They say the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes. The same holds true for nearly all aspects of the HVAC industry. Honing in on the high-end heating market, there have been several changes over the years, but four primary trends stand out among the rest: connectivity, efficiency, aesthetics and health, and upgraded technology.
Control integration is a key change, according to Goodman Mfg. Co. LP. So in an effort to give consumers more freedom with their HVAC options, Goodman has removed the heating system control board from the thermostat and mounted it directly to the circuit board of select gas furnace models. This change allows the equipment to connect to any single-stage or smart thermostat available.
“A gas furnace with this enhanced technology is compatible with the Cool Cloud™ App,” said Nathan Walker, senior vice president, Goodman Mfg. Co. LP. “It connects to the heating system via Bluetooth® and allows an easier approach to connect, configure, and diagnose high-efficiency gas furnace heating systems.”
Homeowners are looking for smart thermostats that can deliver more than just decreased energy costs, said Tom Task, product manager, Johnson Controls Inc.
“They want the ability to manage their system from an interface that feels comfortable to them,” he added.
To assist customers with this, Johnson Controls offers the Affinity™ Hx3™ Touch-screen Thermostat, which integrates with the Apple Watch® and Amazon Echo®. The device sends automatic alerts when maintenance is required.
“The addition of a smart thermostat such as this improves system performance, decreases heating costs, and provides homeowners with greater control over their home comfort,” Task said.
Included in the connectivity trend is Wi-Fi. Although it has been around for some time, Wi-Fi is still relatively new when considering technology and HVAC product enhancements. Wi-Fi, along with a plethora of controls and apps, is providing granular system control from virtually anywhere, according to Mark Woodruff, product manager, Trane residential. The company’s S-Series Furnace offers users complete control when using the Nexia app or a web portal.
“Through built-in diagnostics, dealers and homeowners can now be proactive about problems and potential issues with their systems,” said Woodruff. “The level of user control and dealer diagnostic capabilities will continue to increase. Five years ago, consumers had access to change the most basic settings through mobile and web platforms. Today, they can remotely manage settings like air quality and humidity.”
Adding to the Wi-Fi market of controls for high-end equipment, Rheem® launched the EcoNet® Smart Thermostat.
According to Ryan Teschner, product manager, furnaces, Rheem, the Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat works with all Rheem smart heating, cooling, and water heating equipment to help maximize efficiency and comfort.
There is a trend toward increasing electrical efficiency that is gaining ground, according to Teschner.
“The fan energy rating (FER) regulation that is going into effect in the summer of 2019 is going to change the furnace product landscape,” he said. “OEMs, distributors, and contractors alike are preparing for the phaseout of PSC [permanent split capacitor] motors.”
The regulation referenced is the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) energy conservation standard for residential furnace fans. Compliance is mandatory starting July 3, 2019.
In this final rule, the DOE has determined that the prescribed standards would result in significant energy conservation and both are technologically feasible and economically justified.
“What we are seeing is that we used to talk about higher efficiency and AFUE as it relates to the gas, but now we are starting to see the electric side with the furnace motor as well,” said Valerie Mastalka, senior product marketing manager, heating, Lennox. “Regulation and baseline expectation for efficiency, emissions, and air quality are really starting to impact our industry, and it will continue to in the coming years.”
When looking at AFUE, Mastalka noted that more manufacturers are pressing toward the 97 percent AFUE level, and many are achieving it. With a high-percentage AFUE becoming closer to the new normal, some manufacturers have turned their attention to the gas emissions coming from the furnace. Inspired by the new regulations from California that are focusing on lower emissions, especially when it comes to NOx, Lennox released four furnaces — the SL280NV, SL297NV, EL180NE, and EL195NE — that are fully compliant with regional regulations.
Another emerging efficiency trend with high-end heating systems is strategic electrification. According to Michelle Robb, director of residential marketing, Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US, strategic electrification means that the built environment is powered with electricity generated from renewable energy sources, such as sunlight.
