LAS VEGAS — Energy efficiency, the growing popularity of ductless and variable refrigerant flow (VRF), the evolution of heat pumps into whole-home solutions, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are a few of the major trends influencing products in the residential air conditioning market. Manufacturers materialized these trends on the exhibition floor at the 2017 AHR Expo.
DUCTLESS ACCEPTANCE GROWS
One of the biggest trends in North America for the HVAC industry in 2017 is the rising popularity of ductless systems, according to T.J. Wheeler, vice president of marketing and product management, Friedrich Air Conditioning Co.
“There are plenty of good reasons why more residential and commercial customers are adopting ductless system solutions,” he said. “Ductless systems offer major advantages and unbeatable performance when it comes to conditioning air faster, maintaining more accurate temperatures, and reducing energy costs. Ductless systems also provide a scalable solution for additions, retrofits, and renovation projects, where complicated ductwork installation or re-routing is not feasible.
“Multifamily residential projects are becoming more efficient and feature easier-to-install-and-maintain options that deliver maximum comfort and style,” Wheeler said. “That’s what makes Friedrich’s VRP® [Variable Refrigerant Packaged] heat pump system so exciting. It’s a total HVAC solution that delivers exceptional heating and cooling efficiency and sound levels, easy installation, conditioned fresh air, and true humidity control while maintaining low upfront and operational costs.”
Friedrich’s VRP system is a total HVAC solution that also incorporates patent pending make-up air and humidity control. The system utilizes a Precision Inverter compressor that gives it exceptional performance and reduces sound. It combines variable refrigerant flow (VRF) along with the convenience and simplistic design of a closet-mounted single packaged unit.
“VRP is efficient at automatically adjusting its capacity to meet specific cooling needs,” Wheeler said. “It also delivers efficiencies of up to 20 SEER and 13 EER. VRP also features exceptional low-ambient heat pump operations down to 0°F, potentially saving hundreds of dollars per year. Plus, it reaches desired temperatures faster than conventional systems by exceeding the capacity when needed, unlike single-speed units.”
Brian Bogdan, director of engineering, air conditioning systems, LG Electronics USA Inc., said the biggest trend he is seeing in the market currently is the increasing demand for VRF due to its energy efficiency, cost effectiveness, and design flexibility.
“This demand is largely driven by customers’ desires to reduce operating costs and to do so with minimal interruption to operations and modifications to the building structure. For these reasons, we are seeing VRF chosen more and more as a basis of design.”
LG expanded its Multi V S line to include a 2-ton heat pump and 5-ton heat recovery model, which debuted at the AHR Expo. The new products are designed to provide excellent energy efficiency and the versatility of simultaneous heating and cooling, even in the most extreme weather. The system utilizes single-phase power, so it can be used in a wide range of building types from schools to single-family homes, making the LG Multi V S a great solution for any application. The Multi V S requires little or no ductwork resulting in smaller space requirements for piping to maintain the integrity of the exterior of buildings.
“With the addition of 2- and 5-ton Multi V S models, LG now offers homeowners and business owners across the country more energy-efficient air conditioning options than ever before,” said Bogdan.
According to Brian O’Connor, sales director for Samsung HVAC, higher efficiency demands from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have driven more single- and multi-zone mini-split unit installations in the residential air conditioning market.
“Mini-split air conditioners used to be perceived as single-zone air conditioners that weren’t designed to condition an entire house, nor for heating,” O’Connor explained. “Now, more and more people are finding mini-split units are capable of cooling and heating entire houses extremely efficiently. The mini-split market is growing at an extremely fast rate.”
Samsung introduced its wall-mounted Wind-Free™ AC, the AR9500M, at the AHR Expo. The unit gently disperses cool and still air through 21,000 micro air holes for a natural and pleasant cooling effect. After the user sets the desired temperature, the unit balances and maintains the home’s internal climate, so users don’t experience uncomfortable airflows. Samsung studies indicate that Wind-Free ACs can cut energy use and also feature Smart Home technology.
“More and more mini splits are doing heating and cooling, not just cooling,” O’Connor noted. “One of the concerns consumers have about duct-free units on the wall is when you have it, it blows on you, and you feel that sudden burst of cold air. That’s a comfort issue. Not all consumers, but a lot of them, complained about it. Consumers want to be comfortable at whatever temperature set point. Whereas, on the heating side, they like that blast of hot air. The design of the Wind-Free ACs allows air to be dispersed evenly. We want to provide comfort options for consumers and options that allow contractors to set themselves apart from the competition.”
Victor Flynn, senior product manager, Panasonic Appliances Air Conditioning North America, agreed, saying heat pumps are among the most popular options in the residential air conditioning market.
“As inverter-driven, variable-speed compressor technology continues to improve, we see a market transformation where mini-split air-source heat pumps are specified and installed as primary heating equipment in cold-climate northern homes,” Flynn said. “Cold-climate air-source heat pumps continue to provide heating capacity when outdoor temperatures drop and are being incentivized by utility, state, and municipal building programs to promote strategic electrification of home heating space reducing greenhouse gases.”
Panasonic launched the latest entry in its Exterios line of ductless mini splits, the Slim-Ducted Heat Pump. The versatile system provides heating and cooling solutions for the entire home. The Slim-Ducted Heat Pump assumes a low profile, as they can be hidden in floors or ceilings without disrupting the look and feel of a room. Additionally, the product is highly efficient in both the winter and summer, regardless of the function being performed. This commitment to energy efficiency is reflected in the inverter-driven compressor and the DC fan motor, both of which allow for high efficiency and consistent performance. The system will be available in 5,000-7,000 Btu for a multi zone and 9,000-12,000 Btu for single and multi-zone HVAC solutions. The unit is also capable of highly efficient operation at temperatures down to minus 15° F and includes a base pan heater. the Exterios XE can consistently run all winter long in some of the coldest climates in North America.
