CHICAGO — With the ductless market predicted to grow to more than $9 billion by 2020, more and more AHR Expo exhibitors were featuring new, sophisticated ductless solutions on the show floor.

Extraordinary Efficiency

Carrier Corp. was one such manufacturer, revealing its new ductless lineup at a special press conference during the AHR Expo. Carrier’s line of advanced Infinity Series ductless systems offers consumers heating and cooling technology in a variety of models and styles. The line features a 30.5 SEER rating and is capable of cooling in outdoor temperatures up to 130°F and heating to minus 22°F.

“Carrier is committed to investing in this segment with the launch of our new lineup,” said Meredith Emmerich, general manager, ductless and VRF systems, Carrier. “Things that should resonate with people are high efficiency, 30.5 SEER, high heating, 80 percent heating capacity at minus 20° F, and smart controls. Those are things that are driving the business right now. We’ve spent a lot of time listening to the market, to dealers, contractors, and engineers, and this is what they’ve told us they want. We built this product line to match those needs.”

According to Emmerich, people are looking for brands they know and trust. “There are a lot of entities in the ductless arena right now, but they are aligning to brands they’ve known and trusted for years,” she said. “Carrier’s new comprehensive lineup meets every need in the home, depending on the application type and price point. We’re making ductless accessible for everyone.”

Flexible Equipment

According to John Clements, director, product marketing and planning, Daikin Industries Ltd., the ductless market is moving towards multi-zone products with higher capacities and efficiencies.

“More people are beginning to understand the technology and what you can really do with it,” Clements said. “Originally, it [ductless] was used more for add-on-type rooms or supplemental heating and cooling, but now, people understand you can use it in primary rooms.”

Brendan Casey, commercial product manager, Fujitsu America Inc., agreed, saying ductless units are being used more frequently across various applications.

“More customers are becoming aware of just how flexible it is and how much energy savings they can get using these types of systems,” Casey explained. “The ability to heat one room and cool one room is also very popular for hotels and apartment buildings. So, with more and more awareness, it’s being looked at as a technology for different types of projects.”

Fujitsu unveiled two new models in its Halycon line: the RLS3 and RLS3H, which are available in 9,000-, 12,000-, and 15,000-Btuh indoor units. The mini splits feature a 33 SEER rating and low-temperature heating down to minus 15°.

Haier America Inc. is capitalizing on the flexibility ductless units provide through the launch of its FlexFit ductless systems. The line includes 16 total units that can be combined to create more than 1,000 HVAC solutions. Distributors and contractors can mix and match the same indoor unit to both single- and multi-zone outdoor units, effectively reducing inventories by up to 50 percent.

“The market is growing double-digits, year after year, and we expect that trend to continue at least for the next five years,” said Gina Copeland, senior vice president, air quality business unit leader, Haier America. “Any of the FlexFit’s indoor units match up to the outdoor units, which is uncommon in this industry. Typically, you have a specific outdoor unit with an indoor unit, and, so, when a distributor is forecasting, they’re expected to know which system they’re going to sell, and it’s very difficult to predict that. With the FlexFit capability, they don’t have to focus on which ones they’re going to sell as much as the overall volume, which increases accuracy.”

A lot of focus in the ductless market has been on variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems, according to Bill Moltner, vice president and general manager, VRF, Lennox Intl. Inc.

“We’re seeing above-average growth, which is encouraging to see,” Moltner said. “That growth is attracting many new players, so it’s going to be a very busy part of the market. All of the current trends are enhancing the inherent benefits — the zoning capabilities, the efficiency, and the design flexibility.”

Grading the Ratings

The addition of new competitors has helped drive the cost down, said Marc Zipfel, director, product marketing and planning, LG Electronics.

“Contractor acceptance for the technology itself has really grown,” Zipfel added. “If you think about where the industry was just two years ago and where it is now, contractors are much more comfortable talking about, selling, and installing the product. All the training has helped make contractors familiar with the technology, which makes selling a lot easier.”

LG expanded its Multi V IV VRF air conditioning systems to include 38-, 40-, and 42-ton outdoor unit models. The 42-ton model is a triple-frame 42-ton VRF unit currently available in the U.S. The line features enhanced Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI)-certified efficiency of up to 36.0 IEER, can heat continuously down to minus 13°F, and can cool continuously from 14°-122°F, without the need for an additional low ambient kit.

According to Michael Emerick, national product manager, RAC division, Midea America Corp., the trend is definitely heading more toward Energy Star ratings and the product rebates that come with the designation. “We’re working to up our Energy Star options right now. We only have nine currently, but we’re looking to double that by the fall.”

One of Midea’s new Energy Star products is its Five Zone Multi Head Inverter 48,000 Btu system, which was featured during the AHR Expo. The system also features space-saving installation because up to five indoor units can be connected to a single outdoor unit, reducing the number of outdoor units required. All indoor units can be individually controlled and do not need to be installed at the same time.

