Manufacturers Recognize Need for Ease

May 19, 2008
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Miswiring can lead to callbacks on zoning system installations. This has made contractors reluctant to install them. However, changes in products (like Honeywell’s TrueZone) have made wiring much more intuitive.

Zoning controls are pretty standard in commercial HVAC systems; why hasn’t it caught on more in residential work?

According to several manufacturers, there has been a certain amount of contractor trepidation about the technology, related to callbacks and such, that really goes back to the design and installation of the systems themselves.

These manufacturers have started taking notice of the contractors’ needs.

Dan Joyce, channel marketing director, Homes North America, Environmental and Combustion Control, Honeywell, agreed that there is a big opportunity for residential zoning. “We zone the electricity and the plumbing,” he said. “Zoning is light switches and faucets for HVAC.”

“As manufacturers, zoning has been too complex for too long,” said Joyce. Three years of contractor research eventually resulted in “a product by our customers, for our customers.

“Complexity leads to lack of confidence,” he said. “Miswiring is the No.1 reason for callbacks. Setting DIP switches is No.2. It hasn’t been intuitive. We have very talented people, but it shouldn’t have to be rocket science. They also need a standard checkout process.” Screw terminal stripping can lead to warranty issues, or they can break off at the panel, he said. “It’s no wonder zoning isn’t being used.”

ZONES VS. MULTIPLES

During operation, data shows that “one system operates more efficiently than two,” said David Arneson, Honeywell’s product marketing manager for Residential Forced Air Zoning.

“There are two ways to zone, by equipment or by damper,” said Joyce. “It tends to be less expensive to install a bigger system and zone it, rather than two smaller systems.”

“When we talk to homeowners,” said Joyce, “three zones are what people really want at a minimum.” According to the 2006 American Home Comfort Study from Decision Analysts, 67 percent of people are uncomfortable due to hot and cold spots.

Honeywell’s TrueZone panel controls up to four zones. “We tried to make it as intuitive as possible,” said Arneson. “It’s a simple design with no exposed electronics. All electronics are concealed.”

With its 8-inch-wide footprint, “it’ll mount anywhere,” he said. Robust push terminals and wire channels have been modified to address the contractors’ needs. “A complaint we heard is that it’s too cramped to run wires.”

“It makes a big difference to solve the pain points,” said Joyce.

This Mr. Slim indoor unit applied in a classroom allows specific rooms to be zoned according to their times of use.

An installer challenge held in 2007 showed that the contestants could run panel wires up in one-half the time with an intuitive installation checkout, Dan said. A configurable time limit offers switching to an optional fuel for up to three hours. The panel is rated up to 165°F for attic installations. Its network zoning system satisfies demands with fewer numbers of equipment cycles.

Some ductless manufacturers offer their products as zoning solutions. “It’s tying into the homeowner’s dissatisfaction with the homeowner’s ducted system,” said Mike Smith, senior marketing manager, Mitsubishi Electric HVAC. On the high-end ducted system front, we’re seeing sophisticated damper control systems and additional condensing units controlling specific zones; or window units added for on-demand conditioning for space, with the added benefit of on-off operation on the low end.

“From our standpoint, we’re offering a better alternative as this applied ductless system for control of zones,” said Smith. “It’s a better investment in your home compared to window units, with better zone control delivering true comfort to each zone.” Home office and bonus rooms, he said, are ideal applications for ductless systems - “also bonus rooms, home theaters, in-law suites, special rooms, and zones created within homes. Homes are very diversified in the zone usage. There is specific climate control relative to the zone conditions or desires.”

The company’s products specialize in matching specific zone requirements and maintaining a desired set point. “Because we’re delivering the air from the indoor unit directly to the space, there is no need for ductwork,” said Smith. “It is applying a direct solution to an immediate customer need. In a few hours, a contractor on a routine service call for a central system can ask a homeowner if there is a room in their home that is never comfortable, like a Southwest-facing room. It’s pretty easy to offer this solution.

“When you zone a home and take each individual zone separately, it becomes more manageable to accurately size the HVAC equipment and deliver much more efficiently for each zone,” Smith said. “A ductless system can react quickly to the increased load applied to the space. Temperature is measured at the unit in the zone. There are not only Manual J considerations, but also diversity of usage.”

The company’s City Multi® system’s indoor fan on wall-mount systems runs continuously “with the power of a 40-W light bulb,” he added, “circulating air across the thermistor and coil, constantly monitoring and maintaining temperature. There’s also quite a plethora of options with filters, too.”

For contractors, this zoning solution offers “stability and growth in business, maximizing labor. The solution is minus the ductwork issues, accessories, and parts necessary for a forced-air ducted system,” Smith said. “A contractor looking for growth in his business is considering ductless because of the ability to differentiate his business, becoming part of an industry that is growing, on average, 17 percent.

