Where Is The IAQ Market Headed?

August 12, 2004
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There is no doubt that indoor air quality (IAQ) is still a hot topic among consumers, and a hot market in the HVAC industry. Is it starting to cool down? Our best sources say no, noting that homeowners require less education on IAQ products than ever before.

"IAQ in total is a hot issue," said Jeff Edgars, director of marketing/distribution for White-Rodgers, an Emerson Climate Technology Co. (www.white-rodgers.com). "There is much greater consumer awareness than there used to be," Edgars said, thanks in a large part to all the attention given to mold.

"There's a reason why IAQ is a fairly recent phenomenon (over the last 20 years or so)," said Rob Goodfellow, marketing manager of Prostockâ„¢, the Replacement Parts Division of Rheem Manufacturing Co., Air Conditioning Division (www.rheemac.com). "As homes become tighter and more energy efficient, the air we breathe stays trapped and gets recirculated by our HVAC systems. It doesn't just seem like more people have allergies today when compared to 20 or 30 years ago ... more people do."

Consumers might know more, he acknowledged, but they also need reliable information. A Google search for "Indoor Air Quality," Goodfellow said, resulted in two million hits. "Homeowners are not going to ask to have the latest IAQ products installed," he said. "The level of knowledge is just not there."

"The overlying trend is consumer awareness," Edgars said. However, customers may not know what to do to improve their home's IAQ, he said. This is where the contractor steps in.

The Role Of The Contractor

"We're seeing more sophistication at the contractor level" when it comes to IAQ products, services, and communication, Edgars said, but he characterized increasing contractor awareness of IAQ solutions as "one of our challenges." Homeowners want and are willing to pay for IAQ solutions, he said, but oftentimes it's up to the contractor to educate the consumer. "These products require a little bit more of a sales effort," Edgars said.

"The most profitable contractors are the ones who can effectively assist shoppers in understanding the value in energy savings, environmental impact, indoor health, and increased comfort deliverables gained from IAQ products and higher efficiency systems," agreed Goodfellow.

Communication, Goodfellow said, is the key to contractor IAQ sales. He recommended asking questions like, "Do any of your family members suffer with allergies?" or "Are there smokers in your household?" Follow up with information about air cleaners or fresh air ventilators, he advised.

Moreover, most consumers don't know that furnaces with ECM motors, such as Rheem and Ruud units, "can run continuously on very low speed," Goodfellow said, "allowing air to be constantly circulated to maximize home comfort. If an air cleaner is part of the system, the circulated air gets cleaned continuously of airborne particulates." Contractors need to provide this information.

With this knowledge, Goodfellow said, "The consumer can receive improved air quality and home comfort, and the contractor can make additional profits. The industry's communications challenge is to effectively explain to end users the benefits and advantages of improving indoor health through efficient total home comfort systems."

He recommended that contractors take "a systematic approach to home comfort" that includes "quizzing customers about their current indoor climate conditions; finding out what their expectations are from a new system; and using the customers' answers to provide detailed information about improving air quality."

The next step, he said, is for the contractor to propose "suitable equipment based on climate, cost, and customer expectations."

Product Solutions

"Most consumers perceive the solution to IAQ as a portable, tabletop product," Goodfellow said. "They don't equate IAQ to central heating and air conditioning systems, and they don't understand how different types of IAQ products, such as air cleaners, UV [ultraviolet] lights, and ventilators, interact with the HVAC system to solve different IAQ problems. And therefore they fail to ask."

Edgars said those one-room air cleaners are also helping raise consumer awareness. This concern can be parlayed into sales of whole-house air-cleaning systems. "Some consumers pay hundreds of dollars for a one-room air cleaner," he said. They need to know that whole-house air cleaners can take care of the every room in the house.

"Our challenge as an industry is to help them understand the breadth of solutions available," he said.

The Comfort Plus system from White-Rodgers includes several components that work together to improve IAQ.


