diy smartness for your old or new air conditioner – make your ac smart!

DIY Smartness for your Old or New Air Conditioner – Make your AC Smart!

Air conditioning is a process to maintain user defined conditions of temperature, humidity and ventilation inside a building or a vehicle. In case of the building, air conditioning is used in both residential and commercial spaces. The extremities of temperature and humidity can impact our daily chores and our efficiencies are directly affected by the building conditions. A proper air conditioning system ensures almost perfect conditions which enable us to perform our daily tasks in an efficient manner. Millions of people around the globe are living in conditioned spaces and with every passing day more and more people are converting their home/work spaces into air-conditioned spaces.

Air conditioning provides us the perfect conditions but like everything else, there are downsides to air conditioning as well. The rampant use of air condition is affecting the environment through direct emission of harmful chemicals both during production and use. Similarly, the amount of energy consumed is always a matter of concern for end users. The governments and utilities are trying to reduce the harms by bringing in new legislation and raising the efficiency standards. The appliance OEMs are bringing out new efficient solutions and users are trying to improve the usage by selecting efficient products and managing the use.

The smart controls available in the market are also helping improve the overall efficiency of installed air conditioners by providing ways and means to improve the usage. The air conditioning can be broadly categorized into central and non-central systems. The air conditioning systems can also be differentiated on the basis of ducting or systems without the ductwork. Whatever the system type, air conditioning is a must and smart controls are fast becoming the necessity to get max efficiency out of these systems.

What are the types of air conditioning and heating systems?

Air conditioning or heating types include central and non-central systems. The central heating system is the most common type of system in the US. It comprises of heat source, the heat distribution system and the associated control system. The heat source can be a furnace, boiler or a heat pump. The heat distribution system includes forced air systems using air ducts and vents, steam radiators to distribute heat, direct radiant heating, hot water baseboard or electric baseboards. The control system may be a normal or a smart thermostat.

A central cooling system is a two-part or split system that includes the outdoor unit comprising of the condenser coil, compressor, electrical components and a fan. It has also got an evaporator coil, which is usually installed on top of the furnace inside the home. The distribution system comprises of ducts that serve as air passage to the multiple spaces inside the home. These central systems can be powered and operated through gas or electricity. Installing a central air conditioning or heating system is quite cumbersome and it requires proper planning and execution in relation to the size of the building and requirements of the inhabitants.

A non-central ductless counterpart is a great option for new construction and old dwellings where ductless systems can easily be installed as the only option or in addition to the central systems. The ductless systems are also called single zone systems as they provide heating or cooling to a particular zone. They are energy efficient and installing such a system is not a big hassle. The ductless system comprises an external unit and an internal unit. A ductless mini split system, in its most basic form, includes one outdoor unit and one indoor unit, connected by refrigerant, tubing and electrical wiring. The indoor unit is often wall-mounted and delivers heated or cooled air directly into the living space. Some ductless systems like PTACs, window or portable are self-contained units where all the components are housed in a single casing and ductwork is almost zero. The ductless system is usually controlled via remote control or wired control unit. Recently, few companies have also come up with smart controls for ductless systems.

What is Smart air conditioning?

Smart air conditioning means that your air conditioning system is connected through the internet and you can control and manage your heating or cooling from anywhere. It is a broad term and the basic starts from a connected appliance that you can control from anywhere. The big question here is, how smart? The smart AC system should enable you to control all features of a normal thermostat or a remote controller (in case of non-central AC) from anywhere. Plus, you should be able to put schedules, enjoy location-based controls, and enjoy the voice controls and similar features. The end benefit of smart air conditioning should be energy savings associated with a lot of conveniences.

Smart Thermostats for Central AC Systems

The air conditioning system is costly to install and maintain. Smart thermostats for AC are fast changing the maintenance and usage scenarios and helping the users to save energy as well as giving then huge ease of use. Wi-Fi enabled thermostats – also known as ‘Smart Thermostats’ are becoming popular with the homeowners to manage their central air conditioning and reduce AC costs. The adaption of the smart thermostat is fast-paced and brands like Nest, Ecobee and Honeywell Lyricare leading the market. The thermostat providers are making a partnership with utility companies to provide a solution where energy saving projects can be launched and monitored form a central location.

