Smart, communicating thermostats are transforming HVAC control, offering energy efficiency and comfort. However, their digital communication protocols can pose compatibility challenges for electrical contractors during installation.

How Communicating Thermostats are Revolutionizing Comfort and Efficiency

Chuck Ross
If you haven’t had to shop for a new furnace or air conditioning condenser in the last decade, you might be surprised at the options now available to homeowners. With energy efficiency incentives making higher-performance systems more affordable, buyers are stepping up to variable-speed systems that can cut monthly utility bills while still maintaining comfortable temperatures. However, installing the thermostats that control this smarter equipment can be a bit different for an electrical contractor called in to do the job.

Many of the newest systems that feature variable-speed operation are described as “communicating” or “integrated,” meaning they incorporate more sophisticated communications than those managed by the old-school dials on the wall many of us grew up with. These thermostats are more like control centers, collecting data from temperature sensors that might be placed throughout a home, along with information on furnace/AC operation – and even cloud-based messaging on extreme weather events or upcoming peak-demand temperature setbacks from the local electric utility.

The back-and-forth communications between the thermostat and heating and cooling equipment is all digital, which is a big shift away from the simple low-voltage electrical signals that were previously common, and it can impact thermostat purchases. Because each manufacturer can have its own protocols, installers need to ensure the selected thermostat is compatible with the rest of the system. If it’s bought from the equipment maker, there likely won’t be a problem, but independently purchased units – like those from Nest or Ecobee – might not work. In other cases, contractors might need to contact the thermostat manufacturer’s technical support line to learn how to properly wire the unit to ensure it works as designed.
Photo courtesy of Johnson Controls
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