Wi-Fi Comes to HVAC

Before I begin to elaborate on this subject, let’s review just what Wi-Fi is. According to PC Magazine’s encyclopedia of technology terms, Wi-Fi is “the standard wireless local area network (WLAN) technology for connecting computers and myriad electronic devices to each other and to the Internet…  Every laptop, tablet and smartphone comes with Wi-Fi…”

And now some thermostats come with Wi-Fi too.

I, perhaps like many of you, never thought that Wi-Fi would be applied to the field of HVAC, but in this age of technology, it has become a must-have feature due to popular demand by the consumer.

My first experience, probably like many readers, was the day I found the boiler and control manufacturers offering a wireless control capable of monitoring outside temperatures on any given winter’s day and modulating the water temperature while still providing the necessary heat to a building.

Several years ago, I had a customer tell me that he wanted to be able to control the new heating system I was installing from a laptop in his office. As strange as that request sounded at that time, we were able to make this happen with the help of the IT department at his workplace.

Over the past several years, we have witnessed the rise of the “app.” It offers the means to manage and complete all manner of tasks. “There’s an app for that” has been a stock phrase for some time now, and indeed there seems to be an app for most everything from placing a food order from the parking lot at McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts to controlling a thermostat.

When “smart” wireless thermostats were introduced, I believe there was some confusion when the Big Box stores first offered more than one brand of T stat. Many consumers never understood the associated app that, in some cases, required a third “power-stealing” wire. I recently spoke with a rep for a major thermostat manufacturer who gave me an update on the company’s wireless products. One that really caught my attention was a system that could be used in an old brick building being renovated with new heating and cooling equipment. The rep reminded me that in the old days it would take hours to run wires to each new apartment, but today there is a wireless system that can be expanded to meet the heating and cooling requirements in any number of units. Expensive, yes, but the labor savings makes it worthwhile.

Now there are wireless oil-tank gauges with an app designed to help dealers avoid run-outs, manage service calls, and track the oil burn rate of a heating system.

The amount of wireless data is unbelievable. No wonder Wi-Fi is growing in popularity, seeing that consumers can have near-total control of their heating and cooling needs from any location, provided they have the proper app. A couple of hints: Make sure that the customer understands the features offered with the app.  Also, make sure that when customers see the battery replacement notice they know what type of battery is needed.

So, Wi-Fi applies to heating and cooling. Did we ever think we would see the day when we could control heating and cooling systems from a cell phone?

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