Sunday, December 1, 2013

Honeywell Prestige 2.0 Review

The Honeywell Prestige 2.0 is the high and mighty of remote controlled (web and phone app) thermostats currently on the market.  The most costly of all the competitors, it performs like all the others, but has the added nicety of easy and intuitive thermostat menu.  The main reason I like these thermostats is not for their easy of setup, the difficulty is high, and definitely not for the average do-it-yourselfer, but for the streamlined approach to the touchscreen and navigational menus of the touchscreen itself.

Most high end thermostats, excepting the NEST, now have the ability to send alarms via the internet to pre-assigned users, be it the home-owner, or contractor that can alert them of a preset condition.  This is crucial in cold-weather climates, and 2nd homes where an error in a heating system can cause $50,000 dollars. A small price to pay for peace of mind.  The robust ability to send custom alerts with pre-defined set of auxiliary contacts gives the knowledgable contractor even more options that can alert the homeowner.  I have setup a low temp alert from a crawlspace thermostat, an alert from the boiler indicating a problem, an alert from a water detection system when a leak from a water heater, or a washing machine is present, the possibilities are endless.

The brain of the Prestige system is the EIM controller, or equipment interface module.  The complexity of the EIM can seem daunting at first, but this allows integration with various systems.  I have used the Prestige and EIM in heating/cooling applications with a furnaces with or without A/C, and boilers, with Redlink Enabled accessories (remote temperature monitoring), humidifiers, and many more options.  All of the robustness comes from the plethora of relays present with the EIM and the Prestige installation menu, which allows for control of the 3 extra dry contracts (usually used with custom alarms), and the 3 sets of normally-closed contacts for auxiliaries.  The other major benefits of the EIM, is it frees the thermostat from multiple wires, requiring only 2 wires at the thermostat side for proper operation.  This is very handy in retrofit applications, as the EIM is installed in a remote location, like the mechanical room, where wiring is easily changed, unlike pulling new wires through the wall.

Once configured properly, the difficult task of connecting the thermostat to the internet takes place through the installation of the Redlink gateway and account setup @  This rather unglamorous web-portal gives access to account creation, or login.  The login creation itself is not difficult, however, if the homeowner is not present, can possibly cause a return visit when the email confirmation halts the process of registering the gateway.  If all goes well, and the system is relatively simple, with the homeowner present, the above can be accomplished in a very reasonable 2-3 hrs.

The drawbacks of the Prestige system, compared to say the Nest thermostat, is the phone app interface. Very boring and not a whole lot of information is available to the fingertips, relying on most system changes (outside of temperatures) needing to be done on the thermostat itself.  That said, the honeywell system does a very good job of keeping you informed when a troubled system manifests itself, and like the competition gives you remote control and monitoring of the house while you are away.  Well worth the investment and peace of mind.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Outdoor Reset and Modulating Condensing Boilers

Modern boilers, have moved from cast-iron beasts with low efficiencies, to high efficiency appliances that take up half the space, wall mount, and can save you serious $$$ on heating costs.  If you are considering new construction, a remodel, or a heating system retrofit, you should know that the options have changed, as has technology, and you can benefit directly from a little knowledge on the subject.

In the past, most heating (baseboard and radiant anyways) relied on the large thermal mass of the boiler to keep things warm.  The idea was get it hot and keep it hot.  Boilers of the cast-iron variety fire at full rate, all or nothing.  Keeping them hot was necessary, if the return temp from the system cooled the boiler off too much, they could condense, and ruin their own exhaust stack sending harmful Carbon Monoxide into you home.  To use them with radiant systems involved elaborate piping schemes, pumps, and or mixing valves.  In addition to this, they are inefficient and only operate in the 80% range of AFUE ratings, sending 20% of its heat up the stack.  Simpler? Yes, efficient, not exactly.

With the first modulating condensing boilers, or mod-cons, they fought to tackle these efficiency issues with better heat exchangers, and an output that closer-matches the heating output demand.  This enabled much tighter boiler control, and allows the mod-cons to take advantage of another great energy saving feature, Outdoor Reset.

What is outdoor reset?  Simply put, you match the heat load of the system to the heat loss of the system.  This applies not  only to the modulation of the boiler firing rate itself, but also to the heat loss of the building as it fluctuates with the temperature outside.  For example.  A Cast iron boiler gets a call for heat and its 20 below zero, it runs at 100%.  If its sized right for the house, the house will be comfortable.  If its 40 ABOVE zero and the boiler gets a call for heat, it fires at 100%.  No change.

