Wireless, Easy-to-use Tools Simplify Home-performance Work
HVAC manufacturers are responding to the market trends
In this age of information, homeowners are more educated than ever before. How could they not be when the answers to their questions are a simple Google search away? And because households consume 55 percent of the energy used in buildings in the U.S., per the U.S. Energy Information Association’s 2015 Residential Consumption Survey (RECS), homeowners are becoming increasingly aware of energy-efficient products and practices to not only save money but also better the environment and increase quality of life. This trend translates to an incredible opportunity for home-performance contractors.
Patti Ellingson, director of HVACR sales, North America, Cooper-Atkins Corp., said technology and knowledge of the digital world is driving growth in the home-performance market.
“The home-performance market is growing due to more technical-savvy consumers,” Ellingson said. “We are also seeing more children and people with allergy issues increasing the demand for better home performance. New regulations, like higher SEER ratings, safer refrigerants, and smarter thermostats that help keep track of filter changes and peak times, are also driving this along with the fact that new construction is back on the rise. Technicians and contractors are looking for new solutions for their customers, and homeowners are demanding technology solutions.”
Russell Harju, project manager, Fieldpiece Instruments, also thinks the growth of the home-performance market is being driven by technology.
“With home systems, such as Nest, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa, homeowners are becoming increasingly interested in home performance,” he said. “I personally just got a new Carrier thermostat that actually gave me a live dollar read out of how much the air was costing me. I nudged the temperature up to 76 after looking at it. As this interest builds up, people will gravitate toward using products that increase home performance.”
Karl Johnson, director of engineering, Yellow Jacket division, Ritchie Engineering Co. Inc., said the home-performance market is growing because some areas of the U.S. require installed efficiency to be verified.
“There is a much greater awareness of the positive benefits of optimizing energy use in the home or office,” Johnson said. “People want home performance not only for the direct savings but also for the satisfaction of benefitting the planet. Also, there have been incentive-laden programs for installing high-performance equipment in many states for some time. With higher performance becoming more of a prevailing mindset, more contractors are offering higher performing equipment to homeowners.”
Homes are becoming smarter, greener, and more efficient, noted Sean Silvey, product and application specialist, Fluke Corp.
“LED lighting, tankless water heaters, and high-tech thermostats can all be controlled remotely these days from a smartphone, so the trend is undeniable,” he said. “More and more homes are even generating their own electricity using solar energy from photovoltaic cells. Contractors must stay up to date with tools to troubleshoot problems. Fluke offers tools from laser levels to electrical test equipment to build and keep these systems running. This growth is driven from people looking to technology to save money, those aiming to be environmentally responsible, and because the costs are coming down as more products enter these markets.”
THE RIGHT TOOLS
Manufacturers are focused on designing and developing tools to help contractors perform in this growing market sector.
“Wireless technology is leading the way with today’s tools and test instruments,” Ellingson said. “Accuracy and ease of use are also key elements in providing solutions. Contractors are investing in tools and test instruments to improve their efficiency in providing customers with system performance, air balancing, and top system efficiency. With technologically-savvy consumers, offering wireless solutions in all areas of our industry is key.”
Cooper Atkins’ Blue2 wireless and HACCP Manager Mobile app transmit temperatures wirelessly to a mobile device via Bluetooth. The Blue2 Instrument can utilize any Type-K temperature probe, making it extremely versatile. The data can also be integrated into existing third-party applications or use the HACCP Manager Mobile app to eliminate managing reams of paper logs. It collects the data and stores the information via a smart device. This data can then be uploaded to the cloud software on the go, which saves time.
Ellingson said that staying innovative and knowledgeable about changes in compliance, sustainability, and tool technology is one of the biggest challenges home-performance contractors currently face.
“More importantly, they need to be able to convert this information into solutions for the home and property owner,” she said. “Our customers are looking for the best, and that solution is always changing. At Cooper Atkins, we are continuing to research and develop tools that will stay ahead of the needs of our customers. We offer training through our wholesale distribution partners on our tools and test instruments, and we make sure we know what the newest regulations are, so our tools will continue to provide solutions for these changes.”
According to Johnson, the current trends for home-performance tools are digital measurements with a central storage and analysis device, such as a smartphone.
“This not only allows a quick indication of the performance during install but also allows parameters to be sent for verification and stored for later use to support proper installation,” he said.