“This concept is a long process that includes evaluating local market readiness for efficient electrification technologies, such as heat pumps and electric cars,” explained Robb. “If an area is determined to still be heavily reliant on fossil fuels, energy companies employ tactics and/or policies to overcome barriers by encouraging or incentivizing green practices. Every time a homeowner chooses high-end heating products, they’re doing their part to transition the country from a reliance on fossil fuels to electric.”
Moving beyond lower energy bills and greater environmental responsibility, aesthetics and health are high on the customer requirement list. According to Robb, the size and appearance of units are trending toward modern, fashion–forward designs often seen in high-end construction.
“As we continue to expand our residential technology and product offerings, we aim to keep homeowners’ aesthetic preferences in mind,” Robb said. “In residential products especially, there is a preconceived notion that ductless HVAC products are unattractive and, from an appearance standpoint, will devalue the surrounding high-end design.”
With this in mind, the company designed the MLZ One-Way Ceiling Cassette. It is a discreet, compact device that was made to integrate into luxurious environments. The cassette fits between standard ceiling joists and eliminates the need for additional access points and construction efforts.
Unico Inc. has seen the same rising interest in more flexible HVAC systems that can be sealed in smaller spaces.
“Fine interior moldings add luxurious detail to older homes, and many homeowners don’t like to cover it up with HVAC ducting,” said Jason Church, national trainer, Unico Inc. “Similiarly, owners of modern, minimalist homes do not want to sacrifice their bright, open spaces.”
Church also explained that the company is seeing an increased focus on IAQ, especially with the tight building envelopes often created by high-end homes. Depending on system sizing and conditions, some of these tighter homes are experiencing mold troubles.
“More and more municipalities are instituting fresh air requirements as a way to address growing mold issues,” said Church. “This has translated into a growing need for energy recovery ventilation with the help of variable speed indoor and outdoor condenser units like the Unico System’s iSeries and Green Series.”
The high-end heating market is experiencing technology upgrades at the equipment level as well. One of the largest changes is the improvement of heat pump technology that allows these units to function in a larger range of ambient temperatures.
“The quality of heating, the conditions, and the climate that heat pumps operate under are improving,” said Shilae Xie, head of product management, Regional Air-Conditioner Business Unit, Bosch Thermotechnology. “The conditions have created momentum for heat pumps to be used in northern climates as a heat source.”
Xie expects heat pump technology to continue to grow over the coming years and wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually became one of the dominant solutions for heating. Part of this prediction stems from the inclusion of inverter technology in the heat pump segment.
“Inverter technology makes the heat pump more efficient with less temperature swings and on and off cycles,” Xie explained. “It requires communication systems, which has created a challenge in the adoption of the inverter; but inverter technology will advance the performance of heat pumps. We see the cost going down and a rapid growth of inverter technology being integrated into heat pumps.”
Fujitsu General America Inc. pointed out that systems that can perform in outdoor temperatures as low as they can today are helping to make mini-splits a year-round, whole-home solution for heating and cooling too.
“We’re seeing a growing trend to move heat with refrigeration rather than burning fossil fuels,” explained Erin Mezle, director of marketing, Fujitsu General America Inc. “Also, manufacturers are producing higher-efficiency systems that operate at lower outdoor temperatures. This will allow additional markets to enjoy the benefits of this energy-efficient heating and cooling.”
The biggest trend in boilers is the shift from non-condensing, low-efficiency to condensing, high-efficiency residential units, according to Dan Moffroid, director of product management, Bosch Thermotechnology.
The Bosch Greenstar line of residential condensing boilers is being used in high-end applications for radiant heating with panel radiators, in-floor radiant, or baseboards. They provide heating and domestic hot water with a 151,000 maximum BTU rating and 95 percent AFUE.
“The customer awareness and expectation is changing; efficiency is becoming more of a focus area in terms of the long-term operating cost, Moffroid said.”
Publication date: 11/19/2018