What is in this article?:
Sixteen HVACR industry leaders say that although the industry faces some challenges, HVACR contractors who have solid business practices and stay trained on the latest technologies have good reason to anticipate a bright future.
What new technologies are you excited about and what technologies do you see fading from view?
Michael Albertson: We’re extremely excited about variable-capacity compressor technology and believe it’s the future of high efficiency HVAC. These systems provide far better comfort with far lower energy consumption and operating costs — the top concerns for most homeowners. When you apply that variable-capacity technology to geothermal heat pumps, you really end up with a solution that truly represents the best of the best.
Variable-capacity is unique because rather than running at the one or two speeds of normal compressors, this technology adjusts its speed to match the heating or cooling load of a building exactly. Imagine if your car had only two settings: 30 mph and 70 mph. It would be very strenuous to drive and it probably wouldn’t get very good gas mileage. As we all know, gently accelerating and maintaining constant speeds increases efficiency.
In the same way that dual-stage units have taken over the market since their introduction, variable-speed will have a similar outcome.
Gary Bedard: We’re always attuned to the developments in our core technologies — heat transfer, air movement, motors, refrigerants and the refrigeration cycle. And, we’re actually seeing a number of interesting developments on all of these fronts as we look at new heat transfer materials and declining costs make some technologies feasible for more widespread use. Inverters are certainly one area where we’ve seen changes, allowing better seasonal efficiency while also bringing the promise of greater comfort through capacity modulation. I think one of the most exciting developments is in the area of controls. We’re developing new ways for the different elements in our systems to work together to deliver even greater comfort and efficiency for homeowners.
As for technologies fading from view, I’m not sure that I feel that way. Different technologies meet different price points and market needs. Today’s market needs have a way of shifting suddenly as energy markets, government policy and manufacturing costs shift. And, let’s not forget that our design tools are getting more sophisticated. For example, a few years back the idea that we could make the most efficient furnace out there AND make it among the shortest at the same time would have been counterintuitive. Yet, technology is also changing the design tools that we use, making extremely rigorous modeling possible. The result is even technologies that we thought we understood well can gain new life.
Gary Clark: Any new technology that offers homeowners ease of use for their HVAC system or enhanced energy efficient performance gets our company excited. Inverter technology is coming soon and will offer higher levels of energy efficient performance. Gas furnaces are getting more and more efficient and the heat exchanger designs are generating greater durability than previous designs. Communicating control systems are allowing dealers to install high efficiency systems as easy, or easier, than standard efficiency systems . . . and offer homeowners an incredible array of options. Remote control for the central HVAC system seems very popular with homeowners today. Smaller diameter condensing coil tubing is a new technology too that offers outstanding performance benefits with regard to heat transfer properties of R-410A chlorine free refrigerant. All aluminum evaporator coils are showing impressive resistance to a primary cause of premature copper/aluminum evaporator coils.
Brian Cobble: The potential associated with new and emerging communications technology is something the industry can be excited about. This may take the form of empowering consumers with better and more timely and accessible information using newer, more cost-effective home automation and other related technologies that have been and are being developed (that previously have been more exclusive to commercial and industrial building applications, due to traditionally higher associated cost and complexity). Or, it may be through the use of better communications technology throughout the contractors supply chain, that can bring more timely, convenient, and relevant information to the contractor more quickly and accurately, and bring improved overall efficiency and effectiveness to the entire chain of commerce.
John Galyen: Systems are becoming more intelligent and more complex – and more energy efficient. Greater connectivity, with more sensors and inputs, is an important evolution in HVAC systems.
We’re excited to see growing interest in variable speed technology in commercial and residential applications, including geothermal. While this technology has been available for several years, it has broad benefits for the home or building owner and is a solution for utilities by offering demand response capabilities. It enables precise load matching, reduced energy consumption, and better climate control. We have been leading in this solution, globally, for many years with deep product and application expertise in both the compressor and drive technologies.
On/off or ‘stand alone’ technologies that aren’t part of an integrated system will be replaced by smarter, integrated solutions.
Jerry Hurwitz: We’re excited about ourplan for all of our service techs to have wireless pads that enable them to access records from our office, create invoices, and capture signatures from customers. We think this technology will open many new avenues of customer service and growth for J&J.
On the HVAC equipment side, I think large semi-hermetic compressors are going to be things of the past, like pneumatic controls. We see more and more multiple scroll compressor racks with individual compressors being 15 tons and smaller. When I started in the field we were working on reciprocating compressors as large as 120 horsepower.
