Capitalizing on IAQ’s Soaring Popularity
HVAC industry poised to profit on consumers’ clean air fanfare
Everyone cares about the air they breathe and seems to have an opinion on the state of IAQ and how to improve it.
IAQ is a topic that often draws a variety of opinions and so-called “hot takes” from outside the HVAC industry. While many aspects of the industry fail to garner mainstream attention, IAQ is frequently discussed on mainstream outlets such as WebMD and the Washington Post.
Air quality, in general, is at the forefront of the public’s consciousness. This especially rings true in China, where the country’s leaders recently issued their first ever “red alert” for smog over Beijing. In that instance, schools closed and traffic was restricted due to the poor air quality in the city.
Those actually responsible for shaping the future of IAQ products have taken notice of the swelling public interest, and trends in the marketplace show products are becoming more interconnected and accessible to the average consumer.
“The need for IAQ at the consumer level is significant, and it’s trending upward,” said Mike Rimrodt, marketing director, Aprilaire. “Consumers are becoming more and more aware of IAQ. We’re finding evidence of that everywhere we turn. Traffic on our website has grown dramatically, especially around IAQ problems in the past few years. Consumers have IAQ problems and are trying to find solutions. The number of people suffering from asthma or allergies, and those dealing with structural problems associated with humidification, such as wood floor damage, are rising concerns.”
Statistics back up Rimrodt’s concerns, as one in 12 people (about 25 million, or 8 percent of the U.S. population) had asthma in 2009, compared with one in 14 (about 20 million, or 7 percent) in 2001, per the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Similarly, 55 percent of the U.S. population tests positive to one or more allergens, per WebMD.
“Homeowners are becoming increasingly aware of issues related to IAQ in their homes,” said Chris Willette, president of Fresh-Aire UV, a division of Triatomic Environmental Inc. “This represents a great opportunity for contractors to expand their businesses by offering IAQ solutions for homeowners.”
Tim Barton, director of wholesale sales and marketing at Field Controls LLC, said customers are also asking more questions as they become more aware of the causes and effects of poor indoor air.
“This trend of homeowners speaking up and asking contractors about IAQ is changing the game,” said Barton. “Now, not only are contractors getting onboard and integrating IAQ into their businesses, but many are finding it necessary to become experts in the field.”
“As consumers become more aware of their environments, in part due to the increase in attention to infectious disease stories the media, including coverage of a deadly Legionaires’ Desease outbreak, their interest in protecting that environment becomes a priority,” said Dan Jones, president of UV Resources. “HVAC contractors are supporting and helping fuel this growth by having products and services that address consumers’ concerns and meet their needs.”
CONNECTING IS KEY
As consumer interest and awareness rises, so, too, does the need for interconnectivity among devices in the home. Smarter products have become a key aspect of the HVAC industry as a whole, and IAQ products are certainly following the trend in that regard.
Kevin Graebel, director of product marketing, Honeywell Intl. Inc., said connectivity continues to be the largest trend in both IAQ and residential home comfort.
“Giving homeowners the ability to access and control their comfort via an app is an incredible user experience, and the connectivity offers advantages to contractors, as well,” said Graebel. “For example, ventilation is a major topic, especially as it relates to meeting building codes. As homes continue to get tighter, it’s important to use ventilation to bring in the fresh outdoor air. However, this can also create excess load on the HVAC system if the fresh air is brought in during the hottest or most humid parts of the day. Honeywell’s new WiFi VisionPro IAQ uses the Honeywell Total Connect Comfort app to pull in outdoor weather data, so the system can do high-temperature and humidity lockouts for ventilation without needing to run extra wires outside.”
The need for cost-effective, high-performance devices that reduce the worry caused by harmful airborne pathogens is a major driver for innovation, said Jones. “No one wants to spend a fortune on maintaining air quality, though, when they do invest in indoor air cleaning technology, they want to maximize its effectiveness. The challenge, then, is to produce reliable, high-output products at affordable costs.”
Jay Ayers, geothermal and IAQ product manager at Ingersoll Rand, said more and more IAQ products are communicating through connected controls.
“Consumers are enjoying the ability to remotely monitor and change settings with a smart device,” said Ayers. “Wi-Fi technology and accurate, less-costly sensors are being integrated into IAQ products much more frequently. Any new IAQ product Trane brings to its portfolio will have the ability to communicate using the Nexia protocol.”
VENTILATION ON THE HORIZON
“Until ASHRAE 62.2 changed in 2013, builders were able to meet the ventilation requirement by using only bath fans, kitchen hoods, and other dedicated exhaust systems,” said Ayers. “The assumption was that enough infiltration air came into a house through open doors, windows, and natural air leakage. When the 2013 version of the standard is adopted throughout the country, which usually takes about three years, no longer will that infiltration assumption be allowed. Builders will be required to install some means of controlled mechanical ventilation to meet the code.”
Homes will continue to be built tighter and tighter, which, according to Rimrodt, is largely associated with energy savings.
“ASHRAE 62.2 sets a requirement on the amount of ventilation homes need,” said Rimrodt. “We’ve designed products that very effectively deliver ASHRAE ventilation rates. We use the HVAC system to precondition the air before it enters the house. For many years, exhaust ventilation was installed by electricians. The requirements of whole-home mechanical ventilation are allowing the HVAC industry to grow by getting back ventilation in residential new construction. And, now, HVAC contractors are being viewed as the experts.”
Publication date: 12/28/2015