It’s shaping up to be a long, hot summer for HVAC contractors and their customers. Disruptions in the nationwide supply chain that began during the COVID-19 pandemic still have not been resolved. Shutdowns last summer played havoc with the supply of parts, and suppliers are still playing catch up, as raw materials remain scarce.

Furthermore, prices are going up among some components and key raw materials. Waiting times for parts can run into weeks or even months.

Supply shortages of HVAC equipment

Summer weather increases the demand for HVAC equipment, especially in hotter climates. A spike in air conditioner demand is generally welcomed by most contractors, but supply shortages make it difficult to deliver on customer needs. Managing a backlog of impatient customers is a new challenge for many HVAC companies.

The shortages impact materials, such as steel, aluminum, copper and plastics, whose costs are expected to rise in coming months. Among metals, the price hikes could be 20 to 30%, while prices of plastics could almost triple. Copper futures recently reached an all-time high, and steel price indexes are also at record levels.

Shortages of electrical components

Shortages have been reported of copper and electrical components, such as motors and compressors

Shortages have been reported of copper and electrical components, such as motors and compressors, which are specific to the units that use them. There is also a shortage of microchips that are components in high-efficiency systems and furnaces, and resins used in the evaporator coil pans are scarce.

Some HVAC supply firms have had difficulty obtaining evaporator coils used in air conditioners. Specialty items such as control boards have a wait time of up to two to three weeks, or longer.

Shortages projected till end of 2021

The shortages are projected to continue until the end of 2021. Even as small shipments trickle in, they are often sold quickly. The situation is unfamiliar to the HVAC trade, which has traditionally not had issues with equipment availability.

Shortages in the HVAC market are a reflection of broader supply and cost challenges of the construction market. Prices for goods used in residential construction have increased almost 10% over the past 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Higher transportation costs impact supply chain

Higher transportation costs are impacting both the supply chain and HVAC contractors.

Personnel shortages continue to plague many HVAC companies, too, and a technician shortage is also contributing to longer wait times in some areas. A scarcity of labor has been a 20-year challenge for the HVAC industry, but it is reaching new levels as days go by.

Order in advance and stockpiling equipment

Alternatively, HVAC contractors may seek to switch brands to help ease availability issues

One approach contractors are taking to the problem is to order equipment in advance and stockpile it for when they need it. One Denver contractor reportedly ordered almost a million dollars of equipment in advance.

Alternatively, HVAC contractors may seek to switch brands to help ease availability issues. Identifying a manufacturer that has stock available can ease the inconvenience of customers having to wait for new equipment.

need for regular HVAC maintenance

Another approach is to educate homeowners about the importance of maintenance, such as changing filters, which can avoid a need for larger repairs involving equipment that is in short supply. Maintenance service is doable because it doesn’t require new equipment, replacements or add-ons that can be hard to come by.

Unfortunately, among consumers, maintenance may have been delayed or ignored during the pandemic, which is aggravating the urgency of the current situation.

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Johnson Controls Depending On R-454B To Achieve Regulatory Goals
Johnson Controls Depending On R-454B To Achieve Regulatory Goals

