HVAC Technology and the Smart Phone

Has HVAC Technology Caught up with the Smart Phone

Once upon a time, a phone had a single, exclusive purpose — to speak to another person. Wow, how times have changed! The warp speed of advancing technology has propelled the telephone from a single-function device to a tool capable of almost infinite possibilities.  As technology seeps into nearly every aspect of our daily lives, more and more homeowners are embracing the concept that all of the systems in their home should be as smart as their mobile.  You may not have noticed, but your central heating and cooling systems have gotten much ‘smarter’ over the past several years.

Current HVAC Technology

Today homeowners are increasingly looking for ways to connect to the comfort of their home to their active lifestyles.  This includes a means for energy intelligent home heating and cooling!  Comfort features and energy-efficiency ratings of your furnace, heat pump or air conditioner continue to advance, but the equipment is not a multi-functional tool equal to that of a smart phone.  This equipment is built to perform a single function — to heat or cool your home. 

However, your level of control over your indoor comfort system has made significant technological advancements over the past few years. Today’s thermostats or control systems offer a wide range of control features and connectivity with your Smartphone, making them even easier to align your indoor comfort with your lifestyle. Some current technology includes the following:

Smart thermostats or control systems: As demand increases, more and more thermostat and control system manufacturers are designing smart temperature control technology. Some thermostats or control systems have advanced technology that will learn your routine, adjust the temperature according to your preferences, and offer remote access from your smart phone.

Smart thermostats or control systems integrate directly with your smart phone through a dedicated app and are compatible with a centralized “hub,” such as Amazon Alexa devices * or Google Home products*. Each system has specific integration capabilities so be sure read the details specific to your needs.

Innovative companies, such as Building 36, are bridging the smart home/HVAC integration gap by offering home automation, energy management solutions, and interactive monitoring of heating and cooling systems. However, there still tends to be some integration and compatibility challenges between your heating and cooling equipment and the smart home concept.

Location Services: Just as your car’s Bluetooth technology may recognize your phone and automatically connect when you get in your vehicle, certain smart thermostats and control systems can recognize your location based on your smart phone’s location. With location servicing, you may set your thermostat or control system to reach a preset temperature when you enter or leave a certain radius of your home. When set up to your specific criteria, this technology tailors your home’s temperature to your movements.  It can be a set it and forget it convenience the may maximize your comfort and save in energy usage when you aren’t home.

Occupancy Sensing: Occupancy sensing allows you to customize the indoor temperatures based on room activity. Wireless sensors use motion detection technology and temperature/humidity level readings in a specific area to automatically adjust your compatible thermostat or control systems setting according to your preferences.

If you have more than one thermostat or control system in your home, a series of wireless sensors can communicate to a particular zone.  These sensors can communicate individual readings, and the thermostat or control system can average them out to make the necessary adjustments to the indoor temperature of that zone. If your rooms utilize individual mini-splits and occupancy sensors, each room’s temperature can be set to a specific setting and turn on/off depending on occupancy.

Homeowner alerts: Once a thermostat or control system is installed and connected to your smart phone, you can receive notifications. These notifications may inform you to change your air filter, schedule maintenance or even alert you of a troubling temperature condition.  If you are able to set up an alert based on if your home’s indoor temperature gets too warm or too cold, you may even be able to schedule an HVAC service before you arrive home to a hot or cold house!

Energy-Efficiency: Not only can smart, programmable temperature control make your life more comfortable and convenient, but some thermostats or control systems have shown that they can save you money in the long run.1 While individual results may vary, the technology offers the possibility to conserve energy. When products are pre-programmed to fit your needs, it reduces the chance that they are operating when no one needs them.

Monitoring enabled: Select thermostats and control systems alert you to change your air filter or to contact your local professional or licensed HVAC dealer for regular maintenance. If your HVAC system has a communication-enabled feature, it can alert you to conditions or functions that may require professional services.

Future HVAC Technology

Not too long ago, you couldn’t use your phone outside of your house.   Today, you can take your mobile phone around the world! Now imagine indoor temperature control without a thermostat on the wall! Eventually, advanced technology may be built directly into the HVAC equipment. As we look to the future of integrating rapidly advancing technology with indoor temperature control, there are a few things that are on the horizon.

Decreased costs: History has proven that as technology is more widely accepted and adopted, costs come down. In 1983, the first mobile phone cost nearly $4000. The cost prohibited the “Average Joe” from using them. But over time, the price point came down and allowed for widespread adoption. The same is apt to happen with technologically advanced HVAC equipment and temperature control systems. Greater adoption of smart home technology and communicating equipment could eventually mean lower costs to the average homeowner.

Cutting-edge monitoring systems: As technology becomes more integrated into the HVAC equipment, your furnace, air conditioner or heat pump may be able to communicate directly to your dealer or technician. They will be able to see status updates of your heating or cooling system without traveling to your home.  This technology could allow for proactive maintenance or service scheduling, possibly before you realize that it’s necessary.

In theory, the technician or dealer will be able to contact the homeowner regarding the notification, arrive at their home with the correct part(s) and be sure the HVAC system is maintained without the homeowner having to lift a finger or experience an uncomfortable temperature in their home.

Wireless technology: Re-wiring can be expensive in an existing home.  Wireless-enabled devices that encourage home automation may require less labor and infrastructure fixes to install. Wireless thermostats or control systems may be able to communicate with your HVAC system directly.  This also means that your HVAC system may, one day, be able to communicate directly with your smart phone, eliminating the need to a walled temperature control device. The dawn of a home without a thermostat or control system may be just around the corner.

Increased Adoption of Sensor Technology: Sensor technology that determines room occupancy and temperature settings is in its beginning stages of adoption. Just as motion-activated lights are common, so will sensor technology for indoor comfort. In the future, occupancy sensing may also have a Bluetooth-enabled feature in addition to motion, optimizing your heating and cooling as you move through your home.

Energy-Efficiency: There may come a time when entry-level HVAC equipment will incorporate the same advanced energy-efficient and comfort features that are currently offered in higher end models. The push for more efficient and environmentally-friendly consumer products will continue to drive HVAC technology and will provide more customized, energy-saving home automation products.

The thought of turning everyday products, including heating and cooling equipment into smart products sounds complicated. However, the smart home concept will be more attainable for everyone with ongoing technological advancements, affordability, and usability.  While we can’t predict the future, homeowner automated control may all be connected to a smart phone, watch or another piece of wearable technology. One day in the future, this technology may be built directly into your furnace, air conditioner, or heat pump – enhancing location service features, heating and cooling function, and energy-efficiency benefits. 

*Alexa is trademarked by Amazon.com Inc. or its affiliates and Google Home is trademarked by Google Inc.


1  Parker, D., Sutherland, K., & Chasar, D. (2016). Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings. ACEEE. Retrieved from http://aceee.org/files/proceedings/2016/data/papers/8_163.pdf