Hugh Joyce: I’m very excited about the wireless, remote monitoring, and diagnostics on the systems where it will tell us when it’s broken. What I see dying is gas and oil technology over time.
David Kesterton: The industry is obviously in a transition from single-speed compression technology to inverter/variable-speed technology. The manufacturers, distributors, and dealers who embrace the new technology will ultimately succeed in the coming years.
Fading from view, I think there is still going to be a market for “base standard product.” However, as more and more consumers educate themselves through the internet, higher-tech product will gain share.
Mark Kuntz: The technology I want to mention is one that we’re very excited about, and it’s the idea of the super-insulated building. These sometimes go under the terminology of net-zero or passive house. But it’s the idea of taking a building and squeezing out every ounce of inefficiency and building a really tight envelope, and then what’s left over after you’ve squeezed all the excess energy out of the system you can replace with some type of renewable and in effect you’ve got a building that’s not using any energy on balance.
We saw this as an emerging niche, and because these building are so efficient, it takes extremely different means of looking at the HVAC systems in them. You have to calc it differently, you have to design systems differently, and of course with very low heating and cooling loads a variable capacity system is a really great alternative for them. We’ve just had our first passive house certified in Chicago, it’s a 3,500 sq.ft. house and the entire building is conditioned with two 9,000 Btu mini-splits, just to give you an idea of how radically different that is from what you’d expect. And we’ve seen it grow from a niche to now there’s entire developments of passive houses going in, there’s some states talking about integrating the passive house standard into their building code and transitioning to that over the course of several years, and of course the federal government is really incentivizing the use of net zero on the commercial side, so we see it as a great fit both in terms of eliminating long-term life-cycle cost for the owners and occupants, and providing contractors with a very new approach and new way of looking at how to condition a space and to maximize their skill set and build some expertise in doing it.
Rich Mathews: New technologies such as electronic or digital technologies are really coming into play in the HVACR industry. Used alone or in conjunction with traditional analog methods, technology can help make the job more efficient.
For example, at hilmor we have the Dual Readout Thermometer, which is the industry’s only manifold-compatible compact thermometer with two readings that simplify the calculation of superheat and subcool. In our research, we found that some HVACR technicians don’t fully trust digital yet, so we had that in mind when we developed the Electronic Gauge with Vacuum Sensor, which provides LCD displays for pressures temperatures and calculated superheat and subcool — along with the traditional needle gauges that show system pressure and LSAT/VSAT temperatures.
Also, new technologies surrounding the use of mobile devices continue to grow. We’re finding that technicians use their cell phones, iPads and such to research tools on our web site and to locate a nearby distributor. They also use mobile devices in communications with clients and record keeping.
David Meyers: We are excited about our variable speed compression technology, which is used in the Carrier® Greenspeed™ Intelligence line of adaptable speed heat pumps and furnaces. The technology provides a breakthrough in comfort and efficiency, which provides a great platform to address the changing needs of homeowners. Adaptable speed means a furnace or heat pump with Greenspeed intelligence can run from 40 to 100% capacity — or anywhere in-between — so it adapts to exactly what the home needs for heat, or in the case of the heat pump, for cooling, too. This means the system is smart enough to pick the operating capacity that is most efficient, delivering precise, desired temperatures while saving homeowners money.
Additionally, Carrier’s Captures & Kills™ technology, featured in the Infinity® air purifier, can trap up to 95% of pathogens down to 0.30 micron in size, and works silently in tandem with the HVAC system to make the air a homeowner breathes healthier.
Carrier has also developed products that improve overall indoor air quality – the Performance™ Series Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) and the Performance Series Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV). If a home is in a warm, humid climate, then an efficient ERV would be a great addition. ERVs quietly replace stale indoor air with fresh outside air using the outgoing air to precondition incoming air, which helps keep a system running efficiently. Using specially designed, treated paper cores, they are also able to reduce humidity from the air before it enters your home. If the region typically experiences long winters and shorter, drier summers, an HRV can make sure the indoor air is fresh no matter how deep the snow may be outside.
With many new and exciting technologies on the market, some are fading from view. Basic wall controls are a decreasing trend as more and more homeowners are opting for Wi-Fi enabled smart controls for increased efficiency and remote convenience via our Carrier® Infinity Touch Control.
