Mainstream ductless solutions have been apparent in the U.S. HVAC market for nearly a decade. In that time, devices have evolved from tried-and-true overseas technologies to integral parts of the comfort and energy-efficiency discussion between American HVACR contractors and end users.
Leon Cogswell, director of sales, room air products, Heat Controller/Motors & Armatures Inc. (MARS), noted the company is receiving numerous requests for information about mini-splits from end users who are researching heating and cooling options.
“We are definitely seeing more end-user awareness of ductless systems and their capabilities,” he said. “Contractors have a greater understanding of the benefits and appropriate applications for mini-splits than they did a few years ago. As end users review options for updating older equipment, ductless products are being considered more often.”
Heat Controller, among others, is expecting the interest and demand for ductless systems to continue to increase with end users and contractors nationwide.
Do It Yourself
End-user interest is not only driving demand, but is also giving rise to new trends in ductless equipment. Do-it-yourself (DIY) installations is one of the latest trends in the ductless market. Friedrich announced it was introducing ductless a/c to end users via select retailers in Florida. Today, the company’s Breeze units are available both online and in retail stores.
“With videos available on the Friedrich website and excellent customer service, consumers can save hundreds of dollars by installing their own systems,” said the company. “The Breeze is specifically designed for the DIY crowd. Everything needed for the Breeze comes in one box: an indoor unit with a 25-foot quick-connect line, an outdoor unit, an outdoor unit mounting pad and hardware, and an LCD remote control. The box has even been specially designed to fit through narrow doorways. The quick-connect refrigerant line, snap-in electrical connector, and 6-foot power cord on the indoor unit ensures installation is a snap.”
Despite a niche product in the DIY sector, manufacturers and contractors with ductless experience have concerns about the impression poor ductless installations will have on the end user.
“In many cases, improper installations have affected the end-users’ trust in the product design,” said Cogswell. “This has affected sales of the product. Ongoing education, along with equipment design that allows for easier installation, should help to alleviate some of the issues. However, improper installation will likely always yield a level of ongoing concern.”
Benjamin Hubbert, co-owner of Champion AC, San Antonio, has experience with end-user perception and ductless applications. His company began working with ductless products approximately five years ago. This year, the company has installed 70-100 residential and commercial ductless systems. According to Hubbert, the company’s interest in ductless solutions commenced at the consumer level.
“End users were looking to run ductwork to additional areas of their homes and would call us to find out how that could be done,” said Hubbert. “Most people didn’t know what ductless was. They wanted to control the temperature in a garage converted to a man cave or their sunroom, and they didn’t want to put in a window unit because of the energy costs. This is where ductless started for us, and it has taken off from there.”
Hubbert stressed that HVAC technicians should be utilized when adding ductless solutions or other HVAC-related improvements.
“Homeowners are professionals in other careers, not in HVAC. They don’t know the air conditioning industry or what is necessarily best for their situation,” continued Hubbert. “As we started to do more multi-zone work, we realized it was our responsibility to know and plan a system that would ensure the proper capacity would be there for the customer.”
Emphasizing Ductless Training
Satisfying customer needs and protecting end-user perception requires ductless training and education; which, in turn, requires an investment of time and effort from contractors and their employees. According to Hubbert, these efforts are often rewarded with additional bottom-line profits. It also provides consistent work for employees, even during slower times.
“More than anything, it was training our teams, technicians, and comfort advisors to ensure that we were providing quality comfort for our customers,” he said.
Contractors and technicians often acquire ductless training directly from manufacturers. Not only are they interested in assisting the HVAC contractor, but many are also vested in protecting the image of ductless products and performance.
“Lack of factory-trained technicians increases the probability of installation errors that will cause the unit to not operate correctly,” said Mark O’Donnell, general manager, Panasonic USA. “Factory training needs to be offered in a variety of formats to get the proper information to the technician when and where they need it. Panasonic offers training at our facilities in New Jersey and Georgia as well as onsite around the country. We have online training and webinars as well.”
Ductless technology is not only raising end-user awareness, but its capabilities are also increasing. Manufacturers and contractors agree that proper installation and comfort cannot likely be achieved by an end user installing these increasingly sophisticated systems on their own.
“Equipment with built-in self-diagnostic capabilities and controls that have the ability to notify you by email if there is a problem are growing in popularity,” said O’Donnell. “Units with built-in heat- and motion-sensing controls and humidity sensing will all be things that make the customer more comfortable and save energy.”
For Hubbert, his interest in ductless technology helped him learn about it, but his end-users’ demand was a catalyst to a new piece of business he deems beneficial for his business and customers.
“I think ductless is going to grow rapidly for our company,” he said. “Most successful companies are open to change and new ideas, and contractors need to not be afraid to change. Ductless is one of those areas of opportunity, and I think a lot of homeowners need it and would benefit from it. It’s just getting your people the information and experience they need to educate that customer on what’s available.”
Publication date: 4/28/2014