In the heating and air conditioning industry, the efficiency levels of HVAC systems will eventually reach practical limits.
So, when that happens, what will be the new frontier in home comfort?
Knowledgeable HVAC product experts say the newest product development improvements are going to be found in advanced controls capabilities, and the connectivity advantages that are being designed into comfort systems.
In the world of home comfort, the controls revolution is most evident in the expansion of smart homes, and smart thermostats, designed to integrate with a variety of Internet of Things devices, or be used independently of other devices, for controlling home comfort settings. Today, smart homes, smart thermostats and smart heating and cooling systems combine to make contractors and homeowners smarter users. But the forward-thinking product designers at Goodman Manufacturing Company realized there were still improvements to be made.
Because it’s at the thermostat level that consumers often remain confused about how to adjust temperature settings, because many thermostats still are difficult to understand.
Goodman’s experts say that even though technology is making it easier than ever before for customers to live in their indoor worlds comfortably, when it comes to heating and cooling issues, customers are “thrown back into the past,” by complicated devices.
“Contractors asked us to design and engineer a better system that provided more control, more options and more benefits. We saw that as a real challenge, but our team went to work immediately,” said Jim Fisher, Goodman’s director of product marketing.
The end result was ComfortBridge™, an “off-the-wall” communicating technology with the future in mind, for use with select Goodman and Amana brand comfort systems, that’s designed to work seamlessly with many thermostats or control systems.
They call it an “off the wall” smart system because it’s just that. The ComfortBridge circuit board is installed in the indoor unit of a high efficiency heating and cooling system— not in the thermostat on the wall — which allows the ComfortBridge technology to work with a single-stage thermostat. If the customer has already invested in a ‘smart’ thermostat, regardless of the brand, they probably don’t have to worry about a potentially expensive overhaul. And if they ever want to upgrade their current thermostat, they can do so with peace of mind, because ComfortBridge technology was designed to work seamlessly with it.
“ComfortBridge technology is basically the name of the control system, but it’s also a marketing platform that’s tied to a control system. Thinking ‘inside the box,’ led to the development of this technology, designed to enhance high efficiency heating and cooling systems,” Fisher explained. “The ComfortBridge technology algorithm gathers data from the heating and cooling system. As it gathers that information, it makes automatic adjustments as needed, to provide a consistent level of indoor comfort. It will also monitor and learn a homeowner’s desired indoor heating and cooling needs for the entire home,” he said.
“The technology was designed to squeeze out as much performance as possible, using the least amount of energy,” Fisher said. “By employing this ‘off the wall’ communicating technology, the team achieved its goal of offering a better solution.”
Jim Gilbert, Goodman product manager, is impressed by ComfortBridge’s adaptability to lower-end thermostats, even if it does perhaps signal an end to the status that used to be associated with legacy thermostat products.
“There was a time when it seemed like there was one thermostat that everybody had. And you were really somebody if you had a thermostat with automatic changeover,” he recalled.
“The ‘wow’ factor to me with ComfortBridge, is that a single-stage 24 volt thermostat can be used with it, and it can be used on a multi-stage outdoor unit and variable speed indoor unit,” Gilbert said. ”It’s made possible by the technology in the circuit board. All you do is set the temperature, and it does all the rest.”
CoolCloud™ App for Technician Use
We live in an app-intense world, and HVAC is no exception. Many of those apps are designed to provide genuine benefits related to technology innovations. That’s what Goodman wants to accomplish with its new CoolCloud™ App.
The CoolCloud Smart App is Goodman’s companion technology to ComfortBridge, and is designed to make things even easier for the HVAC technician. After the CoolCloud app is downloaded to a tablet or smartphone, the technician can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth to the ComfortBridge heating and cooling system, to greatly simplify set up, configuration and diagnostics.
“The HVAC technician can also use the CoolCloud app to fine-tune the performance of the heating and cooling system, including how the staging algorithm works, setting airflow, selecting gas heat delay, alternating dehumidification logic and more,” explained Fisher. “The CoolCloud app makes it as easy as checking emails on a cell phone. It’s a great feature to have when installing a heating and cooling system, one that also saves time during HVAC maintenance or service calls.”
According to Goodman, CoolCloud App Advantages include:
1. Using the app reduces manual labor when connecting and diagnosing the HVAC system.
2. It stores historical data, to help technicians make diagnostic decisions.
3. The app provides quick assistance to help save time while identifying and troubleshooting problems.
4. Use of the app can allow the HVAC technician to avoid having to physically connect with the HVAC system that could be installed in a hot or freezing attic.
The CoolCloud app can be downloaded from the Apple Store or Google Play store, and then registered. The technician enters his or her user name and password, and the login is complete. Once the app is opened, the technician can then view the gas furnace or air handler that is connected to the high-efficiency system, select the specific unit, and “pair” it to the CoolCloud™ app.
There are two options to complete this task:
1. Enter three-digit code displayed on the circuit board
2. The thermostat task option, which is convenient to use if technician does not want to remove the panels off the system or in the event the three-digit code be blocked by the unit’s wire harness.
Then, after clicking ‘pair the device by code,” enter the three-digit code into the app.
Once the technician has logged in, they will receive information on the gas furnace, the outdoor condensing unit, and the system settings. It is also possible to add and view notes about the equipment. Additionally, they will have access to the system settings of indoor equipment and to the outdoor equipment, such as the air conditioner.
A “System Status” menu provides basic information on the thermostat, telling technician where demand exists.
“We can also send updates to the equipment through a Bluetooth link and have the installer install those updates at a field level. It therefore gives us a lot of flexibility, if we should ever make minor adjustments to the equipment in the field,” Fisher explained.
“Everything about ComfortBridge and the CoolCloud app is very much focused on the contractor,” Fisher said, and he added that Goodman has been in discussions with Google about ways to tie directly into various systems, especially when using voice command technology.
Fisher emphasized that ComfortBridge was designed in part to allow Goodman’s sales people in the field to visit premium dealers with a simple request: ‘Give us a shot, and see what you think.’ “And it’s at a very low cost of entry for the dealer,” Fisher said. “There is not a lot of risk. We anticipate a lot of opportunities in the field.”
“ComfortBridge technology allows the dealer to approach the potential sale a little bit differently than they have in the past,” explained Fisher.
“A dealer can easily approach a homeowner by saying, ‘This system is smarter because the brains are in the unit as opposed to hanging on the wall in the thermostat.’
“The quantum leap with ComfortBridge technology and the CoolCloud app, is that with the open protocol, you’ve enhanced the unit with intelligence that stays there, and you’ve made it easier for the dealer,” Fisher said. “Dealers can stock one thermostat and keep it in the truck all day long. Hopefully, the benefits that we’ve developed make it easier for contractors to sell and install a larger number of high efficiency equipment.”
Additional Product Innovations
Goodman’s ComfortBridge and CoolCloud connectivity innovations are complimented by continued innovations in Goodman’s other areas of product development.
“In 2014, we launched our 34.5-in. tall furnace, which brought the height down from 40-inches,” said Mark Hagan, director, residential products. And now, we’re launching our seven-millimeter all-aluminum coil product, where we are able to reduce the height of the coils about four inches, on average. Our new one-and-a-half-ton unit was reduced from 22-inches tall to 18-inches.
In early 2018, the 96+ percent AFUE model GMEC96 was released, at a mere 14-inches in width, for space-constrained installations.
“Further, we’re getting ready to roll out our 90 percent AFUE furnaces and Ultra Low NOx units, to be followed at the end of this year with our 80 percent Ultra Low NOx furnaces. We’ve seen a lot of product development over the last couple of years,” Hagan said.