November 2018 Update:
Keen Home’s latest generation of smart vents are also compatible with Ecobee smart thermostats, Samsung SmartThings, and Iris by Lowe’s in addition to their previous functionality with Nest thermostats.
Home automation isn’t just a buzzword, it’s the future of our connected lives. Smart light bulbs, smoke alarms, water shutoff valves, and even sprinkler controllers join the massive connected home ecosystem- the list goes on and on, with new innovations seemingly every week. Early adopters help to shape the discussion for the next wave of automation products, and as with all tech once the price drops the rest of consumers follow suit and it becomes standard for life. You can even see new homes and apartments being built standard with smart thermostats.
One of the newer additions to the home automation universe is Keen Home, which brings you some smart vents they say will not only save you money on your energy bills, but also properly heat and cool your home. “Smart vents?” Yup, you read that right. These new vents replace your current manual louvered covers, taking a deep dive into the connected home pool of often-overlooked home accessories. The popular smart thermostats address the issue of HVAC energy use, which accounts for about 50% of average household energy consumption, but these vents take it a step further.
What is a Smart Vent?
It has Wi-Fi of course! Not just to control it from your phone, but so the different vents can communicate with each other. As I’ve said before, just because something can be controlled remotely doesn’t make it a smart device. When our devices can communicate with one another and operate independent of any human touch, we truly get our smart home of the future. Well, these do just that.
Why would your vents need to communicate with one another? They have embedded sensors that detect air pressure and temperature at the vent, so the individual output is monitored and relayed throughout the system. Having this data gathered and shared with the Smart Bridge hub and Keen Home cloud allows them to automatically adjust how open or closed the louvers are, controlling the temperature on a room-by-room basis.
How to Set Up a Smart Vent System:
- Remove old vent
- Use included two screws to install the new smart vent
- Plug in Smart Bridge
- Install the app
- Pair the app with the units, and set preferences
Yeah, that’s it. Almost like how you plug in a smart plug and get right to using it, the setup for these is just about as easy as it can possibly get.
More Than Just Hot Air
So measuring the temperature at the vent output–is that really necessary? Well your thermostat is probably in a hallway or even in one room, and yet it sets the temperature for the entire house. The biggest rooms generally have the largest diameter/most vents, and thus the majority of the airflow. But what if you spend most of your time in a different room? You end up cooling down a room that is unoccupied, and waste all that energy. These vents are designed to automatically adapt and limit the airflow in rooms you don’t spend much time in, and maintain a comfortable temperature in those with the highest traffic.
This might not seem white-knuckle exciting, but it is super practical. I have some rooms in my house that I don’t use as frequently as others, so it doesn’t make sense that they would be getting cooled down on the same schedule as the most frequented ones. I can go room-to-room and regulate the vents manually sure, but if your use of an area changes based on the time of day this kind of management can be a lot of work.
Why Do You Need Smart Vents?
I’ll be honest, when I first heard about Keen Home I thought, “Sweet! I love new gadgets…but how useful would this be in my daily life?” Well, as it turns out, this summer has been a hot one so far and I experienced the usefulness first-hand. My living room is the largest open space and gets the most airflow—since I spend the most time here after work it makes sense. The only problem is that when I go to bed at night (a fair distance from the thermostat), the bedroom is now warmer than I like and I am cooling down the whole house for just the use of one room. This is a big waste of energy. In fact, Keen Home claims that room-by-room zoning can reduce energy costs by 30%.
The Keen Home starter kit comes with two vents and their Smart Bridge hub for $199. Out of the box, they are pretty sleek. The metal louvers show off their automatic skills when you connect the battery, and you can control the vents through the app directly, or by a temperature setting. Changing one vent’s open/closed amount automatically updates the other vents in the system to compensate. Their “occupancy scheduling” feature allows me to set a schedule for room temperature based on how often I use each room throughout the day. This adds up to more comfort when I want it, without me having to crank the air conditioner unnecessarily. I have not had this long enough to verify the 30% energy cost reduction, however I can say that it is cooler where I need it, when I need it.
I should say that I don’t have a smart thermometer. For Keen this isn’t a problem, which is nice. The Smart Bridge hub does pair smoothly with Nest, and with their more recent firmware updates they also are compatible with Ecobee, Samsung SmartThings, Iris, and in the future they expect to also partner with HomeKit, iControl, and Big Ass Fans- for those that want to build out a fully-automated energy saving HVAC system.
What if You Don’t Have an HVAC System?
All this is fine and dandy if you have central air, but what about those with wall heaters or window AC units? Well, AirPatrol has a solution for you. It is essentially a smart thermostat for standalone heating and cooling units, that allows for wireless control of up to 4 devices, temperature and command scheduling, and other perks. All without having to tear into walls and spend thousands of dollars to switch over to central air.
The AirPatrol controller unit uses infrared to communicate with the air conditioner (or heater), and Wi-Fi to connect to the cloud. If your unit does not have a remote option then you probably won’t be able to use it, so check to be sure you have this functionality first.
As with most automation products, the effectiveness of the product really depends on how intuitive and functional the app is. If it isn’t up to snuff then most likely you won’t use the app as often, and the product really has a limited upside. The AirPatrol app is easy to navigate and feels like something you would use often.
When Wi-Fi Does Matter
Remember when I said something being controlled remotely doesn’t make it “smart”? This is my exception to the rule. What AirPatrol does is indeed smart, taking a traditional appliance and making it operable via Wi-Fi. And the ability to link up multiple devices really is pretty snazzy.
This device serves a very specific group of people, and from what I can tell it offers a solution that other home automation manufacturers do not. Considering that many of the connected home products on the market offer mild overall utility as standalone units, this is a quick and simple way to adapt your current heating/cooling setup instead of replacing it.
Summers are hot here in Southern California, and any automated device that helps to cool my home efficiently and not rip my wallet to shreds is a welcome one indeed.
Buy AirPatrol– $143.65
Buy Keen Home Smart Vents (multiple sizes)- From $38.93