With all the late-spring heat scorching the country, air conditioning systems are being asked to perform up to their full capacity in many areas. When they can’t keep up, for whatever reason - breakdown, replacement, or simple undersizing - portable cooling systems can literally get clients out of a tight spot.
According to the manufacturers The NEWSspoke with, trends in this sector include a variety of new systems that can allow contractors to provide solutions to a wider array of customers. And this can give contractors more of an edge in a tight market.
THE EDGE“Over the last three decades, portable air conditioning has been established as a superior short-term cooling solution, not just within the HVAC community, but among the business community,” said Garth Tagge, national sales manager, Spot Coolers. “It is often specified by the end user as the means by which the contractor will provide interim cooling during construction, renovation, installation, or service intervals to existing a/c systems.
“Contractors who have not developed a relationship with a local, full-service, portable a/c provider often find themselves at a disadvantage when bidding a project that specifies portable air conditioning as the means by which to provide interim cooling during shutdowns, or in temporary situations,” he said. “The customers’ expectations for turnkey solutions mandate that a contractor can provide all potential solutions in order to be competitive and give them a leg up on their competitors.”
Common scenarios in which portable air conditioners can give contractors a competitive edge, he said, is to provide temporary cooling during equipment replacement, or indeed any temporary shutdown of the installed HVAC system. “A contractor who uses portables to maintain customer comfort, or protect electronic equipment from excessive heat during renovation, will usually have an edge over a competitor who does not,” said Clark Michel, vice president, Atlas Sales & Rentals Inc.
MORE OPPORTUNITIESTagge cautioned contractors against not considering all portable options, which could turn into a self-limiting situation.
“In the early years, when portable air conditioners were only widely available in an air-cooled configuration, eight out of 10 applications were adequately served,” said Tagge. “Today, with units available in air-cooled, water-cooled, split system, cart-mounted, and heat pump configurations, there is a portable unit that will solve any spot cooling problem effectively and most efficiently.
“Contractors that don’t deal with a local full-service provider will not always be offered the best cooling equipment for specific applications,” he continued. “Those 20 percent of applications that don’t use the most-effective equipment will not provide the same degree of satisfaction the customer is looking for.”
COMMON MISTAKESIf contractors want to achieve optimal use of a portable product, the interviewees recommended the following:
• “Two things tend to result in some degree of customer dissatisfaction when portable air conditioners are misapplied,” said Tagge. “The first is making the assumption that a spot cooler of equal capacity to the inoperative system it is replacing will provide the same degree of cooling.
“Installed systems are set up optimally when installed,” he explained. “That is, the cool air is distributed evenly throughout the space, through a duct system with multiple distribution points. When a spot cooler is installed - particularly when there is only one - all the evaporator air is discharged from a single point at the unit, which often does not mix evenly throughout the space to be cooled as effectively. This can result in hot spots in larger or demised spaces.”
• The second occurs in the setup, he said. “Portable air conditioners are most effective when used as spot coolers cooling localized hot spots. The garden-variety spot-cooling application is the small server room or space, where the unit directs all the cold air at the object requiring cooling, with the heat rejected into the return plenum.”
However, he added, they can be set up to provide effective space cooling with the addition of available plenums, nozzle kits, duct extenders, etc. “When applied as a space cooling unit, care must be made to distribute the cold air evenly. In addition, heat rejection must also be handled properly, and condenser exhaust must not only be ducted outside, but condenser makeup air should be sourced from outside the space as well, to prevent negative air pressure issues.”
• Michel said the single biggest mistake he sees is also related to the setup, though in a different way: “connecting a portable air conditioner to the wrong electrical power or improperly wiring it.” Then someone blames the equipment.
“Atlas test-runs every unit before delivery to make sure it is functioning,” he said. “Then we get a call from the field saying it doesn’t work. When that happens, 90 percent of the time there is something wrong with the electrical connection - for example, someone has tried to use single-phase power with a three-phase unit.”
IN A NUTSHELLHere is what they said contractors need to know:
• Make sure equipment can be available quickly. “Most contractors rent equipment to solve their customers’ short-term or seasonal problems,” said Tagge. “Hot weather and a/c unit failures - the two greatest use generators for portables - usually give little warning before they occur. Often, these needs are generated after business hours or on weekends. When they do, the need for a portable is yesterday.
“Make sure that the vendor you choose provides 24/7 service, is local, and can provide equipment quickly, can deliver the product, and has extensive inventory of all different types of equipment,” he said. “Chances are great that the event that triggered your customer’s need also triggered many others. A vendor that ran out of equipment when you needed it most is of little help.”
“Portable units are available around the clock,” said Michel. “If there is an emergency at midnight, as sometimes happens in data centers and other critical applications, you can call your portable cooling distributor and get immediate help.”
• Consider your clients’ specific needs. “Often, you are renting or purchasing a portable to solve a cooling problem in an equipment room (server, telephone, or computer room),” said Tagge. “Most businesses rely heavily on their communications equipment and can lose huge sums of money when these go down or fail.
“Make sure that the portable provider you use provides the premium brands and newer, up-to-date inventory to ensure the greatest degree of reliability. In addition, you want to deal with a provider that has financial strength and insurability in the event a product or application issue should arise. This is no time to be dealing with a minor or part-time player.”
• Think long term. “Though ideal for emergencies, portables are not just Band-Aids for short-term use,” said Michel. “They can also be an effective and economical source of permanent cooling. Examples include supplemental cooling of data centers, or primary cooling of offices and lobbies attached to non-air conditioned manufacturing or warehouse space.”
For more information, visit www.atlascooling.com or www.spotcoolers.com.