Heat Pumps Shed Old Reputation
August 31, 2009
The trends today are wrapped up in higher efficiencies and energy savings. Industry insiders say that as we continue heading into a green economy, today’s high-end systems can fill the gap between systems in need of improvement and green technologies of the future. In other words, when HVAC contractors are guiding their customers in the right directions, and doing the right things themselves, they’re already pretty green.
Heat pumps themselves have come a long way. They do have an old reputation of being less reliable than standard cooling-only systems, partly due to the complexity of the unit, which can provide both heating and cooling. This complexity at one time led to errors in installation and service. Today’s high-end systems, however, have features that help contractors install equipment with ensured reliability.
“What we have done is added a lot to our high-end line, and control technology, that enables the system to charge properly, along with plug-and-play technology that sets airflow automatically and certifies proper installation,” said Joe Dachowicz, director of Product Management for Trane and American Standard brands.
In addition, the efficiency improvements offered by these high-end heat pumps allow many to qualify for federal and local tax incentives, as well as some utility incentives, that help offset their higher first costs. “As an industry, the tax incentives have really helped propel higher industry sales,” said Dachowicz. “It enables the homeowner to purchase a higher-efficiency product for the cost of a lower-efficiency product.”
This lower first cost, combined with the lower energy bill, make high-end heat pumps a terrific bargain in today’s market. New features also help dealers install them with more reliability and decreased risk of callbacks. It’s a winning combination.
COMFORT CONTROLConsumer comfort has always been one of the top needs for any heat pump system. More sophisticated controls in virtually all manufacturers’ heat pumps increase customer satisfaction, comfort, and energy savings.
Carrier Corp.’s Infinity™ heat pump features two-stage operation and IdealHumidity™ technology, which helps homeowners maintain set comfort levels in their homes. The increased humidity control results in longer heating cycles at lower fan speeds, which provide energy savings and more consistent temperatures throughout the house. Installation with the Infinity control allows enhanced diagnostics, including filter-change reminders based on airflow through the system. Homeowners can regulate temperature, humidity, airflow, ventilation, IAQ, and zoning from one control.
A remote-access option from the new American Standard system allows customers to change their system settings from a phone or via the Internet. An optional phone-access module lets homeowners or service techs control systems by phone. System alerts are delivered to the 900 Series communicating comfort control, and an auto-discovery feature calculates proper airflow for the system. It also features enhanced humidity control with a built-in frost-control option.
York’s heat pump technology generates discharge air temperatures similar to those of a gas furnace, reducing the incidence of “cold blow” for improved comfort.
Luxaire’s QuietDrive™ system features a swept-wing fan, composite base pan, isolated compressor compartment, and two-stage compressors that work together to reduce overall sound levels. The technology generates discharge air temperatures similar to those of a gas furnace, and also reduces the feeling of cold blow. The company’s SilentDrive™ system offers similar features (swept-wing fan, composite base pan, isolated compressor compartment, and two-stage compressors).
Likewise, Coleman’s WhisperDrive™ system helps reduce overall sound to as low as 71 dBA in cooling mode and 72 dBA in heating mode. The hot heat pump technology delivers discharge temperatures that are above 98.6°F and therefore feel warm to the touch.
“I see comfort becoming a much more important thing,” said Jeff Warther, manager of residential cooling products for Carrier. “Cold blow is one factor; and we’ve been able to overcome that piece of the puzzle. Anything below 92° actually feels cool to the skin. It will heat your home, but you don’t feel real comfortable.”
The electric resistance heat, he said, would come out like “a huge blast of warm air. We’ve made the heat pump air warmer, but also staged the electric heat so that the homeowner doesn’t feel that huge transition.” Warther said. The company’s heat pump system offers as many as five stages, as well as a hybrid heat combination.
INSTALLATIONS AND SERVICEIn 2005, Warther said, one out of every four units coming out of the company’s Collierville, Tenn., plant was a heat pump. “Now it’s tracking one out of three, and in the next year or two we might see 50 percent heat pumps,” due to the ability to combine it with a gas furnace. The system’s easy installation also promotes increased installations, he said. “With our communicating system, it’s only four wires.”
