CHICAGO — A focus on energy efficiency — as evidenced by the Jan. 1 enactment of the regional efficiency standards — is sweeping the industry. Government regulations, in addition to an increase in end-user environmental awareness, are having a significant impact on the residential air conditioning market, and, based on the products exhibited at the 2015 AHR Expo, manufacturers are heeding the call.

Energy, Environmental Conservation

Comfort-Aire displayed a full line of residential split-system air conditioners and heat pumps with SEER ratings up to 16, as well as ductless mini-split air conditioners, heat pumps, and geothermal systems.

Rick Posey, product manager, Comfort-Aire, said the trend in residential air conditioning is energy conservation, and contracting companies that run their businesses as part of the solution to the energy crisis, rather than relying on governmental control, will continue to grow and thrive.

“With the advent of the new regional efficiency standards, the government is putting a little pressure on the industry — from the manufacturer to the installer — to try harder,” Posey said. “We will continue to see new products in the HVACR industry that give everyone the ability to conserve energy at every level. These changes will be good for energy consumption, but not necessarily for the industry, because of the cost involved.”

Posey said he looks for solar energy, geothermal, and variable refrigerant flow (VRF) products to move to the forefront, adding that today’s contractors will need to be more knowledgeable and versatile than ever if they intend on surviving the changes.

“Continuing to educate the public by helping them in an effort to conserve energy through the installation of new and advanced products can and will determine whether a lot of contractors stay in business,” he said.

Posey concluded the need for customer education can’t be overstated — and that means contractors must ensure they’re educated and able to clearly and accurately present the latest options to their customers.

“I’ve heard many times that we are one of the worst industries at making sure end users are educated enough to make good decisions,” Posey said. “Consumers and end users of heating and cooling equipment will be even more informed when making these decisions in the future, so contractors who are uninformed or, worse, who try to take advantage of customers had best beware.”

To meet the expected high volume of demand in the 14 SEER minimum-efficiency market, Daikin North America LLC showcased a full line of 14 SEER systems available in both heat pump and air conditioner configurations. In addition, Daikin is launching a 20 SEER split system with inverter technology in both air conditioning and heat pump configurations while both Goodman and Amana have introduced new 18 SEER split system air conditioning and heat pump equipment.

“The new regional standards — effective Jan. 1 for manufacturers — that push the minimum efficiency standard to 14 SEER in select geographical locations in the U.S., have driven greater awareness of high-efficiency, energy-saving products,” noted Kelly Hearnsberger, vice president of product marketing, Daikin.

Consumer Options

Johnson Controls Inc. has entered into a global joint venture with Hitachi Ltd. and Hitachi Appliances Inc. The Johnson Controls-Hitachi joint venture is designed to bring customers a full range of air conditioning products, including those based on VRF and inverter technologies.

Johnson Controls’ new VRF solution heats and cools multiple building zones to increase energy savings, improve occupant comfort, and reduce construction costs. The VRF solution features Hitachi’s high-efficiency compressors and is complemented by energy modeling and selection tools to measure and compare VRF to other HVAC technologies to determine the best choice for a given application.

Although the joint venture with Hitachi is important in helping Johnson Controls have a strong presence in the growing ductless mini-split and VRF sector, the company is continuing to invest in creating its best products ever in the traditional residential air conditioning market, said Bryan Rocky, director of residential product development, Johnson Controls.

“The trends our customers talk about are quality, reliability, ease of installation, and ease of service,” Rocky said.

“We put together three- and five-year product plans in which Jonson Controls made an investment into our product lines at the highest level ever. That investment encompasses facilities, equipment, designs, people, and programs. I’m really proud we have listened to our customers — our contractors and distributors — to really understand what they want, and then taken the steps to deliver it.” The company has also added a significant number of engineering test facilities at its manufacturing center in Wichita, Kansas.

The company’s new residential package unit is designed to provide homeowners with a quality ownership experience of consistent performance and high reliability and features a number of contractor-friendly innovations, said Rocky.

“Every panel is a separate, unique part designed to provide easy access for service,” Rocky said. “The blowers slide out with no need to unwire anything. Our gas heat sections feature a newly designed control board, and the condenser is on top to provide application flexibility.

“In addition, our customers told us service technicians could have a hard time accessing the compressor, especially when working on taller units. So, our engineers and product management team came up with a hinged control box that lifts up out of the way and allows easy access to the compressor section. The technician simply removes four screws and one plate and can then pull the compressor out of the side corner on every unit.”

Looking forward, Rocky said the focus will be on controls, as homeowners demand more flexibility and versatility when operating their systems remotely and contractors and technicians seek increased remote monitoring and troubleshooting capabilities.

“Plus, we know the energy-efficiency standards are going to come around again,” Rocky added. “The Department of Energy is already talking about the possibility of 16 SEER minimums. Controls are going to be a big part of that, so watch for controls innovations that were created for our commercial products to flow down to our residential product lines.”

The enactment of new regional efficiency standards is causing contractors to be very aware of the requirements in their regions, and make sure the units they sell are in compliance with the standards, said Farooq Mohammad, director, product management, air conditioning division, Rheem Mfg. Co. According to Mohammad, leading up to the cooling season, contractors can expect to see the introduction of several new cooling products and technologies.

“At Rheem, we started introducing an entirely new line of air conditioners and heat pumps last year, and we have more products coming this year,” Mohammad said. “From mid-2015 onward, we’ll start releasing units that include inverter-driven technology, which employs a variable-speed compressor to deliver cooling demands up to 110°F and heating demands down to 7° ambient. Before launching these products, we will offer training programs to ensure our customers are comfortable with the technology.”

Mohammad added that Rheem and Ruud air conditioners and heat pumps are easy to service thanks to three unique access points, including a wide control box. Additional access points include a two-fastener removable corner, a single fastener, and quick-release louver panels.

Publication date: 2/23/2015

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