According to ASHRAE, there are currently more than 115 million dwellings in the U.S., and that number is projected to grow to 141 million by 2030. Both the existing stock of homes and the expected new construction provide an immense opportunity for contractors venturing into home-performance work. In fact, there may be more work than they can handle.
“With many contractors retiring, the supply of contractors available to respond to a growing demand of services is becoming more limited,” said Michael Chhutani, market development manager, Dwyer Instruments Inc.
With this demographic trend in mind, he said, “We are designing products to increase efficiency and reduce the experience level needed to accomplish the task.”
Other manufacturers are also rolling out new tools and products designed to make the home-performance contractor’s job easier. The information included in this article focuses on the trends behind some of the innovative products now available in the home-performance field.
Chhutani pointed to Dwyer’s Mobile Meter Test Equipment App with wireless probes and modules as an example of a product designed to increase worker efficiency. Released in March, the app “allows a smartphone to become the contractor’s instrument,” Chhutani said.
The Mobile Meter App is capable of measuring and logging differential pressure, air velocity, volumetric airflow, temperature, humidity, dew point, and wet bulb temperature.
“It can directly email the files to the office or the homeowner from the contractor’s phone,” Chhutani said. “There is a trend [in the home-performance contracting (HPC) field] toward having more reports and documentation. Contractors should pay attention to devices that will help them document data and generate the reports.”
The Energy Conservatory (TEC) is also focused on new apps that will make HPC contractors’ jobs easier.
“Our latest products are updated apps designed to display pressure and flow information from the DG-700 Pressure and Flow Gauge and the TEC Wi-Fi Link,” said Frank Spevak, TEC’s marketing and sales manager. “The apps are able to control the fan speed of our Minneapolis Blower Door and Minneapolis Duct Blaster.”
For example, he said, when the TEC Wi-Fi Link is attached to a DG-700 Pressure and Flow Gauge, “A contractor can use the iTEC-700 mobile app to wirelessly conduct an air leakage test.”
Another new Wi-Fi-enabled tool for the home-performance market is Retrotec Inc.’s Model 341 DucTester, which was released in July. Colin Genge, CEO, Retrotec, noted the product is intended for accurate duct leakage, tight house testing, and component testing. It features “close tolerances in its airflow measurement system,” he said, thanks to an injection-molded flow sensor.
To go along with its new duct tester, Retrotec reintroduced its Smoke Puffer. “While the Model 341 can measure pinhole leaks, the Smoke Puffer can locate them,” Genge said.
John Javetski, product specialist, instruments, General Tools, noted his company is rolling out new multifunction tools that allow contractors to carry fewer devices with them while also making it easier to take measurements in hard-to-reach spaces.
“One of the biggest challenges HVAC/home-performance contractors face is inspecting or taking measurements from inaccessible and hard-to-reach areas in buildings and cooling and heating systems,” Javetski said. “Our products help alleviate this problem by making these hard-to-reach areas easily accessible with instruments.”
For example, the Predator thermal/visual imaging camera, or GTi20, enables contractors to “pinpoint locations of cooling or heating loss,” he said. “By gathering information remotely, it allows the contractor to capture data from surfaces, systems, or equipment that might be very difficult or hazardous to reach.”
And there’s more to come, according to Javetski. Next month, he said, General Tools will release a mini anemometer-psychrometer (DAF3009) that “can measure all the parameters needed to install, test, or fine-tune the performance of an HVAC system.”
Insulation and Much, Much More
Along with high-tech tools, HVAC contractors must also become familiar with a whole new world of insulation and construction products in the expanded world of home performance. Ranging from tried-and-true insulation offerings to newly developed alternatives, there are many products for contractors to learn about on this side of the business.
According to Ken Forsythe, manager of product marketing, CertainTeed Corp., “There are an estimated 46 million U.S. homes that lack proper insulation.”
In response to this need, CertainTeed offers its TrueComfort system, which is designed to make it easy for contractors to install insulation retrofits. The system includes “fiberglass blown-in insulation and the blowing machine used to install it,” Forsythe said.
“With the easy-to-operate system, a two-man crew can generally retrofit a 1,000-square-foot attic in about four hours,” he added.
Joanna Beckman, marketing communications manager, Armacell LLC, pointed to another product that can provide substantial energy savings in residential applications: tube insulation for mechanical piping systems. Armacell’s AP Armaflex and Tubolit offerings are closed-cell foam insulations in tube form, she explained.
“Both are fiber-free and reduce energy waste, heat loss, and control condensation on plumbing and a/c lines,” Beckman said.
Beyond insulation, there are a host of other products that can aid contractors seeking to improve their customers’ home performance. One product introduced to the residential market earlier this year is StoGuard, a line of air and moisture barrier products meant for the exterior of the home.
According to John Chamberlin, product manager — air/moisture barriers, Sto Corp., “StoGuard is primarily composed of fluid-applied air barrier coatings and membranes as well as accessories that allow for easy installation and better protection against unwanted air movement and moisture intrusion.”
Chamberlin said that StoGuard has been used in commercial construction since 2000 and is a highly vapor-permeable system. It can be either roller- or spray-applied, and it bonds directly to the substrate.
“Homes need to be tighter to ensure that energy is not unnecessarily spent on heating and cooling costs. This can most commonly be seen in areas where blower door testing is now required for new homes,” he said. “The ability to install an air barrier quickly and efficiently could be a critical differentiator for HVAC contractors.”
According to Marc Tannenbaum, president, Dr. Energy Saver, his company gives its dealers exclusive access to “proprietary products for home-performance installations that are contract-manufactured for us.”
As an example of one of these proprietary products, Tannenbaum pointed to SilverGlo, a “graphite-infused, expanded polystyrene rigid board insulation product.” An alternative to spray foam, SilverGlo can be used to insulate space walls, knee walls, and attics.
“We have utilized SilverGlo to create products that solve leaky attic access points — a common building assembly issue facing many homeowners,” he said, noting these new products include an attic hatch, scuttle covers, and whole-house fan covers. “It’s very popular with our dealers and their customers,” he said.
Additionally, other accessory products you might not generally associate with home performance are ideal for this market, according to John Lawler, vice president of marketing, Nu-Calgon.
“Nu-Calgon currently manufactures a complete range of products focused on home-performance contracting,” he said, including “coil cleaners that can help boost the efficiency of older, dirty condenser and evaporator coils to products targeted at improving IAQ.”
Lawler acknowledged a common challenge faced by HVAC and home-performance contractors is that “homeowners don’t understand the complexity of the system” and therefore don’t recognize how great the need is for regular maintenance. However, he noted, homeowners are starting to pay more attention to IAQ.
As examples of products designed to improve HVAC system performance and overall home IAQ, he listed Nu-Calgon’s Cal-Green and Evap-Green coil cleaners, as well as its CompleteCare kit for mini splits. The CompleteCare mini-split kit, he explained, includes a can of Evap-Fresh evaporator coil cleaner as well as a PurCool green mini strip.
“Over time, the inside of mini-split units become plugged with dirt and grime, as well as coated with mold and mildew,” he said. Evap-Fresh cleans, disinfects, and deodorizes the evaporator while the mini strip protects condensate pans and lines from plugging.
“Green and safer initiatives, and the pursuit of better IAQ in homes, are at the forefront of consumers’ minds. As a result, they are at the forefront of our development as well,” he said.
Publication date: 10/6/2014