Regarding diagnostics, “Our Infinity system has up to 83 points of diagnostics for the system,” said Warther. “We also utilize them for Hybrid heat.” A sensor on the coil, for instance, and measuring ambient temperature, “are things that help the dealer do the installation correctly,” he said. “Those sensors are utilized for diagnostics.” Diagnostic capability on the outdoor unit can also be fed through the control.
American Standard’s hybrid systems with AccuLink™ communicating technology “bring simplicity to high efficiency,” the company said, “making it easier for dealers to install and service today’s most complex systems.” The Heritage® 20 heat pump, with up to 20 SEER efficiency, can be paired with a Freedom® 80 or 95 communicating furnace and a new Continuous Comfort-R mode for comfort and humidity control.
The communicating system digitally enables the heat pump to be automatically and properly configured to the indoor components. “With AccuLink, our Heritage Hybrid comfort system is as easy to install as conventional split systems,” said Jamie Byrne, vice president of sales for American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning, with “no more kits to adapt the controls - only two wires run from the outdoor unit to the indoor unit. And the Charge Assist™ feature automatically delivers the precise amount of refrigerant needed and then shuts itself off.”
“Charge Assist enables a contractor in the field to press a button, and it assists him to charge the refrigerant to the right level,” said Dachowicz. The communicating heat pump can be charged properly, and they provide error codes and feedback. “It provides a validation that everything is installed and working properly, the airflow is set properly, and the wiring is done properly,” Dachowicz said.
“It used to require more wires from the outdoor to the indoor unit,” he said. “A large percentage of the time, heat pumps are improperly wired.” Fewer wires result in proper airflow and charging, he said. Callbacks are prevented by the wiring itself, Dachowicz said. “Upwards of 70 percent of the time, systems are improperly charged. Homeowners experience air that is not cold enough. Then the contractor has to go back out and check the charge manually. But with this system, because it’s confirmed and automated, you’re preventing those callbacks.”
Setting airflow automatically is a dramatic improvement, he added. “There used to be a high degree of human error setting airflow for the system. Comfort Link sets airflow automatically. If it isn’t set properly, the homeowner will experience cold air but not enough to satisfy the thermostat.”
The best comparison for the new system, he said, is to a printer bought 10 years ago. “You had to install it onto your computer, and you had to install it with a disk. You had to run the software. Now if you have a USB port and you plug in your printer, the computer automatically reads what’s there. It’s automatically self configuring.”
Current 16 and 20 SEER heat pumps with matching indoor products and staged compressors “can run anywhere from seven to nine wires,” Dachowicz said. “Ours (Trane XL20i and American Standard Heritage 20 heat pumps) are two to three wires because of the added automation.”
York models use a microprocessor for demand defrost control. The system constantly monitors the entire system for reliable operation. According to the company, defrost cycles occur only when necessary, and an adjustable balance point ensures that supplemental heat is supplied only when required to meet the space load.
The company’s Affinity YZH Series heat pump also offers features that help protect and troubleshoot the unit. If improper operating conditions occur, the unit automatically shuts down to protect the refrigerant system and switches to backup heat. Diagnostic LEDs guide the technician to the source of the problem; an output signal, provided from the control to the thermostat, alerts the homeowner. The control’s nonvolatile memory preserves fault codes in the event of power loss, and an anti-short-cycle timer helps extend the life of the compressor.
A slide-down control compartment allows access to control components. This feature and angled service valves help reduce overall installation time and costs. In addition, a full-service access panel (with handle) provides easier entry to internal components.
In the area of flexibility, Luxaire’s HL8B Series units can be matched with variable-speed air handlers for upflow, downflow, and horizontal left or right applications. In addition, a louvered coil guard and polymer mesh protects the coils from damage.
Compressor protection is maintained through an isolated compressor compartment with a molded composite bulkhead. This segregates the compressor from the rest of the unit, helping reduce sound and vibration. Each compressor is protected against high and low pressure, as well as excessive temperatures, through simultaneous operation of a high-pressure relief valve and temperature sensors that protect the compressor against adverse conditions.
