To date, most of the growth in the smart home marketplace has been targeted toward single-family homeowners. However, that could change as more companies begin to recognize the largely untapped potential for connected technology in the rental space, says Cory Vanderpool, business development director at Magnum Energy Solutions.

As a developer of energy management products and technology, the company has worked with various multifamily property owners to install efficient building systems. “[We found] … there was a need in the multifamily space for a product that would be the hub of a living space—that would interface with residents and integrate with other energy management products to create smart apartment solutions,” Vanderpool says.

Users can control different devices and apps, as well as receive messages, through Root's touchscreen interface.

To meet that need, Magnum developed Root, a smart thermostat that can go beyond heating and cooling to serve as a hub for a smart apartment, with the ability to integrate with numerous connected devices, including lighting, security, and entertainment systems. Root runs on an Android operating system and can communicate with products across various protocols, including ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth.

Beyond fulfilling individual resident needs, however, Root connects building managers and tenants, something that Vanderpool says was key to the product's development. “Even if a resident isn’t particularly tech-savvy, there's a support mechanism there,” she says. “The device offers building owners and facility managers the ability to communicate messages to every single resident at the touch of a button.”

Messages could include notifications about maintenance work or package delivery alerts, for example. Such a consistent communication platform is convenient for both residents and property managers and eliminates the need to make physical visits to units to deliver notices, Vanderpool says.

Owners can also opt to use Root as a video-enabled access control system, as opposed to a traditional intercom. The system also offers enhanced remote visibility and control of vacant units, with owners able to control the temperature or lights in a building without having to be at the apartment, says Vanderpool.

Along with the time-saving benefits, connected systems are an amenity that properties can sell to prospective residents, according to Vanderpool. Not only can the devices make apartment living more convenient, they can help residents save money on their utility bills and provide information ranging from how much energy they use to when the grid is experiencing the highest demand so they can scale back their usage accordingly. 

Vanderpool cites a project the company worked on with Forest City to incorporate smart thermostats into a new development. “They had an overwhelming interest in the units, mostly from the younger generation looking for something different.”

Magnum Energy Solutions has engaged in widespread testing across various residential environments to gather feedback on Root and optimize it for widespread distribution, with shipping of the first products planned for April. “We got really good, positive feedback and some suggestions when we were at the AHR [Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating] Expo,” Vanderpool says. “When we talk about it in a multifamily environment, that really resonates with people.” 

In addition to working with several multifamily developers, the firm is looking for additional resellers and distribution channels interested in partnering to make the technology available on a larger scale, Vanderpool says.