As consumers continue to look for ways to save money on their energy bills, manufacturers of air movement and ventilation products are reporting increased sales in some of their most energy-efficient products.
As consumers continue to look for ways to save money on their energy bills, manufacturers of air movement and ventilation products are reporting increased sales in some of their most energy-efficient products.
As home and building owners continue to look for ways to save money, manufacturers ofair movement and ventilationproducts are reporting growing popularity in energy recovery ventilators (ERVs), air curtains,electronically commutated motors(ECMs), HVLS (high-volume, low-speed) fans, and ventilation control systems.

Green Acres

As HVAC products become increasingly energy efficient across the board, ECMs are gaining in popularity, especially in furnaces, packaged products, condensing units, and air handlers. The variable-speed motors are based on a direct-current (dc) design, as opposed to the alternating-current (ac) design of the single-speed permanent split capacitor (PSC) motor. Due to its ability to operate at different speeds, the ECM is inherently more energy efficient and runs cooler than single-speed motors.

The energy savings and flexibility of the ECM have made its use so preferable that in Ontario, Canada, a recent change to the Ontario Building Code will require that furnaces installed in new-construction projects in the province must be equipped with an ECM, after Dec. 31, 2014.

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In Wisconsin, as many as eight out of 10 newly installed furnaces contain ECMs. According to Focus on Energy, an organization that partners with utility companies to help deliver energy-efficiency services, furnaces with ECMs “have lower annual operating costs and can save $80 to $380 per year, depending on how you use the furnace fan.”

Greenheck has been working to perfect its Vari-Green Motor, an ECM that Tony Rossi, vice president of marketing for Greenheck, said is 30 percent more efficient than a PSC motor. The goal of the Vari-Green Motor, he added, is to decrease energy consumption and maintenance while increasing longevity and controllability of the motor.

“Compared to a belt-driven fan with a PSC motor, we can provide a Vari-Green motor for the same price,” Rossi said. “Plus, it eliminates the maintenance costs.”

Greenheck’s engineers designed the Vari-Green Motor primarily for the company’s fan applications, Rossi said. “They can be used for building ventilation, including bathrooms and kitchens, and they can be used in schools, where you need to exhaust the stale, spent air and bring in fresh air.

“We’re selling hundreds of these every month, and the numbers are increasing,” Rossi added. “It’s very, very affordable for anyone who wants to save energy, and who doesn’t want to save energy?”

Recovering Energy

Also gaining quickly in popularity are energy recovery ventilators (ERVs), which capture energy from exhausted commercial and residential building air and use it to pre-condition fresh air as it enters the building. The process reduces the amount of energy needed to heat or cool the air to the desired temperature inside the building.

“They use energy wheels that transfer both heat and humidity,” explained Daniel Goulet, product manager for air-handling units for Systemair. “In warm weather, as the air is being exhausted and goes through the energy recovery wheel, it dries and cools the wheel, so when the wheel turns it allows the warm, humid air from the outside to be pre-cooled and dehumidified a bit.”

Systemair’s Topvex Series air-handling units contain ERVs that use ECMs, Goulet added, which further adds to the energy savings. “They are much more efficient than other motors, especially when you want to operate them at a slower speed.”

The payback period for an ERV is also relatively short — from just months to a few years, depending on the system — though that is not the only benefit of installing an ERV.

“If you’re reducing the amount of energy required to temper the incoming air, in some cases, you can reduce the size of your heating or air conditioning system,” Goulet said. “So what you pay for upfront for an ERV, you can save it quickly by reducing the size of your HVAC units.”

Goulet said that though the technology has been around for more than half a century, it has only started to become widely used in the last decade or so, due to the increased need for ventilation in new homes.

“We’ve seen an upswing in the early- to mid-2000s — that’s when we saw more people being aware of trying to build their houses more efficiently, and one aspect of that is the ventilation,” Goulet said. “As we’re building houses tighter and tighter, it’s like living in a Ziploc bag. We need to provide more ventilation because we can’t rely on cracks in the walls to ventilate the home anymore.”

The Fresh Air Challenge

Tom Jackson, CEO of Jackson Systems, agreed that as homes are built tighter and tighter, the need to bring in fresh air is increasing. “The IAQ is much worse than the outdoor air quality, so we have to bring that air in,” he said. “There’s a push to bring in fresh air.”

But if investing in an ERV is not in a consumer’s budget, there are alternative ways to ventilate a home or building while still saving energy and money.