WHAT CONTRACTORS NEED TO KNOW“We’re seeing pretty dramatic improvements in installation accuracy and saving time,” said Dachowicz. “Our goal is to reduce the amount of time it takes to install the product.” An added benefit, he said, is that it allows installers who are not pros to install more complex systems.
“We’re hearing back from dealers and customers that only certain people in the crew could do that before because it used to be a much more complicated system to install,” he said. “Higher-end systems usually are more complex and have more accessories, like air cleaners.” Effective October, Trane will introduce a Clean Effects air cleaner that can automatically be read by the system. “It also communicates to the thermostat when the air cleaner needs to be changed.”
Infinity also is available on single-stage products, Warther said. “Our reliability is better. If it’s a Friday afternoon, you don’t have to say a little prayer over the unit. A feature in the control says ‘Installer Setup.’ You hit the button for heat and the furnace will come on; for air and the a/c will come on. It confirms that all the connections are all right.”
The American Standard Heritage Hybrid comfort system can include the Freedom 80 or 95 furnace. The system provides up to 68 percent energy savings over a comparable 10-year-old system and 37 percent savings compared to more recent systems.
Contractors should be aware that most York models qualify for the federal tax credit program when they’re properly matched with a variable-speed furnace or air handler, as do most Luxaire and Coleman models.
MAJOR TRENDS“You definitely have efficiency drivers, especially where the government or utility is putting incentives in,” said Dachowicz. “I would check utility companies. It’s a very big market trend; the federal government set the standard and the states are following up, and possibly utilities.
“The contractor who knows about these programs could be saving their customers a lot of money,” said Dachowicz. “The dealer is still getting the price, but the others are picking up the difference for the homeowner.
“We’re seeing a lot of dual-fuel installations of heat pumps,” he continued. “We know that because of our dual-fuel thermostat sales. The system basically looks at the lowest-cost fuel, gas or electric, and uses that to generate heat for the homeowners. When gas prices spiked, we saw a lot of dual-fuel systems go in. What we’re seeing with tax credits is you can use a dual-fuel heat pump, match it with a 95-percent-AFUE furnace, and qualify for a $1,500 tax credit.”
“We definitely continue to see the energy efficiency increase, and the creative ways people are getting to energy efficiency,” remarked Warther. “Everyone always talks about air conditioning and the SEER rating. That is only half of the puzzle of the heat pump. For anyone living in the North, you tend to have more heating hours than cooling hours.
“We do have quite a few combinations that meet the federal tax credit,” Warther said. “There are in the neighborhood of 3,000 combinations that meet the tax credit. “You don’t know what’s going to be that one thing that will close the deal,” he said. “There’s the comfort, but there’s also the economy. It’s a bunch of little things that you need in your arsenal and your toolbox.”
Sidebar: High-End HomesFORT WAYNE, Ind. - WaterFurnace International Inc., manufacturer of residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional geothermal and water-source heat pumps, introduced its Envision™ NDW Series hydronic units. Available in 8- to 15-ton capacities, the units are designed to meet the high-volume water demands of larger luxury homes, providing radiant floor heating, pool heating, and snow and ice melt.
The new system’s cabinets are fabricated from heavy-gauge steel with a metallic finish. A swing-out control box and control panels can be placed on either end to improve serviceability. On the inside, the units feature a microprocessor that controls the load pump, source pump, and compressor with precise thermostatic inputs. A controller lets the user view all modes of operation and adjust temperatures. In addition, the controller monitors all fault conditions. The system’s IntelliStart™ feature helps reduce the amount of current needed to start the unit by 70 percent. This helps to alleviate light flicker, reduce start-up noise, and increase compressor life, the company said.
The model’s brazed-plate heat exchangers help increase efficiency, performance, and reliability in a compact unit. Two high-efficiency scroll compressors also contribute to reliability and reduced operating costs, and sound-attenuating compressor blankets and double-isolation mounting plates help keep sound levels low.
For more information, visit www.waterfurnace.com.
Publication date: 08/31/2009