Don't miss out on these HVAC trends

May 20, 2015

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Space heating is the largest energy end-use in the U.S. residential sector, accounting for about 40% of total residential energy consumption, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

Because of that, heating and cooling choices can make or break the energy efficiency – and affordability  of a home.

To help homeowners and building professionals stay up to date, here's a review of the some of the top trends in residential heating and cooling systems.

New Energy Efficiency Standards

Starting January 2015, new residential central air conditioning systems and heat pumps have had to meet tougher standards, depending on where the home is located. Homeowners in fifteen warmer Southern states will see the minimum rating raised to 14 SEER from 13 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). Additionally, in five Southwest states (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico), central air conditioning will require an EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) of 11.7 or 12.2, depending on the size of the unit, along with a 14 SEER rating.

Manufacturers are starting to adapt their product lines to address the new efficiency regulations. The remaining inventory of 13 SEER equipment can be installed until the set deadline: July 1, 2016. However, it is uncertain how long it will take for the existing inventory to be exhausted.

Air conditioning systems are given a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating to measure their efficiency level and manufacturers are given a minimum requirement that all new systems must meet.

A SEER rating is based on several factors, but basically it is a measure of the amount of electricity required to run the system. Systems manufactured today have ratings that range from 13-24. The higher the rating, the more efficient the system will be.

The most significant change regarding the new regulations involves all split-system heat pumps. All regions will move from 13 SEER and 7.7 HSPF, Heating Seasonal Performance Factor, to the new national heat pump efficiency minimum of 14 SEER and 8.2 HSPF.

Also, consumers will see changes to the FTC EnergyGuide label, commonly referred to as the yellow “hang tag”, attached to the heating and cooling system. The label contains SEER and HSPF ratings for the unit in relation to similar models. Instead of a single rating point, new labels for split-system air conditioners and heat pumps will now be shown in a range representing the lowest and highest SEER ratings for all the condenser’s certified coil combinations. This means all of the component parts in the entire system, inside and out, must have an aggregate SEER that meets the new guidelines.

The majority of U.S. manufacturers already offer 14 SEER heat pump systems, and many manufacturers may update current 14 SEER designs to meet product demands for 2015 inventory stocking.

Smart and Connected Homes

Homes are getting smarter, with various devices talking to each other and the homeowners.

Your ranges, dishwasher, refrigerator, HVAC system, lighting, window blinds and thermostat, among other devices, can be controlled through your smart phone and give updates on status.

Smart thermostats are a big part of the Internet of Things home revolution. As more homeowners and building professionals come to understand the value of a smart thermostat, the market is expected to soar in the U.S. and Europe.

A smart thermostat is more than a programmable thermostat. With a traditional thermostat, one can turn the heating or cooling up or down, and with programmable versions, one can set the temperature to change depending on the time of day.

What makes smart thermostats so unique – smart-- is that they learn and adjust the temperature based on the owners' habits and the characteristics of the house. Not only will the devices come to know when the temperature should be raised or decreased, but they also learn how long the house takes to heat up or cool down. This means they can begin to adjust the temperature in just the right amount of time so homeowners can feel the change when they should - not 15 minutes later.

The critical behavior that makes a smart thermostat valuable is the ability to adjust the heat during the course of the day. If there are people in the house all day – families with children, people who work at home – you may not be able to adjust your thermostat enough for it to pay off.

The U.S. Department of Energy said homeowners who keep their thermostats 10 to 15 degrees cooler in winter when they are sleeping or away from home can save 5-15 percent on their energy bills, whether or not they're using a smart thermostat to adjust the temperature.

One of the latest wrinkles is the addition of geofencing. That means your mobile device will communicate with your home to know where you are. If you're on the way home from work, the system will adjust the temperature and lighting to your preferred settings when you get within a preset range, such as 5 miles. That means the heat will be where you want it and the lights on the porch and foyer will be on, making for a safe and comfortable return. The systems can be linked with several mobile devices, so when the last person leaves the house, the temperature adjusts to the away setting for energy savings.

Right Sizing for High Performance Buildings

As more energy efficient homes are built, HVAC contractors need guidance in specifying the right system for the home.

That's why the Air Conditioning Contractors of America Educational Institute (ACCA-EI) Standards Task Team (STT) has initiated the development of BSR/ACCA 16 Manual E-201x, “HVAC System Design for Energy Efficient Homes” as a new industry standard.

ACCA said HVAC designers are increasingly encountering energy-efficient homes, characterized by markedly reduced heating and cooling loads, as a result of numerous national initiatives like the energy conservation code, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Energy Star, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Zero Energy Ready program, and DOE’s Builders Challenge.

ACCA recognized that there is little guidance currently available for HVAC design and selection for these energy-efficient homes, especially since there is limited manufacturer offerings for lower capacity equipment.

