Hot Technology That’s PrettyCool
“Clients get it when you tell them they can be in an airport Wi-Fi zone, go on the internet and see what’s going on in their house,” says Grant. “That changes the dynamics and opens up the possibilities.” Nevertheless, he’s cautious about technology. “I don’t try to be on the bleeding edge,” he says. “I tend to work with proven technology to do things that haven’t been thought of before. The systems have to be reliable; we’re talking about people’s heat and lights.”
Fortunately, proven technology is out there that fits the bill. For remote management of HVAC, requirements include an automated thermostat, controller, home network and a PC to send e-mail. Installers can tap numerous sources for control depending on a project’s sophistication. Dedicated controllers built into climate systems from Aprilaire, Residential Control Systems or E.L.K. Mechanical can handle duties for small installations. Installations for larger homes with control of multiple subsystems would require a Crestron, Elan or AMX system.
Home theater and whole-house audio are easy bait for homeowners looking at custom electronics, but Grant believes integrators sell themselves short by not giving equal sales time to systems that control everyday functions, like lighting, climate control and security. “People don’t think in terms of how they can automate them,” he says. That presents opportunities for creative installers—if they can make such systems useful and easy to use. “If it’s too complicated, people aren’t going to use it,” Grant says. “You have to design the systems around the way people think.”
Grant sees the HVAC contractor as a roadblock to integration of HVAC into home control. “The thermostats we use combine two pieces—the regular thermostat and the electronics that tie into the computer side of the world,” he says. “In the past, if you wanted to do control, you had a thermostat and it had to go to a separate box. Aprilaire has combined both functions in one box.” Although the Aprilaire thermostat operates just like a regular one, its Cat 5 element can be threatening to HVAC contractors who aren’t familiar with technology. Cat 5 “sends most of the HVAC guys into orbit,” Grant says.