Jan. 13--3M Filtrete has introduced the first Bluetooth-enabled air filter for the home in the hopes of making it easier for homeowners to know the quality of indoor air and when to change filters on their HVAC systems.
After months of prototypes, focus groups and tests inside consumers' homes, 3M debuted its Smart Filtrete filter last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The product has a built-in sensor that will send a text alert to the homeowner's smartphone that it's time to change the filter once air flow or air quality inside the home's HVAC system has changed. A connected smartphone app displays real-time air-quality readings for inside and outside a home and will provide tips on ways to improve the indoor air quality.
The goal is to make the process of filter upkeep as easy as possible, said Patrick Hiner, a marketing manager for 3M. "We're trying to simplify the process. Our app always tells you the time, which model you need, and we tell you which retailer has it."
It took dozens of 3M digital experts, designers, engineers and home improvement pros a year to develop the new app, Hiner said. His team traveled across the country visiting homeowners to learn their needs and what "pain points" they had in HVAC maintenance.
3M learned that, on average, a typical U.S. home has one to three air filters that are used as part of a forced-air furnace and AC system. In the Southwest, homes can have eight air filters working simultaneously to trap dust, sand, smoke, soot and other particles.
Hiner said 3M's research revealed that many homeowners forget to change their air filters in a timely fashion and live with dirty air circulating in the house.
With roughly 85 million single-family houses in the United States -- the majority with forced-air or "central" heating and cooling systems -- the market potential for the 3M Smart Filtrete could be significant, company officials said.
The worldwide market for pleated air filters (residential, industrial, oil filters etc.) is expected to grow to $14.9 billion by 2022, according to research firm Global Market Insights. In the United States, the market is growing by 3 percent a year, while global residential growth is estimated at 6 percent a year. Growth is particularly robust in Asia and Latin America.
3M is a leading pleated air-filter maker along with Donaldson Co., Honeywell and DuPont.
3M said it is the first to market with a sensor-enabled smart air filter for the regular home. That will be a bonus to homeowners who already know and trust 3M's Filtrete brand, said Hiner and 3M spokeswoman Erin Bix.
3M hopes homeowners see the filter as an easy and inexpensive way to enter the "smart home" market of appliances and gadgets that are connected or controlled by computer or smartphone. The cost difference between a regular furnace filter with no sensor and a "smart" filter is about $5, Bix said.
3M's new line of smart filters will retail at a suggested price of $21.99 to $29.99 and will be available in the spring.
So far, pilot tests and reaction from focus groups have been positive. And in one case a little revealing.
Hiner visited the home of a Minneapolis financial broker last year who prided himself on the upkeep of his home and all its various mechanical systems. When Hiner looked at his filter, however, "it was very old and very dirty."
"The guy was pretty embarrassed," Hiner said, adding that it was obvious the filter hadn't been changed in at least a year.
Air filters are supposed to be changed about every 90 days, "but most homeowners forget," Hiner said. Sometimes the chore is more difficult because the access vents are located in the ceiling or other inconvenient places.
While the app can't help with filter location, it provides an easy reminder that "takes the guesswork out [and helps] homeowners take control of the air in their homes," said Amanda Dauphinais, manager of the Filtrete Global Business unit.
3M said it made "a significant investment" to develop the new filter but would not provide specifics on how much it spent.
3M officials showcasing the product at the CES show last week in Las Vegas said attendees had lots of questions and interest given the recent wildfires in California and their impact on indoor and outdoor air quality across the West Coast. 3M materials highlighted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reported that indoor pollution levels can be two to five times higher than the pollution found outdoors.
Hiner uses 3M's new app and filters to track the indoor and outdoor air quality of his own house in Minnesota. He recently called it up, noting how it showed that his filter was "good" and had a 69 percent filtration capacity left.
Hiner then tracked the "real-time" quality of outdoor air for the city of Los Angeles for that day and each day during the past month. The app showed the "poor air" ratings for several days in early December and detected spikes of good air quality as winds moved the smoke out of the city following days of wildfires that ravaged acres of hills, canyons, neighborhoods and homes.
3M next plans to exhibit its new app and filters at private trade shows sponsored by firms such as Ace Hardware, True Value and Do it Best hardware stores.
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