I wrote this editorial using a relatively outdated technology. I composed it longhand, scribbling out my thoughts on a reporter's notepad using a trusty black BIC. I wanted to remember the old ways of doing things, if only for an evening. I wanted to get a true sense of what it felt like to ignore the subtle benefits of newer technology - a personal computer is the BIC of choice these days.

Why put myself through the hassle? Because all technologies change over time - change or die, getting replaced by something else - and HVACR technology has been particularly active.


Mel Brooks' character, "The 2000-Year-Old Man," said that all inventions were based on fear. I don't know how far that theory can be applied to the HVACR market, but there are other drivers in our world: money, legislation, and money.

The biggest source of money-drivers in the market is energy efficiency. Take the residential combined heat and power (CHP) product we've featured on page 1 of this week's issue (see "A Power Plant In The Basement"). Its design creates power using methods similar to most electric utilities right in the customer's home. It modifies a basic two-step process into a single step, simultaneously reducing the load on an already groaning electrical distribution system.

It's part of a trend that introduces what once were commercial-industrial technologies into the home. The trend has been most notable, perhaps, in the thermostat market, where controls of increasing sophistication have been brought forth for increasingly savvy homeowners. It's a trickle-down effect. A technology starts out rather large and costly, but over time its designers find ways to size it down and mass produce.

Remember, air conditioning started out in department stores and movie theaters.

Crossover Technologies

Many technological innovations occur when a radical new technology emerges in what seems to be a remote market. A handful of self-proclaimed nerds on the West Coast came up with a computer that didn't need to take up an entire room. This personal computer launched an entire industry, even an entirely new form of commerce. The nerds became very, very rich.

Digital displays, smaller electronics, "smart" diagnostics, etc., etc., have changed the HVACR landscape in ways many of us would not have predicted years ago. The technology continues to evolve. Computer simulations help speed up other product developments that otherwise would take long hours of calculations to predict and repeat.

Even a market like publishing has undergone a radical change. Going from pen, paper, and IBM Selectric to computer publishing has shortened the process immensely. In addition, the PC has many tools that we now are close to taking for granted. A simple thing like cutting and pasting on a computer screen was a big thing when it first became available.

The Main Driver

Perhaps it all boils down to efficiency. I can't think of any innovation that doesn't at least claim to make life easier for someone. The creators of residential CHP claim to make life easier by having a source of power right in the home. It's a declaration of independence from the grid.

The equipment in a power plant is monstrously huge. The difference between the new CHP product and its ancestor is like the difference between a mouse and an elephant.

Will the electric utilities get spooked by these small systems? Nah. Not right now, at least. They must be crossing their fingers and toes, waiting to see who develops the practical technology first that takes some of the summer load off of the aging grid. No doubt the technology is headed in that direction. Then look for the utilities to find a way to lease that equipment to its customers. They only want to give up the load, not the profits.

As we have since the 1920s, The News continues to bring product news on all levels. Our Dealer Design Awards even salute new products that make life a little easier, more efficient, for our contractor-readers.

The ultimate innovation always seems to be out there somewhere on the horizon. It's human nature to keep moving towards the unattainable goal. In the meantime, enjoy the new technology.

Barb Checket-Hanks is service/maintenance and troubleshooting editor. She can be reached at 248-244-6467; 248-362-0317 (fax); barbarachecket-hanks@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 05/09/2005