Hometoys Interview - Controlling HVAC Systems with Home Automation

Thomas W. Jackson Chief Executive Officer Jackson Systems, LLC.

Jackson Systems designs and manufactures commercial and residential zone control products, thermostats, relays, building automation systems and other custom HVAC controls. In January 1997, Tom and his father, Ron, started Jackson Systems, LLC. Ron had spent the previous 40 years in the HVAC control business, designing and manufacturing commercial controls. The two saw a great opportunity to develop and market new zone control systems to HVAC contractors.

Jackson Systems

What role does HVAC play in the home automation market?
I believe that HVAC systems play a major role in automation and that connection is becoming much more important as energy savings takes center stage.

Not only does the HVAC equipment comprise one of the largest systems in a house, it is also the single biggest user of energy.  Because of this, it is only natural that it be integrated and controlled with the rest of the home’s systems.

 

Is thermostat control the only thing you can do with a home automation system?
While the main integration of HVAC and home automation will always be the temperature control (a.k.a. thermostat control), other indoor air quality devices will also be monitored and controlled.  This would include items such as humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air cleaners and UV lights.

 

What about Energy Management? How can I save energy with my Home Automation System?
There are several ways that home automation can play the role of the energy management system.  The first and most basic, is the configuring and running of schedules, very much like how a simple programmable thermostat works.  The next level would involve whole house and individual schemes.  They could be based on a program preconfigured in the automation system, or using active sensors that know when a room is occupied.   Finally, home automation would allow for “peak demand” control, so that during high energy usage times, either the home owner or utility could regulate the systems.

 

Which type of HVAC system do you find gives the best energy savings return when controlled by an Automation System?
Regardless of whether or not there is an home automation system, HVAC equipment selection and system design are critical.  There are many factors that play into what is the best system for a particular application, there is no “one size fits all” approach.  I would say that geothermal heating has really become mainstream and is an option that each homeowner would want to consider.  I do want to stress, that proper installation is by far the most important aspect of the HVAC system.  You can have the highest efficiency equipment available, but if it is not installed properly, it will not deliver on its promises of comfort and savings.

 

Are all Home Automation Systems created equal or do you recommend specific systems to control your HVAC equipment?
Honestly, the home automation system really should not make much of a difference.  Currently most HVAC equipment is controlled by a thermostat, which is really nothing more than a simple switch to turn the HVAC equipment on and off.  So the most important aspect is that the thermostat and or home automation system is compatible with the equipment.  In other words, if you have a heat pump then your thermostat or automation system needs to be able to control that type of equipment.  The HVAC industry is starting to change some, many of the equipment manufacturers (Trane, Carrier, Lennox, etc.) have developed their own propriety controls systems, which will make it much more difficult to integrate with home automation systems.

 

How important is thermostat location to overall performance and comfort?
Thermostat location is important and you should follow all the basic rules.

Install the thermostat in a location that represents the ambient space temperature. Do not install the thermostat in an area where drafts are present, near the floor, behind doors or on an external wall. Avoid placing the thermostat in areas where the air movement is limited, affected by direct sunlight or other areas not typical of the temperature in the space.

However, with more wireless products hitting the market, people now actually have the option to have their thermostat as a remote control unit.  While this means you can sense the temperature where you are and not where the thermostat is mounted on the wall, you have to be careful about losing the device or leaving it somewhere where you do not want it.

Ideally, adding zone control to any HVAC system allows for increased comfort and better temperature control. Zone control is a household control system that allows you to use only one HVAC unit and have up to 12 separate temperature zones, or areas, controlled by individual thermostats and motorized dampers located in the ductwork. If you use programmable thermostats, not only do you get the comfort you want but the energy savings you demand. Programmable thermostats allow you to set the time and temperature of each zone in the home without having to constantly adjust the thermostats. This innovative system allows you to accommodate your lifestyle and control your utility bill.

 

What are some of the new products being released in the HVAC industry?
I think the HVAC industry has been focused on several areas, including higher efficiency units (partly mandated by the government), new refrigerants and controls.  There also is a continued push to improve indoor air quality through new products such as energy recovery ventilators.  Additionally we are starting to see the introduction of solar into the traditional HVAC marketplace.  Web-based thermostats are also gaining in popularity (these actually can operate without any home automation and really only require a high-speed Internet connection).

 

What other types of equipment and sensors do you recommend for the home system?
I want to reemphasis the importance of a quality installation, including the proper ductwork and sealing of the ductwork.  Beyond this, I believe it really have a lot to do with personal preference and your budget.  I do think that zoning is a great product that really gives the homeowner the type of comfort they are looking for (but in full disclosure, that is what Jackson Systems manufactures).

 

If you were building a new dream home, what type of HVAC system would you install and how would you control it?
If it were my home and money was not a concern, I would put in geothermal units with zoning, media air cleaners, UV lights, steam humidifiers, whole-house dehumidifiers and energy recovery ventilators.  I would then be able to control each zone from the home automation systems through touchscreens and remotes.

 

Looking in your crystal ball --- what can we expect to see in the next 5 or 10 years in your industry?
There will be a an ongoing quest to increase efficiency, find new refrigerants that are better for the environment, a push toward zero energy usage and devices that allow us to be connected to our house in real time, all the time. 

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