Contractors, manufacturers, and distributors acknowledge that the ductless market is growing immensely.
Contractors, manufacturers, and distributors acknowledge that the ductless market is growing immensely. As more and more consumers opt for ductless solutions, contractors are encouraged to take hold of this trend by acquiring the proper training.

Once considered an overseas staple and domestic add-on, ductless HVAC equipment is now pushing the limits of the add-on market and spilling into contractors’ businesses as a primary system option.

Spanning across residential and commercial applications, HVACR contractors and end users are learning more about ductless equipment and its capabilities, due in part to numerous ad campaigns and word-of-mouth advertising touting its simplicity and benefits. This growing awareness is edging demand upward.

The key to taking advantage of this emerging market, according to some, is preparing HVACR contractors. “Contractors need to understand spot cooling and heating opportunities for mini-splits and how they’ll solve comfort problems without requiring the replacement of a customer’s current system,” said Roy Kuczera, senior vice president, Fujitsu General America Inc., Fairfield, N.J. “More money can be made by installing whole-home or whole-business solutions created by current flexibility and system design.”

Changing the Field

Along with growth and expanded demand, new players in the ductless arena are popping up in the U.S. market.

“The market continues to be very robust and it is expected to once again experience double-digit growth,” said Lee Smith, assistant vice president of product marketing for Daikin AC (Americas) Inc., Carrollton, Texas. “Many traditional manufacturers, some of whom resisted ductless technology as more of a fad, now offer ductless solutions of their own. This heightened awareness is helping to fuel the rapid growth of ductless products.”

A few of the latest manufacturer additions to the ductless product category are Johnson Controls, Unitary Products Group; and Trane, a business of Ingersoll Rand.

Johnson Controls has been in the ductless market outside of North America for some time. In November 2012 the company officially introduced the products in America. “We recently started bringing this equipment to the North American market at the end of last year,” said Mimoun Abaraw, senior product manager, Johnson Controls, Unitary Product Group. “Even so, our customers, including our own branches, have been selling ductless products for 15 plus years.”

As for Trane, the company has had ductless products in its portfolio for more than 20 years. It rolled out its new ductless line in 2012, covering both mini- and multi-split applications for the commercial and residential markets.

“Ductless represents a small but rapidly growing part of the Trane product portfolio in North America,” said Dave Patlovich, product manager, ductless systems, Trane. “Ductless is also an important component of the global Trane portfolio.”

Patlovich mentions that, according to the U.K.-based Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA), the North American VRF [variable-refrigerant flow] market is projected to reach $505 million in 2013.

“Trane has always offered a comprehensive HVAC solution,” he said. “With our new VRF line, we now offer an HVAC solution to meet any need.”

The Future Is Now

The word that manufacturers are primarily using in terms of the ductless market in 2013: growth. Some are even predicting significant growth. Increased consumer and contractor awareness is leading to the recognition of the technology’s benefits, which, ultimately is contributing to this growth pattern. Another factor is the continued slow-recovering residential market.

“Housing indicators point to a slow-recovering residential market,” pointed out Kuczera. “Until new construction is back into full swing, the retrofit market will continue to improve.”

Looking toward the possible future of ductless equipment, manufacturers speculate as to what may be for ductless equipment two to five years down the road.

A rising trend in home automation equipment is pushing ductless manufacturers to engage this sector of comfort management, and Fujitsu representatives explained they are expecting to see improvements in ductless equipment regarding the integration of such equipment. The company is also expecting to see increased product breadth, flexibilities, and efficiencies.

Daikin AC is not only seeing the rise in home automation, but it is also proclaiming an advance in ductless features that help expand the units’ applications.

“Manufacturers have taken steps to enhance ambient operation ranges to cover more and more application needs and climatic zones,” explained Smith. “Higher technologies, lower sound levels, smaller footprints, and other features inherent to ductless products are contributing to the success of contractors who want to set themselves apart from their competition.”

LG Electronics USA Commercial Air Conditioning agrees that new products are on the horizon.

“As the market for duct-free solutions matures, we should expect to see greater diversity in system capacities, zoning capabilities, design options, and price points,” said Lorie Quillin-Bell, director, go-to-market, LG Electronics. “Based on customer satisfaction, word-of-mouth, and new applications, we are already seeing a tremendous shift in both the variety of products coming to market, as well as contractors and customers embracing these new solutions.”

With an influx of new manufacturers to the ductless market, some are concerned this will lead to increased competition.

John Clements, senior marketing manager, residential products, Mitsubishi Electric US Cooling and Heating Division, sees this growth as a positive but warns that, “because of the growth potential of the ductless market in the U.S., we foresee increased competition from new manufacturers, some of which will be providing low-cost solutions. The concern is that these low-cost solutions will be lacking in quality and customer support.”

Clements added, “Ductless HVAC is growing exponentially and will continue to grow and thrive as more people become familiar with the technology. Ductless products will continue to adapt to the North American market with improved appearance, flexibility, and controls capabilities.”

Abaraw predicts the market will be introduced to a ductless unit that can be installed in a ducted application in the next two to five years. “In a retrofit application today, an old ducted unit can only be replaced with another ducted unit,” he explained.

Advising Contractors

Just as growth is an overwhelming theme when looking at current ductless predictions, so is involvement when considering manufacturers’ advice to contractors. Most manufacturers are encouraging HVACR contractors to seek adequate training.

“Now more than ever, contractors need to remain current on training and product education, ensuring that all sales staff and technicians are knowledgeable about the technology, duct-free options, and proper installation,” advised Quillin-Bell. “Contractors should work with their manufacturer partners to keep current on trends, applications, and new products available, and to troubleshoot or share best practices.”

In addition to training and education, Clements advised contractors to also take advantage of the marketing tools supplied by many manufacturers. He also stressed having a solid understanding of ductless benefits so when customers have questions, they can be answered with authority.

“Take the time to learn about the many benefits of these systems so you can convey them to potential customers,” he said. “Look for opportunities in every home to provide ductless solutions from hot and cold spots and individual spaces to combination systems and whole-floor multi-zone ductless systems.”

A final piece of advice for contractors who are involved or looking to be involved with ductless equipment comes from Ethan Hoberman, director of sales at Pridiom Group LLC.

“Know what kind of support your ductless brand provides. Ask for it and expect it,” he said. “If your manufacturer can’t provide technical support, warranty supports, and sales support, look for someone else.”

Smith echoed this advice when he said, “Whatever happens, you want to be comfortable in your selection and know that the manufacturer is fully standing behind their products and your reputation in the marketplace by being on hand to support you via
its partners.”

Publication date: 4/29/2013 

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