Zoning Education: Yesterday, Today, Future

May 17, 2010
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Attendees apply classroom discussion to actual simulated system conditions in the lab, guided by Arzel’s Joe Ramunni.

At any industry meeting these days, somewhere in the goals and objectives for that meeting will come the mantra, “We need to better train technicians and attract new blood into the ranks of HVAC service technicians.” The sense of urgency for the industry is palpable.

Manufacturers are making equipment that requires fewer installers to have more sophisticated knowledge. Distributors understand that you can only sell products that can be successfully installed; contractors are under increasing demands for comfort and efficiency from their customers.

So what’s the big deal? We have equipment that is absolutely capable of handling the job. The challenge facing technicians today is to adopt a system performance mentality, instead of just an equipment application of increased-efficiency units. The curriculum today needs to focus on delivered service and meeting the lifestyle and comfort agenda of consumers.

COMFORT AGENDA?

Let me define comfort agenda. Consumers in 2010 are well skilled in multitasking. They live that balancing act daily. System design had better hit all of their hot buttons: air noise, system efficiency, flexibility for change, communication, and green and sustainable features. Consumers want it all and they want it now.

In order to respond, contractors are really under the gun to get their staff ready to design, sell, install, and service systems with the sophistication that allows the finished product to deliver the promise that today’s technologies are capable of delivering.

There is good news on the horizon. It comes in the form of substantial initiatives to train HVAC trainers. The HVAC Excellence National Educators & Trainers Conference and the HVACR & Plumbing Instructor Workshop were recently held. The curricula and topics focused on getting the core principles out into the hands of tech school and industry trainers, updating the basics with new information on system performance, and introducing important airflow topics that act as the framework for this comfort puzzle.

Students need to enter the field with some important, yet very different, knowledge bases:

• What it takes to keep equipment operating;

• Maintenance, troubleshooting, and repair;

• What it takes to provide system performance;

• Equipment choice, control strategies, and airflow management.

TRAINING FOR TECHS

It is way too common for technicians to become satisfied with their ability to “fix” the equipment, leaving system performance, or lack of it, to the salesperson that designed it. The technician of tomorrow will need to be trained to test system performance, explain findings to the consumer, and make recommendations required to meet the expectations the consumer is looking for.

Today’s HVAC technicians need to understand the dynamics of the air, from the point of entry at the return grille to its delivery at the register. It is critical that they grasp how airflow is generated, and the potential Btu capacity of the air that is provided by the equipment that heats, cools, and pushes it.

Techs need to acquire an understanding of how systems are sized and designed, and the limitations of those designs. This includes understanding how variable the load in a structure is, and how it changes by the hour, the day, and the season. They must have a basic understanding of what can be done to manipulate delivered Btus to meet the real-time loads of each area of the structure, at any given time of day.

Today’s HVAC consumers are looking to control their environments in the most efficient way we can provide.

UNDERSTANDING ZONING

Arzel realized a few years ago that one obstacle to fully accessing the market is an overall lack of understanding of why zoning is a practical offering, and how it interacts with an HVAC system. To address that problem, in 2006 the company established Comfort College, the first lab-based zoning course. Successful completion of the course also earns technicians 10 hours of North American Technician Excellence (NATE) credit.

Using the classroom and the Zoning Dynamics Lab, technicians and contractors can experience hands-on airflow principles and measure delivered Btus in a zoned HVAC system. The hands-on lab is vital to reach the technician, providing the “I had to see it to believe it” experience.

Arzel has now begun working with many schools across the country to help them develop and implement a Forced Air Zoning program for both classroom and lab settings. In 2009, the company initiated an Educational Partnership program to offer support materials and program information for technical schools that offer HVAC curriculum and are looking to expand into a residential zoning program. The Demo Lease program was developed to provide current and functional zoning systems that would be installed in school labs and used for hands-on instruction.

Topics that need to be integrated into this program are:

• The limitations and challenges of HVAC system design (variable load realities of a structure, seasonal diversity of cfm requirements, setback programs that meet the occupancy patterns of the structure, and return air challenges).

• Rethinking the application of zoning products (equipment tolerance and adaptability to zoning, the real world of cfm limitation and ductwork, and understanding proper equipment application).

• Lack of understanding of bypass theory (the true purpose of bypass air, the proper sizing of bypass ducts, and the effects of bypass air on equipment capacity).

• Discussion of the application of multi-stage equipment (meeting the more typical load requirements with variable-speed equipment, the downside of low-stage operation, how zoning enhances variable-speed equipment, and how variable-speed equipment enhances zoning).

The future in HVAC is tied to more sophisticated technology. No doubt, much of it will have a plug-and-play feel. But it needs to work together properly in order for the system to meet customer expectations.

I like the analogy of a symphony orchestra. Each musician is certainly talented and is an artist, but a conductor always takes the podium and directs the orchestra. Similarly, zoning technology will apply the art to an increasingly complex and efficient system. It will direct the air to complete the comfort agenda of today’s demanding customers.

Publication date: 05/17/2010

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