CHICAGO — As consumers become increasingly aware of the quality of the air inside their homes and workplaces, installers and manufacturers are working to meet consumers’ growing demands for products that measure, humidify, dehumidify, filter, clean, and sanitize the air. At this year’s AHR Expo in Chicago, manufacturers displayed and demonstrated some of the many new products they have developed to help both the contractor and the end user achieve the best possible IAQ.

A Growing Awareness

The biggest thing driving innovation is the customer, said J. Paige Freeland, marketing, General Filters Inc. “People are learning more about IAQ and investing more in it in their own homes because they understand how damaging poor IAQ can be to their families and health,” she explained.

“IAQ is growing faster than HVAC,” said Mike Rimrodt, marketing director, research products, Aprilaire. “The need at the consumer level is significant, and we’re reaching out and educating everyone on the benefits. We’re seeing growth in humidification and dehumidification as well as air cleaners. Consumers are becoming more educated, and our businesses are growing.”

Jessica Frackelton, senior manager of product marketing, Onset Computer Corp., also said consumer awareness is driving product development. “In general, people are starting to be more aware of the air they breathe, and that’s prompting a lot of curiosity from contractors about the IAQ in the home or work environment. They’ll start to convince the homeowner that these are services they can take advantage of, and that’s been a pretty big shift. Before, it was more about keeping the home cold or hot, and people didn’t care as much about how healthy the air was in their homes.”

Measuring Air Quality

Fueling consumer awareness is the increased ability to access and analyze IAQ. The AQ Pro analyzer from E Instruments Intl. can measure, log, and analyze up to three IAQ-related gases.

“IAQ has been a concern for a lot of those who already specialize in it, including in clean labs, but, now, it’s pushing into the residential market,” said Jason Esteves, product manager, E Instruments Intl. “We’re starting to see more of a push from the HVAC contractors who were not really measuring IAQ before. They want to offer homeowners and customers a different offering beyond the standard HVAC work. They want to be able to say, ‘Hey, I can test your IAQ because CO? is a major part of what we look for in ventilation.’ Then, they go on and offer their customers solutions, whether it’s fresh air intake or fans or something where they can help the customer move air around.”

The new HOBO MX1101 Temperature Data Logger measures and transmits temperature and relative humidity data to mobile devices wirelessly via Bluetooth. It works with the HOBOmobile® mobile application to help users better track data.

“We’ve been making temperature and relative humidity data loggers for 20-plus years,” Frackelton said. “We’ve been making temperature monitors for the outside environment for even longer. The concept for this model is fundamental. It’s a temperature and relative humidity monitor for indoor environments, but what’s exciting about it is that it works through Bluetooth Smart — a low-power version of Bluetooth that has an extremely long battery life, so it can collect a ton of data on the temperature and relative humidity of the building environment. It does that through interacting with a mobile device. We launched it in September 2014, and it’s still a fairly new product for this kind of space, but the adoption rates have been phenomenal.”

Boosting IAQ

Numerous new IAQ products have come into the market in the past year.

In addition to numerous other products, Honeywell Intl. Inc. displayed its re-launched Steam Humidifier at the 2015 AHR Expo. It featured a tank made from glass-filled engineered polymer, which is not subject to discoloration or delamination from high temperatures; a gasket that does not require annual replacement and is designed to last the lifetime of the unit; and a tankless reverse osmosis system to reduce sediment buildup from hard water applications.

“It’s one of those things where, since we have products for humidification, dehumidification, and IAQ, what are we most focused on,” said Tony Uttley, general manager, home comfort and energy systems, Honeywell. “We see a major need to bring all of these together. We have the communication going between our ventilation, IAQ, and thermostat products.”

The GeneralAire® MAC line of air cleaners offers MERV-8, -10, and -11 filtration housed in sturdy cabinets with painted or galvanized metal. “We do offer a line of residential whole-house IAQ products, including humidifiers, dehumidifiers, ventilation systems, and UV light purifiers,” Freeland said. “Out of all of those product groups, our humidifiers and air cleaners are our top sellers.”

Field Controls LLC has developed four new sensors — the T-Sensor, C-Sensor, E-Sensor, and P-Sensor — for its Healthy Home System Control, a customizable IAQ system that integrates into existing forced-air ductwork. The system utilizes the sensors to monitor and respond to changes in temperature, humidity, and air pressure.

“Ten or 12 years ago, we entered the IAQ space with a UV light. Since then, we’ve developed a very comprehensive IAQ system,” said Skip Carney, spokesperson for Field Controls. “One of the problems I see with IAQ is that it hasn’t been defined yet. Everybody has a different idea. Is it a light? A filter? Ventilation? We look at what ASHRAE says and what the EPA says is necessary for good indoor air, and we built the system around that.”

Duct cleaning has also grown in popularity due to an increased focus on IAQ, and part of the duct cleaning process is odor control. To help get rid of odors, Rotobrush Intl. LLC released RotoFresh — an odor neutralizer placed inside the ductwork.

“The homeowner is becoming more knowledgeable about IAQ,” said Bob Elledge, president and CEO, Rotobrush. “It’s become like carpet cleaning; it’s a market that consumers are becoming more aware of, and it’s growing.”

Connecting the Dots

Perhaps the biggest trend shaping nearly all IAQ products is consumers’ growing desire for connectivity and remote access. For Aprilaire customers, monitoring their indoor environments is becoming possible with the company’s new line of Wi-Fi-enabled products, including thermostats. “We’re all about offering Wi-Fi connectivity across temperature, humidification, dehumidification, and air cleaner technology,” said Rimrodt.

CleanAlert is banking on that desire for remote monitoring with its updated FILTERSCAN WiFi Air Filter Monitor and AirFilterSentry™ Notification System, which is now Wi-Fi enabled. The FILTERSCAN WiFi tracks differential pressure changes in an HVAC system and sends a text alert and email to the homeowner or contractor when the filter needs servicing.

“This is a Wi-Fi-enabled device,” said Terry Reavis, vice president of sales and marketing, CleanAlert. “You designate which smart devices — up to three — you want to receive an email or text saying it’s time to change the filter. Contractors now have an opportunity they’ve never had before. They pay for our subscription service that provides them with reporting, and they can track every unit they have installed in their domain. Why not look at the real-time status of every filter you have out there? If it’s 80-90 percent used, schedule the maintenance the next time you go to that neighborhood. For a maintenance contractor, the savings can be huge.”

“I think high-tech operation is going to be a big thing,” Freeland said. “People are using smartphones and remote controls. They use smart devices to start their cars and control home lighting, and that’s yet another trend on its way to the mainstream.”

Frackelton also said interconnectivity is, and will continue to be, a major trend in the IAQ market.

“People want to interact with these devices with their mobile devices,” she said. “It’s only natural that, in the working world and the commercial environment, they’re expecting that. We’re very excited about it.”

The important thing, now, Uttley said, is for manufacturers to make sure new technology strengthens the relationship between the contractor and the customer — not weakens it. “What’s critical, from our standpoint, is that we are trying to enable the professional to have the better and deeper relationship with the homeowner by giving him or her the data and the tools to be able to have conversations that are different than they’ve ever been,” he said. “How healthy is your home? How is the system performing over time? What’s changed? What might need to be worked on now that might save you from huge repair bills down the line? These are things that we can do today with our available technology.”

Publication date: 2/23/2015

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