“The proliferation of inverter-controlled condensing units in the residential ducted arena is one of the most exciting trends we’re seeing at Carrier,” said Todd Nolte, cooling products program manager, Carrier Corp. “Right now, most of the inverter products are positioned at the high end of the product line, so we’re investing to create more mid-tier products with this technology. We feel the demand for sustainable home comfort solutions and the increased interest from homebuilders in high-efficiency products will support this expansion.
“Moving into 2017, we’re confident more dealers and homeowners will favor the long-term economics of high-efficiency systems and will be pleased with smaller-footprint condensing units,” he continued. “Moreover, the rollout this year of our expanded lineup of Côr thermostats, at lower price points, will further enhance the energy savings calculation and make the inverter-driven products more attractive when paired with connected thermostats.”
Along with a renewed interest in IAQ, Kelly Hearnsberger, vice president of residential product marketing, Daikin North America LLC, said he is seeing a trend toward smarter products.
“Internet of Things [IoT] is still the big buzzword,” Hearnsberger said. “And, of course, it means something different to each company. What it really means for us is opportunity. We think the IoT presents contractors with the opportunity for better relationships with consumers. I think there’s an opportunity for more intelligent equipment. And this is common with other manufacturers, too.”
Daikin showcased its new EMURA wall-mounted indoor heat pump at the AHR Expo. The EMURA offers smart technology within a sleek, curved silhouette. Inside the understated exterior 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.
EMURA offers efficiencies up to 18.9 SEER and 12.5 HSPF with a wide operating range from minus 14° to 115° for cooling and minus 4° to 75° for heating. Additionally, the EMURA is extremely quiet with sound levels down to 19 dBA. An intelligent-eye sensor monitors the room for occupancy and can adjust to an energy-savings mode when unoccupied for 20 minutes. The intelligent eye also monitors movement in the room to provide Comfort Airflow technology that minimizes direct airflow on occupants.
According to Matt Barga, portfolio leader, product management, Trane, an Ingersoll Rand brand, customers are becoming better educated when it comes to making purchasing decisions.
“Better educated customers also are driven more by comfort options,” he said. “Previously, customers typically made decisions based on need and energy efficiency, or a utility subsidy often helped drive the energy-efficient selection. Today, more customers are choosing solutions that also address greater comfort. Their increased knowledge has given them information about variable-speed solutions, for example, and the temperature consistency, humidity control, and reduced sound that an option like that can provide.”
In addition to comfort, customers want smarter products with remote monitoring capabilities.
“Trane’s Nexia™ Diagnostics allow contractors to remotely monitor the home’s heating and cooling system using real-time performance data, ensuring the highest level of customer service,” Barga said. “The Nexia Diagnostics dashboard provides dealers with a host of real-time and diagnostic data, so the health of the system can be quickly diagnosed and an accurate course of action can be identified. These solutions provide the increased comfort and connected options that today’s more educated consumers are seeking.”
Simplifying serviceability by adding remote diagnostics is a big trend in the industry, noted William Ken Ely, product manager, heat pumps and air handlers, unitary products group, Johnson Controls Inc.
“Our 20-SEER A/C and heat pump has some game-changing features,” he said. “The unit has Charge Assurance, so when techs are installing the system or doing annual maintenance, the system will tell them how it’s charged. The screen on the unit tells the contractor the superheat, subcooling, engine pressure, and suction pressure. And, we kept it simple. If everything is good, it displays a smiley face; if it’s bad, it displays a frowny face. Think about the simplicity of that. Unfortunately, in our industry, we’re not getting the level of technicians we really need, so we have to keep it simple. This also minimizes the time for contractors on job sites and makes them more profitable as a result.”
The York Affinity Series 20-SEER Variable Capacity Air Conditioner & Heat Pump is Energy Star Most Efficient qualified and will be launched in the spring.
“We’re seeing a lot of variable capacity — some people call it modulating — but it’s the ability for the system to adjust to precisely meet the comfort needs of the space,” Ely said. “Comfort requirements change with more sun or windows and doors opening. The system has to be able to adjust to precisely meet those changing comfort requirements. That helps lower consumers’ energy bills and it’s also able to deal with temperature and humidity much better.”
Ryan Teschner, assistant product manager, residential products, Rheem Mfg. Co., agreed, saying built-in diagnostics are becoming more popular in the residential market.
“Serviceability is something we see as a strong point for us to work on,” said Teschner. “Our products feature new, innovative technology as well as feedback from our contractors. A new trend and feature for us is built-in diagnostics. Contractors get an email that says exactly what is wrong with the unit so they can send a tech out to fix it immediately. We’re trying to find out how to build in diagnostics without overdesigning the product.”
Rheem’s Prestige Series EcoNet-enabled Variable Speed Heat Pump was displayed in its trailer at the AHR Expo. The product also features a minimum of 20 SEER and up to 11 HSPF system performance; expanded valve space provides a minimum working area of 27 square inches for easier access; and triple service access — 15-inch-wide corner service — which provides for easier, faster repairs.
“Another trend is obviously energy efficiency,” Teschner added. “This product is highly efficient and will qualify for any regional rebate, including in the higher standard states like California.”