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Artificial Intelligence (AI) Tools in Heating and Cooling: How It’s Helping You

You’ve heard the buzz about ChatGPT and other tools, but what do these innovations actually do to help you? You might be surprised at the answer.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Tools in Heating and Cooling: How It’s Helping You

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Mark Wilson


March 6th, 2023

A common trick of newscasters in recent months is to read a story about artificial intelligence (AI), then “shock” the audience by explaining that the segment they just heard was written by an AI tool.

Well I’m here to tell you that this introduction paragraph was written by…just me, actually. No AI. Sorry, though I think that’s probably for the best, as we’ll be discussing shortly.

AI is everywhere right now, though, or at least it seems like it, right?

It is, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to know what it means for you. So today we’re going to talk about Artificial Intelligence and HVAC.

It might seem like a surprising combination, but it’s not. In fact, it’s the companies who embrace AI that will have the edge on those who don’t in the coming years, and it will mean better things for your home comfort and service reliability as well!

A Quick Summary of Artificial Intelligence

First, what is AI, and what do we mean when we talk about it?

Narrow AI refers to programs that can do one specific, narrowly-defined task, or a small subset of related tasks. When you hear about AI tools, 100% of the time this is what they’re referring to.

General AI is the currently sci-fi idea of a human-like intelligence that can be applied in a broad set of ways. Some experts believe this type of AI may never be achieved, or at the very least that we’re decades out from achieving it.

For our purposes, we’re only discussing “narrow” AI, which in layman's terms often simply amounts to a fancy piece of software. Powerful, sophisticated software, sure, but closer to your existing software tools than a hypothetical Terminator robot.

How You Use AI Already

Some people are surprised to learn that they’re already using artificial intelligence.

If your phone has ever auto-completed a sentence for you, you used AI. If you’ve ever clicked on a recommended Youtube video, you clicked a video that an AI algorithm selected for you, based on what it’s learned about your preferences.

A hundred small AI processes are used like this in our daily lives. These algorithms learn and improve based on the feedback you provide. If you spelled “dunce” instead of “duck,” your phone may recommend it in the future. If you ignore those KPop Youtube videos, the algorithm will eventually cycle to new styles of content to recommend you (your loss, though; KPop is surprisingly catchy!)

What the Heck Is ChatGPT, and Should I Care About It?

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot, launched publicly in November, 2022, that can generate text in a variety of styles and topics.

It’s a remarkable piece of technology, but we’re actually not going to concern ourselves with it much in this article. Not because it’s not important, but because its limitations make it hard to apply directly to heating and cooling.

You will absolutely read something on a website soon that was written by ChatGPT, if you haven’t already. Some people are all too eager to have ChatGPT do some heavy lifting for them, and it can generate entire blog articles on certain topics.

This can help people work more quickly, but there are risks, including:

  1. Factual Information Is Sometimes Wrong - this is extremely worrying when you think about a technical field like HVAC. Incorrect factual information can be costly or even deadly.
  2. It Aggregates Existing Information - this has introduced ethical concerns, because even if something is lightly rephrased, a lot of what ChatGPT generates is very clearly stolen from existing content on the internet. This is also why companies aren’t using it when they want to rank on Google, since it can detect AI or copied content.
  3. Technical Writing Is Often Shallow - would you want an article on carpentry written by someone with three hours of research into carpentry, or someone with a lifetime of experience? AI tools can scan a lot more than three hours worth of content, but it’s hard to synthesize that with the knowledge necessary to talk about complicated topics in deep and educational ways. Stated differently, ChatGPT could write more on carpentry than a carpenter, but it wouldn’t necessarily be as useful, because it lacks the context necessary to piece together disparate ideas.

Here at Fire & Ice, we’re actually excited about AI, though, so I want to make sure we talk about the potential of such technology as well.

Potential of ChatGPT for Businesses:

  1. Break Out of Writer’s Block - it can be great for brainstorming.
  2. Speed Up Work With Outlines - Maybe you don’t want it writing entire articles, but it can help you structure your work and speed up your workflow.
  3. Rewriting - not happy with something you’ve written? ChatGPT can rewrite it and flesh it out to help you put your best foot forward.

Have we used ChatGPT here at Fire & Ice? A little, but only in ways that enhance our ability to educate our customers. Stated differently, everything here in this article was written by our employees and edited by a human being. We value authenticity and expert analysis, which we don’t believe is possible currently for heating and cooling from an AI chatbot.

But we’re also excited about other tools that enhance our ability to do our jobs well.

AI Content and Media Tools

ChatGPT gets the headlines, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. We’re currently using email software that incorporates AI to send more relevant and timely emails to our customers, for example, and have only begun to explore the potential of this technology.

Other tools exist to help better target audiences, which means fewer irrelevant ads for people. Still others can help you plan content in ways that utilize AI learning but without the AI doing the actual writing or filming.

Lastly, the logistical side of media creation is huge. Ever wonder how videos are tracked, cataloged and stored? Poorly, it turns out.

But there are AI tools that let you upload thousands of terabytes worth of video, and it will analyze each video and “tag” them with the appropriate descriptors. This helps with search functionality when you’re on someone’s website or a video platform like Vimeo or Youtube.

This can have implications for individual creators as well as gigantic, international media conglomerates. Both can benefit from the same technology.

What AI Tools Are Helping in Customer Communications?

