As economic activity in commercial construction and manufacturing is growing across the nation, the market demand for portable equipment is increasing. The benefits of portables, including speedy implementation, reduced downtime, and cost-effectiveness, are continuing to gain recognition from end users. And, as end users experience these benefits and the resulting uptime, industry experts expect the portable market to continue to heat up.
According to Tina Behnke, who handles business development for AirPac Inc., “The commercial construction, industrial, and institutional maintenance markets are driving growth in the rental portable a/c and heating market.”
Plus, Behnke added: “Sales of portable air conditioners for the computer/server room market are also increasing. And, hospitality and special event cooling have increased significantly the past two years. All indications are these trends will continue.”
Behnke was enthusiastic about all of these trends, especially the improved activity in construction.
“The construction industry has been slow since the recession, so any increase is a good sign,” she said. “Developers are building again, and the industrial and institutional properties are expanding.”
She also noted the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s)Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program is continuing to change the construction industry with its rating systems for designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining green buildings.
“With the LEED building requirements, portable air conditioners are often used during the construction/renovation process prior to final completion, which is great for the rental market,” Behnke said.
“With the reshoring of manufacturing back to the U.S., we see people and process cooling applications heating up,” Stevenson said. He added he believes the main driver behind the return of manufacturing to the U.S. is product quality improvement.
Stevenson noted that spot cooling can be a particularly efficient solution in manufacturing applications. For example, he said, “Spot cooling an assembly line in a warehouse is much more efficient than cooling the entire space.”
“Equipment cooling was the primary application for portable air conditioning. … While equipment cooling is still a large portion of the market, cooling and heating people is predominant in today’s market.”
That’s why Tagge sees great potential in office and retail spaces. “In particular, short-term cooling in retail establishments and office/institutional buildings is increasing and represents the fastest-growing segment,” he said.
Tagge added these spaces typically experience a need for portable equipment “due to a service, repair, or replacement requirement.”
RECOGNIZING THE BENEFITS
The growth of portables across many sectors can largely be credited to an increase in awareness and recognition of the units’ benefits.
According to Tagge: “Customers — the end user, in particular — have finally been educated to the benefit of portable air conditioners. It took a long time for the benefits to become universally known and accepted, since portable cooling was such a niche product in a small, vertical market.”
Now, he said, the end user specifies them. “It’s widely known among the business community that portable air conditioners can ‘bridge the gap’ between a/c system shutdown or failure and when the main systems become operational again. It’s no longer necessary to shut down IT [information technology] operations, close your doors to the retail public, or suffer stagnant dead air in enclosed occupied spaces when the a/c is off.”
Tagge also pointed out that uptime is just one benefit of portables, which also come in a variety of equipment capacities and types that can be quickly implemented at a customer’s site.
“Units can be deployed on-site and be operational in hours from the shutdown event, providing some degree of relief,” he noted.
Stevenson pointed out that using spot coolers to cool people “helps keep workforces in safe working conditions.”
He also added that, while building owners and managers may be aware of portable cooling, not all are aware of all the benefits portable cooling can provide.
“We’re doing the best we can to educate building owners and managers and work with them so they understand a portable air conditioner can often prove to be the most cost-effective solution,” Behnke said. “Portable air conditioners often allow the tenant to get the cooling needed without excessive installation costs or a long installation process. It’s about finding a balance and offering benefits to both the building owners and the individual tenants in the space.”
For instance, in applications where supplemental cooling is needed, she explained that “Portable air conditioning solutions can be put in place much faster and with much lower sunk costs than redesigning the central system to handle an increased heat load in a specific area. Portable air conditioners deliver the required cooling right where it is needed, often eliminating or minimizing costly ductwork and long refrigerant line runs.”
Behnke said that, overall, “Portable a/c systems are not meant to replace central systems but can save time and money when used correctly.”
SIDEBAR: REGULATIONS ON THE HORIZON
As the portable market sees more growth, it may also face more pressure from regulatory agencies. Increasing regulatory action from the federal level on down has become a hot topic across the HVAC industry, and its impact may spread to portables soon.
“Efficiency is just beginning to impact the industry,” said Garth Tagge, national sales manager, Spot Coolers. “The very nature of portables allowed manufacturers to produce equipment that was more efficient by application versus efficiency by design. The basic tenant of spot cooling is that you’re cooling a ‘space within a space’ and, therefore, by definition, you’re efficient because big energy usage is not required to cool every cubic inch of the space. You’re concentrating the equipment cooling power within a localized area. This, by nature, saves energy.”
However, Tagge noted: “Some models are now being subject to the more stringent energy-efficiency standards since they are typically used for cooling a space. This is not true for portable units on wheels — mostly ceiling-mounted units. And, so far, these are limited to a handful of bellwether states such as California.”
Tina Behnke, business development, AirPac Inc., noted her company is also keeping an eye on efficiency regulations and trends.
“We’ll continue to monitor the U.S. Department of Energy’s [DOE’s] proposed regulations on energy efficiency and test procedures for portable air conditioners,” she said.
Publication date: 6/29/2015