Honeywell believes the growth of smart heating controls could bring with it new opportunities for tech-savvy installers. Jennie Ward reports.

Controls manufacturer Honeywell has issued a white paper which sets out what it believes will be the future of heating control systems.

Recent years have seen an explosion in connected control technologies across all aspects of our lives, from smartphones and tablets, which allow people to stay connected to the internet wherever they are, to mobile banking and contactless payments. The consumer demand for smart technology is now expanding to all areas of the home, with the heating industry the next sector to embrace the change.

In a consumer study carried out by the Department of Energy & Climate Change in October 2013, the ability to remotely turn on the heating while outside of the home was cited as a key expectation that users now have of their heating controls.

In a sign of just how important zoning has become to homeowners looking for ways to cut their heating bills, the study showed that the ability to set different temperatures, at different times, for different rooms, also scored very highly.

Andy Mansfield, marketing communications manager for Honeywell, said: “It’s no secret that homes are getting smarter and market analysts predict that this is set to continue. These experts have suggested that the explosion of multi-connected devices will grow to more than 26 billion by 2020 – a 30-fold increase on today’s figures.”

So, with more people looking to turn their properties into ‘smart homes’, how can the installer take advantage of the opportunity to generate additional work?

Honeywell carried out a survey of 1,000 consumers, along with 1,000 installers and electricians, to find out exactly what both sides of the industry want from their smart homes.

When questioned, 68% of homeowners said they were aware of the concept of smart homes, and nearly half of all respondents said they would be interested in having a fully connected smart home, where they could control everything from a tablet or phone. A third said that convenience was the reason why they would choose to make this investment, while 71% cited lowering their energy bills as the primary reason. Meanwhile, 66% said they would want to be able to control their heating as part of a connected smart home.

Cost, however, is likely to be a barrier for many homeowners, with 49% believing that it would be too expensive for them to upgrade.

Interestingly, almost 40% said they wouldn’t know where to go to find out more about smart homes, which is where the installer comes in.

Over half (54%) of the installers who took part in the survey said that they had been approached by customers about smart or remote-controlled technologies. This is likely to be the reason why almost three-quarters (74%) of installers said they would like to become a smart installer providing fully integrated systems.

So, how does the industry link the installers who want to carry out this work with the homeowners who want to upgrade to a smart home? In the survey, only 18% of homeowners said they would go to an installer to learn about smart homes, with 80% saying they would instead first go to the internet.

Mr Mansfield urged installers to embrace the internet in order to set themselves up as installers of the future: “Installers need to maximise their online presence, creating business websites and embracing social media, as people won’t be able to find you unless you do. A nice liveried van, or a listing on a directory website isn’t enough,” he said. “The whole industry needs to get behind smart homes today, or we risk getting left behind.”

Honeywell is also advising installers to form alliances with those manufacturers who are releasing smart-home technologies, as many of them will host a ‘find an installer’ database on their website. With 19% of the homeowners questioned saying they would go directly to the manufacturer’s website if they were interested in smart home products, this could be a useful lead generator for installers. Some 40% of traffic to Honeywell’s website, for example, is actually coming from the consumer.

The consumer appetite for smart homes is growing, and with it comes the need for installers to maximise the business opportunities that this emerging sector provides. After all, it’s when they are carrying out other home improvements such as new kitchens, bathrooms or boilers that homeowners are most likely to consider additional upgrades to their heating controls.

What is as yet missing, is the link between the manufacturer and the end-user, with installers who are prepared to embrace new skills in an ideal position to benefit. However, reaching this point relies on the whole industry getting behind smart homes – with the manufacturer, merchant, installer, electrician and homeowner all working together to bring the UK housing stock into the future.

This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Heating, Ventilating & Plumbing.