LAS VEGAS — Ductless technology has taken the industry by storm, racking up double-digit sales increases in the U.S. every year for the last five years. Even so, central air conditioning and heating systems still dominate the market. Manufacturers at the AHR Expo are hoping to flip that script by raising awareness of how advancements in ductless technology make it an option in just about any application or climate.
One of the biggest challenges to widespread adoption of ductless technology is low consumer awareness, said Patrick Barry, senior manager of product development and planning, LG Air Conditioning Technologies. “Most homes in the U.S. aren’t built with this technology in place, so there’s a lack of homeowner awareness about the technology and its advantages.”
As contractors become better versed on the benefits of ductless technology, they play a key role in educating homeowners as to why duct-free technology may be a better solution in terms of efficiency and design flexibility. “That flexibility can be seen in our new wall-mounted, extended-piping, duct-free units, which allow for longer pipe length and feature built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. The new extended pipe units also work with LG’s new SmartThinQ™ smart home technology, which allows consumers to control all their compatible LG devices, including kitchen and laundry appliances with an intuitive smart phone app.”
Awareness of ductless technology is definitely a challenge for both homeowners and contractors, said T.J. Wheeler, vice president of marketing and product management, Friedrich Air Conditioning Co. This is why Friedrich is making an aggressive effort to conduct in-person training through the company’s Advantage program. “Last year, we trained more than 1,000 contractors throughout the country on our ductless system technology,” Wheeler said.
That is necessary because ductless technology is still relatively unknown, even though it has been around for years in places like Europe, said Wheeler. “Since ductless systems deliver room-by-room comfort where homeowners need it most, rather than imprecise whole-house cooling, the market is just now waking up to the fact that ductless is a smart, less wasteful alternative.”
At the AHR Expo, Friedrich officially launched its VRP® (variable refrigerant packaged) heat pump system, which is designed for lodging applications, specifically full and select service properties, where maximum comfort, quiet, and interior design are top priorities. Friedrich’s patented VRP system combines variable refrigerant flow (VRF) technology with the convenience and simplistic design of a closet-mounted, single-packaged unit, said Wheeler. “The system utilizes a precision inverter compressor that gives it exceptional performance and reduces sound. The variable capacity matches the unit’s output to actual demand for increased comfort, which provides lower energy consumption and improved humidity control.”
Consumers absolutely want more energy-efficient systems as well as the ability to control their systems remotely, which is why many manufacturers, such as Fujitsu General America Inc., are offering Wi-Fi-enabled ductless systems. “Our new Wi-Fi-enabled, wall-mounted, ductless split heating and cooling systems have efficiencies up to 33 SEER,” said Erin Mezle, director of marketing, Fujitsu General America Inc. “All Wi-Fi-enabled systems offer remote operation using a smartphone or tablet as the remote control, and one mobile device can control several indoor units. All of the inverter wall-mount systems are available as single-zone split-system heat pumps with nearly full heating capacity down to minus 5°F ambient and cooling operation down to 14°.”
Fujitsu General also added to its J-Series Airstage VRF line with the introduction of its smaller J-IIS Series. “The J-IIS utilizes VRF technology for smaller residential, multi-housing, and light commercial uses with equipment now available in 3- and 4-ton sizes,” said Mezle. “The J-IIS’s shorter height provides easy installation in smaller spaces or when condensing units are stacked vertically. Also, the J-IIS Series is highly efficient.”
Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to Carrier Corp.’s new Toshiba Carrier Single-Phase VRF Heat Recovery System, which offers twinning capability to achieve greater capacity. “We’re seeing a massive demand increase for VRF technology that allows engineers and architects to provide climate control with greater flexibility, zoning options, and energy efficiency,” said Meredith Emmerich, managing director of ductless and VRF solutions, Carrier Corp. “This single-phase system is a game changer because it is capable of providing simultaneous cooling and heating and can handle the comfort demands of an entire home.”
Carrier also launched a new VRF two-pipe heat pump and heat recovery systems line that features a small footprint, allowing greater flexibility to consumers. “Our 20-ton heat recovery system has a very small footprint, which saves space and reduces structural design costs for our customers,” said Emmerich. “The systems are available in multiple styles of indoor units with a variety of controls offerings.”
Controls are a big selling point, especially in commercial applications, where there is more demand for control over many different functions (e.g., energy allocation, lighting, HVAC, and other mechanical systems) all through one interface, said Kevin Miskewicz, director of commercial marketing, Mitsubishi Electric US Inc. Cooling & Heating Division. “We have a centralized controller that can serve those needs. The commercial channel is also excited about our new PLFY ceiling cassette indoor unit, which features the 3D i-see Sensor™. The sensor continuously analyzes the thermal profile of a room by performing 360-degree scans and identifying cool and warm spots — a feature that can be customized to sense occupancy and direct air in the necessary direction.”
