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Cold climate heat pumps were on full display on the AHR show floor and manufacturers were eager to share their progress reports in the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) CCHP Challenge.

“You’re going to see a lot of changes, last year and going forward, with the switch to heat pumps,” said Justin Huntington, senior manager – heat pumps at Lennox. “We saw as an industry about a 10-15% growth in heat pumps, while a/cs and furnaces grew about 3-5%.”

JCI Split System.

COMBO CREDITS: JCI’s Charles Hurd predicts consumers will want to pair a heat pump with a 97% furnace to “stack” the tax credits offered for both. (Staff photo)

Factors like the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and its 25C tax credits, plus incentives from utilities all across North America, are leading the push for heat pumps, whether it’s a standard traditional heat pump in the in the south or southeast, a cold climate heat pump in the north, or — for the heat pump sceptics — a dual fuel application that works with a furnace.

At the Johnson Controls booth, Charles Hurd chimed in with the math.

“What we're hearing from some of our channel partners that their customers are not going to want to get rid of their condensing furnace, but they are going to want to get the money associated with a high-efficiency heat pump,” he said. “Now that there's a $2,000 [heat pump] credit for a northern homeowner and if they get a 97% furnace, they get another $600, they could stack those two and get $2,600.

“We in residential firmly believe that customers will want to use dual-fuel systems as a bridge to get into a fully decarbonized future,” he continued. “We think there's a lot of folks that if they have a choice, they'll take the safety net; they'll gladly take the heat pump, but they’ll want the backup plan.”



Last June, Lennox was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm as the first HVAC manufacturer to develop and build a prototype unit that achieved the objectives of the DOE’s Cold Climate Heat Pump Technology Challenge.

“Lennox was actually declared the winner!” said Justin Huntington, noting that their prototype was the first to meet DOE’s objectives. Now, Lennox has four units going through the first round of field trial testing, scattered across chilly, snowy areas — Iowa, Montana, one in Canada. The DOE and local utilities will look at the data to see how well they perform in cold climates, he explained, “and then that'll help the Department of Energy set incentives for manufacturers like Lennox to develop products to meet those needs.”

On the consumer side, Lennox is working to get Americans in cold climates used to the idea of heat pumps and what the airflow will feel like in their homes.

“The South is used to heat pumps, but the North is very unsure of what a heat pump is. They're used to their furnace and their air conditioner,” Huntington said. Lennox’s top-of-the-line cold climate heat pump, the SL25XPV, has a setting that can turn up the discharge air temperature — so it feels more like furnace heat — so that homeowners who switch to that kind of heat pump have a seamless transition from a furnace.

Launching in a couple months will be the EL22XPV, a variable-speed heat pump ranging from 2-5 tons with efficiencies up to 22 SEER2 and 9 HSPF2. It can be connected with a Lennox fully communicating system for the highest efficiencies, or used in noncommunicating mode with an existing 24V thermostat.

“Not quite a cold climate heat pump, but it does meet a lot of the tax incentives and Inflation Reduction Act incentives that homeowners get a big rebate check back for,” Huntington said.



Rheem, too, is participating in the DOE’s CCHP Challenge. The manufacturer is relaunching its residential heat pump platform to meet demand that Jeff Goss, director of product management – residential systems, anticipates this year due to IRA tax credits.

At the same time, Rheem is also launching its Endeavor platform of gas-fired furnaces.

“We're not backing away from the gas market,” Goss said. “There's certainly a future for gas-fired furnaces … and we’re invested in gas products.”

One of the changes with the launch is introducing variable-speed compression in Rheem’s mid-tier and two-stage compression in their base tier products — a feature that’s been available, but historically has been reserved for their highest-tier furnaces.

“That means we've got to have the ability to match airflow on the indoor side of the system. So we have pushed constant air volume, or constant cfm, down into our base tier products now, with the furnace portfolio,” Goss said.

Rheem’s Endeavor line, which is new for 2023, is also offering EcoNet communication and Bluetooth diagnostics all the way down to their base tier.



Attitudes toward heat pumps are generational, said Mike Smith, senior manager of marketing and communication at Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC U.S. (METUS). Whereas contractors who’ve had experience with traditional heat pumps — the kind that were rated at 47°F for heating — tend to be leery of their cold climate performance, younger technicians see heat pumps as smart technology that integrates into a home, versus just heating and cooling. And they’re accustomed to modern models that use inverter-compressor technology and work in much colder temps.

METUS’ H2i (short for “hyper heating inverter”) sumo products are 100% of heating capacity at -10°F, with reliable heating down to -22°F.

“I think that the trend towards heat pumps will be a pull strategy by consumers who want this,” Smith said. “They're going to call contractors and ask, and if the contractor hasn't been trained on this technology, they'll be encouraged to go get trained.”

METUS IntelliHEAT System.

