The pandemic and sustainability initiatives drove trends in the HVAC commercial market this past year, and they will continue to impact the market as a whole going forward. HVAC contractors would do well to recognize the opportunities for growth and profit in commercial HVAC that have been sparked by current movements in the marketplace.
Three Major Opportunities for 2021
Christopher Bisaccia, partner at Gil-Bar, discussed three particular markets that contractors should be taking advantage of: shipping warehouses, medical centers, and data centers.
“You drive by any major highway across the country, and you see all of these huge warehouses for internet shopping being built,” said Bisaccia. He explained that this burgeoning market requires buildings that often have smoke purge systems and require HVAC systems, frequently rooftop units. Plus, along with many other areas in the economy, owners are interested in air quality solutions for the workers in these warehouses.
“When you talk about technology, there’s a huge push for data collection and storage in a safe, secure way,” he said. “When you think about all the data that’s being stored and the type of HVAC that has to support that — the temperatures that are needed, and that it needs to be cooled in an energy-efficient manner — it’s a really critical area that must be serviced by competent HVAC contractors.”
Bisaccia explained that a contractor who knows how to design and install equipment for these facilities while preserving energy efficiency has the opportunity for a large sum of profits. Lastly, he said that medical centers has always been at the forefront of HVAC technology to preserve health, but it is especially so during the pandemic. People are seeing the value in a properly maintained system with the appropriate redundancies that can be flexible to meet the needs of the facility.
“There’s a huge opportunity in upgrading existing systems, maintaining systems, and getting systems up to speed to be as close to optimal performance as possible,” Bisaccia said. The ability to adapt systems in the case of an emergency is also critical.
HVAC in the Building Market
Bisaccia explained that Gil-Bar is seeing that the pandemic is causing a large-scale reapplication of space across the commercial market.
“Very few people are staying the same,” he said. “Whether people are growing or downsizing from the pandemic, or simply changing their spaces to be laid out differently, there’s change. And that change means work for HVAC contractors.”
When customers are reapplying space, contractors should be educated and ready to help them adjust their systems for the proper ventilation. They should also be able to recommend the proper steps for indoor air quality upgrades. Bisaccia said that the timing of when “normal” will return can’t be predicted, but it will eventually happen. Buildings might start with partial capacity at first but will eventually return to full capacity. If space is reallocated, contractors should be ready to step into the gap and ensure the systems adapt to reflect the new space’s needs, all while remaining energy efficient. The energy efficiency will be key, he explained, as companies undergoing budget concerns as a result of the pandemic will be looking to control their expenses even more.
“The HVAC market is in a very strong position to be able to help recovery and help people feel more comfortable and safe while at work,” he said.
Effects of the Pandemic, and Sustainability Initiatives
Bisaccia explained that Gil-Bar has seen quite a bit of new construction occurring, and he attributes this to the process of designing and constructing buildings, since this process often takes place over the course of several years.
“There’s a lot of consideration regarding what systems will look like, and what types of systems will be designed,” he said. “The questions become: What products are we offering to improve these systems? What are we doing to improve air quality and make people feel comfortable?”
He also said that indoor air quality has been a trending topic, specifically regarding the means of upgrading existing systems in a way that still allows buildings to stick with pre-existing energy initiatives.
“A lot of times, you have to make sure control systems are operating properly and that there’s alternate means of filtration, not just standard particulate filters, but higher-end technology,” he said. “It’s making sure you’re using the right air filtration technology in the right application.” This requires a number of variables to be taken into consideration, depending on space requirements and any existing systems.
The onset of the pandemic caused a shortage in product availability, though Bisaccia said that availability has improved, but contractors still need to plan in advance and not assume product availability as a given.
Regarding sustainability, Bisaccia explained that green building and energy efficiency have been driving the marketplace for many years already, and that electrification and decarbonization has been a topic taking center stage more recently.
Upgrades, and not just system replacement, are a path to efficiency. Saving energy while improving air quality creates a number of variables, and these will create work for the educated contractor.
“How do you make your existing systems more efficient?” he said. “What technology is in the marketplace that you could upgrade to save energy and use less fossil fuels or use less energy from the grid?”