You would want to know whether smart vents save money, because, one of the underlying reasons behind the smart purchases we make (smart vents inclusive) is cost efficiency in the long run. “How much money is this product going to save for me?”.
Here, we will, from our experience with smart vents, answer your questions and show you how you can make the best purchase (cost efficiency-wise) amongst the host of options in the market.
So, to answer the question.
Yes. Heating and cooling a building takes up a major chunk of its energy demand. Therefore, adding sensors and automation to HVAC systems and cooling units go a long way towards downsizing your energy consumption and hence saving you money.
However, these smart vents come in different types. This is important, considering how those different buildings have unique ventilation needs.
Therefore how well you manage energy consumption is based on the type you go for and how it suits your needs.
Here are a few options available to you:
- Smart vents that add room-by-room control to central air installations,
- Wireless sensors that add intelligence and automation to wall or window AC units,
- Connected solutions for evaporative coolers, rooftop units, etc.
To know which to go for, you’ll have to know how they work.
How Do Smart Vents Operate?
Smart Home HVAC Air Vents
The approach used by most HVAC systems in regulating temperature in a building is of a one-temperature-fits-all nature.
Air is distributed from a central hub throughout the building and it is up to the user to manually open up the vents when the need for ventilation/cooling arises.
This can be wasteful in terms of energy expenditure as there are certain rooms that end up being too hot or too cold either due to lack of use or poor ventilation.
Smart vents provide you with a more dynamic option. With an array of motion and proximity sensors, all you’d have to do is set a room-by-room temperature and the vents do the rest.
They detect rooms that are not in use and motorized vents automatically close up in unoccupied spaces to redirect air supply as needed. Awesome, right?
Also, smart vents comprise of thermometers that control airflow when the temperature gets either too hot or too cold. This way, they can shut the vents when they sense that the room’s temperature has risen too high or dipped too low.
How Much Money Can a Smart Vent System Save?
Manufacturers of smart vent systems posit that as much as 30% can be saved with smart vents. This is true but in a few cases. Most people only experience increased comfort with only a minor drop in cost.
The amount you can actually save will vary to a great extent as it depends on your current system’s performance/efficiency and how you plan to use the smart vents.
Where your intention for acquiring a smart vent is to fix issues with poor distribution of air, the change in energy usage will most likely be minimal. In this event, the smart vents would serve for increased comfort rather than to save cost.
However, you just might be able to achieve a significant rise in savings if your plan is to “shut out” certain areas of your home for an extended time. Although in rare cases, you could be able to save 20% in energy expenditure, a more feasible reduction is in the 5 – 10% range.
Example of an Ideal Savings Calculation
Let’s look at a scenario that can paint a picture for you on how much savings you could build up with smart vents:
Assuming you want to keep your home at 70F throughout the day and always, and the average outdoor temperature is 20F. You’d be creating a difference of 50F.
For you to reduce the energy expended in heating up the house by saying 30%, you would have to reduce the difference by that same figure (30%). 30% of 50F is 15F.
This would imply that if you could reduce your home’s temperature by 15F to 55F throughout the day and consistently too, you should be able to reduce your heating costs by 30%.
But then, not so many people would be comfortable keeping their homes at 55F. And I doubt you would.
A More Realistic Example
Let’s look at this example of a real-life scenario with smart vents:
Breaking up the day into three 8 hour periods, let’s tag these periods: Leisure, Busy, and Rest.
For the Leisure period, you want to keep 75% of your home at 70F. You then set those rooms that you barely use at 60F, but the rest of the home at 70F.
During Busy time, no one is home so you’d want to allow a drop in temperature to 55F for the entire house.
During Sleep, you would only need to keep the bedrooms at 70F, which should amount to 25% at 70F and you can then set the remaining 75% at 55F.
This arrangement would amount to:
.25*1/3*.3 + 1*1/3*.3 + .75*1/3*.3 = about 20% savings, which is decent.
However, the energy savings while in operation could easily be achieved without the need for smart vents. Any programmable thermostat that can be used to adjust the heat while you’re away can do that.
