HVAC, Plumbing IoT is finally happening. Sort of…

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eric aune 2 The Hub team just landed yesterday morning off of red-eye flights straight out of Vegas after walking the miles of conventions floor space this week at the combi show KBIS & IBS, or, Construction Week.

If you’ve never been to Construction Week you might want to add it to your business travel plans for its immense size and scope of industry representation. The entire construction industry is the focus of the show with an emphasis on residential; its also amazingly huge so wear your walking shoes.

If you haven’t already, check out the first couple recaps from the show here: Uponor and here: Viega. We will be posting highlights from each of the major areas we focus on over the next week or two, stay tuned.

Among all the new plumbing fixture styles, tools on display and appliance advancements featured throughout the show I took note of a common theme among many of the hvac industry manufacturers and even a couple plumbing manufacturers as well. The IoT (Internet of Things) has finally been added to the product lineup. Rinnai was the first to show us wireless connectivity to their entire tankless lineup [available first quarter ‘16]. The Rinnai system shows promise in its infancy and has the potential to grow into a useful tool for both the consumer and contractor. Unfortunately, as it was presented to us, I think its got a ways to go.

Lennox’s iComfort [wifi-enabled complete control system] was very impressive as well. The logic and intuitive platform resemble a standard tablet operating system undoubtedly a smart move by the major HVAC manufacturer. But, and I’ve got one here too, to get the full use and capabilities from the controls they must first be connected to the top of the line, exclusive Lennox Ultimate Comfort System™. So, a cool and capable control is only such if you go all in.

Proprietary control logic, at least right now in 2016, is the name of the plumbing and heating industry game. Whether these manufacturers like it or not, this way of thinking isn’t answering the call of the today’s homeowner who wants access to control their heating & cooling system or DHW. Instead it’s a product of an industry (IoT technology) that cannot decide on a single platform of operational protocol.

Standards wars are not uncommon in the world of tech, but that doesn’t stop the IoT protocol/platform battle being anything other than frustrating. With all of this posturing by consortium and companies, innovation is stalled. Fence-sitting isn’t doing anyone any good and the HVAC product industry is seemingly caught up in the middle.

I will admit to some selfish frustration on my part surrounding my interactions with the manufacturers reps at the show this week. In a couple situations I met with the actual product engineers and was left with more questions than answers. I’m not only referring to questions of how these wifi-connected devices worked but just how they arrived at the limitations of capability.

I know product development is a long, expensive endeavor, electronics and controls are no exception but are manufacturers looking beyond consumer focus groups when deciding where to go with the new connected appliances/controls? Has the lowly contractor been removed completely from the development process?

Let me backtrack a little, I don’t want to seem as though I’m picking on Rinnai of Lennox, I’m not. Both have industry-leading technology and product offering. Water heating giant Rheem also featured their “EcoNet” integrated system that connects all the HVAC & plumbing appliances together under one system. As long as that system is all Rheem and compatible.

The day where all of these connected devices will need to be connected via a single platform is coming. It may take a while to get here but in the meantime product line crossover compatibility needs to be part of the design process. Oh, and to all the boiler and water heater engineering departments, call me. I and at least five of my closest contractor friends would be happy to sit down with you and your team. We install your products and, just as important, we service them too. We know exactly what we want your controls to do for us when it comes to connectivity; anything short of our needs is short of the goal line. Let’s talk.

Eric Aune

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