Consumers looking to buy a high-end a/c system usually know what they want.
“Sometimes, reliability and warranty become important,” said Anubhav Ranjan, residential products leader, Air Division, Rheem Mfg. Co. “Sometimes, local service becomes important; sometimes, technology.”
What they don’t always know are all the factors, be it environmental or simple details about the house, that go into choosing which high-end system will best suit their needs.
“What is important to them could be a high level of comfort, energy efficiency, or peace of mind,” Ranjan said.
For the rest, they rely on the contractor.
“What becomes important to the customer is really the trust with the contractors: to understand their needs and recommend the right solution,” Ranjan said.
“The challenge really belongs to us, the manufacturer, to offer high-end systems that are desirable to both the contractors and consumers,” said David Palazzolo, senior product manager, split systems at Daikin North America LLC. “One common trend we are seeing in all North American regions is the traditional HVAC applications — of unitary split systems, single packaged units, boilers, or oil furnaces — are being challenged with newer technologies that include inverter compressors, variable-speed fans, variable refrigerant, and IoT connectivity.”
WHAT MAKES IT HIGH-END?
For David Garvin, product manager at Nortek Global HVAC, high-end a/c means high efficiency.
“They just go hand in hand together,” he said.
Nortek’s highest efficiency products, the iQ Drive series, have inverter compressors built into the units. All are 18-plus SEER models.
“We specifically have three product types that have the iQ drive: inverter systems, a split a/c … also a split heat pump,” he said. “And then there’s a gas/electric packaged unit that is used in Tennessee and certain parts of the country for residential applications. We have an iQ drive for those folks as well.”
The iQ Drive products fall into the category of high-end systems because they are rich in features that consumers care about, Garvin said.
“Obviously, the variable-capacity compressor provides very smooth temperature swings to your home as it operates,” he said. “It therefore controls humidity much better. It has the ability to change its capacity with the change on the load of the home. So as it gets hotter during the day, the system will speed up, run faster, get more capacity. And it does that all automatically, without any interaction from the homeowner. It’s a very intelligent system.”
High-end systems are typically multistage or variable-capacity systems, which provide superior comfort and energy efficiency to consumers, according to Ranjan.
“These high-end systems also come with communicating controls, intelligent diagnostics, Wi-Fi capability, and are supported by the best warranty,” he said. “We are seeing consumers becoming more and more conscious about sustainability/energy efficiency and are looking for systems that provide peace of mind through intelligent diagnostics and smart connectivity and control through apps.”
These are things customers want, Ranjan said.
“Typically, we’ve seen consumers becoming more and more conscious about efficiency, about comfort, about peace of mind ... quiet operation, sound, because they don’t want an a/c outside that makes so much noise,” he said.
Wi-Fi allows different systems in the home to work together and also lets the homeowner control their a/c from wherever they want.
Zoning is gaining importance from a comfort standpoint as well, as it helps maintain consistency in different areas.
Rheem’s Prestige® Series EcoNet®-enabled variable-speed air conditioners are part of the Rheem air conditioner product line that extends from 13 to 20 SEER and provides high efficiencies.
Rheem’s EcoNet technology offers system control, monitoring, and one-touch alert capability.
“I think these [trends] will continue, but also, I think consumers will look for more information about the system so that they can get better peace of mind,” Ranjan said. “If there’s something about to go wrong with the system, or something has gone wrong with the system, they will have the ability to be informed. They can connect to the contractor … so there’s no downtime for the homeowner.”
From a consumer standpoint, a high-end HVAC system is one where the user is in control, said Palazzolo.
“They can monitor and control their system manually or automatically, either from the thermostat or from an app, within their home or from anywhere in the world,” he said. “HVAC controls with Wi-Fi and IoT capabilities are a must for any new high-end HVAC systems.”
From a contractor standpoint, a high-end HVAC system is a system that exceeds the homeowner’s expectations, he continued.
“It will provide controllability, performance, and comfort beyond what the homeowner ever knew was available,” Palazzolo said.
Daikin’s VRV Life and Daikin Fit systems are two of the manufacturer’s latest high-end HVAC system offerings that cross traditional ducted versus ductless boundaries.
*Dual-fuel achievable only when VRV indoor units and gas furnace and A-coil are connected to one VRV LIVE™ system outdoor unit.
HIGH LIFE: One Daikin VRV Life outdoor heat pump can connect up to nine different indoor units, including gas furnaces. “VRV Life brings the high-end commercial variable-refrigerant technology into the residential sector, capable of connecting to several different styles of both ducted and ductless indoor furnaces and air handlers,” said David Palazzolo, Daikin North America LLC.
One VRV Life outdoor heat pump can connect up to nine different indoor units, including gas furnaces.
“VRV Life brings the high-end commercial variable-refrigerant technology into the residential sector, capable of connecting to several different styles of both ducted and ductless indoor furnaces and air handlers, providing the ultimate in application flexibility,” said Palazzolo.
