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(707) 539-4533 |  Sonoma Napa and Marin Counties

updated 4/17/23

Making Your Bay Area HVAC System Smarter

If you have lived in the Bay Area long enough, you’ll start to develop an appreciation for a well-tuned HVAC system. Despite the Mediterranean-style climate, the strong coastal winds blowing into the Bay Area mean that the weather can change on a dime, requiring residents to keep both their air conditioning and heating systems ready year-round. Talk to anyone in Santa Rosa and they’ll tell you: your HVAC system is definitely not something you should be cutting corners with.


With that being said, running an HVAC system all throughout the year can get pretty expensive, which is why a lot of Bay Area residents take steps to reduce the monthly cost of their air conditioner and furnace. One of the most effective ways to do this is to install some more up-to-date technology to make sure your HVAC units are running as efficiently as possible. The recent boom in smart technology has changed the way we interact with the devices in our homes, from smart televisions that can connect directly to the internet to smart fridges that let you know when you’re running out of food. Now smart technology has reached the HVAC industry as well.


In this post, we’ll go over a few of the most common smart tech HVAC upgrades available and how you can use them to reduce the monthly cost of running your air conditioner or heating system.


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Smart Thermostats

Smart thermostats are the most popular HVAC-related smart tech product on the market today, so there’s a decent chance that you’ve already heard of them. You might even have one installed in your home already. There’s a good reason why these devices are the most commonly-purchased HVAC smart tech out there and they make for a great first foray into making your system smarter.


How Smart Thermostats Work

Just like a basic thermostat, the purpose of a smart thermostat is to act as the brain for your HVAC system. When a thermostat is on, it’s constantly checking the temperature in your house with built-in sensors. If it detects that the temperature has either dipped below or raised above a certain threshold set by the homeowner, it sends a signal to the air conditioner or furnace, letting it know to turn on and start blowing temperature-controlled air into your home. Once the temperature is back to the approved level, the thermostat sends another signal to the HVAC system, letting it know to switch itself off.


Smart thermostats come with a much more complex computer inside, allowing you to control the temperature in your house more directly. They also include Wi-Fi connectivity so they can connect to other smart devices in your home, including your smartphone. These capabilities allow for a much more flexible device that can control the climate down to the smallest detail as well as streamline the power usage of your HVAC system, making it significantly more energy-efficient.


Benefits of a Smart Thermostat

The most immediate benefit of a smart thermostat is that it can connect to your smartphone, allowing you to fine-tune the temperature settings without even having to stand up from the couch. This kind of convenience might seem a little unnecessary, but once you’ve started using one, you’ll never want to go back. You can even change the temperature settings when you’re not home, allowing you to arrive at a perfectly cooled or warmed house at the end of each day. Trust us, after a few weeks of changing the temperature from the palm of your hand, the idea of walking over to the thermostat will start to feel primitive.


Of course, there are other benefits to a smart thermostat as well. After all, nobody really wants to spend a few hundred dollars just so they can turn up the heat from the comfort of their bed. The more advanced computer system inside a smart thermostat means that you have access to a wide range of controls as well as enough data to help you figure out how to run your HVAC system as efficiently as possible. If you’re willing to really delve into the capabilities of these devices, studies have found that you can save over 20% on your heating and cooling costs just by installing a smart thermostat in your home.


One of the most helpful features of a smart thermostat is the ability to set schedules for heating and cooling based on your own personal routine. You can change the HVAC settings based on when you leave for work and come home, how much time you spend in different parts of your home, or even how many people you have in your house at any one time. The thermostat can also take other external factors into account, like the weather outside and how your temperature preferences change depending on the time of day. Building custom HVAC schedules will allow you to directly control the temperature in your home without having to actually pay attention to it every day, which is an appealing prospect.


In addition to the scheduling tools offered by a smart thermostat, you’ll also have access to detailed information and analysis of your heating and cooling habits. They can provide insight into your energy usage patterns, allowing you to see exactly how much it costs to keep your home comfortable throughout the year. Most smart thermostats will even provide some helpful tips to help you keep your energy costs as low as possible, based on data that they’ve collected on your usual patterns. They can compare your energy usage to average houses in your neighborhood and give you some help so you can make sure your monthly power bills are as low as possible.


