Over the past several years, The NEWS has pointed to the fact that ductless mini splits are becoming a larger piece of the overall HVAC puzzle. It is a technology that works in a multitude of climates and regions and meets the energy-efficiency benchmarks that modern consumers often strive to achieve.
Though, however great the technology is, it needs to be properly installed. And, a great number of contractors need to be trained if the industry’s going to keep up with the rising demand and interest from the general public.
Dozens of major manufacturers are now offering a variety of training options ranging from short online offerings to extensive on-location training in hopes of making ductless HVAC a worthwhile investment for consumers and contractors.
For manufacturers that are developing and creating the latest products and innovations in the ductless market, from variable refrigerant flow (VRF) to single- and multi-zone systems, it only makes sense to provide contractors with vital training resources.
Panasonic Corp. offers an online ePortal and awards certification at different levels. The company also offers contractors the option to be part of its locator service, which makes them more visible to customers who desire a certified installer. The ePortal is offered in addition to Panasonic’s three-day classroom training course that is offered across the U.S.
In 2015, Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) opened a 12,600-square-foot training facility in Dallas designed to increase industry awareness of VRF technology. It features two 25-person classrooms, a hands-on lab, and a curriculum with courses on sales, design, engineering, installation, commissioning, service, troubleshooting, and controls training.
Similarly, LG Electronics USA’s new headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia, features a training center that will educate contractors, technicians, and engineers about HVAC technology, including VRF.
Fujitsu General America Inc. offers what it refers to as a two-pronged approach to training. The company provides local one-day installation training, either at a contractor’s office or a distributor location, in order to train project managers, pipe fitters, controls installers, and anyone else who may be involved with a VRF installation. Then, the company provides two-day training at its Augsburg training center that is focused on start-up, service, and troubleshooting. Both of these trainings are required in order to be eligible for Fujitsu’s 10-year parts and compressor warranties.
Nick Bender, sales and business development manager at Pronto Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. in Edina, Minnesota, said it’s extremely important for manufacturers to offer ductless and VRF training to contractors.
“If you’re a manufacturer and want to entice business owners to get into the ductless market, show them real-life applications and examples of VRF in action. Show them how VRF solves a problem and is the best solution possible. That is when the market really takes off,” he said.
Aaron Rice, owner of Precision Heating, Cooling & Refrigeration LLC in Evansville, Indiana, went through two ductless training certifications on proper installation and service through Trane and Fujitsu. In both cases, dealer representatives contacted him directly to gauge his interest in ductless training, he said.
“The customer demand drew me to the market in the first place,” he said. “[Manufacturer training] is important because it allows contractors to understand proper applications and see what the equipment is intended to do. Ductless HVAC is not going to work for every application, so it’s important to see when it will and will not work.”
Chris Laumer-Giddens, HVAC design architect with LG Squared Inc. in Atlanta, said the manufacturer training proved to be beneficial, especially given his lack of experience at the time he participated in the course.
“If you’re a practitioner and in the industry, [manufacturer] training is great,” he said. “For me, never having installed systems and not understanding a ton of the technical stuff, some of it was foreign to me at first. I came out of it with an understanding of everything, even without a ton of background knowledge. The course was straightforward and effective.”
Contractors are taking the time to become well-versed and properly trained in ductless technologies because consumers are often directly asking about the technology. What was once a niche segment of HVAC is becoming something customers want in force.
“Ductless isn’t really a whole-home solution just yet, but it’s very beneficial to homeowners who need partial solutions, and that’s a big part of the market,” said Laumer-Giddens. “When I started designing and building high-performance homes, less traditional systems made sense. Ductless systems have versatility, variability, and are a great resource. It’s great having the ability to remove ductwork and improve efficiency.”
Laumer-Giddens said VRF has pushed interest in ductless HVAC units even further.
“Not only are all major manufacturers getting involved with VRF, they’re finding ways to implement it,” he said. “As people start to see the value of using less energy to heat and cool their homes, we’re seeing more and more that the industry itself is trending toward this technology.”
Rice said the high upfront cost of ductless comfort is obviously prohibitive for some, but many customers are visiting Precision Heating, Cooling, & Refrigeration and inquiring about ductless options.
“Ductless systems are being advertised more frenquently. The more customers hear about ductless systems, the more they inquire about them,” he said.
Bender pointed out that homeowners are truly the biggest winners when it comes to all the advancements and advantages associated with ductless installations — VRF in particular.
“It’s good for HVAC companies to differentiate themselves by offering what is, in most cases, a better option than traditional ducted work,” he said. “I think homeowners are winning if they are lucky enough to do business with an open-minded company that offers and presents ductless options. It puts homeowners in a good position as they get to consider a different, more efficient option. Generally, they kind of know about it, but it’s not always a positive connection. They aren’t aware ductless units are so customizable nowadays.”
Looking forward, Bender believes ductless is here to stay and will be the industry standard in three to five years, with there always being a mix of ducted and ductless homes.
“There is always going to be a marketplace for lower-Btu units, smaller homes, and high-efficiency operation,” he said. “Really, training is going to become more important, and using it to allow [contractors and technicians] to think outside the box and use real-world applications is essential.”
Publication date: 4/25/2016