleskey, owner of Synergy Air Specialists, a Forney, Texas-based HVAC contractor with customers in the residential and light-commercial markets.
Beyond price, HVAC contractors such as McCleskey say they recognize that quality must remain top-notch to avoid costly warranty and customer callback issues. As they also know well, 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.”
Mass market pricing
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 $60,” said Glenn Moore, president of Braeburn Systems LLC, a Chicago-based manufacturer of thermostats, zoning systems, air filtration, humidification products and accessories.
Yet these advances and lower prices do not always mean sacrificing quality or precise temperature control. A few Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat brands, for instance, hold temperatures in a plus/minus one-degree range from the desired set point. Less reliable brands may vary by several degrees from the set point.
Moore cautioned that some of the Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats sold directly to consumers through retail outlets have room to improve in this regard, with some relatively new to the HVAC controls market.
“Less accurate thermostats mean less customer comfort, and potentially more callbacks to ‘fix’ unresponsive systems,” Moore said. “When it is cold in winter and your customer’s wife is cold, she will wonder why the heater hasn’t started. When it is hot in summer and your customer is sweating, he will wonder when the air conditioning will kick in.”
According to Moore, today’s most reliable thermostats meet industry standards such as those of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, a group that prepares and publishes standards for electrical, control and related technologies.
While McCleskey had relied on another brand for decades, he switched when he determined the Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats from Braeburn satisfied his criteria for top-tier accuracy and ease of use at a significant discount from traditional pricing.
“With the price point dropping, Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats are suddenly a lot more affordable,” he said.
“More people are willing to make the jump because they want the convenience of controlling their thermostats from bed, the sofa, or away from home with their smartphones,” McCleskey added. “Our customers are getting what they want, our margins are healthier, and we are busier than ever.”
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 thermostats to handle a range of functions and schedules, many customers are daunted by the prospect of having to program the thermostat for each setting change. Some of the most affordable Wi-Fi 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, uses smartphones’ familiar icons and menu-based formats. This allows easy viewing of indoor and 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,” said McCleskey, who uses it to monitor multiple thermostats in his main and vacation homes.
“Adjusting temperature with up-down arrows and quickly copying temperature settings instead of having to enter them at each thermostat also simplifies the process,” he said. “The intuitive app eliminates frustration for many customers, particularly older ones who are less comfortable with technology.”
For HVAC market customers who 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.
“With the barriers of price and complexity dropping in the Wi-Fi-enabled thermostatic control market, home, office, and light-commercial customers are ready to buy for the energy savings, comfort and convenience,” McCleskey said. “I believe we have finally reached the market tipping point, where customers will switch from traditional thermostats to Wi-Fi-enabled ones.”
This article and its images were supplied by Braeburn Systems LLC.