It’s easy to forget about your HVAC system—until it stops working and you find yourself baking in the summer heat or freezing in the winter cold. And the last thing you want to do is put yourself at the mercy of an HVAC repair company on the first searing-hot or icy-cold day of the season. SmartAC.com is launching out of stealth mode today with a sensor-and-machine-learning platform that it says will monitor the health of your entire HVAC system, and warn you of potential breakdowns before they happen. The company says it has enough confidence in its tech that it will offer a customer one year of free service in the event of an unpredicted breakdown.
The heart of the system is a suite of three sensors that link to a central hub that connects in turn to your Wi-Fi network. The sensors will collect data about your HVAC system’s performance and send it to the cloud, where SmartAC.com’s servers will analyze it and compare the sensors’ readings to the HVAC system manufacturer’s specifications. The company asks users to take pictures of the labels on their equipment, so they can determine its operational specs and then evaluate if the equipment is operating as expected. They’ll also monitor changes in performance over time and report that to the user.
When the service becomes available on June 9, it will cost $99, plus $5 per month for ongoing monitoring (more details on that in a moment). The central hub gets connected to your Wi-Fi monitor either wirelessly or with an ethernet cable (if a service provider sets up the system for you, they’ll use the cable, so they don’t need to ask for your Wi-Fi credentials). The sensors communicate with the hub using an IoT (Internet of Things) network operating in the 2.4GHz spectrum.
The SmartAC app will ask about your vent locations and will tailor the installation package (e.g., the number of sensors required) and the installation process accordingly. You’ll attach a magnetic Comfort sensor to the outside of one your HVAC system’s vents, where it will monitor the temperature of the air emerging from the vent—taking a reading every 10 seconds—to ensure the air is being heated or cooled to spec.
A clip is provided if your register is fabricated from wood or some other material that a magnet wouldn’t stick to, and the company says it’s working on an optional bracket to accommodate registers on the floor, where the Comfort sensor would be at risk of being kicked or displaced by a pet. For now, SmartAC says the sensor can be installed inside or behind the register if necessary.
A non-magnetic Filter sensor gets installed behind the air filter in the air-return register, where air is pulled in from the home and routed back to the HVAC system. This sensor measures air pressure in the ductwork behind the filter to track airflow, runtime, and other statistics—once again, taking a reading every 10 seconds—and an algorithm running on a server in the cloud uses changes in air pressure to track the life of the air filter. If you have more than one return-air register and filter, you can purchase additional Filter sensors to accommodate them. If you own a larger home or a multi-zoned system, you can also buy additional Comfort sensors, but the system can track a maximum of seven sensors per hub.
The third wireless sensor gets dropped in your air conditioner’s sloped drain pan, where it will monitor for the presence of water. If water is accumulating in the pan, it likely means your air conditioner’s drain line is clogged by insects or something else. The problem can also be caused by a dirty evaporative coil, where dirt from the coil mixes with condensation and clogs the drain. If the drain pan overflows, the water could contribute to mold growth or cause structural damage to your home. SmartAC says its research indicates that 30 percent of all HVAC service calls are related to clogged drain lines.
All three sensors look basically the same, though they are labeled accordingly, and each one measures 1.97 x 3.15 x 1.15 inches (WxDxH). The sensors run on 3V lithium/iron-disulfide AA batteries that the company says should run for “multiple” years each. Additional sensors cost $20 each, but adding sensors doesn’t increase the monthly cost of a subscription.
Low-level alerts, such as filter life and water notifications, will originate in the cloud, but more significant performance-based alerts will be evaluated by humans before they are sent to a customer. SmartAC will also be partnering with local HVAC contractors to provide a nationwide service network. The company says its goal is to reach 80 percent of the U.S. market by the end of 2020. In addition to its monitoring service, the company also offers a replacement air-filter subscription service, where new filters can either be sent automatically when the algorithm concludes they’re needed (based on the Filter sensor’s air-pressure measurements) or on demand, when the app recommends a filter replacement.