Daikin Fit is essentially a simplified version of VRV Life, offering a 1-to-1 connection of outdoor to indoor units. Both VRV Life and Daikin Fit include inverter compressors and variable-speed fan technology, providing a system that will ramp up and down to provide only the necessary refrigerant to meet the demand and, therefore, expend only the energy necessary.
CONTRACTORS AND CUSTOMERS
For consumers who are shopping strictly on price, high-end systems are not a top choice, Ranjan said. How to sell them comes down partly to how the subject is approached, as well as the willingness of the customer to buy.
“While the life cycle cost is much lower, there’s an upfront cost,” Ranjan said. “In some situations, even when a good financing option is presented, it becomes a little bit challenging for the consumer. On the other hand, if you look at contractors, many times, they do not pitch a high-end system to the homeowners because of the fear that … they might not be able to justify a high price tag.”
The industry’s challenge today is providing high efficiency at a reasonable price, said Garvin.
“Replacing an R-22 system with an R-410A system makes the cost of conversion on a baseline system much more than it was 10 years ago,” he said. “No matter what system the contractor’s suggesting, it’s a big-ticket item today because, again, they have to change the outdoor unit, they have to change the indoor unit, and in many cases, they have changed the furnace in order to get a matched system for them to operate properly together. So they’re already talking about replacing all three pieces.”
At that point, he continued, many customers realize they didn’t budget for the expense, and they take the lowest cost option, which is the minimum efficiency.
“But you do have people who just want the better products in their house,” Garvin said. “So they’ll spend the extra money to move up to the higher-efficiency products. It’s all about being comfortable in your home. And the contractor that can explain his systems, explain comfort in their home, how it’s going to affect their home, is the guy that will win.”
To help with the sale, Nortek offers a web-based app, which can be used on iPads and tablets, called the ComfortConsultant. Using the app, contractors can load their products and pricing, and the app walks them and the homeowner through a series of questions to figure out the most important issues to that household: IAQ, humidity control, saving money on utility bills every month, etc.
Every home and homeowner’s situation and needs are unique, said Palazzolo.
“They may have had a previous, poorly operating HVAC system,” he said. “They may know someone who has bragged about their new VRV Life system. Or, they may be in a situation where first cost is not a concern and they only want the best. There are also some homeowners that are seeking a high-end HVAC system with IAQ features that can monitor and control IAQ in a home. Being able to monitor and control indoor air quality in a home, for someone with severe allergies, can be life-changing.”
As homeowners become more connected with their HVAC systems through Wi-Fi and web-enabled technology (another big reason for high-end HVAC system demand), they are becoming more interested in the available technology and features of the HVAC equipment itself.
“HVAC technology has really grown over the past several years, and homeowners have gained a higher interest in their HVAC systems, primarily due to the improvement in how they interact with their system,” Palazzolo said. “Today’s controls have made it easier for homeowners to automate their system for home or away modes, day or night modes, zone control room by room, and they don’t have to be home to make the changes. They can simply tell any number of connected devices ‘good night’ and have it programmed to automatically change temperatures, room by room, for comfortable sleeping temperatures in the bedroom and economy temperatures in the rest of the home.”
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
What high-end system will best suit a customer’s needs depends in part on the customer’s environment — a decision that is often up to the contractor to steer.
“It’s hard to sell a condensing furnace to somebody who’s along the Gulf Coast or in Florida,” Gavin said. “They don’t have enough heating degree days in those markets to sustain or to pay back that high-efficiency investment. Likewise, try to convince somebody up in Minnesota or upstate New York to put in a high-efficiency heat pump. [It’s] probably not going to do the job for them, long term, during the winter. So people in the North are going to be prompted to go to a condensing gas furnace that is going to provide them much better cost for the comfort they get in their homes.”
Palazzolo said geography is one of several factors that determine the right HVAC system.
“Obviously, temperature and humidity are key factors in selecting the right system, geographically,” he said.
Application can also be a major factor. For example, in the Southwest, many homes have a raised crawl space under the home. A single packaged unit is the typical application with all supply and return ducts routed throughout the crawl space underneath the house.
“In the Northwest, electric utility companies have been very powerful in pushing electricity versus gas heat, which has created a strong market for heat pumps,” said Palazzolo. “In the Northeast, where boiler systems were once the HVAC system of choice, now air conditioning is becoming more of a demand, and heat pumps are becoming more common. Heat pump technology has drastically improved over the past several years, and this has changed the mindset of contractors in the northern United States and Canada. In the Sunbelt, where air conditioning is important and gas is cheap, high-efficiency cooling with standard 80 percent AFUE furnaces in the attics is common.”
For northern climates where heating is important, Daikin offers furnaces of up to 97 percent AFUE with variable-speed indoor fans and modulating gas valves for ultimate heating comfort and performance. For southern, cooling-dominant climates, Daikin offers outdoor air conditioners and heat pumps with efficiencies up to 20 SEER and variable-speed inverter compressors.
Publication date: 6/17/2019