On the residential side, Mitsubishi Electric launched several new products, including the MSZ-EF Designer Series multi-zone indoor units, which come in three color options (black, white, and silver). “These units, which have been quite successful, give homeowners the flexibility to incorporate their systems into interior designs,” said Miskewicz. “Also new is our completely redesigned MFZ-KJ floor-mounted indoor unit, which boasts an upgrade in its exterior design and new multi-flow vane heating technology, a process that significantly reduces the time it takes to heat a room.”
While ductless systems are becoming more popular across the U.S., some question whether they can be used in colder parts of the country. But manufacturers are allaying these concerns by introducing ductless units that are designed to keep occupants warm in the coldest of climates.
“We are seeing more and more single- and multi-zone ductless systems being installed in new construction and renovations in cold climates, where natural gas is accessible,” said Matt Wall, product manager, Samsung. “That is why we have a strong focus on high-performance, low-ambient heating systems for 2016 and 2017. We have added single-zone, high-wall systems with high heating capacities at minus 13° in 2016 and intend to expand the offering to larger capacities in 2017. We will also introduce high-performance, low-ambient, multi-zone heating systems in 2017 to take advantage of this trend.”
In addition, Samsung introduced the Wind Free RAC (room air conditioner), which is a single-zone, high-wall system that uses a unique design to cool a space with minimal to no air movement, said Wall. “This is achieved by dispersing air from the front and sides of the indoor unit to diffuse the air once space temperature is near room temperature. The goal of Wind Free RAC is to maintain a set temperature without the occupant actually feeling air movement.”
Samsung also introduced its 360 Cassette indoor units, which use a unique round heat exchanger and chassis to evenly cool a space.
Haier America Co. LLC is also leading the charge when it comes to offering units that can be used in northern climates with the introduction of its Arctic Series system. “This is a high-efficiency, 28-SEER product that can operate down to minus 22° for heating,” said Nick Shin, vice president and business unit leader, Haier Ductless Air.
In addition, Haier featured its new Flexfit Pro Series for light commercial applications. “The FlexFit Pro Series offers a number of options to make installation and inventory easy,” said Shin. “It is powered by a single outdoor unit, yet able to set different temperatures in different spaces via separate indoor units. It is available from 24,000 to 48,000 Btuh, and the 24,000-Btuh unit is interchangeable with single- or multi-zone units.”
LG Electronics announced it is optimizing its cold climate products by launching new models of the Art Cool™ Premier, featuring LG RED° powerful heating technology. “Products with LG RED° are engineered to provide superior heating performance — 100 percent heating capacity down to 5° and continuous heating operations down to minus 13˚F,” said Barry. “This increased performance not only delivers heat when traditional models are unable to but also operates with incredible efficiency.”
On the commercial side, LG’s new Multi V™ 5 VRF system features LG intelligent heating technology that works to prevent frosting and defrosts as needed rather than responding once frost has reached a preset point. On top of active response capabilities, the Multi V 5 also features a new biomimetic fan design that enables the unit to operate more efficiently and increases airflow while reducing the perceived noise level.
Bosch Thermotechnology Corp. introduced its Climate 5000 ductless mini-split heat pump systems, which are designed for residential heating and cooling up to 48,000 Btuh and are available for single- or multi-zone applications. “These ultra-quiet, inverter-driven heat pump systems function properly across an extended operating range from minus 13° to 122° with indoor sound levels as low as 20 dBA in silent mode, which is quieter than a whisper at a library,” said Lyndal Moore, national sales manager for air conditioning and geothermal products, Bosch Thermotechnology Corp.
These mini-split systems offer SEER ratings of up to 22, and installation is simple with easy mounting of the indoor air handler and quick connection of the refrigerant lines and electrical connections, said Moore. “The unit requires only a 3-inch-diameter or smaller opening to run the entire line set. No ductwork is required, making the system perfect for tight spaces or areas where technicians cannot install ductwork, which helps to eliminate potentially messy renovation work.”
With Midea America Corp.’s new Premier Quattro, which offers four different evaporator choices that can work with multiple single- and multi-zone condensers, 60 percent of the combinations provide 100 percent heating when outdoor ambient temperatures are only 5° (Premier Hyper Series). “In some cases, 100 percent heat is achieved at even colder outdoor temperatures,” said Bruce Hazen, HVAC sales director, Midea America Corp. “The Premier Hyper Series can provide cooling in extreme ambient environs from minus 22° to 122° as well.”
The new Premier Quattro features a step-less inverter that provides ultimate comfort by holding a stable temperature and saving energy, said Hazen. “Additionally, with Wi-Fi connectivity, homeowners can easily adjust the temperature settings from the Midea app on their smartphones.”
Midea also introduced the Blanc Series, which operates from 5° to 122° and enables personal customization with the ECONight mode for ultimate efficiency overnight.
