There are some definite changes coming to the ductless air conditioning market, now that manufacturers have to meet the 13 SEER requirement imposed by the U.S. Department of Energy, effective Jan. 23, 2006.

The News contacted ductless and mini-split manufacturers to see what's hot in the world of duct-free cooling. Here is a brief rundown from those who responded.

Fedders, for one, is working for 13 SEER efficiency in mini-splits, according to spokesperson Beth Marotta, "and we will make the deadline." The company enjoyed exposure of its ductless mini-splits on a segment of Home and Garden Television (HGTV) "and we've received an amazing amount of inquiries," she said.

As is true with most ductless and/or mini-split makers contacted by The News, Fedders offers a multiplex system that can serve various rooms from a single outdoor condensing unit. The company isn't saying whether it will change refrigerants or make changes in compressor types.

LG Electronics will be in compliance with 13 SEER come 2006, assured Steve Schmitt, sales manager, Air Conditioning Division. Given the company's introduction of its new Art Cool air conditioner line, expect the 13-SEER units to be stylish, too.

The wall-mounted indoor Art Cool evaporator not only has a pretty front in stylish artwork, but it also has a quiet, multidirectional airflow, designed to create the feeling of natural breezes, said Schmitt.

"The only decision we're making right now is whether to stay with R-22 or go ahead and move to R-410A," he said. "The difference comes down to the size of the equipment. We do have the ability to compact our size when we move to R-410A at 13 SEER levels."

Down the road, Schmitt foresees changes in technology to achieve levels of 13 SEER or higher.

"LG is a very technologically advanced company, but you have to balance your technology with overall market acceptance, and pricing will play into it as well," he said.

While LG's current U.S. duct-free split system offerings include up to tri-zone units, the company has units in the worldwide market that can serve "hundreds of indoor evaporators with one outdoor condenser," reported Schmitt. Since the United States is primarily a ducted-system market, LG's duct-free split system technology will be gradually applied "in ways the U.S. market will accept," he said.

For instance, one of LG's tri-zone units has two compressors in the single outdoor condensing unit. The compressors are designed to operate at varying capacities, depending on indoor demand and the staging of each compressor, noted Schmitt.

Debate Over Refrigerants

"Hopefully, we'll be a little higher than 13, but we will definitely meet the minimum," said Tom White, Carrier's product business manager, duct-free systems, North America Residential.

The company's premium duct-free line will use Puron refrigerant. Whether Carrier will then have any duct-free systems using R-22 "is a point of debate right now."

For 2006, White noted that Carrier will have a brand-new high-wall unit design - "an entirely new aesthetic for it." He added that a new cassette unit will incorporate the new look, too.

There are some greater opportunities for duct-free systems as the transition to 13 SEER takes place, believes White. He thinks the opportunities will pop up when consumers recognize that duct-free systems meet the same energy-efficiency standards as ducted unitary systems.

"Basically, we want to be viewed as a high-quality, high-efficiency alternative to ducted systems where the application calls for it," said White. "I think the aesthetics of any of the duct-free systems have come a long way over the past 10 years, and people in North America are becoming a little more used to seeing the products."

Expect newer duct-free units to be sleeker-looking, too.

"We're also offering a lot more of the indoor air quality components such as higher efficiency and antimicrobial filters," offered White.

Carrier will have a mixture of inverter and fixed-speed products in its ductless offerings. The variable-speed units can run more quietly and follow cooling requirements more closely, he explained.

Finally, Carrier is also eyeing multizone applications, "but our release probably will be beyond 2006. We definitely see that as a great market." The company currently has dual-zone systems, and will probably put more emphasis on multizone starting in 2006.

Panasonic is ready to roll, according to William Soderberg, national marketing manager.

"We've been planning for the 13 SEER impact for the last six to nine months," he said.