Let’s get a bit more practical. Did you know that AI is helping us with our call-taking?

When you call in to the Fire & Ice office, you’ll still always be speaking to a person. But we have AI tools assisting our customer service representatives to help make their conversation with you more productive.

An automated tool can listen to the call as it’s happening, and if certain words or phrases appear in the conversation, information on that item will appear to our customer service rep., to more quickly answer any questions.

So if you’re asking about one of our excellent maintenance agreements, for example, information on services and pricing will pop up for them based on the AI’s interpretation of the conversation. Or if you ask about our service area, a list of zip codes might appear for the representative to cross-reference, to see if we can service your home.

This is more info than anyone can keep organized in front of them at all times, since the question could be about anything we do.

Far from the “ChatGPT is taking away jobs” cries with that technology, this is helping to make our existing employees even better at their jobs. When used proactively and thoughtfully, AI can be a huge benefit to both company and customer.

AI For Staffing, Inventory and Scheduling

A lot of machine learning and AI tech involves analyzing gigantic amounts of data more quickly than a human could ever hope to. In this way, AIs can identify trends and problems more quickly than any human.

For example, has anyone at most HVAC companies ever gone back to find issues with scheduling across months or years and thousands of appointments? Probably not.

But if you give an AI that task, they can give you results quickly and identify gaps in a company’s scheduling coverage.

Similarly, overstaffing can cost a company money. So can understaffing. These costs are then passed on to customers. A little-known fact about HVAC is that it can be very hard to consistently maintain profitability, because the equipment and labor overhead is so high. So these staffing costs matter!

Staffing AI software can help to optimize for spikes in calls and traffic, to minimize both over- and understaffing. In this way, the company saves money, and they don’t have to increase prices as often to maintain profitability.

The same can be true of inventory. If you have too much inventory, it means you have to rent too much warehouse space. And too little means you will sometimes have to turn away business.

This again trickles down to the customer. Mismanaged inventory means higher prices for the consumer.

And - you guessed it - AI software can perform inventory optimization more efficiently than most humans, thus saving everyone money.

AI Chat and Scheduling Tools

Chances are, this is another way you’ve already used these technologies. A lot of websites have a “live chat” option, but they’re not always live chats with a human being. Rather, it could be an AI tool that is designed to identify certain keywords and interpret questions to provide immediate answers.

These tools can learn and adapt, but they still need human input. For example, it won’t always know what the best webpage or information to send to a customer based on a question, but by inputting the most common questions you receive from customers, you can help the AI understand the majority of questions that will come through.

The end result is that it won’t really know how to handle “what’s the best KPop artist?” but it will be good at questions like “what’s the cost of an air conditioner?”

This is one area that we haven’t gotten into quite yet here at Fire & Ice, but we’re actively researching options that will provide the greatest value to our customers. Our Learning Center is one of the more comprehensive collections of residential HVAC information anywhere on the internet, and helping people discover it is important to us. AI is one way we hope to do that.

Differences and Similarities Between AI and Smart-Home Technology

There’s already some pretty advanced technology in many home heating and cooling systems, and it can even operate in ways that mirror AI technologies.

Smart-home tech has been around for a while, and it’s no secret that thermostats are part of this. You can set your thermostat remotely, or have it monitor if anyone’s home to adjust the temperature accordingly.

But did you know that thermostats can learn? Again, we’re talking about learning in a narrow sense. They’re programmed to do this; human-like learning isn’t taking place. But in practice, it will seem like true learning.

RELATED:What Kind of Home Thermostat Do I Need?

How it works is that your system heats and cools at a certain rate, but this rate changes depending on time of year and outdoor conditions. So if your system is working harder to cool your home, for example, and it’s programmed to be cooler by the time you get home from work, it might adjust the time at which it ramps up the air conditioner to begin this process.

The benefit is twofold: One, these tiny adjustments are actually saving energy usage by being more efficient. That’s money back in your pocket.

And Two, your home will be more comfortable, because your system is adaptive.

This is not standard in every modern HVAC system. Not every air conditioner, heat pump or furnace has enough options to make use of this type of “learning.” But if you have a top-of-the-line system, one with a lot of different settings that can be adjusted according to outdoor temperatures and indoor conditions, chances are you either have or could benefit from this technology.

Into the Future

We’re only scratching the surface in this article. Other industries are making advances that are just as exciting, and it’s hard to keep up with it all.

Even in HVAC, we haven’t covered everything here. This is a good primer, but you’ll see and hear more about this in the coming years. Predictive maintenance based on algorithms trained on millions of data points? AI assistants that help you manage your smart-home system? These are not outlandish questions to be asking.

Five years ago, most of what’s in this article would have been science-fiction. Now it’s part of our everyday life. This is not slowing down, and AI is accelerating the rate at which business is changing.

Those who don’t embrace this change and find ways to utilize it to improve their efforts will become obsolete.

At the same time, it’s important to assess risks and be aware of the limitations of technology. A human touch, especially in a field as technical and potentially dangerous as HVAC and other service industries, can make all the difference.

We like to think we provide that human touch while also being forward-thinking in our approaches to technology and customer service. In the coming years, we’ll be doing more with AI, but it will always be in the interest of doing what’s best for our customers.

If you’re in our service area and you’d like to talk more about your home and comfort needs, we’d love to meet you. Get started below!

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