The Yellow Jacket ManTooth line provides technicians with a full line of wireless, smartphone controlled product options when servicing cooling and refrigeration systems. The Bluetooth-based ManTooth family includes a vacuum-only gauge, a pressure/temperature-only gauge, and a combination pressure/temperature/vacuum gauge. All are available in single and dual units depending upon the needs of the service tech.
“One of the big challenges is making sure the installed equipment performs as well as it can and should,” Johnson said. “The Yellow Jacket ManTooth allows very precise system charging by allowing continuous monitoring of superheat/subcooling during final charging of the a/c system. Innovative instrument manufacturers will continue to develop products targeting the precision measurement of these high-performance residential systems.”
Silvey said the biggest market trend is the move to green homes that are more efficient and generate their own electricity.
“Fluke tools can be used to monitor DC voltage and current from photovoltaic cells and down through the AC conversion to the electrical panel,” he said. “Our condition monitoring sensors automatically upload data to the cloud, where you can monitor from a smartphone or desktop computer in real time. More than 60 Fluke tools can connect wirelessly and upload data to the cloud. For example, you can compare electrical measurements or thermal images to determine if all is operating correctly.”
The Fluke 902 FC True-rms HVAC Clamp Meter, a wireless Fluke Connect®-enabled meter, improves the productivity of HVAC technicians in the field. The rugged, dual-rated CAT III, 600/CAT IV, 300 V meter performs the essential measurements of HVAC systems — microamps for testing pilot light sensors, resistance up to 60 kilohms, AC current, AC/DC voltage, capacitance, and contact temperature — eliminating the need to carry multiple tools. Its small body is easy to hold, and the jaw fits perfectly in tight work spaces.
“As more home-performance contractors are identifying and diagnosing whether a home is healthy or unhealthy and functioning efficiently or not, Fluke provides a variety of tools that simplifies workflows to troubleshoot these systems, such as clamp meters, multimeters, and even condition monitoring sensors,” Silvey added. “For example, a healthy home is one that is ‘breathing’ properly. Contractors are going to want to use a thermal imager to see if the house is sealed correctly or if it’s missing insulation. At the same time, we’re bringing fresh air into this envelope using HVAC equipment. Fluke tools, such as the Fluke 902 FC True‑RMS Wireless HVAC Clamp Meter, can make sure equipment is working correctly. We’re using a 902 FC to make sure the voltage is there and if amperage is present, for example. Since it has Fluke Connect, you can connect it at the panel, for example, and then monitor on your smartphone.”
According to Harju, apps that connect to tools are currently trending in the market.
“Fieldpiece’s Job Link system is designed to allow contractors to easily give insight to homeowners about how their a/c units are functioning and what can be done to fix them,” he said. “The contractor can link the specifics of the diagnostics and parts needed to the invoice for an easier sale.”
The Fieldpiece JL3KH6 is a powerful new tool system for the home-performance market. The contractor can take a full system snapshot quickly and easily with the JL3KH6 Charge and Air Test Kit that works directly with Job Link Free for live measurements, diagnostics, reports, and more. This kit consists of two pressure probes, two pipe clamps, and two psychrometers in a quick access padded case. All measurements can be sent up to 350 feet away directly to their mobile device with the Job Link™ app. Each tool is designed for agility and speed. The pressure probes fit into tight spaces. The pipe clamps use the new Rapid Rail™ sensor design, delivering accuracy, speed, and agility, even on the most awkward pipe configurations. The psychrometers’ flexible narrow probes and configurable magnet make it easy to measure supply plenums, ducts, and elevated registers.
“What people can actually do with all of these gadgets is mind-boggling, which leads to overwhelmed homeowners and inaction,” Harju added. “Contractors will need to determine how to package these devices, so they are easily understandable and economically advantageous to homeowners. Right now, contractors are very segmented. You have your carpenters, electricians, plumbers, audio-video guys, and HVAC contractors all playing in the home-performance market, yet not knowing how to cross over into all of segments. Nothing is really in place to address the underlying problem of overwhelming the homeowner. It’s simply too new of a market. Also, the products can be expensive and time-consuming to learn.
“Fieldpiece offers great tools to diagnose and help fix air conditioners, and a tuned, well-designed a/c can save consumers significant money on their a/c bills on average, which is typically the largest chunk of the electrical bill in the summer months,” he continued. “The challenge is getting homeowners to believe that and having contractors equipped to actually make it happen. Contractors interested in making a quick buck usually aren’t the best contractors for home performance. On the same note, homeowners looking for a quick fix will also likely not reap the benefits of efficient home performance. It takes all of the pieces to create the puzzle of efficient home performance.”
Publication date: 10/16/201