Kevin Miskewicz, senior manager, commercial marketing, Mitsubishi Electric US Cooling and Heating, said the ductless market is all about personal comfort. Reinforcing that trend, Mitsubishi Electric unveiled its MX2 multi-zone unit, which can control up to eight indoor climates. The unit is the manufacturer’s first Hyper-Heating Inverter multi-zone product in use for residential applications and features both Energy Star certification and a 19 SEER rating.

“If you think of an indoor unit in the kitchen, an indoor unit in the living room, an indoor unit in the bedroom — each of those can be controlled separately. So, you can be in the kitchen at 66°, you can be in the living room at 70° — all from one outdoor unit. This also has our hyper heat technology, which allows it to operate at 100 percent capacity all the way down to minus 5°F. It’s all about personalized comfort, energy efficiency, and the unit’s life cycle. These systems have design flexibility with minimum invasiveness, so you can get personalized comfort without adding in ductwork.”

One of the reasons ductless products have increased in energy efficiency is because of their ability to only heat or cool occupied rooms. Panasonic Corp. of North America took advantage of the trend in efficiency with its new Exterios E wall-mounted heat pumps, which feature up to 23.0 SEER and have a low ambient operation as low as minus 4°. The units also feature Panasonic’s ECONAVI technology, which can detect when people are in the room and the level of activity or motion, then automatically adjust room temperature for optimum comfort and energy efficiency. For example, cooling is decreased when the room is vacant or when less activity is detected.

According to Steve Cormier, national sales manager, heating and air conditioning solutions group, Panasonic Corp. of North America, the technology has been available in Panasonic’s overseas products for a number of years, but only in very high-end products. Now, it’s being made more widely available in the U.S.

“Whole-house solutions are on the rise, and I see our product becoming a whole-house solution, rather than just an addition or a solution to an area of the home that isn’t being conditioned properly,” Cormier said. “This product is extremely quiet, both the outdoor and indoor unit, which is also in high demand. You can put it on your patio and it won’t bother you — you won’t have a noise objection sitting outside your window. This is a really big, important issue. It’s really very quiet, and there’s no ductwork to maintain or clean.”

Samsung showcased several new ductless product offerings, including its commercial VRF system, the DVMS. The DVMS’ smaller footprint benefits the consumer because it offers space savings that result in lower installed costs and greater energy savings. The DVMS system will also operate in low ambient temperatures, all the way down to minus 14°F.

In addition to the DVMS, Samsung also displayed the Pearl and Whisper mini-split systems, both with new Triangle Ultimate Design, which allows for faster, farther, and wider cooling. Both units feature full HD filtration, two-step cooling, single-user mode, and Wi-Fi control. The Pearl is rated up to 28 SEER.

Donnie King, regional director of distribution sales, Samsung, said ductless products are being used for more than just the occasional add-on it was in the past. “Instead of being just a niche product like it was five years ago, it’s now a full-use, first-choice product. We’re expanding the line to incorporate more indoor units per outdoor units. We can now connect five indoor units to one outdoor unit. We also have a product that can operate nine indoor units to one outdoor unit. Our technology allows you to comfort more of the house with a single outdoor unit.”

Although ductless products are becoming more widely accepted in the U.S., the industry still perceives it as a new, complex technology, said Jeff Peters, ductless portfolio leader, Trane.

“To a degree, that’s true,” he said. “Because of that, the emphasis on the sales cycle, ensuring there’s a complete sales process, is extremely important. Having pre- and post-sales support is critical. Again, because of how fresh it is, it can often be more complex. That’s really one of the most critical things with any VRF sale, if they [contractors] don’t have the correct sales channel, it can potentially be a nightmare. VRF, if it’s done right, can be a very successful application with very little maintenance.”

Trane introduced its new Water-Source VRF at the show. Using adjacent water or geothermal sources, Water-Source VRF can draw upon stable water temperatures to dissipate heat during peak cooling periods and act as a heat source when in heating mode. Alternatively, systems can be connected to a cooling tower to reject energy from the building or a boiler to add heat in colder climate applications.

“We have application expertise — that’s where we’re very well aligned with VRF and ductless. We’ve done many research initiatives where 60-70 percent of respondents said the most important part of choosing a VRF system was the sales end of it,” Peters said. “We’re not a dealer, we’re not a distributor, we’re the real deal. We’re trying to up our game by providing additional training modules and sessions. Many of our sales offices nationwide have VRF systems in place so contractors can have local training options available. Training is not opportunistic; this is serious for us as we continue to grow. Everybody’s now doing it. It’s here, and it’s becoming mainstream.”

Publication date: 2/23/2015

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