Regulations a Real Drag for HVAC Blowers
The blower marketplace is in a state of flux as it adapts to shifting regulations and consumer needs
Nearly every HVAC equipment manufacturer is chasing peak efficiency, regardless of the component or product. OEMs are striving to improve efficiencies at all costs and seeking ways to offer better options and improved solutions to consumers. However, in the blower marketplace, tightening global regulations are forcing manufacturers to create products that cater to highly-specific consumer needs based upon different requirements in different regions.
THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS
Jennifer Heerschap, national sales manager, wholesale products division, Continental Fan Mfg. Inc., said that although there have been slight modifications in certain types of fan impellers (e.g. serrated edges on leading or trailing edges), the focus today is on improving motor efficiencies. “Europe has been using electronically commutated motors (ECMs) and DC motors for some time as a result of tighter regulations,” she said. “In North America, we’ve been hearing for the past decade about the shift to greater efficiencies using ECMs and DC motors, but it seems that only recently have these technologies become assets in the residential HVAC market. Certain industries in North America have been using this technology with ventilation for some time, but now it’s making its way into people’s homes.”
Tom Tjernlund, marketing executive, Tjernlund Products, also highlighted that ECMs and small inverters to operate DC motors are being used in more applications to increase operating efficiencies and for efficient speed control. He believes there are increased efforts by designers to match motor/housing/blower wheel attributes to get the best performance and efficiency for a specific application.
“[There are an] increasing number of blowers developed for specific applications and an evolving market for new applications that incorporate intelligent blower control,” he said.
Andy Krug, product manager, EC fans, cabinet thermal solutions, fans & thermal management business group, Delta Products Corp., added that lower energy consumption and greater efficiency will continue to drive demand and new product design with new applications being uncovered every day.
Krug also said Delta’s lineup keeps expanding to larger diameter fans and blowers while backward-curved impellers are growing in popularity.
“Backward-curved impellers have been popular for their stability in high static pressure environments and for their enhanced operating efficiency (versus forward-curved),” he added.
REFINING PRODUCT LINES
With tighter regulations and constant attention needing to be paid toward increasing efficiencies, manufacturers are also cognizant of the consumer base’s shifting needs.
“Homeowners today are more educated about ventilation than ever, thanks in great part to the various online publications that display guidelines for ventilation and news on the latest and greatest our industry has to offer,” said Heerschap. “We are also seeing the most ‘tech-savvy’ generation ever entering into home ownership. These individuals want their homes to reflect their relationship with technology and the world it has created for them. This means automation with systems activating as required and being able to be accessed remotely, whether by smartphone, control, occupancy sensor, humidity sensor, etc.”
With these thoughts in mind, Continental Fan Mfg. Inc. recently launched the TF Tranquil Series ceiling mount bath fan. Heerschap said Continental Fan offers easy-to-install controls that allow occupancy and humidity sensors to be easily plugged into the unit.
Tjernlund Products has also been at work updating its portfolio of products utilizing blower technology. Specifically, the company has expanded its line of products dedicated to clothes dryer exhausts.
“Residential dryers are more frequently installed in places where their max exhaust duct length is exceeded, such as apartments and condominiums, and facilities with laundry rooms or laundromats want to reduce lint-related fire risk and maintenance costs,” said Tjernlund. “We’ve also expanded our line of air transfer fans beyond room-to-room models with our new high-velocity D-Strat fan for commercial spaces with higher ceilings. The room-to-room fans take care of the room or space not being directly served by a mini-split air handler or ductless heater. The D-Strat fan complements rooftop units and unit heaters by transferring air stratified at the ceiling level down to the occupied space. In both cases, we are making more efficient use of the conditioned air.”
Tjernlund also noted the importance of having products designed for a specific use.
“The transfer fans use extremely low-watt motors and their blower wheels and housing are chosen for quiet operation,” he said. “The dryer booster fans have specially designed material-handling blower wheels and incorporate Tjernlund-designed operating controls that efficiently and safely boost a clothes dryer’s exhaust velocity.”