“Contractors like the option of using this to direct business back their way. It puts room unit business back to the installed side.”

Dan Joyce of Honeywell demonstrates the more robust construction of the company’s TrueZone system. Three year contractor research eventually resulted in “a product by our customers, for our customers.”

MARKET AND TECHNOLOGY CHANGES

Residential zoning is being driven in new construction, Joyce said. “When homeowners are educated in the building options, people are willing to spend and invest more. In retrofit, analysts say people want zoning solutions. In retrofit, labor can make it not quite as advantageous.” He said there has been four times the growth in the company’s zoning business.

“We have seen many changes within the zoning market in recent years,” said Kurt Wessling, director of sales, Jackson Systems, LLC. “The first trend is that most of the major manufacturers of equipment are now offering their own brand of zoning that can be paired with their equipment. Most of these systems are proprietary in nature and have become more sophisticated as well.”

Integrated microprocessors have allowed the creation of zone control panels that are more flexible, he continued. “The panels are capable of handling all types of equipment, from single-stage units, multistage units, heat pumps, and even heat pumps with dual-fuel backup. Many zoning systems are also incorporating communications as well, so that the end user or contractor can communicate with the systems from remote locations,” he said.

“The complexity of the systems have grown; however, the controls to use the systems have become increasingly more user friendly.”

Changes in the technology “have made it possible for the manufacturers and contractors to meet the rising wants and needs of today’s educated consumers,” said Wessling. “Consumers want more features for less, while still demanding the highest of quality. The new zoning systems are able to deliver superior comfort for less cost than traditional methods, such as installing an additional unit.”

“Also, many consumers are asking for individual temperature control in many different areas of the home. Zoning tends to solve most of those issues and wants.”

Carrier’ Corp.’s Infinity System uses a single control to integrate and manage temperature, humidity, airflow, ventilation, IAQ, and zoning.

Rick Roetken, director of marketing, Carrier Residential and Light Commercial Systems, said hot and cold spots in a home can be eliminated through zoning. Up to eight different zone settings can be managed by the Infinity system (see the feature article "Technology Gives Homeowners Control" in this issue). “The Infinity System gives homeowners peace-of-mind with regard to system operation, energy savings and maintenance, and comfort like you never thought possible,” he said.

Zoning can also be achieved through individual systems linked together, like the City Multi ductless system applied to this exercise facility.

EDUCATION

“Education of the contractors from the zoning manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and wholesalers is allowing contractors to become more comfortable with zoning systems,” said Wessling. “The manufacturers and wholesalers are doing an incredible job of taking the mystery out of the zoning systems by holding detailed training sessions.

“Also, many of the functions of the zoning systems are now able to be handled by the control panels that were not possible before. The more the contractor has learned about the system’s setup, sequence of operation, wiring, and components, the more the contractor realizes that zoning is not that difficult to deal with. Education promotes confidence and confidence opens many doors for selling opportunities.”

Consumers are also becoming more comfortable with zoning, he said. “Automobile manufacturers have been zoning their newer model cars for years now. Consumers are used to having controls available to deliver different temperatures of conditioned air to the driver and passengers. The concept is no different for residences or commercial buildings.

“Our products have changed over the recent years to incorporate microprocessors in our control panels,” he continued. “This has allowed for more flexibility to change from one type of equipment to another. Also, we have been able to use a single discharge-air sensor for our limits to protect the equipment. We always had to use separate accessories to protect against exceeding high- and low-limit temperatures prior. This means less wiring for the contractor, and less cost.

“We have also been able to keep the boards from becoming too complicated,” Wessling added.

“Resistors and jumpers have been replaced with dipswitches that the contractors can merely throw into position. The boards have also shrunk in physical size to allow contractors to install them in smaller areas. We have also incorporated the use of ‘air brakes’ to quiet the operation of the zone dampers. This eliminates callbacks for noise issues from consumers.

“Overall, advances in technology, education of contractors and end users, and demand have propelled the growth of the zoning market in recent years,” Wessling said. “The key is to provide simple, reliable, quality products with outstanding technical support for the contractors. I feel it is the duty of the zoning manufacturers to provide cost-effective channels for the contractors to promote our products.

“A great partnership between contractors, their technicians and sales staff, and the manufacturer can provide an almost endless stream of mutually beneficial opportunities. We are excited about the future of the market and look forward to helping contractors with their future control needs.”

“When you start offering systems that can safely address more than three zones, say up to an eight-zone application, you’re really talking about a whole-house application at that point,” said Smith. “That’s getting us into the arena of providing whole-house solutions.”

Publication date: 05/19/2008

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