This summer was a pretty weird one for the Pacific Northwest, where I live. Most summers it’s cool in the mornings and warm in the afternoons. People leave their windows open more than they use AC. But thanks to heatwaves and fire, HVAC systems are becoming more common and more necessary. As are air purifiers.
This August, after testing two Filtrete smart air purifiers from 3M, I came up with a killer use case for the smart home. Unfortunately, my use case is stymied by a lack of interoperability that doesn’t look to be solved anytime soon. Namely, I want sensors that work with my HVAC and my air purifiers to seamlessly control my indoor air quality without wasting energy.
What’s frustrating is that all the pieces exist for this to work. Unfortunately, few of the pieces can share data and control the various elements. At a minimum, one only needs five components: an outdoor air quality sensor or access to a highly local air quality API, an indoor air quality sensor, an air purifier, a smart HVAC system, and window sensors.
I often open my windows only to realize after a few hours that the HVAC has turned on. Or my air quality sensor tells me the carbon dioxide in the home is too high so I should open a window. (Here’s where I’d advocate for smart windows that open on their own, but I’m not sure I actually want those.)
But outside, the air quality may be even worse, so opening the window is a bigger mistake. Or I might be running the AC inside because the sun has warmed my house, when outside the temperature is cooler, so opening the windows could save some cash and shave off a bit of my carbon footprint.
The good news is there are people thinking of these use cases. For example, Ecobee, which makes both a thermostat and sensors for your windows, won’t run the HVAC if its sensors detect an open window. I’d also love to have my air purifiers stop running when the windows are open if only to cut down on energy use and to prevent me from replacing my filter as often.
The problem is that to make even half of this use case work I’d need to spend $80 per sensor to buy the Ecobee open/close sensors for my windows (luckily I’d only need to track four) that work with my thermostat. That’s way too much for such a small use case. Alternatively, I could create a fancy automation using a platform like SmartThings or Home Assistant with cheaper sensors and a bit of programming.
The irritation of running the AC accidentally is too small of a problem for me to spend too much time and effort on this use case. But it’s where standards come in. If air quality data were standardized (so far each company measuring air quality has a different system for telling me how good or bad my air is) and the data could be shared, my house could run smarter and I could use less energy.
I think Matter could become that standard, even if air quality sensors and purifiers aren’t yet one of the supported device types. If we think about how much energy consumption could influence the decision to run the purifiers or HVAC, it’s clear that Matter needs to also adopt energy consumption data as part of its purview.
Having energy consumption information would not only come in handy for this use case, but it could also help users make real-time decisions that would cut down on their electricity consumption, or allow consumers or service providers to build automations that are more proactive about saving energy.
So, I have a killer use case for the smart home, but I need Matter to embrace two more data formats and a bunch of new device classes to make it work. Otherwise, it’s going to become part of some tech company’s subscription offering for a smart home platform. And I don’t know if I want to pay a theoretical $5-$10 a month to ensure I’m not wasting power while also breathing the cleanest possible air.