Ecovent – High Tech Disruptor of HVAC Air Distribution

 Just as Nest disrupted the thermostat industry with its Nest Learning Thermostat, there is a new tech start-up attempting to solve home comfort and air distribution balancing issues.   Ecovent stealthily started up around May 2015, but really debuted recently at the 2016 Consumer Electronics show. This time, the disruptor wasn’t developed in Silicon Valley, but in the northeast in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Ecovent markets itself as room-by-room temperature control with automatic adjustable air outlets that open and close based upon feedback received from a plug in room mounted sensor. The Ecovents replace standard supply registers and ceiling diffusers in ceiling, wall or floor models and receive feedback from a smart sensor that doubles as an electrical outlet that plugs into a standard wall receptacle. Multiple sensors communicate with a central “smart hub” that can be integrated with the home WiFi for control.

Ecovent Smart Sensor

Ecovent Wall Outlet

 

 

 

 

 

 

My immediate initial concerns regarding automatic air outlets that shut off a register while a system is running would be increased static pressure and velocity. In cooling mode, closing off registers could lead to less air movement accross the evaporator coil leading to decreased coil temperature and possible freeze ups. However, when researching their site, it is found that the outlets contain pressure, temperature and humidity sensors that prevent issues that could cause noise, temperature, humidity and pressure issues. In rooms with multiple air outlets, a single wall sensor can be set up to control multiple outlets. The entire connected system of multiple outlets and sensors is controlled via a smartphone or tablet app.

Econovent Control App

Ecovent, like Nest, has gone to marketing directly to the consumer instead of via installing contractors. Obviously, they are making similar claims as to the simplicity of installation that any consumer with a screwdriver and correct WiFi key should be able to perform. However, lowering cost and maintaining margin may be the real reason here as the claim is that an average 4 bedroom home will cost about $2000 to outfit, depending upon how many rooms, outlets and sensors are required. I priced out my 4 bedroom home and it was more like $2400. Certainly, this will be for the high end residential market for consumers who either really want to be on the cutting edge of technology and climate control or for those who have some serious system balancing problems that they have been unable to address with volume dampers. It will be interesting to see how Ecovent manages to find growth and who it’s angel capital investors will be. Google gobbled up Nest quickly, perhaps the folks at Ecovent are hoping for a similar outcome. However, this system will really actually be in competition with Nest and WiFi thermostats in general because individual zone control may potentially eliminate the need for smart thermostats with a sophisticated enough Android or iOS app.

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

 

 

 

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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.