Of course, you may not want to spend all that time figuring out the perfect set of HVAC routines through your smart thermostat, and that’s just fine too. In fact, you don’t even have to program your thermostat at all if you don’t want to. Most smart thermostats can actually track your patterns and set up schedules based on your day-to-day routines and preferences without you having to lift a finger. All you have to do is let the system know when you’re feeling a little too hot or too cold and the thermostat will do the rest.


Cost of a Smart Thermometer

The cost of buying a new smart thermostat can vary depending on the brand and model that you’re looking for. An entry-level thermostat can go as low as $100 or so, while the most complex and expensive models cost more like $500. Some smart thermostats come with instructions for a simple installation process that you can do yourself, but others may be more complicated. If you’re not confident in your ability to install the thermostat by yourself, hiring an HVAC professional to install it for you will run between $100 and $200 for the most part. If you live in the Bay Area, PG&E customers can receive rebates to offset the cost of a new thermometer, so make sure you research your options.


Not everyone can save 20% on their HVAC costs after installing a smart thermostat, but you can expect to save a couple of hundred dollars a year if you optimize the settings for energy efficiency. If you find yourself using your HVAC system frequently throughout the year, a smart thermostat will almost certainly pay for itself as well as make your heating and cooling much more convenient.


Smart Vents

Smart HVAC vents are a more recent technology that you may not have heard about yet. In some ways, they’re very similar to smart thermostats, but they affect a different part of your HVAC system. They offer similar benefits to the energy efficiency of your heating and cooling system but work in a different way.


How Smart Vents Work

In a regular central air HVAC system, the blower fan in your air conditioner, heat pump, or furnace forces temperature-controlled air through your ducts, distributing it to every part of your house at the same time. Vents connect the ducts to each room, allowing the air to escape. However, since regular vents are just big holes with grills across the entrances, there’s nothing guiding or controlling the flow of air through the ducts into the rooms below. Every part of your home is heated up or cooled down equally since every vent is open. This can be a problem when you have rooms that you rarely spend time in, since you’re still paying to have the air temperature controlled at all times. If you almost never venture into the basement, then why should you keep paying to keep it at a warm 66 degrees all day?


For a while now, some homeowners have been dealing with this problem through a process called zoning. In the HVAC field, zoning refers to breaking a house up into multiple climate zones and controlling the temperature in each zone independently. People often achieve this by using dampers, vent covers that can be opened or closed manually. If you don’t want to heat the basement all day, then just close the dampers until you actually need to spend some time down there. However, the fact that dampers have to be opened and closed by hand makes them fairly inconvenient and left some homeowners looking for a more efficient option.


Smart vents are a more advanced version of dampers that contain motors allowing them to open and close themselves automatically. This means that you can successfully zone your home without having to get on a stepladder and fiddle with the vents every time you change your mind. Smart vents also contain sensors that can track a variety of things, including temperature and motion inside the room. The temperature sensors mean that each vent can act as a mini-thermostat, keeping the dampers closed when the climate in the room is fine and opening them when it’s too hot or too cold. Motion detectors add another level to your zoning, allowing the vents to detect whether or not someone is actually in the room. These sensors have been particularly popular among hotel owners, who use them to make sure that only occupied rooms are receiving temperature-controlled air.


Benefits of Smart Vents

Installing smart vents in your home can significantly improve the energy efficiency of your HVAC system. Heating and cooling each room separately means that you’re not wasting electricity by keeping your attic or rarely-used basement at a comfortable temperature. You can compound the effect by adding smart vents to an HVAC system that already has a smart thermostat, allowing you much finer control over the temperature in every room of your house. Imagine a heating and cooling system that tracks you as you move through your house, making sure that you’re at a comfortable temperature in every room you step into without making you pay the electricity cost of treating the air in the rest of the house. While HVAC technology hasn’t quite reached that point yet, largely due to the time it takes to get the unit up and running and gradually change the temperature of the air, smart vents represent a significant step closer to that possibility.


