Heating controls have evolved significantly over the past few years, becoming smarter and more compact. It’s important that the installer evolves at the same pace as the industry to avoid being left behind. Here, Andy Mansfield explains how.

Of late, manufacturers have seen an increasing demand for smart products and controls from installers. This is a significant development for the industry, as it means there is growing consumer awareness and interest in smart technologies.

However, there is still a need for manufacturers to educate installers on new products and how they can help homeowners achieve a fully connected smart home.

In a survey carried out by Honeywell in 2014, nearly half of all respondents (47%) said they would be interested in having a fully connected smart home, where they could control everything from a tablet or phone.

With the growth of this technology now dominating the market, installers need to be aware of how they can upskill to join the trend.

Smart technology is becoming much more accessible. Entry-level connected thermostats are now readily available, meaning there is a connected thermostat to suit every application and budget.

However, to ensure homeowners are signposted to the right products, more work needs to be done to make the installer their first port of call.

The survey also showed that 86% of installers expressed an interest in learning more about smart home technology, so we know the appetite is there. However only 18% of consumers in the same survey stated they would go to their heating engineer in the first instance.

Installers must act quickly to close this gap, upskilling so that they can provide fully integrated systems. Following manufacturers closely will be more important than ever this year, as will taking part in dedicated training courses. For that to happen, manufacturers must ensure that training covers every stage of the install, from technical know-how to customer care, so that installers can provide the best service possible.

Creating a strong online presence will also be vital, as more and more homeowners turn to the internet for advice.

Installer Views

In order to fully understand the challenge for the installer, Honeywell spoke to Rich Burrows of Overall Maintenance, to hear about his experience with smart controls on the job.

“As an installer, the main change I have noticed is that we are now dealing with customer networks in both commercial and domestic environments. Jobs in the home are much more technical than they were a few years ago. Few customers are ready for a fully connected smart home, but they are keen to make a start. An entry-level connected thermostat enables homeowners to control their heating with their smart phone – and opens the door to the option of multi-functional solutions in the future.”

After experiencing a high demand for connected thermostats, Mr Burrows started a new venture, The EvohomeShop, an online shop for installers and consumers.

“I’m pleased to say not only has this been great for business, but it’s also become a great platform to help educate installers on smart homes and connected technology. Often installers get in touch to ask how to set up smart controls for the homeowners, after they have installed products. We often talk them through the process of setting up heating systems, tailoring it to each individual homeowner’s needs, and we have even invited installers to come out with us on the road to watch how we install the systems so they can learn first-hand,” he explained.

“This indicates to me that training and learning is the main challenge that the industry faces. Manufacturers are producing really intuitive products that, most importantly, have easy-to-use interfaces for homeowners. Where we come in is making sure we have the skills to install them correctly, and support the sophisticated back-end technology.

“It seems to me that getting to grips with the smart home should be top of the agenda for installers in 2015. The technology is only going to get more intuitive, so upskilling is key to stay on top – and potentially ahead – of the trend.”

Looking to the future

After speaking to members of the Honeywell Installer Network, like Mr Burrows, it’s clear that the age of the smart home is truly upon us.

Installers need to upskill, yes, but for the ultimate advantage, they should also think about re-igniting the traditional heating installer/electrician relationship.

The full smart home installation requires more expertise and skill, meaning the lines are blurred between installers and electricians. Forming partnerships with both electricians and the manufacturers who develop the products is therefore crucial on this journey.

Good manufacturers feature ‘find an installer’ sections on their websites. Given that 80% of homeowners claim their first port of call to find a smart installer is the internet, registering with a manufacturer will help signpost customers to your business. With that in mind, ensuring your company website – essentially your shop window – is up to date and really sells your services is also vital.

Increasingly, it seems that the smart home of the future is now the smart home at present. To help ensure installers can own this space in the market, manufacturers have a duty to ensure they produce high quality products that exceed customer expectations. But they also have a duty to ensure they equip installers with all the training and skills they need to grow their businesses.

The right training is out there; installers should take the time to invest in it and stake their place in the market today, before it is too late.