Alex Tomas has seen countless heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system failures that could have been prevented.
After spending two years on development and testing, Tomas and his business partner Yurij Zagrebnoy, have successfully invented a smart HVAC monitoring and diagnostic solution that is easy enough for everyday people to understand, yet highly useful to technicians. The first of its kind, it has the potential to change the industry.
“Over 70% of HVAC systems running today have underlying conditions that will end up costing their owners needless repairs and energy inefficiencies,” said Tomas. “The smaller repairs can add up to $800 or more, but many of these issues harm the compressor over time. It is then that a customer is facing expensive repairs or some rationale to purchase a whole new system at $7500 or more.”
In addition to the significant cost, a system breakdown during the summer can leave a customer without a way to cool their home when heat can be the most uncomfortable – even dangerous. Delays in today’s supply chain can mean long wait times for parts to arrive, lengthening the time a home is without a working unit.
Poorly operating HVAC systems also waste energy, costing as much as 20-30% in additional expense due to longer run times. Considering that HVAC is often a third to half of a household’s power bill, this drain is significant.
“HVAC systems seem to be working fine until they aren’t,” said Tomas. “Something needed to change. There had to be a way to monitor a system to make sure it is not masking a problem that will cause a breakdown later, and to enable proactive maintenance to prevent that problem.”
Inspired by this need, Tomas and Zagrebnoy developed a smart diagnostic system that mounts on an indoor air handler and it measures refrigerant temperatures, blower amperages, supply and return air temperatures. It also correlates those readings to local weather conditions.
Named AC Brainy, the patent-pending technology shares its data with the customer through a web-based mobile phone app, enabling the customer to monitor the unit’s operations. If the unit develops a problem, ACBrainy alerts the customer via text and email. It also notes if the situation is urgent and includes the most likely first steps towards solving the problem.
“When the HVAC technician shows up, the customer can show them the data on their smartphone, and the tech will have a very clear idea of what the problem may be and how to proceed,” said Tomas, now president of ACBrainy. “ACBrainy basically works like the warning lights on your car – it saves the tech time, and the customer money.”
After service, the customer or HVAC technician can run a scan with the system to confirm that the problem was solved. This reduces technician callbacks, which both the customer and the technician can appreciate.
In addition, the technology can enable technicians to tune a system for maximum efficiency and energy savings. It can also detect issues commonly associated with refrigerant leaks. Facilitating these repairs reduces the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and halons, which destroy the earth’s protective ozone layer.
So far, Tomas has installed the systems in homes, commercial businesses, an outpatient surgical facility and even a 40,000 square foot country club. One customer had ACBrainy installed on an HVAC system that served a surgical suite in a medical facility. The system alerted the customer of a mechanical problem requiring replacement of the unit’s condenser fan tied to the surgical suite. It was a “ticking time bomb” that might have resulted in a costly and inconvenient outage.
“He had to wait three weeks for the part, but he was able to replace the fan before it failed,” said Tomas. “Without this system, the fan would have failed without warning, and could have resulted in a huge disruption and loss of revenue for the customer until the new fan was installed.”
While it is not necessary for a customer to understand more than the basic alerts provided by ACBrainy, a reasonably handy person can learn to use the system to change their own filters, clean their coils and check drainage lines, reducing routine maintenance expenses, Tomas said.
Tomas said he envisions companies embracing this innovative technology because it will save them time diagnosing or maintaining HVAC systems, help them avoid overlooked problems, enable them to eliminate repeat service calls, and help them move on to other customers.
“This system can even be used to train technicians,” he said. “And I think it will be routinely included with every new HVAC system sold in the future.”
Tomas said an ACBrainy system installation and first-year monitoring starts at discounted (35%) Early Bird prices of $95 per year monitoring plus a one-time fee of $160. Obviously, this pricing rewards early adopters. The system is currently selling through Kickstarter for June 2022 deliveries. It can be DIY installed or installed by any handyman or AC technician.