Ecovent Takes Unique Approach to Home Heating and Cooling Controls

The startup, which uses a network of sensors and adjustable vents to control room-level temperature, has just received a large investment from Emerson's Climate Technologies business arm.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 03, 2015

As far as Dipul Patel, Ecovent's CEO and co-founder, is concerned, home heating and air conditioning technology has been living in the Dark Ages. He compares the standard home HVAC (forced air) unit to an early automobile, before the dawn of speedometers and fuel-level indicators.

Patel likens his startup's Ecovent home temperature control system to more recent advancements in car technology, like the check-engine light. "But in the future," he says, "we'll be able to add the whole dashboard [to heating and cooling controls]. We'll know when it's time to change air filters. We'll eventually know when you're getting ready to go to bed—because you're brushing your teeth, or you've turned off the lights in the living room—and we'll automatically adjust the temperature in all the rooms in your house."

In addition to a smartphone app (left), the Ecovent system includes an electronically controlled battery-powered vent (center), a sensor module that plugs into a wall outlet (right) and an Ecovent hub (not shown).
The lynchpin to Patel's vision is not a Wi-Fi-connected thermostat (though that plays a role). It is the lowly duct vent.

Ecovent allows a homeowner to use an Ecovent smartphone app to set a desired temperature for each room. The Ecovent system consists of three pieces of hardware: a sensor module that plugs into a room's wall outlet; an electronically controlled battery-powered vent that replaces each existing heating and air conditioning vent in the home; and the Ecovent hub, which communicates with both the wall-mounted sensor units and the special vents via a proprietary 915 MHz wireless protocol. The hub uses either its integrated Wi-Fi radio to communicate with a Google's Nest thermostat or with Emerson Climate Technologies' Sensi home thermostat. The Ecovent solution will still work without being linked to the home's thermostat, but not optimally, according to the company.

The module that plugs into a wall outlet includes temperature, humidity and pressure sensors. The vent includes temperature and pressure sensors, as well as an actuator that adjusts the vent's damper, thereby changing the amount of air emitted by that vent.

To obtain accurate temperature readings, Patel says, the wall-mounted sensors are designed to compensate for the heat being generated by the module's electric components. "If you don't have good airflow," he states, "the sensor creates a microclimate [from the heat being generated by the plug]." The plugs are thus designed in a manner that creates enough airflow through the module to thermodynamically pull air from the room into the plug, Patel explains, praising the know-how of Ecovent CTO Nick Lancaster, with whom he worked on Lockheed Martin's missile defense engineering team before launching Ecovent. "He's like Morgan Freeman from the Batman movies," he says. "He can make anything work."

The hub collects the temperature, pressure and humidity data from the wall- and vent-mounted sensors in every room in order to determine each room's temperature, and then decides how best to meet the homeowner's desired temperature levels. It may do this merely by sending commands to open or close specific vents, but it also considers such variables as how much pressure this will generate within the ducting—the system is designed such that the hub will not cause pressure to build up in the ductwork, which can harm a furnace or air conditioner. Over time, the hub also factors in historical data, such as spikes or dips in a given room's temperature that occur at roughly the same time each day, and that likely correlate with the position of the Sun or the use of kitchen appliances.

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