According to recent studies, the market for home automation products — including advanced thermostats — is poised for explosive growth. For example, research firm Markets and Markets released a report at the beginning of the year stating the global home automation and control market was worth $5.77 billion in 2013. The study further projects the market will reach $12.81 billion by 2020.
Many industry experts believe trends in consumer habits and technology are converging to create an increasing demand for these products. There's an increased expectation on the part of homeowners that they should be able to see and manage their home's energy use.
"We live in the information age, and we, as individuals, have come to expect limitless data at our fingertips," said Cory Vanderpool, business development director, Magnum Energy Solutions. "Why shouldn't we be able to receive and view information about our homes? And, with that information, we'll be able to make smarter decisions about our home energy consumption."
As more homeowners embrace this attitude, HVAC contractors who are willing to look into the technology and learn about these products will be prepared to seize and capitalize on growth opportunities in the automation market.
According to Liz Haggerty, vice president and general manager, unitary products group, Johnson Controls Inc., "Until recently, most homeowners gave little thought to energy management in the home, but effective marketing and education has helped to create a need for energy management in the minds of homeowners. Education is more accessible via the Internet, enabling homeowners to do their research online."
More specifically, Haggerty noted: "As recently as three years ago, many people didn't know enough about thermostats to express a preference as to which model they wanted a contractor to install. Today, as the result of marketing efforts and information available online, homeowners are much more likely to take an interest in which thermostat their contractor installs and the value it can deliver."
Tony Uttley, vice president and general manager, home comfort and energy systems, Honeywell Intl. Inc., agreed that homeowners are becoming much more educated on the benefits of managing their energy consumption through advanced thermostats.
"Increased awareness and access to information are driving homeowners to be more interested in managing their home's energy usage," he said.
Yet, Haggerty also warned there can be a downside to the increased marketing and sales of automation products, especially when they're sold to homeowners as add-ons to other systems.
"In many cases, companies offer home automation products as add-ons to other systems homeowners purchase, including Internet and cable packages, as a gimmick to attract and retain customers. Often, when these automation features are included as an afterthought to an existing service, customers miss the full value that home integration offers, including equipment control and efficiency," she said.
In contrast to this approach, Haggerty said companies with a deep understanding of HVAC equipment have better opportunities to sell the real value of home automation and system integration, which she defined as control, energy management, and environmental responsibility. And, not only will HVAC companies provide better benefits to the homeowner, but they'll also grow their businesses in the process, she said.
PREPARING FOR GROWTH
Of course, if contractors are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with newer technologies, they won't be able to successfully sell it to customers. According to Uttley, contractors need to try out the products themselves.
After taking that step, he said, contractors need to simply ask the homeowner if they're interested in an advanced thermostat or any type of home automation.
"We're finding that, once homeowners have switched to advanced thermostats, they don't go back. This means the population of consumers who desire an advanced thermostat will continue to increase," he explained. "Similarly, when a homeowner purchases one Internet-connectable device, they're much more likely to add another to their home, oftentimes purposefully ensuring the two become interconnected."
Vanderpool added, it's important for contractors to be able to allay homeowners' fears about newer products.
"Many homeowners simply don't know what technology to choose, and many are not comfortable with a do-it-yourself approach to home automation," he said. "Taking away the fear, making solutions that are cost-effective, limiting recurring costs, and demonstrating the ROI can help further the speed of adoption."
Haggerty pointed out, it's also important for contractors to consider their customers' points of view when selling advanced products.
"In many cases, the needs and feature sets of a particular technology that appeal to contractors differ greatly from those that appeal to homeowners," she said. "Contractors take an interest in ease of installation and serviceability while homeowners want simple operation, efficiency, and comfort. So, contractors can benefit by empathizing with, and appreciating the needs of, the homeowner and then providing the technology to meet those needs, highlighting homeowner benefits in conversations with customers."
As contractors begin to offer advanced energy management products to consumers, they'll need to stay up to date with the changing technologies in the marketplace.
"Every day, there are new technologies introduced into the market, including thermostats, lighting controls, and more," Vanderpool said. "I personally believe we'll continue to see considerable change in the home automation market."
In a rapidly advancing market, it won't be easy to stay up to date on the latest options coming out, but it will certainly be worth it if the market continues to grow, as predicted.