If you take away the profits during your work time, you would be left with about 10% savings from the smart vents.
Common Sources of Temperature Imbalances In the Home
Inappropriately-Sized Ductwork or HVAC
When your entire ductwork or HVAC is the wrong size for your house, you do not obtain the ventilation you need. This will not only affect your home’s heating and cooling balance but can also cause long-term system damage. During the cold months, ill-suited airflow can cause the evaporator coils in your system to freeze. An opposite problem arises in the warm months: your system might overheat and experience premature failure.
Leaks can cause ducts to lose up to 30% of airflow. Airflow throughout the house can even be affected by small leaks from poorly insulated ducts. Large leaks, such as from loose joints, can completely eliminate airflow to distant rooms.
This is, without a doubt, the most prevalent factor in older homes. In any circumstance, however, thin walls and poor insulation can have a significant negative effect on the general temperature of the home. If your home doesn’t retain heat or cool air, you’re going to wind up wasting energy and spending more in priming the whole house. In as much as this is only an issue in particular rooms, you’ll be operating your system for much longer than should be required to heat or cool them. This can prove to be expensive in the long term.
Increasing Heat in Multi-level Homes
There is an 8–10-degree temperature differential between the upstairs and downstairs in a typical two-story home. This is because heat naturally travels from lower to higher levels, making the rooms upstairs colder than the rooms underneath. To make matters worse, most heating and cooling systems control only the temperature around a single thermostat, which can make rooms farther away from or above it under-conditioned.
Position of the Thermostat
Thermostats work best in the rooms where they are installed. They work best at temperature regulation in the rooms where they are placed. For instance, if yours is installed in your living room, the entire system will shut off when the room reaches the pre-set temperature to stop the house from overheating. This is the case, whether the rest of the house was brought to the same temperature or not.
Proximity of the Room To Your Heating And/Or Cooling Unit
This goes without saying, but the rooms closest to your boiler or cooling unit will, of course, get the most portion of the air conditioning. The rooms in a position farther away or at the ends of the ductwork receive far less ventilation and therefore may not be heated or cooled uniformly as compared to the rest of the house.
Room-related Factors (location, windows, etc.)
The position/location of a room and the size and number of windows in that room can, as well, have an impact on the temperature. As an example, a room that receives the sun’s rays directly for most of the day will obviously be warmer than one facing away from the sun. If you reside in an especially warm or cold place, the number and size of the windows in a particular room (as well as how those windows are covered) can have an impact on the general temperature.
A host of factors have an effect on the heating and cooling of a home. We suggest that you get a home energy audit to identify what is affecting yours. In so doing, you’ll be able to start thinking about solutions.
Smart vents have the ability to fix a host of these issues. However, since the market is filled with options, and a smart vent’s efficiency varies from brand to brand, let us consider some of the features to look out for when making a smart vent purchase.
Features To Look For In a Smart Vent
A very important factor. A smart vent system’s ability to monitor pressure is a prime determinant of its ability to distribute airflow in an efficient manner and protect your expensive HVAC equipment concurrently.
The truth we have discovered in compiling this information for you is this: companies selling smart vent systems experience difficulties in keeping a broad range of sizes of their products in stock.
Tip: To accurately determine the right size of vent to use, you should measure the duct opening and not the existing vent’s outer dimensions. That is to say, remove the existing vent and measure the opening of the duct.
Only a minuscule population has wiring leading to their smart vents. This implies that the vents will have to come with batteries.
You would then have to consider the effectiveness of having smart vents placed all over the house, as getting batteries for each one will amount to a considerable (and counterproductive) cost.
Tip: You can always go for a properly designed model, fitted with energy harvesting capabilities to extend battery life by years.
You’d want to ascertain that your smart vent supports temperature sensors.
The effectiveness of a smart vent is pretty much dependent on the quality of its sensitivity to changes in temperature.
If your preferred smart vent doesn’t come equipped with temperature sensors, don’t fret. Simply ensure that it is compatible with other third-party sensors.