This standard will provide procedures to design/select HVAC systems and equipment for low-load homes that will achieve satisfactory indoor conditions with lower equipment capacity; i.e., resolving ventilation and moisture requirements/issues with low air volume systems while addressing occupant comfort, health, and safety. These procedures will apply as lower capacity equipment appears in the marketplace.

Growth of Geothermal

While geothermal heating and cooling, or ground source heat pumps, have been around for more than 40 years, they've become an overnight success in the U.S. market.

Boosted by a 30 percent tax credit as part of the 2009 Stimulus Act, geothermal has been increasing its market share as part of the larger move toward high performance home building.

The industry is working hard to expand use of geothermal. The Geothermal Exchange Organization has been working to amend language at the state and federal levels so that geothermal energy is recognized as clean and renewable. The group has been successful in Maryland, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, which now recognize geothermal heat pumps as a renewable energy source. Similar efforts are under way in New York, Illinois, California, Michigan and New Mexico. The group is working to have the federal definition of clean energy amended to include geothermal heat pumps, but so far it has not been approved by Congress.

A number of geothermal communities have been built or announced, such as sections of the Serenbe development in Atlanta, Norton Commons in Louisville, and the Avondale development in Moore, Oklahoma.

Organizations are working to overcome builder and homeowner resistance to the initial capital cost of installing the ground heat exchanger. According to the companies, geothermal heat pump systems can save between 30-50 percent in heating and cooling costs. First costs for installing the geothermal ground loop, however, have been a stumbling block the industry has struggled with for years.

The growth of Geothermal Utility Services can help over come that. Consumers are charged a one-time connection fee, then a predetermined monthly charge, significantly reducing first costs for both new homebuyers, and those choosing to upgrade to geothermal heating and cooling. Advanced Energy Capital, LLC (AEC), an energy finance company, announced that it will finance up to $25 million in geothermal loop installations in North America.

Also, Bosch Thermotechnology and Orca Energy teamed up to jointly market a geothermal ground heat exchanger and equipment solution to developers, home builders, and new home buyers in the United States.

Growth of Mini Split Heat Pumps

Popular in Europe and Asian homes for decades, ductless mini split heat pumps are poised to have a larger impact in the U.S. market. Once seen as a solution home additions and bonus rooms, now mini splits are available in whole-home solutions with outdoor systems that can handle up to 8 indoor units. An array of indoor air handler options, such as ceiling cassettes and wall-mounted units that are disguised as a picture frame, give homeowners and contractors flexibility. New technology addresses some of the shortcomings of heat pumps, such as a loss of heating capacity in sub-freezing weather. Now units on the market offer high levels of heating capacity in temperatures as low as 5 below zero Fahrenheit. Mini splits will be a more popular option in northern climates with less need for expensive back up heating.

Ductless systems are not only being installed in room additions; mini splits are being utilized as the primary source of heating and cooling in both residential and commercial applications. Some of the many benefits of mini split systems are:

  • Individual zones; heat and cool specific spaces when desired.
  • Cheaper to install and maintain.
  • Available in higher SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) ratings (up to 26 SEER) than traditional central split systems.
  • Flexible installation options, including wall, ceiling and floor mounted indoor unit styles.
  • Minimal energy loss; air does not travel through ductwork.
  • Can also be used for additions or garages where ducting has not been extended.
  • Quiet operation.
  • Heating capabilities down to a temperature of -15° F.

Mini splits are available in single zone and multi zone configurations with up to 8 indoor units for almost any application. Mini splits are available from many manufacturers, including LG, Mitsubishi, Fujitsu and Samsung brands.

Growth of Radiant Floor Heating

The use of radiant floor heating systems has grown rapidly in recent years, thanks to the introduction of innovative products catering to many different needs. Radiant floor heat can supplement whole house heat, and also provide extra comfort in areas like master bath and bedrooms.

Radiant heat is available in a few different varieties, including hydronic and electric heating.

With hydronic radiant floor heating, warm water is pumped through tubing, which transfers the heat through the flooring. This method can use almost any fuel or heat source, such as natural gas, propane, electricity, oil, solar or geothermal heat pumps.

Electric systems are available in many configurations, both in low and high voltage, as regular cable or as thin cable in preformed mats or in mesh. There are also elements embedded in plastic film or as self-regulating mats and cables. Self-regulating products are constructed so as the temperature of the mat or cable increases, the resistance goes up, which limits the heating output to a fixed temperature. Most electric systems are controlled with dual sensing thermostats that include an air sensor and floor temperature sensor.

With the use of renewable energy sources, radiant heating can help a home achieve net zero or other performance standards.


Topics: Connected Homes / Smart Homes, Cost of Ownership, Dehumidifiers and Air Purifiers, Energy Audits, Energy Star, Geothermal Heating & Cooling, Going Green, Heating & Cooling, Radiant Heat, Rebates / Tax Credits

Companies: Panasonic High Performance Ventilation Solutions, Mitsubishi Electric Solar Solutions, Fujitsu General America, Enertech Global, LLC, ClimateMaster, STEP Warmfloor, LG HVAC


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