The idea of harnessing advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to cut heating and cooling costs isn’t new. Many large commercial enterprises use AI to sharply cut energy expenses without diminishing occupant comfort.

Why not apply the same idea to multifamily operations?

Afterall, the modern multifamily unit is filled with smart technology, from door locks and lights to appliances, plugs, and thermostats. One recent survey of 10,000 apartment residents reports more than a third of residents would pay an extra 15% for full smart-home capability, with 60% saying automating energy savings is valuable or highly valuable to them. Upgrading HVAC performance with AI and machine learning adds even more asset value and differentiation.

Small wonder why Brent Sturgell is determined to transform the resident experience with a breakthrough in AI-enabled HVAC technology.

Resident Comfort and Savings

Sturgell is a 37-year HVAC industry veteran, having served as an engineer, product manager, director, and vice president of engineering. Today, he heads the HVAC division at KOVA, a leading building materials company.

“The central question is, ‘How do you improve comfort and not just focus on the equipment?’” asks Sturgell. It’s no secret advanced AI and machine learning hold that key. The challenge is to scale that insight to best fit resident requirements and owner/operator net operating income (NOI) expectations.

The solution—called KOVA Comfort—is an industry first, combining vertical terminal air conditioning (VTAC) technology with an onboard AI-powered processor. Sensor data continuously captures and analyzes interior conditions, informing the processor with:

  • Ambient temperature;
  • Humidity;
  • Real-time occupancy;
  • Light intensity; and
  • Usage patterns.

The processor uses AI models to predict and maintain interior comfort. Think smart thermostat with a four-digit IQ. Energy savings can top 30% compared with standard VTAC, packaged terminal air conditioners (PTAC), and split systems. “Since the system runs in partial load condition up to 90% of the time, it uses only enough energy to meet heating and cooling loads. No more, no less,” Sturgell reports.

The push to innovate didn’t stop there. The team also focused on installation, footprint, acoustics, aesthetics, and maintenance:

  • Installation. It’s plug and play. “KOVA Comfort is a packaged system. The entire unit slides into the wall sleeve, similar to a PTAC unit. Very little is required of the service tech,” advises Sturgell, reducing specialty contractor labor time and expense—with no outside compressor, copper lines, closets, extra waterproofing, ducts, or drywall work. “It’s very uncomplicated,” he says.
  • Footprint. Conventional VTAC, PTAC, and split systems typically require up to 8 square feet of precious interior space. The unit’s super-slim vertical profile scarcely takes space and fits within a standard wall stud.
  • Acoustics. In most operating modes, the system remains under 50 decibels, equivalent to a quiet refrigerator.
  • Aesthetics. The tall slender configuration is unobtrusive, a contrast to boxy VTAC, PTAC, and split systems. It pairs visually well with large glazing units.
  • Maintenance. Onboard diagnostics simplify troubleshooting. Sturgell says a mobile app is on the way for anytime, anywhere readings. If ever required, the unit is easy to swap out and replace.

Sturgell says KOVA Comfort is now third-party tested and certified, with an expected launch in the first quarter of 2024. “We welcome the opportunity to pilot KOVA Comfort with multifamily developers and owners,” Sturgell says. “It’s an environmentally intelligent way to address resident comfort.”

Learn more about how advanced AI and machine learning can help differentiate your properties and resident experience.