When connected to a smart thermostat, smart vents also allow you to set different temperatures for different parts of the house, which can be helpful if you have a family. Most of us have memories of our parents ruling the home thermostat with an iron fist when we were growing up, but with smart technology, every person in your family can set a different temperature for the room they’re in. That means one person can stay nice and toasty watching TV in the living room without making someone else overheat in the kitchen. Most of the smart tech benefits in this article are related to the efficiency of your HVAC system, but the comfort factor should always be taken into account as well.


Cost of Smart Vents

Smart vents can have a major effect on the energy efficiency of your HVAC system, saving you money every month on your power bills. However, they’re still a relatively new technology, which makes them expensive to install. Smart vents start at about $60-$80 per register, which can really start to add up when you consider how many vents the average house has. The savings you receive by reducing your electricity usage may or may not be worth the cost of installing new smart vents, especially if you have a larger house. We would recommend getting in touch with a trusted HVAC professional to discuss the specifics of your house and energy usage so you can figure out if smart vents are worth purchasing.


Some more expensive smart vents contain additional tech upgrades like pressure sensors that monitor the air pressure in the room. Others come installed with safety features like insulation or a waterproof seal in case of flooding. If you’re willing to spend big on your HVAC system, you can find smart tech that does just about everything. These more expensive vents tend to cost about $200 or more each, so be prepared to drop a couple of thousand dollars if you want to outfit your whole house with them.


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Other Smart HVAC Tech

While smart thermostats and vents are two of the most common types of smart HVAC technology, they’re far from the only ones. There’s plenty of technological advancement happening in the field of heating and cooling, especially since it makes up the lion’s share of the average American’s electricity usage. Here are a few examples of some other smart technologies that you can install in your HVAC system:


  • Thermal Sensors – One of the downsides of the current forced-air model is that it relies on a single source when determining the temperature of your home – your thermostat. Even a smart thermostat can only detect the temperature in the room where it’s physically installed. That becomes a problem when conditions in different rooms lead to different temperatures, causing hot or cold spots. Smart vents are one way to avoid this problem since they come with their own temperature sensors, but you can achieve the same effect for a lot less by simply installing more thermal sensors in your home. A smart thermostat can connect to those sensors and use multiple temperature readings throughout the house when designing a heating or cooling schedule.


  • Carbon Dioxide Sensors – This technology is currently used in office buildings around the world and is making its way into residential HVAC systems as well. CO2 sensors provide an extra layer to your heating and cooling systems by detecting the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. When the CO2 levels in your house get too high, they send a signal to turn the HVAC system on, providing fresh air. At the moment, carbon dioxide sensors are mostly used in high-occupancy commercial buildings like cubicle farms. Studies have shown that being in a space with too much CO2 can have a negative impact on mood and critical thinking skills, so the sensors are used to keep office workers feeling fresh and alert.


  • Occupancy Sensors – We already briefly mentioned the motion detectors that some smart HVAC systems use to track which room you’re occupying, but there are plenty of other advantages offered by these sensors. Some smart thermometers, for example, use occupancy sensors to detect how many people are in each room and modify the heating or cooling routines to account for body temperature. Occupancy sensors are also often tied to other smart devices like lightbulbs and speakers so you can return home to a house with a comfortable temperature, the lights on, and your favorite music already playing in the background. The more connectivity you have between your devices, the more control you can have over the environment of your home.


  • Variable Speed Fans – Some newer air conditioners and heat pumps come installed with blower fans that can spin faster or slower depending on the temperature in the house. This saves power since the whole system doesn’t have to switch on and off as frequently, and it also makes the change in temperature feel more smooth and more gradual for you and your family. Older systems can also be retrofitted with variable speed fan motors so you can take advantage of this technology without having to buy a whole new unit. If you have a fan motor with smart connectivity, the system can control the speed of the fan based on additional factors like room occupancy.


Installing Smart HVAC Technology in the Bay Area

Smart tech has led to a more convenient, comfortable, and interconnected household for many of us and the HVAC field is no exception. The smart devices outlined in this blog post offer advantages for the energy efficiency of your heating and cooling system, but also for the comfort of your home. With the current boom in household smart technology, it’s virtually guaranteed that we’ll continue to see advances in HVAC tech that make your system smarter and more efficient, so it’s a good idea to keep up with the news.


