When you walk into Ecovent’s offices in Charlestown, Mass., you immediately realize you might be both the dumbest and the least hip person in the room. Engineers wearing flip-flops are brainstorming ideas by drawing them on the walls, designers are sitting at a kitchen-like counter eyeing stacks of prototypes (and making cappuccino), a portion of one room is set with microphones and instruments for a late-night karaoke jam, and dogs are snoozing on couches or lying on the floor.
Yes, dogs. Ecovent encourages its employees to bring their dog to work with them every day.
It’s no wonder in this creative environment the company is trying to turn the entire basis of energy management/climate control on its head by foreseeing a future world that does not include thermostats, but instead its smart HVAC registers.
Custom integrators are a key component to the vision. Ecovent recently shut down its online direct-to-consumer purchasing portal and is going “all in” with the professional installation channel, expanding beyond HVAC contractors to focus on custom electronics integrators.
‘Fixing’ Energy Waste in Homes
Indeed, the company’s mission is to “fix” homes and buildings from the absurd waste of energy.
For example, a typical home has its climate control set up in zones, each controlled by a thermostat. A first-floor zone, for example, might include one or more bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and living room. When you are in the kitchen cooking a hot meal, you might need the room cooler. At night when you go to bed, you likely want a particular comfortable temperature for sleeping in the bedroom. But in both cases, you are not just controlling temperature in that particular room, but the entire zone.
“When you are asleep in your bed at night, why are you heating or cooling the rest of the rooms in that zone?” asks Ecovent CEO and Co-founder Dip Patel rhetorically. The only way to “control” the temperature within particular rooms in a zone is by physically adjusting the baffles in the registers. In some cases, you might even close them altogether. But, according to Patel, that is not a good idea. Closing a register completely in an HVAC system creates an imbalance in the airflow and drastically can shorten the life of an air conditioning compressor or a furnace by causing it to work harder to move the air.
Thus, Ecovent was born. But it wasn’t that simple. The origins of the product are rooted deeply in military technology. Patel’s background is in designing and building military radar systems at Lockheed Martin. In that endeavor, back in 2008 he was working on a project that required the creation of a room with perfect climate control. At the same time, he was trying to stay warm in his own apartment by stacking books on top of HVAC floor registers in certain parts of the dwelling so force more heat to the bedroom. One day, his mom came to visit and he forgot to remove the books.
“She froze,” he recalls sheepishly. Those work and home experiences planted the seed to want to create a battery-powered vent.
So, in 2013, along with co-founders Yoel Kelman and Nick Lancaster, Patel formed Ecovent.
How It Works; Control Options
Ecovent is a whole-home, intelligent zoning system that delivers room-by-room temperature control. The system is made up of self-configuring room sensors, vents and a Smart Hub. The sensors plug into a standard wall outlet, detect the climate of the room and send the information to the Smart Hub. The vents themselves also contain sensors for pressure, temperature and humidity.
The pressure sensors measure the volumetric flow of the air to help maintain safe pressure flow to avoid damage to the AC compressor or furnace, while individual temperature sensors help eliminate bias for things like proximity to the wall or solar reflection from a wall that might be bumping up the temp. The sensors are so sensitive they can even detect the heat cycle in a dishwasher and compensate accordingly. They can also detect heat loss in the windows or ducts, giving the homeowner an indication of a leak or the need for insulation.
The Smart Hub opens and closes vents in the home communicating via a mesh-network-like proprietary 915MHz bandwidth, which offers longer range (200 yards) and extended battery life. Using a mobile app, the homeowner can create scenes (like “Sleeping”) and schedules (like “Weekday”). The company makes ceiling, wall and floor vents in four sizes with future vent sizes based on market demand. Using the principals’ military background, the vents are totally secure with built-in encryption.
The company does not yet have an open API that will allow Ecovents to be controlled by home automation systems but that is on the radar.
So how well does it work? The company is in the midst of a pilot program with a utility in Michigan. The results showing how much energy savings can be achieved will be available soon.
Custom Channel Focus
The company was funded with lots of startup money, including a $6.9 million round completed last year. Back in 2015, the product won a Mark of Excellence Award from the Consumer Technology Association at CES. Ecovent’s initial sales strategy was direct to consumer, but the company has shifted to focus on professional installation.
“We want to be the only wireless vent system installation by professionals,” notes Patel, noting that the company’s business mantra is to “skate where the puck will be.” Ecovent sees the custom installation channel as the future for smart HVAC. The system also eliminates that awkward relationship between the HVAC contractor and the custom installer, neither of whom is excited to respond to a client’s service call because their “air conditioning or heating is not working.” Is it the compressor, furnace or the thermostat?
“The idea is for thermostats to completely disappear,” says Lancaster bluntly.