WiFi Enabled Thermostat Wars Disrupt Complacency

SP32-20130207-121226The patent battle that has unfolded between Honeywell and it’s upstart competitor, Nest, is well documented, but it has also forced Honeywell to inovate instead of resting upon its current product offerings and leaving the competition to its legal legions. The Nest learning thermostat has become a tech media darling because of its simple design, ease of use and installation, and non-proprietary WiFi connectivity. Unlike Honeywell’s Redlink product line, the Nest thermostat does not require a proprietary router or gateway. It simply uses the already available WiFi network to connect to Nest servers. Previously, if one wanted a Honeywell wireless system with WiFi connectivity and control via the internet, they had to purchase and install the Redlink bundle including gateway, as well as wireless FocusPRO thermostat. Now Honeywell has developed their own WiFi thermostat from the FocusPRO line that can connect directly through your wireless internet router and be controlled via your PC, smartphone or tablet. According to Honeywell’s literature, the FocusPRO TH6320WF1005  ” installs just like standard FocusPRO models, so you’ll breeze through the familiar installation. After that, it’s just a simple matter of a few easy steps to set up the remote access for use with a computer, smartphone or tablet.1 All the homeowner needs is access to their home network, and a computer or device with access to mytotalconnectcomfort.com. The connection is quick and easy.”

The most surprising revelation is the pricing of the WiFi FocusPRO. It is currently on the market at less than half the cost of Nest ($249 at their site) at about $115. The big difference is how they are going to market. Honeywell has prominently printed on their installation instructions, “Must be installed by a trained, experienced technician” whereas Nest continues to market their easy installation to all do-it-yourself homeowners (or those willing to pay $119 for Concierge install).  Honeywell has priced their product in such a manner that the installed cost by a qualified technician at a one hour street rate would be competitive with the installed cost of a Nest learning thermostat with professional concierge installation through their site or affiliates ($368).*  However, Honeywell continues to hedge their bets by selling a touchscreen DIY model through big box stores (see RTH8580WF literature) for around $150.

Of course, this begs the question “are the two products comparable”?  Honeywell’s literature touts the following WiFi capabilities for owners via the internet:

  • View and change their HVAC system settings (Heat, Cool, Off, Auto, Fan, EM Heat)
  • View and set the temperature
  • Access multiple thermostats if the system is zoned
  • Access multiple locations if more than one system is connected
  • Receive temperature alerts via e-mail or app
  • Get automatic upgrades as new features are available
  • Schedule remotely via the web

What you will not currently get from the WiFi FocusPRO that the Nest Learning Thermostat offers are:

  • A learning mode that does not require programing and allows you to set your own temperatures and then creates an auto-schedule over time
  • Motion sensors that detect unoccupied situations to set back to “Auto-Away mode” for deviating schedules
  • Balanced operation for radiant floor heating
  • “Airwave” which continues to run in fan mode to utilize evaporator coil temperature for further dehumidification and energy savings
  • A web enabled “Energy Report” that allows you to track potential energy savings
  • Filter reminders

Although not tested head-to-head by the writer, it is assumed that energy savings may be higher with Nest because of the Auto-Away function that will alter from a preset schedule via built in motion sensors to create more setback opportunities. However, if you are only looking for web enabled remote control of your system and aren’t interested in other applications, then Honeywell may have struck a balance between cost and functionality. This might particularly appeal to second homeowners who just want to monitor a vacation home and get temperature alerts, landlords who want to monitor tenants and non-tech types who simply want to raise or lower the temperature before they get home or after they leave.

It may appear that a price war could brew in the future and that Nest may have to lower their retail point as economies of scale allow. Recently, Nest was available at Lowes for $198.  CNN/Money recently took Nest to task for its price point, (see video), because it claims the Nest hard material costs were only $69, but CNN neglected to include the soft cost of design, financing and hard cost of assembly labor and logistics. Nest might be better served by increasing their tech rich features by adding increased value via software features like home security monitoring through its motion sensing capabilities, which has been rumored by some for the future.  Honeywell, on the other hand, has always kept its eye on the profit motive and they may have bigger fish to fry as they pursue smart grid technology and demand side programs in their recent venture with Opower.  Honeywell may well be more concerned with the higher profit margins that can be gleaned in local utility demand side conservation programs than in the battle for the lower margin DIY and home automation markets. Only the future will tell.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal and at our Facebook page! 

*In full disclosure, we here at Air Ideal are Nest Concierge and Certified installers. We also sell and install Honeywell products.


Sensible Rebuilding and HVAC Installation with Future Flooding in Mind

Proper elevation ofan air‑conditioningcondenser in afloodprone area;additional anchorage isrecommended

Proper elevation of
an air‑conditioning
condenser in a
floodprone area;
additional anchorage is

As most Long Island and New York homeowners are still waiting for insurance settlements to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy (see this Newsday article), it is imperative that planning for future storms be taken into consideration.  Once settlements have been made, it is prudent to avoid the mistakes that were made previously that caused the loss of mechanical and HVAC equipment to flood waters. Of the many homes and businesses we have inspected that experienced damaged HVAC equipment, most were within the flood zone, but still had mechanicals located at ground level or sub-grade in basements.  Although this may be standard policy for those residing inland, it can no longer be the norm for those who have decided to live within or near flood zones. Those who are merely replacing what they had in the same locations are asking to go through these losses all over again. This financial burden will continue to be borne by both homeowner and taxpayer until proper disaster planning and construction standards are required in all FEMA flood zones.

FEMA has a Coastal Construction Manual with guidelines for installing mechanical equipment and utilities. FEMA warns that “Minimizing flood damage to mechanical equipment requires elevating it above the DFE. Because of the uncertainty of wave heights and the probability of wave run-up, the designer should consider additional elevation above the DFE for this equipment.”  DFE refers to the design flood elevation. Condensing units should be installed on cantilevered platforms above the DFE with restraints to prevent wind damage.  Ductwork should not be located in sub-grade crawlspaces or basements and should be installed above the DFE or be made watertight in order to minimize damage.  “Many ductwork systems today are constructed with insulated board, which is destroyed by flood inundation.” 

Interior HVAC equipment including boilers, furnaces and air handlers should also be located above the DFE. The following methods of reducing flood damage to interior equipment are recommended:

“Elevate the equipment and the ductwork above the DFE by hanging the equipment from the existing first floor or placing it in the attic or another location above the DFE.  In areas other than Zone V (where enclosure of utilities below the BFE is not recommended), build a waterproof enclosure around the equipment, allowing access for maintenance and replacement of equipment parts.”

Coastal homes on barrier islands in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida have been built this way for sometime and continue to endure hurricanes. It is obviously time for Long Islanders and New Yorkers to follow suit in the wake of accelarating global climate anomalies.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal and at our Facebook page!