With the new cold climate models, ductless systems can be used all over the U.S., said Victor Flynn, product manager, Panasonic Corp. of North America. “We have expanded our wall-mount series to provide a good, better, and best offering. The best option is the new Exterios XE Series, which offers 9,000, 12,000, and 15,000 Btuh to provide heat operation down to minus 15°. All units include a base pan heater that operates during the defrost cycle to prevent frozen condensate build up. The better option is the Exterios E Series, which operates down to minus 5°, and our good option is our 16-SEER Pro RE Series.”
On the commercial side, Panasonic showcased an entirely new platform of 460-V outdoor units, available in both heat recovery and heat pump models ranging 6-36 ton. “These units feature outstanding energy-saving performance with IEERs up to 28.5 and SCHEs up to 30.2,” said Malcolm Persaud, senior product manager of commercial products, Panasonic. “They offer extended operating ranges in cooling from 14° to 122° and in heating from minus 13° to 64°. They also incorporate enhanced design flexibility with longer line set applications.”
The commercial ductless business enjoyed steady growth last year due to its increased use in multifamily, academic, and educational facilities, said Persaud. “The quest to reduce operating costs will continue to be one of the drivers in this sector, as will fresh-air requirements caused by tighter envelopes. Manufacturers will continue to explore these areas in hopes of finding the right balanced solution that can be integrated seamlessly.”
The new Aurora Series of wall- and floor-mount, single-zone systems from Daikin North America LLC incorporates extreme ambient technology that is designed to maintain high performance in extreme cold or hot climates without the need for upsizing the condensing unit. “Daikin’s years of system manufacturing for extreme climates provided the experience to develop single-inverter compressor technology that maximizes performance in both high- and low-ambient conditions. This technology minimizes temperature fluctuations and provides continuous cooling and heating comfort,” said Marc Bellanger, director of marketing communications, Daikin North America LLC.
Daikin also introduced its Vista ceiling-mounted cassette units, which are designed for single- and multi-zone residential and light commercial applications. Fitting within the ceiling grid and discreetly mounted to the ceiling itself, Vista is stylish, low-profile, and compact, said Bellanger. “The new Vista design blends seamlessly with modern residential and commercial building interiors and fits completely within standard 2-by-2-foot ceiling tiles. This allows for easy installation of lights, speakers, and sprinklers in adjoining panels for light commercial applications.”
The new Emura wall-mounted indoor heat pump is the next generation of home heating and cooling systems from Daikin, said Bellanger. It offers smart technology within a sleek, curved silhouette. “Offering a sophisticated solution for contemporary interiors, the Emura combines form and functionality to create contemporary climate control,” said Bellanger. “Available in silver or pure matte white, the Emura makes a modern design statement on any wall. Inside is a highly intelligent system that can be controlled with a standard wireless (infrared) remote or via the Daikin Comfort Adapter and mobile app through a Wi-Fi network.”
As can be seen here, manufacturers at the AHR Expo showed a wide range of ductless products that are designed to provide comfort regardless of the outdoor temperature while being flexible, efficient, and elegant.
Rheem Mfg. Co. introduced a line of residential mini-split systems, which are an outgrowth of the company’s recent partnership with Fujitsu General America Inc. These single-zone (33 SEER/14 HSPF) and multi-zone (19.7 SEER/10.3 HSPF) heat pumps provide both heating and cooling for year-round comfort, said Farooq Mohammad, director, product management, air conditioning division, Rheem. “Through our partnership with Fujitsu, we now also have ductless heat pump solutions available from Rheem that offer better, more advanced technology to heat homes and small rooms in below-freezing conditions.”
Rheem (and Ruud) residential mini-split heat pumps are matched with wall-mounted indoor air handlers capable of delivering capacities ranging 9,000-45,000 Btuh and up to five zones. With a push of a button on a remote control, the systems can switch from heating to cooling (and vice versa) automatically, said Mohammad.
Also designed for cold climates is Trane’s new residential 4MXW38 Ductless Indoor High Wall unit, which features SEER ratings up to 38, EER ratings up to 16.5, and HSPF ratings up to 15. It works down to minus 22° with 100 percent capacity at 0°. Offering precise, reliable comfort, temperatures are easy to control with the use of the ductless wireless controller, even when the units are ceiling- or wall-mounted.
On the commercial side, Trane’s ProSpace™ ductless solutions offer a comprehensive range of systems and sizes to serve the heating and cooling needs of a variety of single zones and commercial buildings. The ProSpace Circular Cassette delivers a unique 360-degree circular airwave design that eliminates drafts and uneven temperatures throughout a single space. The ProSpace 4TVM Convertible Air Handlers offer built-in installation flexibility and the ability to deliver precise capacity to match load requirements for spaces that include micro-apartments, condos, vertical high rise buildings, and hotel rooms.
Considering all the new ductless equipment being offered by manufacturers at the AHR Expo, chances are good that there is a ductless system available that can work in just about every application and nearly every climate.