Smart controls for stand-alone air conditioners

In central systems, the control is through a normal or a smart thermostat. The smart thermostat is fast becoming a norm as more and more utilities are giving huge rebates on the purchase of a smart thermostat. In the case of non-central systems, smart controls have just started entering the systems. Few manufacturers have come up with in-built smart Wi-Fi-based systems but these systems are particular to a certain brand. Few companies have also ventured into providing smart controls for any brand non-central systems but their penetration into the market is quite low.

US-based companies like Honeywell and CieloWiGle are providing smart controllers for ductless systems. Few foreign companies Europe and Latin America are also providing smart controls for a ductless system but they are mainly focused on their respective markets. The market is new and universal compatibility with a large number of brands is an issue. The global market for the ductless system is worth $ 78B and these systems are fast becoming the system of choice in the US also. The smart control offering for such a system needs to be explored further to give the customer the requisite knowledge to decide the best fit for their ductless systems.

Which is the best smart controller for stand-alone air conditioners and why?

Companies like Honeywell, Cielo, Airpatrol, Ambiclimate etc. are providing smart controls for ductless systems and all of them claim to have a perfect solution. Before deciding the winner, let us dig deep and draw the comparison based upon feature set, ease of registration and setup, compatibility with brands, power saving prowess and cost translated into value for the end customer. Let me first discuss individual solutions:

Honeywell Solution:

Honeywell has recently launched the smart AC controller model for ductless systems. The feature set includes control from anywhere via mobile, scheduling feature and location-based controls. One problem with Honeywell solution is that the existing remote controller of the AC becomes redundant as the smart AC controller cannot handle the commands initiated through the AC remote. The initial registration and set up are not customer friendly and can be further improved to do away with the initial hassle. The compatibility with various AC brands is a big issue and they have to resolve it quick and fast to capture a bigger chunk of the market. Power saving can be achieved through location controls and scheduling. The device is quite costly in comparison to the competition.

Cielo Breez smart AC solution:

Unlike the competition, CieloWiGle has come out with multiple models of smart controllers for ductless systems. All the models are backed with mobile apps for Android and iOS and Amazon’s AWS IoT cloud. The company claims that their models are compatible with almost all AC brands available in the US market. Similarly, all models are compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. The basic model Breez Eco is priced well below the similar products to cater to budget-conscious customers. The enhanced model is Breez Plus. This model has got all the on-device local controls plus it can also be hard wired through a 24V connection. Breez Plus is designed for both residential and business customers especially for the hospitality industry. Another model is Breez which is designed for high-end residential customer who wants smartness coupled with aesthetics. The pricing of these models gives Cielo a huge edge over the competition. The intelligent features of daily/weekly scheduling, geo-fencing, comfy mode, live air filter status and usage history gives Cielo products an edge to save energy for the end customers. Cielo has also come up with an enterprise web app which can be a great benefit to users in the hospitality industry.

Ambi Climate Solution:

Ambi Climate, a Hong Kong-based company, has also come up with a smart control for ductless systems. They claim to be compatible with almost all brands of the ductless systems. The price point is a bit higher keeping in view the basic levels of controls being provided. Their presence in the US market is not much and they sell their products mainly through online channels.

Airpatrol Solution:

Airpatrol is from Europe and they also provide a basic smart controller for ductless systems. Their specialty is not limited to smart controls for ductless systems but they also produce other smart products like smart sockets. The basic features are similar to the competition and their pricing is too high and their consumer sales in the US are not much of a success. Their products are compatible with major voice controls.

Apart from major players listed above, there is a new wave of Chinese products that are low in pricing but the smartness is seldom found. The problem with Chinese products is the associated software of cloud and apps. These products are not compatible with US appliances and associated software is quite weak resulting in problems with communication and security.

Choosing the best smart air conditioner controller?