With the knowledge that efficiency standards and regulations will only increase over time, Tjernlund took a look outside the box at something new that could shake up the blower marketplace in the future, even if it hasn’t quite penetrated it just yet: 3-D printing.
“[I see] 3-D or additive printing of custom housings and blower wheels being used for development purposes and then eventually production products,” he said.
DOE ADOPTS AMCA 230-15
Changing regulations are not limited strictly to the blower market. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently adopted Air Movement and Control Association Intl. Inc. (AMCA) 230-15, which expands the scope of fan measurement to 24 feet in diameter. This unifies the fan industry under one standard and ensures power usage and efficiency requirements will follow this standard.
Jonathan Hollist, research and development engineer, MacroAir detailed what these changes mean for the industry in a Q&A:
The NEWS: What changes does AMCA 230-15 entail?
Hollist: AMCA 230-99 initiated the testing format for ceiling fans where the thrust (difference between the measured weight when the fan is off and when it is on) is measured and then used to calculate airflow (cfm). Unfortunately, the equation for cfm was incorrect. Due to a bad assumption of how air flows through the fan, airflow values were about 41 percent higher than they actually are. A subsequent version of AMCA 230 worked to fix this error, but the standard’s scope was narrowed to fans 6 feet in diameter and less. The AMCA 230-15 contains the correct equation, and the scope was increased to capture fans up to 24 feet in diameter. In fact, it could work for fans even larger, but manufacturers typically do not make them larger than 24 feet.
The NEWS: Have irregular measurement practices been an issue for the industry?
Hollist: Simply, yes. There is still the confusion that exists between 230-99 and 230-15. Sales people are reluctant to adopt the new standard because they are up against competition that does not use the new standard, or customers remember the old numbers and wonder why the fan has been de-rated.
The NEWS: What exactly does this mean for the future of the high-velocity, low speed (HVLS) fan industry?
Hollist: Since AMCA does not have the power to mandate that all fans be tested to AMCA 230-15, the pressure must come from somewhere else. At MacroAir, we are trying to put the pressure on our competition by showing our numbers and asking customers if they have comparable data from competitors. Additionally, the DOE has issued two different standards for ceiling fans that use AMCA 230-15 as a reference. The first is a testing standard that says all fans sold in the U.S. must be tested; fans that are larger than 7 feet in diameter are to be tested to AMCA 230-15 (smaller fans have a different test standard). The second standard is an efficiency standard that requires the tested fans to meet a specified efficiency. To confuse matters more, the testing standard is in effect, but the efficiency standard is on hold pending the review of the new presidential and DOE administration. Currently, the producers of HVLS fans need to test their fans but don’t need to report the results or meet any sort of minimum efficiency. Basically, this is a slow-turning ship that takes time to come about. As competitive pressure and government regulations take shape, all HVLS fans will be tested to AMCA 230-15 and customers can compare the performance of fans on a level playing field.
The NEWS: What changes will come about because of these regulations?
Hollist: Either through competitive drive or regulations, the effectiveness and efficiency of HVLS fans will improve. Manufacturers will look for more efficient motor and drive systems and blade configurations.
The NEWS: Do you feel these changes are good for the industry as a whole?
Hollist: On the whole, these changes are good for the industry. It prevents some manufacturers from claiming impossibly large numbers out of thin air. We do have one issue with the way efficiency is measured. Commonly, cfm per watt is used as the efficiency metric for fans. This seems intuitive as we can compare how much airflow the fan produces to how much electrical power it uses. However, due to the natural physics of a fan system, the cfm per watt at a lower fan speed is much greater than that at higher speeds. This could lead to manufacturers artificially de-rating their fans to achieve a high cfm per watt value. At MacroAir, we have been championing a better measurement of efficiency that is consistent no matter what the speed is. This compares the wind power generated by the fan to the electrical power used by the fan. We will continue to push for this better measurement both in competition and in regulations.
The NEWS: Why is this change happening now?
Hollist: The competition and market have grown enough to need more regulation and standardization for the HVLS industry.
Publication date: 5/15/2017