Moving conditioned air through your home can be as easy or as sophisticated as you would like – at least when choosing the most appropriate equipment. Heating and cooling manufacturers have made giant leaps in the last 10 years, proving that their innovation is becoming something that should be sought out by those that find it to apply to their situation.
This modernization of the units has led to the units having the ability to “talk” to one another – allowing for the units to more efficiently, maximize indoor climate control, have the ability to “sense” when there are issues (sometimes even alerting you at the thermostat), and typically granting a homeowner much better warranties, as well.
First, let’s talk about non-communicating systems (Legacy Wiring)
Non-communicating systems are used when there is a single-stage, two-stage, or variable-capacity air conditioner/heat pump or a single-stage or two-stage gas furnace. When set up this way, the wiring is all very simple – using simple switch calls. For example, suppose the thermostat is set to cooling, and the thermostat notices an increase in the temperature indoors. In that case, the thermostat will be a switch, flipping itself to the on position (if you will), and it will turn on the air conditioner and all associated equipment to create cooling for the home. Once the thermostat “feels” its back to the point you set it to, the thermostat will switch off, and the systems will shut down. In the case of heating, all the same principles are applied – the thermostat “feels” a drop in temperature, the thermostat switches on, all heating devices turn on, the thermostat “feels” the temperature has increased to the set point temperature, the thermostat switches all the heating devices off.
What are the highlights of having a non-communicating system?
These types of setups are timeless, will be much easier to diagnose, and typically do not require any technical support to troubleshoot by most service technicians. These systems will also be more cost-effective than their communicating counterparts. But non-communicating is still going to come with its shortcoming relative to communicating systems.
What are some of the downfalls of having a non-communicating system?
When wiring up units using legacy wiring, it can be a little more complicated to get all the accessories associated with your new system installed correctly – or at least in the manner that we are able to maximize the entirety of their functionality. In the case a homeowner is going away from a single-stage air conditioner and wants to have a two-stage air conditioner (not always the case) or even a simple heat pump (99% of the time the case), well, we have to have the ability to get more wire to the outdoor side. We have to be able to get more wire up to the thermostat. Also, non-communicating systems are not going to be able to achieve the same efficiency values, nor control over indoor humidity or air quality, that a communicating system will be able to produce for your home.
So how would a communication system work?
A communicating system, in our case, will be used when we are installing a two-stage or variable speed/variable capacity system – your most advanced and efficient units.
They simplify the installation process vs. anything wired via legacy circuitry. They will only require two wires to the outdoor unit, which will be available to us if there is even the oldest, most basic outdoor unit sitting there now. Also, most of the software updates that need to be made on the units is able to completed by our installation technicians from their phones using Bluetooth or directly through your Wi-Fi at the thermostat itself.
When the systems go to operate, now we have all cylinders pumping a ton of sensors are starting to talk. Sure, the thermostat acted as the switch it is designed to, but more “talking” is happening. Now, we are sending multiple signals in multiple directions to maximize your systems’ use. Each unit – your furnace, air conditioner/heat pump, and sometimes even your evaporator coil – will have onboard sensors that are considering several different data markers to make sure the blower speed is set correctly in tandem with the air conditioner’s compressor, or the gas valves BTU output, or the current humidity inside in the home, or how extreme the temperatures are outside, or, or, or. I think you get the point. It’s now not just using “on and off” signals like legacy wiring; we are playing with algorithms and making many decisions outside of the thermostat. Think of this system operating more like a computer network vs. a non-communicating/legacy would be like turning on a light bulb (without a dimmer function).
Communicating systems give the ultimate power to the equipment to work optimally.
When a communication system is installed, this type of system will grant you the best heating and cooling to maximize overall comfort inside the home. As we said, there are a ton of sensors and algorithms at play here, so the temperature and utility usage becomes much more stable.
What kind of system makes the most sense for me?
Pretty loaded question, but we can say this again – choose a contractor with your goals in mind and not just his dollars. We believe in this technology and really enjoy installing it for homeowners! But it’s just not always required/needed for specific situations. A lot of the same principles we spoke to about SEER values on air conditioners – if the house is small, it’s pretty easy to distribute conditioned air across the entirety of the floor plan, so maybe high-end systems are just not worth the investment for you. If you just geek out on the technology and still live in that small home, let’s do it! Where communicating systems can be really justified is going to be in larger, sprawling, several-story homes. Your ductwork is complicated, and through the use of sophisticated systems, we can create a much more temperate home and curve some of the hot and cold spots that exist in different spots across the home. We cannot stress this enough, heating and cooling is a case-by-case situation and we are always here to educate and just do what makes the most sense with the goals you have set forth.