Forced air heating and cooling systems aren't always very efficient at keeping homes at a comfortable temperature. Just ask Jacob Kring, a co-founder and CEO of local startup HiberSense. He's a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, and said during his time there, he lived in a "crappy" college apartment.
"My roommate had the thermostat in his room, and that meant his room was always the right temperature and everywhere else in the apartment was [cold]," Kring said. "The only way we could actually make it comfortable was to basically beg my roommate to crank the thermostat up."
That approach sometimes led to electricity bills that cost more than rent.
HiberSense builds on the ideas of zoned heating and cooling and smart thermostats. The system uses sensors that detect room conditions like temperature, humidity and indoor air quality. Dampers in the forced air system open and close automatically to control the temperature in each room. But co-founder Brendan Quay said what really makes HiberSense unique is the way the system learns about a building's inhabitants over time.
Customers provide baseline preferences, like wanting the bedroom to be cool at night or wanting the bathroom to warm up a little just before it's time for a shower. Because the sensors also detect motion, the system learns when people tend to enter certain rooms and adjusts the temperature accordingly.
"The more data we collect, the better decisions we can make about the space," Quay said. "So if I'm not in my bedroom until 10 p.m. ... then we start heating or cooling my bedroom at like 9:30."
The company said some homes using the system have seen energy savings of up to 40 percent. If those numbers are right, that could be a big deal.
According to Carnegie Mellon University architecture professor Vivian Loftness, who focuses on sustainability and energy in buildings, almost one-third of the total energy usage in the country goes to heating and cooling homes.
"Controlling the delivery of heating and cooling in your home is probably one of the best things we can do to save the planet," Loftness said.