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The Future of Smart HVAC Systems

Words by Leon Kaye

The future of smart HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems is critical to the American economy with the cost of natural resources, especially fossil fuels, undoubtedly set to rise over the coming years. Regulations across the country have required smarter cooling and heating in new buildings, and hence new buildings will become more energy efficient. But for the millions of homes and offices built over the past decades, smart HVAC systems will become a necessary investment if companies--and consumers--are determined to mitigate their effects on the environment and, of course, save money.

During a recent talk I had with Frank Landwehr, Vice President of Marketing and Planning at Emerson Climate Technologies, we discussed how central HVAC is to the budget, and comfort, of families and businesses, and what everyone ought to look for as they update their homes and offices.

Moving into a new home (or leasing an office) is often an expensive and overwhelming experience for most homeowners. By the time the closing costs, as well as moving costs, rack up, most people do not stop to think about the bones and structure of a home. And when an HVAC system suddenly burns out and it is time for yet another big investment, the gut reaction is to buy the cheapest HVAC system possible.

But the purchase of the cheapest HVAC system, via the local home improvement store and which likely has poor temperature management, often ends up as the most expensive proposition in the long run. Just setting the thermostat at 72 degrees, which at first appears to be energy efficient, can result in taxing most HVAC systems as they churn on and off all day--and endure temperature swings as much as 10 degrees in either direction. A better solution is one with improved temperature variability that allows the HVAC system to run longer periods at a less variable temperature, and evenly cool and heat all rooms, even the spaces farthest from the system. More consistent operation at a lower power also improves humidity control from the air in muggier climates.

“A compressor should be a sensor,” said Landwehr, “the way the heart is the pump of one’s body.” Most HVAC systems are designed to last up to 20 years, but add the combination of more extreme climates, plus poor maintenance, and the life of an HVAC system can fall to only seven to ten years.

With most government regulations, from local to federal, demanding more efficient HVAC systems, sensors that automate an HVAC system’s performance and maintenance needs are important. The SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ration) rating for a basic HVAC system is 13. High efficiency systems, which provide the most comfort and energy savings and therefore comfort), rate at 16 SEER. With U.S. regulations set to mandate the energy efficiency of HVAC systems to rise again in 2015, Landwehr explained the most advanced heating and air conditioning units will have smart controls and sensors to keep homes, and offices, cooler in summer and warmer during the winter.

Sensors that can communicate with the thermostat, a smart meter and apps accessible on the web or smartphones will make HVACs key toward lowering those utility bills--or in the event of massive energy price increases, keep them manageable. According to Landwehr, smarter HVAC systems can immediately net a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency upon installation. Such intelligent systems that notify homeowners and building managers in real time can push that efficiency up to 30 or even 40 percent. Whether a part breaks, or refrigerant leaks, the ability of sensors and software will pay off with huge savings--not to mention the comfort we desire at home or in the office in the first place. With smart meters often socking consumers and business with huge bills during those peak load hours, a smart HVAC system is not only about peace of mind, but smart finances.

Consumers who wish to learn more about smarter HVAC systems should visit the AC & Heating Connect page.

[Image credit: AC & Heating Connect]

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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