Chris Peel: Rheem is most excited about technologies that integrate HVAC and water heating systems due to the potential for maximizing energy savings. In less than two years, we’ve introduced two integrated products that provide real energy savings, and unique features and benefits:
In January 2012, Rheem launched the H2AC™ Rooftop Unit featuring eSync™ Integration Technology, which is a commercial system that unites an establishment’s air conditioning and water heating systems. It works by switching over from a refrigerant-to-air system, to a refrigerant-to-water system, when there is a demand for air conditioning and hot water. It can pre-heat a customer’s cold water supply to as much as 125F Fahrenheit, ultimately saving customers about 50% on their monthly water heating expenses, and dramatically improving the efficiency of the air conditioning unit while hot water is being generated.
In April 2013, Rheem launched the new Prestige™ Series Hybrid Electric Heat Pump Water Heater. Instead of heating stored water directly with a conventional electric element, this water heater transfers available heat from the ambient air, intensifies the heat and transfers the heat into the water. The unit has an Energy Factor (EF) of 2.45 — giving it the highest efficiency in its class.
Rheem will continue developing integrated products, and our new systems will also include functionality that arms contractors and homeowners with usable analytics. For instance, the Hybrid Electric Heat Pump Water Heater features the water heater industry’s first-ever full-color, backlit touch-screen control, which provides homeowner service alerts as well as detailed, text-based diagnostic information for the contractor.
Ed Purvis: There’s a lot that’s exciting in controls. As we look forward into the next few years we’re going to find more and more electronics used in system control, and this is going to do a couple of things for contractors. First, electronics provide more rapid diagnostics, and, second, it allows contractors to reduce the failure rates of systems and maintain systems better. So clearly the growth of electronics is very exciting.
Another thing we’re going to be seeing more of in the future is modulation technologies. Several years ago Emerson launched a two-step scroll called UltraTech, and that has been a remarkable success. UltraTech allows OEMs to provide systems that better match the load of the home. That provides better comfort and better efficiency for homeowners. The UltraTech™ scroll has been a very strong part of our growth in the residential market segment. More recently we launched a variable speed scroll compressor, and when you look at the variable-speed application it becomes an even stronger opportunity to provide better cooling performance, better heating performance on heat pump applications, and a very high level of comfort for homeowners. The variable-speed launch has exceeded our expectations as far as feedback from the marketplace, and we’re launching a second-generation product this year that provides even higher efficiency.
On the refrigeration side of the business electronics are rapidly gaining traction there as well, but alternative refrigerants such as CO2 are going to become a bigger trend in the next few years. The refrigeration industry has tended to lead in refrigerant transitions in the past, and we think it will happen here, too. But I think we’re going to see more and more people working on environmentally friendly alternatives in the retail space. CO2 will certainly be one.
New system designs that use less refrigerant will be another trend such as distributed systems and secondary systems. The application of scroll compressors continues to grow in this marketplace as well, as scroll compressors are now available that have higher efficiencies than the semi-hermetics in the marketplace today and have powerful CoreSense diagnostics built into them that provide even higher value to the end-user. Those are a few of the key examples.
Mark Wagner: Connected home solutions to monitor residential HVAC system operation, temperature, setpoints, and energy use while the homeowner is away is an exciting new technology that is available in the marketplace. We are seeing tremendous growth due to the consumer value achieved by our Nexia™ Home Intelligence connected home products and our e-monitor energy management system. Variable-speed compressor technology and the utilization of minisplits and VRF systems for multifamily applications is also a growing technology. We are very excited about our variable speed compressor products that will be launched soon and that will allow homeowners to achieve significant energy efficiency at an affordable cost. Our Trane mini split offering is also showing strong growth among our dealer network and consumers.
The market trend toward lower seer entry-level products based on homeowner affordability continues to drive the marketplace. We are excited about the growth of our Ameristar product line and the recent announcement of our new 13-14 SEER air handler product line. These products allow the homeowner to enjoy the reliability and quality of Trane at lower efficiencies while supporting our “Trane product for every home” brand promise. Trane now has a complete product line from entry level to industry leading high efficiency HVAC equipment.
Steve Wright: The cost of operation with natural refrigerants is much higher. The way we produce power in the U.S. is different than Western Europe. I just don’t know if carbon dioxide is going to continue as a viable option especially in the warmer climates like we have here in the south. I really like CO2 and hope the industry finds a way to make it work effectively.
As for newer technologies I think we’re probably going to see smaller systems, and smaller, more efficient compressors that use much less refrigerant charge. Right now we have smaller variable refrigerant DC compressors that will minimize overall system size. Smaller will become more popular, even smaller than distributed systems that we see now.