Comparing and Contrasting Different Ductless System Designs
Single- and multi-zone ductless systems both have roles to play in the HVAC industry’s future
Energy efficiency is a term that isn’t going to fade from the public’s collective consciousness any time soon. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of its importance and lawmakers continue to impose strict regulations on its behalf.
According to Navigant Research, annual revenue from energy-efficient HVAC systems will grow from $17.2 billion in 2013 to $33.2 billion by 2020. With ductless systems set to account for nearly 30 percent of all North American energy-efficient HVAC system revenue by 2020, the market for both single- and multi-zone ductless systems is booming.
THE RIGHT SITUATION
To understand this emerging technology, perhaps it’s best to first grasp the proper applications for single- and multi-zone units.
“It has been our experience that single-zone systems are used as problem solvers in residential applications,” said Andrew Armstrong, vice president of sales and marketing, VRF and ductless products, North America, Johnson Controls Inc. “In many cases, the current HVAC system is not able to supply comfort to existing or new areas of the home or in areas with few cooling hours. Single-zone mini-split units can be used to comfort key areas in a home with few cooling hours. Multi-zone systems are more often used as part of a comprehensive home HVAC system and are often used in new construction applications.
Gabe Weiss, marketing manager, Carrier Corp., ductless and VRF, said both types of zone systems can be used in numerous applications within a residential situation.
“Whether it’s hot or cold spots in a home, a new addition (sunroom), or finished space (basement or attic), there is a ductless system configuration that can provide the optimal comfort control for the occupant,” he said.
Similarly, Jade Culbertson, national sales manager, ECOi-VRF division, Panasonic Corp., pointed out that homeowners are using larger glass and a lot more of it.
“Houses exposed to lots of sun angles and sunlight need a system that can respond appropriately to those different zones,” he said. “A single zone is designed to comfort a small condo or smaller apartment where only one area has exposure, and you don’t have occupants in multiple rooms at the same time.”
Reuben Fields, director, distribution sales, air conditioning systems, LG Electronics USA, acknowledged that single-zone systems can also go beyond residential applications, and there are plenty of light commercial applications with opportunities for installation.
EMERGENCE OF MULTI ZONES
While each type of system is an integral part of the ductless segment, multi-zone units have only recently begun their ascent to relevance. Many manufacturers touted developments and innovations at the 2016 AHR Expo back in January, and the excitement surrounding multi-zone ductless units has only grown since then.
“There has been a steady rise in multi-zone system specification and use across the U.S. for a variety of reasons, including efficiency in scaling the system by conditioning one space now and adding additional indoor units later, when budgets are available,” said Weiss. “Another reason for increased demand is a better understanding of how the technology works and its application within a home to provide personalized comfort control in one or more rooms.”
Fields said the developments in multi-zone systems have really been an evolution of the technology and those involved with it.
“The contracting community has seen a heavy emphasis on contractor training, especially in the last 10 years,” said Fields. “There has also been a big push to drive consumer awareness of multi-zone systems. Education at the contractor level allows proper installation of these products, where in the past it couldn’t be sold or priced right.”
As contractors learn the benefits and overcome the initial intimidation of multi-zone systems, they’re quick to offer the setup to customers, said Armstrong.
“More often than not, homeowners aren’t buying technology; they’re buying solutions,” he said. “As contractors become more aware of the benefits of ductless multi-zone systems — the zoning, comfort, noise, and efficiency — they’re selling ductless solutions rather than traditional system solutions.”
Matt Lacey, ductless product manager, Daikin North America LLC, said some contractors are really starting to see this product as a whole-house solution rather than just a spot-heating/cooling solution.
“Contractors that have truly embraced multi-port products are reporting higher ticket prices, lower labor costs, fewer call backs, and higher overall profitability,” he said.
Homeowners want flexibility and temperature control in each room, and Culbertson said multi-zone ductless systems offer just that.
“Homeowners want to be energy conscious and cool down a specific space rather than the whole home. This provides on-demand heating or cooling in a given room and system, and cost isn’t a big burden.”
THE FUTURE OF SINGLE ZONES
With all the effort and attention being paid to multi-zone units, single-zone units would seemingly be at risk of falling by the wayside. Manufacturers, however, almost unilaterally see a bright future for single-zone units alongside their multi-zone counterparts.
“Single-zone systems will continue to play a role in the market, as there are homes with hot/cool zones, areas that homeowners wish to better control with an individual system, or new additions to existing homes,” said Lacey. “When homeowners have one area they spend most of their time in and only want that zone conditioned, a single-zone ductless system is a smart solution.”
According to Culbertson, the demand for both single- and multi-zone ductless systems exists.
“The demand is going to continue, especially when looking at 400- to 900-square-foot open-floor plans,” he said. “Those lend themselves to single-zone systems. A lot of people are going for open-floor plans, studio-type arrangements, etc. That trend continues to increase.”
Weiss said Carrier has received support for both single- and multi-zone systems as customers have yet to show a preference in one specific configuration.
“Contractors evaluate customer needs and provide the solution or configuration that would be the best solution for the homeowner,” he said. “When a multi-zone system is chosen, we are seeing them range from two- to four-zone systems, in most cases. We anticipate single-zone systems will continue to be an important component in the segment as they provide precise comfort control and can be used in a variety of applications from residential to light commercial to commercial.”
Armstrong said there will always be applications for single-zone systems moving forward; however, as comfort levels of multi-zone systems increase, the mix will continue to shift.
Publication date: 4/25/2016