Comfortable, clean air. That’s what end users on both the residential and commercial sides are looking for in the aftermath of the pandemic. Humidity levels are an important factor to consider when trying to improve the quality of one’s indoor environment, and manufacturers at this year’s AHR Expo in Atlanta shared some current trends in the humidification and dehumidification space, from energy efficiency to health and wellness.
While higher efficiency HVAC systems seem to be the way of the future — especially as a result of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) recent regulations, which went into effect in January 2023 — sometimes this efficiency can come at a cost.
“Air conditioners, by default and design, are dehumidifiers. However, one of the tradeoffs that can happen as you go with higher and higher efficiency equipment is that you can trade off that ability to dehumidify the space, so your sensible heat ratio can be impacted negatively,” said TJ Wheeler, senior vice president of sales and marketing, Friedrich.
He noted that although an end user might not realize that they are buying a dehumidifier as well when they invest in air conditioning, it is their job as a manufacturer to provide both cooling capacity and continuous dehumidification within their products. New regulations are primarily focused on overall energy efficiency, said Wheeler, rather than IAQ or the comfort level within a space, and humidity levels are key to indoor comfort.
Heating, cooling, humidity control, and IAQ are the four main components of an indoor environment, Wheeler explained, and these aspects have driven Friedrich to incorporate heat pump technology into many of their products — whether it is a mini split, window air conditioner, or even a portable unit.
“Every single one of our categories has a heat pump variant in it, and we're also utilizing a lot of variable-speed technology, inverter compressors. And what that does for the humidity control is because these inverters are able to run at a part load, they're able to really operate as a lower-capacity air conditioner and therefore run longer,” he said.
AIR CONDITIONING: Friedrich’s FreshAire PTAC optimizes the temperature and humidity level of incoming air. (Staff photo)
Friedrich’s FreshAire Package Terminal Air Conditioner (PTAC) uses its inverter compressor and main cooling system to optimize the temperature and humidity level of incoming air. Available in two models, 9,000 Btu and 12,000 Btu, the PTAC units can deliver efficiencies up to 13 EER and a 15 SEER equivalent, and offer improved dehumidification. The systems can also bring up to 52 cfm of conditioned, MERV 8 filtered, outside air into a space.
Since the onset of the pandemic, health and wellness have been top trends — especially in regards to humidification, said Marlee Spiegelberg, P.Eng, application engineering manager at Condair. While the need for humidity control has been around for a long time, she explained that the pandemic has highlighted the role humidification plays in the spread of viruses and infections through indoor air. She added that when it comes to humidity levels during the manufacture of certain products and materials, those levels can be quantifiable, but monitoring humidity for health can prove difficult.
“Humidification is an important factor in, for example, the quality of pharmaceuticals that are being manufactured. And textiles, if they sell by weight, the product is heavier if it has moisture in it. That's more easily quantifiable; they can put a number to that and say, ‘If we don't have proper humidification, we’re losing money,’” said Spiegelberg. “How do you quantify when someone's in the office and they lose days to sick days because of the poor indoor air quality?”
According to Spiegelberg, many surveys that look to quantify the relationship between humidity and wellness were conducted during the pandemic, and the results of these studies are starting to come to light. Although justifying the need for a humidification system might still be difficult, she said people are generally more aware of humidity nowadays and, as a result, there are more opportunities available — especially within the health and wellness sector. With opportunities come future challenges, she noted, as it would just be a matter of time before minimum humidity requirements become the norm for buildings and other spaces.
Condair’s DL series is an adiabatic hybrid humidifier based on the humidification principles of atomization and evaporation. The humidifying water is atomized by stainless steel atomizing nozzles at low pressures, and the ceramic evaporator captures the water to reevaporate it, producing an aerosol-free byproduct. The DL also has BACnet Testing Laboratories certified BACnet technology.
“[The system] is extremely hygienic, so it allows for use in hospitals and has the certification called Fresenius, which is used for other medical equipment,” said Spiegelberg.
Pandemic mitigation is still at the top of everyone’s minds, and this ongoing concern has been a key influencer for control strategies within commercial buildings, said Grant Salmon, business development manager – commercial building controls at Honeywell. He explained that the world is still experiencing the effects of the pandemic, and focusing on aspects such as humidity levels within a building can lead to an improvement in IAQ.
“Early in the pandemic, I think ASHRAE did a really good job of clarifying to the community of stakeholders what appropriate humidity levels are in buildings to minimize the spread of infectious disease, aerosols. ASHRAE came out pretty strong saying, ‘We want buildings to be operating between a relative humidity level of 40% and 60%,’” he said.
Salmon described air optimization as a “mega trend” that encompasses both building wellness and overall air quality to drive improved occupant outcomes. From achieving higher test scores within schools to losing fewer work days due to sickness in offices, he explained, investments in IAQ can make a difference across various applications. Having a holistic view of IAQ is key, Salmon said, which includes considering factors such as humidity control.
THERMOSTAT: Honeywell’s TC500 can help monitor humidity levels and is designed specifically for small and medium commercial buildings. (Staff photo)
One way to monitor humidity levels within a building is through the use of a smart thermostat, such as Honeywell’s TC500 commercial thermostat. Designed specifically for small and medium commercial buildings, the TC500 offers mobile connectivity, flexible configuration, and BMS integration capabilities. The product also allows for onboard economizer control, as well as the execution of demand-controlled ventilation sequences.
“We can turn humidifiers on and off at the touch of a button. We can open dampers up based on both indoor and outdoor enthalpy conditions, which humidity levels are going to be baked into,” he added.
When it comes to the design of new HVAC products, the word “smart” is always at the forefront nowadays — and dehumidification products are no exception, said Justin Haag, senior application engineer – commercial a/c at GE Appliances Air & Water Solutions. He noted that depending on where a project is located or where an end user lives, especially if it is in the southeastern United States, dehumidification becomes an important factor to consider in regards to indoor comfort.
SMART CONTROLS: GE’s Zoneline UltimateV12 has three dedicated modes that are geared toward dehumidification. (Staff photo)
With GE’s Zoneline UltimateV12, designed primarily for commercial applications such as hospitality or multifamily buildings, the system has three dedicated modes that are geared toward dehumidification, Haag said. The unit also incorporates inverter technology, which contributes to humidity control.
“We’re not only targeting a specific temperature in the room, but we're also targeting specific relative humidities so that we're keeping the people in those spaces comfortable, not only with temperature but humidity as well,” he explained.
Keeping contractors in mind, Haag said the time taken to install this new product on an existing system is reduced by 60%.
He noted that since the pandemic, more people have been concerned with airflow in general. Not only do they want clean air, but they also have higher standards for comfortable air, which is related to humidity levels within a space, he said
“Dehumidification is such a big part of comfort,” said Haag.
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