“If you don’t want the expense of an ERV, which is the ideal solution but costs several thousand dollars and is complicated to install, we make a simple product that allows you to bring in fresh air,” Jackson said. “It’s a damper that opens or closes when the heat or a/c is running. The air comes in through the return, so when the fresh air is delivered to the space, it’s a little more temperate.”

Jackson said the company’s Ventilation Control System is recognized not only because of its simplicity, but also because of increasing regulations that require new homes to bring in outside air.

“Several states mandate that you bring in fresh air, so you have no choice but to use either an ERV or our product if you want to save energy,” Jackson said. “There are more and more states doing that — it’s definitely a trend.”

Efficiently heating and cooling a building while also making sure it is properly ventilated is a complicated balancing act, Jackson said. “As we come up with new building codes, the force is always to move toward energy efficiency. One of the ways to achieve that is to make the home a lot tighter, but when a house becomes so tight that there’s no natural infiltration of fresh air, that’s a new challenge.”

He added, “We want the building to be as tight and energy efficient as possible, but we also need to make sure we don’t have stale air.”

HVLS Circulation

In addition to using energy recovery systems and dampers to save money while ventilating a building, consumers are removing some of the burden from their HVAC systems by utilizing high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans to circulate air. Traditionally, HVLS fans, which are larger in diameter than residential ceiling fans, have been used in agricultural and commercial applications, such as barns, warehouses, recreation centers, and gymnasiums.

But MacroAir president and CEO Eddie Boyd said that is changing.

“We are seeing an increase in demand from clients with small spaces that are looking to utilize HVLS fans,” he said. “Although the space may be small, they, too, are looking for energy efficiency and are realizing HVLS technology can achieve this by supplementing HVAC systems.”

Boyd said using HVLS fans, such as those manufactured by MacroAir, can decrease indoor temperatures by 5-15˚F. “If a business doesn’t have to run an air conditioning unit as frequently, they can save about 20 percent on cooling costs. For small businesses with small spaces, this savings can make a big difference to the bottom line.”

MacroAir fans can also run in reverse, Boyd added. That feature makes them useful even in colder weather, when they can aid in destratification — pushing warm air at the top of a room toward the floor — to warm a room without creating a noticeable draft. The fans “can be a cost-effective solution to air movement needs, whether operating in tandem with or even replacing HVAC systems in small spaces,” Boyd said.

To meet the increasing demand for HVLS fans in smaller spaces, MacroAir recently added a 6-foot-blade size to its AirStar line. “Our newest fan, AirElite, was also developed to meet the needs of small spaces where the fan may be more visible than in a larger warehouse or industrial space,” Boyd said.

MacroAir is also seeing a high demand for its 8-, 10-, and 12-foot fans.

“Overall, the trend of energy-efficient products is not new, but, for our HVLS industry sector, we are seeing small spaces looking to take advantage of the benefits HVLS fans have provided to large industrial or commercial spaces for more than 10 years.”

The Invisible Door

Another way small businesses are supplementing their HVAC systems is by installing air curtains over open doors and windows. Air curtains generate an insulating wall of air that moves across an open space, creating an invisible barrier that keeps out insects, dust, and fumes while keeping the indoor temperature constant.

“We’re starting to see these being used on front doors of hospitals, hotels, and schools,” said Miranda Berner, of Berner Corp. “You’d want it if people are coming in and out of your door a lot, or if the door is left open for periods of time.”

Air curtains, she explained, also help with preventing ambulance fumes from infiltrating hospital emergency rooms, keeping car exhaust from entering fast-food restaurants through drive-thru windows, keeping warehouses comfortable when loading dock doors are open, and preventing bugs and other debris from entering a restaurant kitchen and potentially contaminating the food.

“Without it, you’re running your heating and cooling system more often than you need to,” Berner said, adding that the payback period for an air curtain is one to three years on average.

Steve Rosol, president and CEO of Mars Air Systems, said he has also noticed an increased demand for air curtains in commercial applications.

“Air curtains have a proven effectiveness for separating two environments of dissimilar temperatures,” he said. They are gaining popularity not only as a standalone device, but also when used in conjunction with other high-efficiency energy equipment within the overall HVACR system.

“Whether it’s heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration applications, when used in conjunction with these systems, air curtains further enhance the efficiency of these units by making them work with less effort, less frequently.”

Consumers are more educated than ever before and recognize air curtains as being “a low-cost investment to not only enhance the workable space, but to also have an impact on energy reduction,” Rosol said. “The audience is now proactively reaching out to us, whereas before we were making calls and introducing the benefits of the air curtain to them.”

Publication date: 4/22/2013