Now a mod-con with outdoor reset, behaves this way.  A sensor is installed outside, if the boiler gets a call for heat, it checks with the sensor, at 20 below zero it runs @ 100% and you are comfortable.  At 40 ABOVE zero, the boiler gets a call for heat, it checks with the sensor, and calculates the firing rate percentage based on a programmed outdoor reset curve matching output to heat loss, and you are comfortable.  The boiler knows from its outdoor sensor, that at 40 above zero, the house will not need as many btus to keep the space warm that it does at -20.  So the output temperature of the boiler, feeding the heating loops, can be less as it gets warmer outside.  So, in the off seasons like spring and fall, heat is replaced in the building ideally at the rate that it looses it.

I have one client who we swapped out a cast iron boiler for a triangle tube boiler, upsized it by 100,000 btu, installed 1000 foot of snowmelt, and the cost for heat in the winter is still less than the prior year with the old boiler.  It works, it's efficient and saves you money.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Nest Thermostat Review

Nest v2.0
I have been working with Nest since I had first found out about their product more than 2 years ago. Being a somewhat environmentally friendly installer, always tweaking and testing new products to see if they are up to muster, the Nest thermostat has shown potential to corner the market on Smart home thermostats.

The main things going for their product are:

Simplicity -- Easy to connect to existing systems (for up to 95% of all systems, just simply install using the existing wiring).

Clean, neat appearance -- Stainless steel, round dial, and high def. display all make Nest a very attractive addition to your wall.  Instead of trying to hide the thermostat, now it can purposefully stand out.  Attractive.

Connectivity -- Being a wifi enabled device, the need for extra components (to talk to your router) is gone.  Simply install, setup the account, enter a few settings and whammo, you are online.  The app for your phone or tablet, is as simple as the device interface itself.  Giving you no goof, real-time changes that enable you to adjust temp without getting off the couch, or from another country.

These are all really attractive features. In fact, most companies with smart thermostats get the same results, some with additional components and expense.  All this being said, this is not the core of the Nest thermostat, not what makes it great.  This is fluff.  It should look nice, but it should also do something, and what this thing can do, is what separates it from the competition.

Now I must say, that I can mostly just speak to the heating/control side of the thermostat.  In my region of the high rocky mountains, our cooling days are few, as temps usually top out in the 80s, and heat can be dissipated by cool night time temps.  But what the Nest thermostat does best is control.  It actually learns, and automates itself to your schedule.  Take the pain out of programming.  If you are cold, you turn the heat up, if you are hot you turn it down.  After the first week, it has an idea of what you want and anticipates this, and you can walk away...never touch it again.  If you can resist.

It has occupancy sensors, detects when you are home or away, saving you heat or cooling here and there.  It learns how long it takes to get your house to the desired temp, turning on cooling or heating with enough advance so that you are comfortable when you want to be.  By these little savings adding up incrementally, they become quite valuable over time.  Nest owners are often stating that heating and cooling bills pay for the device within the first 6 months.  Nest claims that this adds up to huge savings nationally.

So look out programmable thermostats, there is a new wiser competitor in town, the adaptable learning thermostat from Nest.

So what is this all good for?  What is the best feature Nest has over the other competitors?  I would say all of the above points.  It's simplicity, connectivity, and attractiveness.  My personal favorite however is the ability to get all of this and be useful.  Lots of my customers travel, or have 2nd homes in my service area, and the Nest provides an easy way to turn on the heat, or cooling before they arrive, and monitor conditions.  It has brought awareness back to your household heating/cooling system.  Clients can avert problems before they occur, avoid freeze-ups and costly associated damages.

I see the world becoming more and more adept and integrated with technology every year.  Why should the components of your home not be able to take advantage of these modern times as well?

Now I have spoken of Nest as somewhat of a pinnacle of modern heating technology, at the top of the podium against old well-entrenched rivals such as Honeywell and White-Rodgers.  However, no product can simply be 100% perfect, right?  Well, as I see it, Nest fails on one crucial point.  And it is the very competition they stand up against that prevails on this point.

Nest thermostats need auto-notification through email and SMS.  This is the part they are lacking.  Frankly it costs me some sales, and I end up having the customer install something more expensive (for them) and time consuming (for me), and in the end have an inferior product.  I have commented on the forums at Nest Community (see push notifications in the Product Suggestions end of the forum  I have made suggestions through installer forums, any way I can I highly recommend adding this feature.  It is a deal-breaker for some of my clients, they need the automation, and feedback through this avenue.

But back to another great about Nest.  They care, they listen, and they, like their product, adapt.  It is my sincere hope that with their updates, this will be included down the line, sooner than later.  It is what will make this great product, the best out there.  My recommendation?  Install it anyway.  It will get better, smarter and save you money.

~Joe Tatar

Steamboat Heat LLC
Steamboat Springs, CO 80487

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