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Air-Source Heat Pumps

Heat Pumps Gain in Popularity

May 23, 2011
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Heat pump sales are on the rise, and the numbers for the first quarter of 2011 are showing a pattern for increased growth as 2011 progresses. Supported by the numbers recently released by the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), this growth could present HVACR contractors with new opportunities to make money and provide more energy-efficient options to their customers. How can this be accomplished?

WHY ASK WHY?

Simple math reveals the increasing popularity of air-source heat pumps in comparison to 2010. AHRI tabulated a 17 percent increase in the year-to-date shipment numbers of air-source heat pumps for the first quarter of 2011. In January, the total air-source heat pump shipment numbers were up 8 percent, totaling 126,611. The organization reported February’s numbers up 40 percent, as compared to the same month last year, totaling 147,522 units. March’s newly released numbers increased 9 percent to 177,934 as compared to March of 2010.

Overall, the shipment of air-source heat pump equipment rose in what some would argue was a significant manner, especially in the climate regions where heat pump installations make the most sense.

Debate as to why these numbers are increasing range from economic recovery to R-22 phaseout, but one of the more popular contractor responses is that tax credits and utility rebates for choosing certain types of equipment are helping push that market sector’s numbers. Another prime consideration is the increasing cost of gas and electricity.

“The request for increased efficiency has helped heat pump sales significantly,” said Mark Falade, a contractor for Marx Diversified Interests in Hebron, Conn. “People are looking for a way around oil prices and the smart HVAC guys are recommending heat pumps. Many utilities are offering rebate incentives and that helps too.”

The increased success, however, is somewhat limited to the region a contractor is in and the sector in which they work. Contractors like Lou Bindner, co-founder of Climate Engineering Inc. in Denver, aren’t all seeing the type of heat pump growth others are.

“For a lot of reasons, heat pumps have not enjoyed the popularity in the commercial-industrial market in our area as in other parts of the country,” said Bindner. “One of the reasons is the sub-zero temperatures we see a lot of are not conducive to air-to-air units. Also, much of our operating area has a layer of heavy clay near the surface which seems to have limited ground source systems as well.”

Dave Hutchins of Bay Area Air Conditioning Inc. in Crystal River and New Port Richey, Fla., hasn’t seen growth in his area of sales, but not for the reason one would think.

“Heat pump sales haven’t really increased in Florida because it has been a heat pump market since the early 1980s,” he explained. “In 1979, selling heat pumps - when other contractors shunned them - landed us the largest developer in the area. We never looked back.”

Mike Michel, vice president of marketing for R.E. Michel Co. Inc. in Glen Burie, Md., pointed out that his company hasn’t seen as dramatic an increase in sales as others have either.

“For the first four months of 2011, our ratio of heat pump sales to split system a/c sales has increased only 2 percent, and we are not experiencing an above normal increase,” he said. “I am going to presume that is because heat pump sales already constitute a very large share of our total split system business.”

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

Should a contractor enter the heat pump market? According to Paul Wadsworth, general manager of P.K. Wadsworth Heating and Cooling in Cleveland, heat pumps are something every contractor should consider.

“If gas is not available or utility prices change for the worse, heat pumps can be a good alternative,” he said. “Contractors ought to have heat pump installations in the bag, and depending upon the market and utility costs there are opportunities to promote them. Just be sure to get training and become confident with the equipment before beginning to sell it.”

The number of contractors entering the heat pump market is seemingly trending upwards; but with the increased use of this product comes an increased demand of application knowledge and business strategy. Contractors will likely find that fitting any new piece of equipment into their business requires a new technical knowledge and a specific plan as to how selling and installing that product will fit into their current business model.

Sonny Knobloch, president of Help! Air Conditioning and Heating Inc. in New Orleans, advised that contractors entering the heat pump market should make sure they understand how their company wants heat pump sales and installations set up.

“A large number of companies do not have any type of written plan for setting up the operation of the different type of heat pumps for their area,” he said. “It is mandatory that the company take the lead on heat pump procedures and then communicate that standard operating platform to all members of the team.”

THEY SAID IT

As for the future of heat pump sales, it appears to be bright. Further customer education and higher efficiency requirements will likely drive regional usage upward, especially where new markets are being uncovered. Predictions vary, but the following list of contractor predictions brings light to different issues and trends to watch for:

• Dual-fuel systems will affect the heat pump sector in the near future.

“I believe heat pump installations may decrease on existing dual-fuel systems,” said Paul Sammataro, president of Samm’s Heating and Air Conditioning in Plano, Texas. “When we encounter dual-fuel systems that need replacement, most customers, knowing the benefits of dual fuel, do not want to go back to a heat pump.”

• More heat pumps will be installed as combos in the residential sector.

“People like the moderately warm air of a heat pump during moderate weather,” said Aaron York Sr., founder of York’s Quality Air in Indianapolis. “They are more comfortable with the constant flow of moderate heat as opposed to the hot air; then cool air from a gas furnace.”

• Energy costs will continue to drive sales.

“The increasing cost of natural gas and electricity will continue to push strong growth through 2013 with 15 plus SEER equipment,” said Louis Hobaica, president of Hobaica Services in Phoenix. “Likely, more heat pumps and less natural gas equipment will be installed.”

• New equipment will change the game.

“I believe that higher efficiency air source heat pumps will replace the water source heat pump market in the residential sector,” said John McCarthy Sr., president of McCarthy’s One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning in Omaha, Neb. “Solar photovoltaic added to a heat pump will be one of the next big technology steps.”

FEEDBACK REQUESTED: What’s your prediction for the heat pump market? Go to www.facebook.com/achrnews and leave your prediction there.

Sidebar: Apps Help

The increasing popularity of heat pumps is pushing the technology and its surrounding accessories to new levels. One of the more recent advances to help contractors is the Emerson e-Saver™ app.

This mobile application is available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android platforms. It provides annual cost savings comparisons for residential HVAC system replacement options.

After inputting information like current system, geographic location, and data on the contractor’s recommended system, the e-Saver app provides up to three replacement options with cost savings based on annual heating and cooling run hours. The results automatically populate a report, which can be customized with the contractor’s contact information, and emailed to the homeowner for their review.

The app provides on-the-go calculations for residential contractors analyzing forced-air HVAC system conversion options. Contractors input current system efficiency standards, along with their considered replacement option for comparison. The e-Saver app allows for these system options to be compared to current industry minimum standards, as well as a high efficiency heat pump featuring the Copeland Scroll variable speed compressor. Up to three options are provided to help the contractor explain the annual cost savings to the homeowner.

Find the app at www.emersonclimate.com/mobileapp.

Publication date: 05/23/2011

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