The nation is in the middle of a decade-long economic expansion that has seen a steady gain in the shipment of hvac equipment since 1990. Here is the aggregate shipment of equipment since 1990:

  • Unitary (including heat pumps) — 42.5 million;

  • Central heating (boilers, furnaces, all fuels) — 26.9 million;

  • Window air conditioners — 32.1 million;

  • Direct heating equipment — 5.4 million; and

  • Centrifugal chillers — 62,212.

Last year, sustaining this trend, was a stellar performer for the hvacr industry, with shipment gains reported for most categories.

All of the ingredients in 1998 were present: a hot summer (especially in the South), low interest rates, high employment, strong homebuilding activity, and a replacement market that grows steadily within America’s 100 million housing units and 5 million nonresidential buildings.

Residential sector

This temperature-related business got a boost last summer, which gave us an estimated 1,345 cooling degree-days (population-weighted).

Much of this came from an extended heat wave in the South. The sweltering weather pushed unitary shipments to 6,239,978, an all-time record, and 16% better than the 1997 output.

Also helpful was new homebuilding, which added 1,158,000 single-family housing units to the national stock. This represented an intake of 956,000 central air conditioners (up 4%) and 838,000 furnaces (up 7%).

Last year’s unitary shipments sustained a decade-long drive that saw only one year (1997) that didn’t chart a gain. In June, the industry shattered the single-month shipment record with 837,682.

The same pattern held for heat pumps, a subset of the unitary total. Last year’s output of 1,259,695 was up 11% for the year, and the fifth straight year in the 1 million-plus category.

Central heating equipment (furnaces and boilers, including gas and electric) likewise shows a nine-year growth, capped by last year’s output of 3,438,656. Included is the largest category, gas furnaces, at just under 3 million — an all-time high and 8% better than 1997.

Big systems, small systems

Output of large-tonnage liquid chillers, at 7,558, was down 12%, due in part to an economic downturn in Asia and South America.

Shipments of reciprocating liquid chiller packages, used in a variety of cooling in nonresidential buildings, were 14,768, a seventh-consecutive record.

Shipments of room air conditioners, which are traditionally volatile (with swings of up to 50% from one year to the next), totaled just under 4.3 million last year, up 12%.

Direct heating equipment (wall vented furnaces, floor furnaces, room heaters, and direct vent furnaces) clocked in at 660,989, which was off 7% for the year.