As the ductless market continues to grow and gain acceptance in the U.S., The NEWS got a chance to talk with Mark Kuntz, senior vice president, Mitsubishi Electric US Cooling & Heating Division. The executive shares with our HVAC contractor readers the ductless technology trends he is seeing from a manufacturer’s perspective and what contractors can do to sell the product.

The NEWS: First off, what portion of the market share does ductless HVAC currently occupy, and where do you see it going in five years?

Kuntz: You take the U.S. HVAC market in total — from packaged terminal air conditioners (PTACs) to chillers — and you look at it from a dollar value, ductless technology accounts for about 5 percent of that total market, and variable refrigerant flow (VRF) constitutes about 3 percent. We are experiencing double-digit growth, as we have for most of our history, and while that means it is a pretty substantial dollar growth, we expect the market share over the next several years to be 7-8 percent for ductless and as high as 5 percent for VRF.

The NEWS: What is leading this growth?

Kuntz: Up until now, I would say both technologies have been a niche solution for hard-to-serve areas, like historic buildings or residential sun rooms — places that needed the compact size or high efficiency. That has been a good market for us. What is driving us now is that the early adopters have seen that the technology is a great fit beyond just the niche applications. On the residential side, we’re seeing the whole trend of high-performance home construction bringing the market straight to us. This is opening up new opportunities and getting us beyond the niche market and into the mainstream.

The NEWS: Is there an untapped opportunity for contractors?

Kuntz: We’re encouraging contractors to consider ductless technology as a whole-home solution and not just an option for the bonus room or tough-to-treat areas. I think contractors are catching onto the concept of serving the whole home — multi-zone units are growing at a much higher pace than their single-zone counterparts. On the commercial side, we’re seeing a lot of light commercial contractors using VRF to compete in jobs that would’ve traditionally been served by heavy mechanicals. For them, VRF is viewed as the great equalizer.

The NEWS: Are homeowners generally aware of this technology, or are contractors introducing it to them on the spot?

Kuntz: It is the latter. It needs to be introduced and explained. Mitsubishi Electric has led the way in terms of marketing and advertising to consumers, but only a small percentage of the community identifies ductless technology as one of interest. We believe the contractor is the best carrier of that message, and we continually train and work with our certified contractors to open up techniques to start that conversation.

The NEWS: How many contractors do you think are comfortable doing ductless?

Kuntz: Our research shows that the vast majority are comfortable with the installation side. The technology has been around long enough that virtually every contractor has put in a few of these and knows how to do it. While we only see about 10 percent of those contractors offering it as an initial recommendation to consumers with general HVAC needs, we’re focused on bringing that message to the contracting community. Our goal is to have 1,000 contractors participate in specialized training on customer benefits and how to present those in a useful and helpful manner.

The NEWS: What is the biggest misconception about ductless?

Kuntz: I think it would be the thought that it is just for use in single-room applications. People who travel internationally have seen the technology in hotel rooms. The earliest applications in the U.S. were sunrooms and garage conversions. People think these single-zone applications are the limit for these units, but that isn’t true.

The NEWS: What are some of the tips to explain the benefits to the homeowner?

Kuntz: Personalized comfort is the way we describe it. Instead of the whole house being comforted at a single set point, each room can be set at a unique temperature. In fact, you don’t even need to condition the rooms that are not occupied. And, if you have someone in the home who likes it at a high temperature and others like it cooler — you can accommodate everyone’s needs. That is our differentiator. What would it mean to you if everyone in the house could have a set point they are comfortable with?

The NEWS: What is the biggest concern in the industry? What keeps you up at night, or are you sleeping like a baby?

Kuntz: Sleeping like a baby? Maybe one of these days [laughter]. The biggest concern is that as this market has gained traction, it has caught the attention of a lot of manufacturers around the world. At the 2016 AHR Expo, we saw 26 different brands of ductless technology. Our biggest concerns are quality and experience; if you get a low-quality product with a low-quality installation, it will result in unhappy consumers. We wouldn’t want to see this trend toward personalized comfort get stunted early due to consumers having bad experiences with the technology, so we are redoubling our efforts to continually train our contracting community. The ultimate goal is to help them understand what this can do for a homeowner, set reasonable expectations, and exceed them with a quality product and installation.

Publication date: 6/27/2016

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