Talking Tech to the HVAC Crowd


By Trish Holder

Technology is in the air. Can you feel it?

In my husband’s line work, corporate IT, technology is always in the air. He doesn’t need to “feel” it because he understands it. For the rest of us, particularly those who work in the construction and/or mechanical industry, web-based technology can be especially intimidating.  We can’t shut down a breaker and take it apart.  It is intangible, and we like tangible. 

Even the terminology is weird and abstract:  The Cloud…Internet of Things (IoT )…Big data…. Techies toss these words around and gobble them up like bits of popcorn. The rest of us? Not so much. 

Still, most of us know we can’t avoid technology and remain relevant.  Over the last few years I feel like I’ve been watching an awkward dance between the intelligent buildings industry and the HVAC industry.  They approach each other cautiously, like tweens on a middle school dance floor.

A good example of this “dance” occurred with the introduction of the Nest Learning Thermostat™ a few years ago. Consumers were instantly enamored with its self-programming capability and hip design.  Those of us who had long since given up on programming our own thermostats loved concept of a thermostat that could actually “learn” our preferences. And gadget loving geeks were all over the idea of a thermostat they could control from their smart phone.  Contractors were less enthusiastic.  I remember reading their comments on HVAC forums, and as far as I could tell, most were certain this silly, bullseye-looking hockey puck would fail.  It didn’t.  The 3rd generation Nest was released last year and they’ve branched out into home security cameras and more.

The marketers of the Nest were clever enough to focus on the end-users (in this case, homeowners). In fact, it was almost as if they politely waited to let the homeowner make the introduction to contractors.  Pretty soon if you couldn’t or wouldn’t swing to the that beat of the Nest, it was clear you were going to have to sit a few dances out.  My own contractor, who remains skeptical to this day, installs them fairly frequently. He’s still not crazy about the product, but if the client asks for it, that’s what the client gets.

It’s All About the Messaging

The Nest and other companies that have had success marketing “smart” products for use in HVAC or construction have executed their messaging with surgical precision in how they have targeted it, but also in how they have crafted it.  This video from the NEST is so well-scripted it could convince the least handy homeowner in the world that even he or she could replace a thermostat.  

I also like this sketch pad video from Constellation HomeBuilder Systems, marketing their builder management software--even though I find it a bit long.  The product isn’t tangible, but the presentation lends a sense of tangibility. It’s visual and well-paced so as not to overwhelm.  It’s also easy on the tech talk.  

All that is easier said than done, and believe me, the latest web-based tools to hit the HVAC market are far more complex than either of the above mentioned products. But the lesson about messaging high tech to hands-on people remains the same:  If you can’t tell a relatable story, you’ll be dancing alone.