While it has had a longstanding worldwide presence in split systems, Panasonic entered the U.S. ductless market only recently, within the past two years. While it does not have 13-SEER units now, it does have a 9,000-Btu model rated at about 12.5 SEER in its present offerings, said Soderberg.

"Our entire lineup, both cooling and heat pump, will be modified and redesigned for introduction in January of 2006," he said.

Panasonic is redesigning some of its 9-, 10- and 11-SEER models for introduction this year. The new look and style doesn't change SEER ratings, but "we're doing that in anticipation of eventually modifying the technology to change the SEER ratings, too."

Soon, Panasonic will introduce its first multizone into the U.S. market, a dual-zone 24,000-Btu system. That will also be upgraded to 13 SEER, said Soderberg.

The company is considering some technology changes, such as inverter technology, in achieving higher SEER levels.

"We know this business and this technology really well," emphasized Soderberg. "I think we're probably well positioned to respond to the changing market and to lead the market going forward.

"Certainly the 13 SEER transition is going to catch the consumer's attention. A lot of utilities may be giving rebates based on hitting numbers like 13 or 14 SEER, and that could help drive demand as well."

Equipment Is Changing

Friedrich Air Conditioning has been making product development plans to meet the 13 SEER deadline. Here, too, a refrigerant switch is being considered.

"If you have to make the efficiency change and you have a 2010 requirement to get away from R-22, it's logical to look at," said Brian Campbell, vice president, sales and marketing.

Will Friedrich produce units that are even higher efficiency levels? "Yes, it's possible, but really the focus is to hit 13 SEER," answered Campbell. "If you can get higher without adding significant cost, that's something we'll look at."

Like many manufacturer representatives, Campbell noted that the ductless mini-split is "not as much of a residential consumer-type product as other products we manufacture, like room air conditioners. "The goal is to be as efficient as possible without increasing cost to the point where you're either noncompetitive or you're further away from competition, such as unitary split systems," he said.

Mini-splits continue to be a major focus for Heat Controller.

"We've definitely put a priority on bringing out new models to meet the 13 SEER requirements," said Mark Lupton, sales manager, Room Air Conditioning Products Division, Heat Controller.

"We do plan on updating our indoor model look late this year with the 13 SEER," said Michael Souders, vice president, sales and marketing, Heat Controller.

Model numbers will indicate a division between 13 SEER and older sub-13 systems, Lupton noted, but the established brand names, Comfort-Aire and Century, will continue.

In the end, Daikin said it is ready for the challenges ahead. According to Lee Smith, technical sales manager, Daikin U.S. Corp., the company has an optimized range of equipment which already satisfies the minimum 13 SEER standard. He said SEER up to 16 is available on Daikin duct-free systems from 0.75 tons (9,000 Btuh) up to 2 tons (24,000 Btuh). He also noted 16 SEER is available on the company's 2:1 Multi duct-free system and 13 SEER is available on the duct-free systems from 2 tons to 3 tons.

"The shift to a higher SEER requirement is a real opportunity for Daikin to showcase and justify the benefits of inverter technology and the real gain in using the HFC refrigerant R-410A," said Smith. "Indeed, Daikin offers a dedicated range, which all utilize the R410A refrigerant, inverter-driven compressors, and variable-speed condensing unit fan motors.

"Efficiency gains are only part of the story, though, as the inverter benefits user comfort by maintaining zonal set point much better and improving dehumidification."

The switch to R-410A allowed Daikin to reduce the overall size of its condensing unit, compressor, and pipe-size requirements - and still meet, or exceed, the efficiency requirements in the United States, said Smith. Daikin entered the U.S. market in 2004.

To complement the duct-free range, the company is offering its Variable Refrigerant Volume (VRV) Systems to the U.S. market, designed to satisfy up to 10 individual zones from a remotely located condensing unit. According to Smith, these zones can be served by a wide variety of indoor fan coil units, with 26 models in seven styles - both in a ducted style and a duct-free style.

Publication date: 06/20/2005