Why it's smart to choose Wi-Fi HVAC units

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | May 2, 2014

Once upon a time and not so long ago, thermostats for HVAC units had to be set manually. Then along came the programmable thermostat, which not only made heating and cooling bills cheaper, but also made life so much easier.

And now it gets better. Smart HVAC controls save even more money on heating and cooling bills, allow us to manage our household environment from a world away, and even learn our preferences, creating a truly hands-off system.

Wi-Fi enabled units are the new programmable thermostat

Smart HVAC units are already a hot commodity. According to a 2014 report by RnR Market Research, the market for smart controls is expected to grow by over 26 percent from 2014 to 2020. Not only will these unique units help manufacturers meet the ever-increasing standards for efficiency in the U.S., they could also offer significant savings on heating and cooling bills. In fact, some experts believe that systems with direct notifications to homeowners, such as those that are connected to a smartphone, could see an increase of 30 to 40 percent in energy efficiency. More comfort, an easier way to get it, and cost savings to boot. What's not to love?

The biggest problem for homeowners might be choosing the best system. Each option offers the kind of bells and whistles that makes your old air conditioning or heating unit look like a dinosaur. Here are some of the most notable up-and-comers as of late:

  • Haier's Tianzun AC unit. The first home appliance to be Apple-certified, this unit is designed as a "plug and play," with no setup involved. The companion app allows you to control the air conditioning from elsewhere, meaning that you can adjust your household environment to a preferred comfort level before you walk through the door. Meeting Apple's rigorous MFi standards was no small feat, but Haier intends to expand the smart controls to water heaters, ovens, and even a fully connected house, which the company calls "industrial home architecture."
  • The Aros by Quirky/GE. Invention incubator site Quirky has been a boon for GE, and this new wi-fi air conditioning unit is the latest in a line of new innovations. Aros allows you to control the temperature of your home from anywhere in the world, tracks your usage patterns to suggest a custom schedule, and even offers a "smart budget" feature that alerts you when your usage approaches desired energy limits. The 8,000 BTU Aros will sell for $300, only about $50 more than the typical air conditioning unit of the same size. It offers the ability to chain units together, so your whole house can enjoy intelligent cooling.
  • Emerson Sensi Thermostat. This Wi-Fi enabled thermostat offers a much faster installation time than traditional thermostats, and homeowners can program the contractor's information right into the unit, so they can call for assistance with one touch. The price is comparable to that of programmable thermostats. The genius lies in the app, which can handle up to nine different heating and cooling schedules, or manage multiple thermostats at the same time -- perfect for those who have more than one home.
  • Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat. Inspired by the patent war with Nest, Honeywell has branched out with more features that homeowners love. The sleek thermostat has a no-frills interface, installation is easy, and the thermostat can then be controlled by computer, smartphone, tablet, or any other device that might suit your technological fancy. In a show of aggressive competition, the Honeywell is less than half the cost of the Nest.

Wi-Fi units don't just offer savings and careful control -- they also offer peace of mind. Several systems allow you to set email or text alerts that tell you if the house has reached a certain temperature limit, a nice feature if you are worried about pipes freezing in the winter. You can even get alerts if the system can't connect to the Wi-Fi in your home. Whether you want that peace of mind, need to save money on energy costs, like the ease of using an app, or simply prefer a more comfortable home, installing one of these advanced systems is definitely the smart thing to do.

About the Author

Shannon Lee has been writing professionally for two decades on a wide variety of topics, including medical and health issues, home repair and relationships.