Smart Home Integration
Is it compatible with your smart thermostat? Find out if it is compatible with other smart sensors, or whether you will need to get new sensors that work with your vents. Also, find out if you can control it with your voice or use IFTTT to customize your experience.
Four Smart Vent Systems
Due to the relative recency of the smart vent industry, very few players are in the market at the moment.
I’ve found four companies that are working on home-oriented smart vent systems. Although Ecovent is the most complete system, it is also the most expensive by a long distance. Both Keen and Flair ship their products. They are also working on fine-tuning their products. Alea is the latest in this group.
- Unique steel design
- Can be battery-powered and also comes with a 24VAC power supply option
- IR blaster for controlling AC windoelws and mini-splits
- Compatibility with Nest, Ecobee and Honeywell Lyric thermostat
- On-board temperature, humidity, occupancy and pressure sensors
- At $100, it is relatively affordable.
- Great vent design equipped with a silent open/close mechanism
- Vents monitor system backpressure to ensure safe operation of the HVAC
- Vents are powered by 4AA batteries that will last 3 – 5 years
- Compatibility is restricted to Sensi
- Quite pricey.
- Very compatible with Nest and Ecobee smart thermostats
- Uses the Zigbee communication protocol for maximum power efficiency
- Vents are powered by 4 AA batteries with a 2+ year lifespan.
- They come with embedded temperature and pressure sensors
- Pressure sensors serve to work against the harmful effects of backpressure on your vent
According to their website
“Alea measures, analyzes, verifies, and adjusts based on your individual room settings, room usage, time of day, local weather, sun exposure, and more.”
- Compatible with Ecobee, Nest, and Honeywell Lyric thermostats.
- Comes equipped with unique air quality sensors
- Battery-powered with an Energy-harvesting technology that boosts battery efficiency by up to 30%.
Smart vent systems have the ability to be a game changer for smart homes if they’re done right.
Smart vents comprise of thermometers that control airflow when the temperature gets either too hot or too cold. This way, they can shut the vents when they sense that the room’s temperature has risen too high or dipped too low.
By so doing, the smart vents ensure that your energy bill does not become a burden.
Although the smart vent market has relatively few players, the products are quite reliable and promise to get better.
Getting a product that meets your needs will definitely be a worthwhile investment.
How Much Technicality is Involved in Operating a Smart Vent?
The challenge of device compatibility can be challenging and the jammed and overwhelming nature of the system’s functions comprise the core of problems you’d face with smart vents (which are not unlike any other smart home device).
It’s quite safe to say that for the process of installation and management, the difficulty scale has the device-connected vents ranking a lot higher than their static “dumb” counterparts.
However, companies like Keen Home have strived to turn this tide with their first of its product.
The Keen Home app also alerts you when a vent gets disconnected, to enable you to look into the issue and try out one of its troubleshooting solutions that suits best.
This ensures that this product is, overall, a much more interactive solution than some other smart products. Which is what you would expect, considering the premium pricing of the product (with each vent going for as much as $80).
Is Closing Vents Bad for HVAC?
There’s a boost in duct pressure when you close vents. There is a reduction of flow in the closed vents, and the extra pressure results in an increased flow in open vents.
A relatively unknown fact, one you should know, is that when you increase the pressure, the total quantity of air that is being propelled out of the vents will decrease. This is because when you close the vents on the supply side, the system won’t flow enough air to fill the return side.
With enough vents closed, you can restrict the airflow to such an extent that your expensive HVAC equipment develops a mechanical fault.
This claim however is based on the assumption that typical HVAC systems have a perfect design balanced are harmonious, which is often far from the truth, especially in existing homes.
In contrast to their manual alternatives, Smart Vents are furnished with sensors that have the ability to detect unstable conditions and help accommodate for that.
Whichever smart vent you eventually go for, be sure to check that it has some mechanism to account for pressure. All the smart vent systems listed earlier in this article have pressure monitoring systems which keep airflow from becoming too low.