Not many people are aware of this, but the HVAC industry is worth more than $200 billion a year. That’s enormous – about the annual output of a country like Denmark.
With such a large market, you’d expect there to be some innovation: consumers want products that are cheaper to run and heat their homes better. But with the rise of electronic gadgetry of all kinds, the way in which your home gets heated may be about to change forever.
Over the last 10 years – since WiFi in homes became universal – companies have looked for ways to make heating better. Though mechanical issues can still arise, something suppliers like Fernox can help fix, the overall trend is towards the digital.
But is going digital actually beneficial? Is it like the gimmick of a “smart toilet” or a “smart kettle” -or does imbuing the heating with a level of intelligence really make a difference?
It depends on what kind of person you are. Arguably, smart heating is a lot more useful than a kettle that texts you when it’s finished boiling. But, as with all technologies, there are costs and benefits.
The benefits have to do with planning. With, say, a Nest thermostat, you can set the temperature through an app on your phone. So long as your phone has internet access, you can control the temperature in your home, no matter where you are. This is great if you’re the sort of person who spends a lot of time commuting or really doesn’t like coming back to a house that’s too cold.
But then there are other people: people who don’t like fiddling around with electronic gadgets to get conditions just right. If you’re the type of person who would much rather just flip the thermostat when you get home, then a regular heating system might be for you.
The problem with taking this approach is that there is a financial cost. Although using a smart thermostat might seem like a hassle, especially if you have to communicate with it through an app on your smartphone, it can actually wind up saving your budget quite a bit of money. Some estimates suggest that the amount of money you save each year by having a smart thermostat is roughly the same as an average weekly wage.
What’s more, companies are constantly looking for ways to make their products more convenient, especially for people who don’t like apps. Thanks to improvements in machine learning – a type of artificial intelligence technology – thermostats can now learn about your behaviours. For instance, if you get home from work at 6 pm and turn on the thermostat every day, the thermostat will learn that it probably should switch on at this time automatically.
In fact, today’s thermostats are much more sophisticated than you might expect. They learn not only times of day, but also take into consideration other factors, like outdoor temperature, whether it’s a weeknight or the weekend and many other variables.
So, when did central heating get so high tech? It got high tech when it started thinking for itself.