Whether you’re installing a new HVAC system with smart connectivity or you’re hoping to add some new smart capabilities to your existing system, we highly recommend getting in touch with a trusted HVAC contractor before you make any decisions. A visit to your house can provide all the information that a professional needs to get a sense of the specific needs of your situation, and they should be able to provide plenty of advice on which devices will provide the best service for you and your family. If you’re looking for help with HVAC smart tech in Sonoma, Napa, or Marin Counties, then you can get in touch with Valley Comfort Heating & Air through our website here, by visiting our location in Santa Rosa, or by giving us a call today at (707) 539-4533.

We’ve all heard about smart thermostats as a way to save energy and minimize costs for residential and commercial HVAC, but what about smart HVAC vents? Smart vents offer many of the same benefits (and same overall controls) as smart thermostats but impact a different part of your HVAC system. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what this technology does and why it could be a smart investment for achieving greater energy efficiency in your home or business.


How Do Smart HVAC Vents Work

Some consumers have a difficult time wrapping their heads around smart vents, simply because they think of vents only as the little grates in their walls that bring airflow from the furnace or air conditioning unit. How could these vents be “smart” in the same way that a thermostat—a clearly tech-based device—could? 

The idea behind smart HVAC vents is essentially that they offer more nuanced control over how your building is heated or cooled. In a basic HVAC system design, the air flows from the furnace or AC unit through the ducts and out of all the vents in your home or business. The ducts act as a wide-open highway, carrying the air to each vent and heating or cooling the entire building simultaneously. The problem with this design is that it can often mean that less-used or unused parts of the building are heated or cooled to the same level as high-traffic areas.

One way of resolving this problem is zoning. A zoned HVAC system includes 1) multiple thermostats in different parts (or different “climate zones” throughout the building, and 2) dampers in the ducts that can enable airflow to bypass a particular zone depending on which zones are calling for hot or cool air. In a zoned system, people in each climate zone can enjoy control over the temperature in that space, even though they are linked to the same HVAC system as every other climate zone in the building.

Smart vents are similar to zoning but go one step beyond it. In a zoned HVAC system, particularly in a home, you will likely only have one climate zone per floor. There isn’t necessarily room-by-room nuance to temperature control. Instead, zoning breaks up levels or major sections of the building so that less-used parts can easily be set at different temperatures than parts where people live, work, or pass through regularly. Smart vents take this concept and make it possible to apply it to every single room individually. 

The vents themselves are equipped with a range of technology. Some of that tech is aimed at allowed homeowners or building managers to set different target temperatures for each room. Most of it is motion-sensing or proximity-sensing technology, which can detect whether someone is in a room or not. (Thanks to the sensors, smart vents are sometimes referred to as “sensor-enhanced ventilation.” Finally, there is a motor in the vent that enables it to open or close on its own. If the room is already at its target temperature, or if the sensors don’t detect anyone present in that space, the smart vents will close (or stay closed). If the temperature is too low or too high, or if someone enters the room, the vents will open. This design helps direct airflow where it is needed while conserving it in situations where a room doesn’t need to be heated or cooled.

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Are Smart Vents a Worthwhile Investment?

Are smart, sensor-enhanced HVAC vents the right choice for your home or business? The answer will depend on the size of your building, the design of your current HVAC system, and your current energy consumption for heating or cooling. In theory, you could install smart vents in each room, which would, in the long run, provide a significant energy efficiency boost for the building as a whole. However, it is also important to note that smart vents are fairly sophisticated technology and carry a markedly higher price tag than any manual open and close vent. You’ll want to weigh the potential energy savings of having these vents against the cost of purchasing them and getting them installed. 

Furthermore, if you already have a zoned system, the added benefit of using sensor enhanced ventilation may be relatively small. If there are numerous rooms in your home or business that you don’t use regularly, it’s possible that smart vents would provide more effective temperature control—and more substantial savings—than zoning, but it’s difficult to assess without seeing the building and knowing more details about the HVAC system. The best recommendation is to contact your HVAC contractor and ask for their advice regarding smart HVAC vents. A skilled HVAC professional will be able to determine which solution is best for helping you save energy, reduce utility costs, and maximize overall return on investment.