In addition to variable-speed motors and air filters, contractors can offer energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) and heat recovery ventilators (HRVs), humidifiers, zoning, thermostats, and UV lights to enhance indoor comfort and improve air quality.

The industry is at the forefront of providing indoor comfort solutions, he said, yet our customers believe the answer to IAQ is in tabletop units sold through catalogs and big box retail stores. It's our industry's job to help consumers understand the value side of the IAQ equation while continuing to provide them with increased comfort from higher efficiency systems and indoor air quality products.

"Air cleaners - that's where most of the awareness is," Edgars said. "Whole-house air cleaners can address many types of comfort or health issues." White-Rodgers' Comfort Plusâ„¢ system includes SST Series electronic air cleaner and ACM Series media air cleaner, said to be able to recirculate and filter the air in the home at up to 55-percent efficiency.

The line also includes Premium Comfort-Set thermostats, which combine sophisticated control with simple-to-use programming; UV 100 (single-bulb) and UV 200 (dual-bulb) germicidal UVC lights; and HSP Series steam power humidifiers, HFT Series flow-through humidifiers, and HDT Series drum by-pass humidifiers.

UV And Heat Recovery

Edgars said the industry has made great strides in UV light acceptance. "Our solutions are getting better," he said, "and pretty affordable, too. People are always amazed at how affordable they can be."

Products like GE's (www.geindustrial.com) HRV/ERV system are growing in popularity as a means to control IAQ without incurring energy losses.

The company has improved its offering with a new system that combines environmental sensors and its variable-speed GE ECMâ„¢ motors with an advanced HRV/ERV. The system varies building inlet and outlet air pressure to create optimum IAQ over a wide range of building conditions, the company said.

According to GE, two variable-speed, electronically commutated motors provide tightly controlled static-pressure balance within the building envelope; a fan-speed tracking control creates the desired offsets between inlet and outlet fan pressures based on environmental inputs such as moisture sensing, ambient and internal heating or cooling setpoints, appliance use, and building power consumption. An optional chemical sensor is designed to detect volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and most aerosol-borne compounds.

The building pressurization can be accomplished on a zoned basis, the company said, in response to minute indoor and outdoor changes (such as turning on an exhaust fan or increasing the number of building occupants). The company also said it believes it can "decrease or eliminate mold growth by keeping the envelope under a very slight positive pressure, thus exhausting pocketed moisture required for mold development."

"The interesting aspect of this type of sophisticated system is the relative simplicity with which we can achieve this level of control," said Paul Selking, GE ECM product manager.

Honeywell (Minneapolis) has introduced the F111U Series media commercial air cleaner with UV, designed for applications with drop ceilings such as classrooms, day care facilities, medical clinics, assisted living facilities, correctional institutions, food processing/prep areas, veterinary clinics, and kennels.

"The UV air treatment kills microbial contaminants in the air that circulates through the unit at up to 900 cfm," the company said. The air cleaner fits in a standard 2- by 4-foot opening and uses a multi-direction Coanda airflow pattern to circulate air within the space. Multiple units may be installed in large spaces.

Steril-Aire Inc. (www.steril-aire.com) has published a new general products catalog that showcases its expanded line of UVC Emittersâ„¢ for mold and microbial control, enhanced IAQ, and energy savings.

The catalog describes the company's complete line of UVC devices and accessories for commercial, health care, food processing, school, industrial, and residential applications. Life-cycle cost information, UVC output data, and other technical information are included.

(Photo courtesy of Emerson Climate Products.)

Sidebar: Customers Benefit From IAQ Products

Do your customers have pets, allergies, or babies with developing immune systems? They could benefit from some of today's IAQ products. Here are some reasons why they should consider IAQ products, according to the American Lung Association (www.lungUSA.org):

  • Nearly 75 percent of Americans live with someone who has a respiratory illness.

  • High-efficiency filters can be more effective than standard fiberglass filters in capturing pollen, pet dander, smoke, and other potentially harmful microparticles.

    Publication date: 08/16/2004

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