DUAL FUEL: For homeowners who are on the fence about electrification, METUS is launching the intelli-HEAT Dual Fuel System: an A-coil that bolts onto an existing furnace and functions as a cold climate heat pump, retaining the furnace for backup heating. (Staff photo)

For homeowners who are on the fence about electrification, METUS is launching the intelli-HEAT Dual Fuel System, coming in the third quarter of 2023. Smith described it as an A-coil that bolts onto an existing furnace and functions as a cold climate heat pump, retaining the furnace for backup heating. To save energy and dollars, the system will automatically switch between heat pump and furnace operation based on outdoor temp and/or utility rates.

“There's a lot of consumers in cold climates who want to electrify and be more eco-friendly and sustainable, but they're not quite sure about switching 100% from gas,” Smith said. “This is a nice bridge product. It’s a great retrofit opportunity for contractors; when they go into a home to replace their air conditioner, they can replace with the intelli-HEAT A-coil system and provide heating as well as air conditioning for the homeowner.”


GE Appliances Air & Water Solutions

“Electric” is in GE’s name, and the manufacturer is definitely leaning into the electrification aspect of HVAC.

“It’s super interesting to hear what builders in the residential new construction space are looking for in terms of heat pumps and capacities in colder climates, and how incentives are going to be driving some of that behavior,” said Andrew Twitty, director of product management at GE Appliances.

On display at GE’s booth was the Connect series heat pump series.

“It’s been in market for about three years, but right now I think strikes a new nerve within the industry in terms of what it's able to do,” said Twitty. It’s eligible for the 25C tax credit, has capacity down to -22° and 100% capacity down to -5°, and is up to 20 SEER and 10.5 HSPF. It also doesn’t have proprietary controls, which provides a simple plug-and-play solution for HVAC installers.

At the same time, Twitty said GE also realizes that furnaces “are going to be here in a very real way for years and years.”

“Even if some of the legislation that is being talked about goes into effect, closer to 2030, we still expect the replacement base to be very robust for decades,” he said. “So we fully recognize we need products that can compete in all the spaces that [contractors] are selling into today.”

At its big blue-and-white AHR exhibit, GE displayed the NF80, its mid-efficiency product, and the high-efficiency NF97 fully modulating gas furnace. Both have Insta-Position technology, which means the unit ships ready for install in either horizontal or vertical positions with no internal conversions, making it easier and quicker to install in a tight crawl space or attic.

“They don't want 50 different hoses and a 60-piece goodie bag that comes with each part,” Twitty said. “We want to make it as simple as we possibly can, minimize the training needed — make it as plug-and-play as possible.”



John Barba, manager of marketing at Taco, said the biggest trend he’s seen in residential heating is beneficial electrification.

“It’s actually snowballing more than I thought it was going to,” he said. “We’re seeing municipalities saying ‘No more fossil fuels’ … in new construction.”

Taco System Heat Pump.

HYDRONIC HEAT PUMP: Taco’s System M air-to-water heat pump provides heating, cooling, and hot water, and allows for the comfort of hydronics. (Staff photo)

That’s where products like Taco’s System M air-to-water heat pump come into play. It provides heating, cooling, and hot water, and allows for the comfort of hydronics.

“So if you want some radiant floor heat and you want some panel radiators, we can integrate that very easily to enhance the comfort, and then you've got one unit to also do the cooling, which has always been the drawback to hydronics,” he said.

The indoor unit comes fully assembled, wired, integrated, and ready to go.

“Plop it down, make six piping connections up top, and the installer’s got his job done. So what might have taken him four and a half days to do, he can now get done in about two days,” Barba said.

Homeowners like it, he said, because “it looks terrific.” And while the technical aspect is first and foremost, Taco really prioritizes the aesthetic as well, he said — and there’s a reason. With most air-to-water heat pumps, the fan is visible. Taco’s System M looks like a large, sleek refrigerator, and it has side discharge; the fan isn’t visible.

“What we've learned is people hear what they see,” Barba explained. “Just from a psychological standpoint, you don't see the fan, therefore you don't hear the fan.

“Now, the fan is quiet — it’s about 27 decibels at 10 feet, which they’re not going to hear anyway,” he continued. But he recalled a situation once where a homeowner called to complain that an outdoor unit (with a visible fan) was making too much noise.

“They went to the job and it's not even wired up,” he said. “The fact is, the wind was making the fan blow. But people hear what they see.”

The System M also has a quick-setup integrated control that, for 95% of potential installations, can be set up in five minutes tops. It’s internet-connected, so the installer can troubleshoot from the app from anywhere in the world as well as give Taco’s tech services temporary access to the unit itself, so they can see in the Taco office what the installer can see on the ground.

“It makes service a lot easier, a lot more complete, and gives the installer the peace of mind that any troubles that may arise can be taken care of quickly and painlessly.”