You may have a Mitsubishi, LG, Daikin, Trane, Fujitsu or whatever stand-alone AC in your home or business. You may be using a mini-split, window, portable, fan coil (with remote) or a PTAC (with remote). Here are the points and suggestions to select the best smart AC controller available in the US market:

Smart AC Controller compatibility with AC brands:

The first question to ask whether the smart controller is compatible with your system. I think AmbiClimate and Cielo is the best choice as far as compatibility with multiple brands is concerned.

On-device control on smart AC Controller:

Next, do the product have on-device controls? The answer is Cielo Breez Plus and Honeywell. Cielo Breez Plus has much more on-device controls than Honeywell device. The on-device controls enable the user to operate the connected AC even without the internet and Wi-Fi, a special case for the hospitality industry.

Powering up option for your smart AC Controller:

Next, the powering up options. All the products can be powered up through a 5V adapter. Only Cielo’s Breez Plus have options of both 5V adapter and 24 V hardwiring just like a normal thermostat. The ability to hard wire the product means that there would be no wires hanging which is the case with all other competing products having just a 5V adapter as a power source.

Smart features associated with your smart AC:

The feature set of scheduling, location controls, live filter status, history, and timeline are a must for any smart control in ductless system space. Cielo and Ambiclimate are a better choice. Cielo software is more comprehensive and gives better information to end users for the fulfillment of their saving goals.

Compatibility with voice controls like Amazon Alexa & the Google Home:

All the discussed products are compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. All the discussed product works well with voice controls and choosing one on another is difficult.

Ease of Use:

Ease of use weighs very high in selection of the winner. With the auto remote detection feature, the Cielo products seem to be a big winner. In the case of Cielo products, the end user just has to point their existing remote towards the Cielo device and Cielo ecosystems automatically detect the connected AC brand and model and configure it to the Cielo ecosystem.

Energy Saving Potential through smart air conditioning:

Energy savings are achieved through intelligent use of features like scheduling, zoning, location controls, air filter status monitoring and usage history monitoring. All the smart control providers claim to save you energy. Ambiclimate and Cielo has a great feature set but Cielo has a definite edge due to multiple product offerings. My vote goes for Cielo products.

The cost to convert your dumb AC into a smart AC:

The cost of a product hovers around $ 100. Honeywell and Airpatrol solutions are quite costly. Breez Plus and Ambiclimate are similar in cost but Breez plus has an edge due to better hardware, on-device controls and multiple options for powering up. The Cielo Breez Eco is clearly a winner because of the $ 69 retail price and having similar even better feature set than the competing products.

Which smart Controller is the best fit for your DIY smart air conditioner?

To give maximum value to the money spent you have to look for the most compatible controller having the greater feature set with super ease of use. The products offered by Cielo fits perfectly to any end use case. If you are budget conscious, go for Breez Eco. If you want the best fit for your business, go for Cielo BreezPlus. Here is the brief of product offering by Cielo, a Redmond, WA based company:

Cielo Breez:

Smart Wi-Fi AC controller with an LCD screen and the on-device temperature buttons. Powered up through a 5V adapter. It can be wall mounted or placed on a table stand. Works with Wi-Fi. Compatible with almost all AC brands (Mini splits, window or portables).

Cielo Breez Eco:

Smart Wi-Fi AC controller with an on-device power button. Powered up through a 5V adapter. It can be wall mounted or placed on a table stand. Works with Wi-Fi. Power on/off without Wi-Fi.Compatible with almost all AC brands (Mini splits, window or portables). Most affordable option.

Cielo Breez Plus:

Smart Wi-Fi AC controller with a full range of on-device local controls. Powered up through a 5V adapter or can be hardwired through 24V AC/DC. Wall mounted or placed on a table stand. Works with or without Wi-Fi. Compatible with almost all AC brands (Mini splits, window or portables).The best option for hotels, vacation rentals, schools, hospitals, and other business premises.

Air conditioning and heating are a must and it is going to stay to provide a comfortable environment to the users. The efficiency and ease of use would be a major contributor to any heating/cooling system’s success or failure in the market. The smart heating/cooling would be instrumental in getting the maximum out of your heating/cooling systems. Choosing the right smart solution for your heating/cooling systems would ensure the maximum savings coupled with a lot of conveniences.

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