People are upping their home’s wow factor and having fun doing it by installing home automation systems that let them remotely control all sorts of equipment and systems in their house. With home automation devices and a smartphone app, you can turn off lights, check the security system, preheat the oven, or even have music playing when you get home. A lot of home automation is “cool”, but not much of it has an actual return on investment. That is, except when you connect your heating and air conditioning (HVAC) to your smart home.
Your HVAC system is generally the home’s single biggest energy user, so integrating it into your automation and energy savings strategy is a no-brainer. But HVAC and environmental control systems are complicated, and there are a number of ways to automate these systems. Figuring out what to connect and what not to can be confusing. An experienced HVAC contractor can help you select the best HVAC automation features for your home.
An Easier Way to Save Time and Energy
There is a saying in the energy management world: “Nothing is cheaper than off.” In other words, when a system is off, it’s not costing you anything. Zero dollars is as cheap as it gets, so your home automation system is going to look for ways to turn off the HVAC without inconveniencing you or making you uncomfortable.
Your smart home devices communicate with the HVAC thermostat to turn the air conditioning off or on, usually based on your preprogrammed schedule. With a smart home app, you’ll set an on-off schedule for each HVAC unit. If you generally leave for work at 7:30am and are back home at 6pm, you can set the system to turn off at 7:30am and turn back on at 5:30pm. The system is off when you’re away, but it cools the house down ready for your return.
Depending on the smart home system you chose, the thermostat can actually “learn” your schedule and temperature preferences, saving even more money. In the example above, the air turns on at 5:30pm, so the house is cool by 6pm when you get home. After a few days of being installed, the learning feature of a smart thermostat can learn that the house only needs 15 minutes, not 30 minutes, to cool down. So it turns itself on at 5:45pm instead of 5:30pm, saving you 15 minutes per day of A/C runtime. The app will let you see exactly how much money you save when the system is off. Of course, if you’re running late for work or coming home early, you can override the schedule with a few taps on your smart phone.
If your schedule is not so predictable and you are in and out of the house all day, you can also control the HVAC unit with occupancy sensors. Occupancy sensors for HVAC systems work the same way as lighting occupancy sensors. An infrared detector “sees” you enter a room and turns the A/C on when you’re in that area…and then off again when you leave.
Be Careful with “Smart Vents”
A popular way to control air into a single room is with so-called “smart vents.” When a central HVAC system is on, air is being supplied to multiple rooms through one A/C unit. For example, all the bedrooms upstairs might be on one system and each bedroom gets air even if no one is on the room. A “smart vent” is an air vent with an automatic damper connected to an occupancy sensor. If the occupancy sensors detects that a bedroom is empty, the vent will close off so as not to cool an empty bedroom. But when you close a vent, the air intended for that bedroom has to go somewhere – so the extra air is forced into the other bedrooms. The more vents you close off, the more air gets pushed into the other rooms.
The problem is that unless your central HVAC system is designed to be zoned, with vents opening and closing, the ductwork, air handler, cooling coil, and vents will likely not perform well with smart vents. Closing vents builds up pressure in the ductwork, and that extra pressure can make ductwork leak. The increased pressure also slows the air flow through the air handler, and that often leads to equipment freezing up or poor humidity control in the house. The vents in the bedrooms getting all the air will likely be very loud with the rush of extra air. In short, homeowners should be very careful about installing smart vents in existing HVAC systems not originally designed for zoning.
It is generally possible but can be expensive to add zoning to an existing system, but if you are getting an HVAC system replacement or building a new house, a zoning system is a great feature to consider. Zone dampers work well with smart home systems. In a properly designed zoning system, individual rooms can be controlled to open and close vents when no one is there, and the central system adjusts the air flow and temperature to keep the equipment functioning properly.
Smart HVAC systems can make it easier to be comfortable in your home with little effort on your part. Imagine sitting in your favorite chair reading a book, and you feel a chill in the air. With a smart HVAC system and voice recognition you don’t even have to get up to adjust the heat. Just say “it’s cold in here” and the smart thermostat raises the set point a degree or two. Too much sun coming into a room and making it hot? Home automation can lower the window shades until the sun has moved.
Ramp up your Emergency Preparedness
Smart home systems and the indoor environment go further than just controlling the main HVAC system. Smart home systems allow you to incorporate other equipment such as bathroom exhaust fans, gas logs, underfloor heating, humidifiers, ceiling fans, and snow melt. All of these items can be controlled remotely from a smartphone app or from a control panel in the home. Home automation can save lives, too. Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms and smoke detectors can all be remotely monitored, so you can respond to emergencies even if you’re not home.
There is a multitude of options for connecting your heating and conditioning system to your home automation devices. Smart home and HVAC integration can be as simple as turning units off, or more intricate as voice recognition and individual room control. Homeowners should meet with an experienced HVAC contractor to look at what options are available for their system and what level of integration makes sense from a cost and benefit standpoint. If you’re interested in home automation, contact Comfort Monster online or at 919-MONSTER. Our team will help you find the best devices for your home.