The current Biden Administration’s renewed focus on climate change has expedited the phasedown of high-GWP refrigerants, kicked off by the passage of the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, part of the December 2020 COVID stimulus bill. As the AIM Act phase-down schedule progresses, higher-GWP HFC refrigerants, while viable, have the potential to have a limited useful life and ultimately be eliminated. In response to pending changes, Johnson Controls has announced it will use R-454B, a mildly flammable refrigerant, in order to exceed key regulatory requirements. Key environmental goals This is a significant step toward Johnson Controls reaching key environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, including: helping customers achieve a 16 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero carbon emissions before 2040, says the company. The decision was made as the HVAC industry is preparing to phase out high-GWP refrigerants Johnson Controls has selected R-454B to replace R-410A in all its ducted residential and commercial unitary products, as well as air-cooled scroll chillers, after extensive research, testing and evaluation of capacity, efficiency, safety, availability, longevity, global warming potential (GWP), ozone depletion potential (ODP) and other metrics. The decision was made as the HVAC industry is preparing to phase out high-GWP refrigerants, such as R-410A, which are now being formally addressed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the recently passed AIM Act. Commercial unitary products The EPA’s pending regulations could stipulate that manufacturers begin producing equipment utilizing low-GWP refrigerants prior to Jan. 1, 2025, for residential and light commercial unitary products and Jan. 1, 2024, for new chiller products. The mild-flammability (A2L) aspect of new refrigerants, including R-454B, requires that safety standards and individual state building codes must first be updated prior to the introduction of these refrigerants into the market. The process to update codes and standards is well under way and should be completed for many jurisdictions prior to the Jan. 1, 2025, proposed transition date for stationary HVAC equipment (e.g., unitary). Extensive, multi-year research and testing has been conducted by ASHRAE, AHRTI and others to ensure A2Ls can be safely deployed. Proper training will be critical to ensure the safe use, transportation and storage of A2L refrigerants. Refrigerant transition dates Existing R-410A equipment built prior to the EPA’s proposed manufacturing cutoff dates can be sold Johnson Controls is committed to ensuring the safe transition to R-454B by providing in-depth training for its contractors and technicians prior to the pending refrigerant transition dates, according to the company. The pending mandates from the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for refrigerants with less than 750 GWP will likely only apply to the sale of new residential and commercial unitary equipment as well as air-cooled scroll chillers. Existing R-410A equipment built prior to the EPA’s proposed manufacturing cutoff dates can be sold and installed indefinitely, so there will be little to no impact on contractors and customers from a R-410A equipment standpoint. Once EPA completes the allocation phase of the AIM Act, it will next address reclaim and service practices; therefore, contactors could see future mandates on the use of reclaimed refrigerants as well as enhanced requirements for leak detection and record keeping. Refrigerant management practices “R-454B is more compatible with existing R-410A equipment, requires less charge and can reduce HVAC systems’ energy use by up to 5%,” says Chris Forth, Executive Director of Regulatory, Codes and Environmental Affairs, Ducted Systems, Johnson Controls. “These similar operating characteristics will make for a smoother transition for distributors, wholesalers, contractors and owners, resulting from the commonality of critical system components and their very similar operating pressures and temperatures.” These similar operating characteristics will make for a smoother transition for distributors" “It’s vital that contractors and equipment owners establish proper refrigerant management practices and invest in available flammable refrigerant training,” Forth adds. More specifically, Johnson Controls recommends that contractors review the AHRI Safe Refrigerant Transition Task Force best practices and complete the ACCA A2L refrigerant training before new equipment enters the market (updated ASHRAE 15.2P training is expected by the end of 2021). flammable refrigerants implementation Johnson Controls also recommends that contractors strengthen their current refrigerant management practices: Ensure technicians are EPA section 608-certified for the equipment they will be servicing, train technicians not to mix different recovered refrigerants in the same cylinder, implement robust refrigerant tracking and documentation practices and establish a reliable supply chain for R-410A reclamation before 2025. Johnson Controls has been engaged in the safety standards and building codes development process from the beginning of the low-GWP, flammable refrigerants implementation. Johnson Controls engagement included safety standards such as ASHRAE 34,15; the pending 15.2P standard; as well as UL 60335-2-40 and UL 60335-2-89. ASHRAE safety standards R-454B offers the best outlook for long-term viability as phasedown regulations continue “Our first priority has been and will continue to be safety, and thus, we help sponsor and engaged in the research and testing efforts conducted through the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Technology Institute (AHRTI) and ASHRAE,” says Forth. Johnson Controls also engaged in the adoption of the UL and ASHRAE safety standards via the national model codes, such as the International Code Council (ICC) and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO). Choosing R-454B is a long-term play for Johnson Controls. If the EPA AIM Act phase-down falls below the current 750 GWP limit proposed for stationary AC/unitary equipment, some A2L refrigerants could be phased out quickly, whereas the choice by Johnson Controls to utilize R-454B could, under the same scenario, be viable until 2034. With the lowest GWP of all EPA SNAP-approved refrigerants (GWP of 466), R-454B offers the best outlook for long-term viability as phasedown regulations continue, says the company. Aggressive efficiency standards The HVAC industry is in constant flux. For an OEM that means continually introducing innovative, new features into systems, developing new products that meet aggressive efficiency standards and, in this case, environmental regulations to phase out high-GWP refrigerants. “Transitions of this scale are not new to Johnson Controls, but it does require flexibility and equipment redesigns to utilize R-454B,” says Forth. “However, because the properties (pressures, temperatures, etc.) of R-454B are very similar to the existing R-410A, the actual performance testing did not present the same degree of challenge as past transitions. Johnson Controls has been at the forefront of environmental protection,” says Forth. “Today, our commitment to sustainability is stronger than ever, and it is reflected in the choices we make every day.”

Using Near Field Communication (NFC) To Control HVAC Systems
Using Near Field Communication (NFC) To Control HVAC Systems

Interfacing with HVAC products is increasingly complex. The tiny 1-inch LCD display included on systems does not lend itself to complicated functions. Keeping the HVAC user interface simple limits control options to on/off, mode change or choosing a temperature. Thermostat controls company COTHERM has developed a smartphone app that can be used to control complex functions such as product settings during installation, programming or providing technical information about an HVAC product. Near field communication (NFC) relays information from the smartphone app to the HVAC equipment. Conventional HVAC equipment “NFC technology can be leveraged by heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) manufacturers so that installers can adjust the settings for radiators, as well as water or space heaters, via a mobile phone,” says Alain Maillard, Marketing Director of COTHERM. NFC is a contactless technology that enables transfer of short messages between a smartphone and an object. The technology is widely used and is already popular for uses such as contactless payment The technology is widely used and is already popular for uses such as contactless payment, access control and transportation. The large color screen display of a smartphone and the familiarity of app usage provides a strong tool for user interface and is much more user-friendly than conventional LED or LCD displays with keypads that commonly equip conventional HVAC equipment. This is particularly evident for advanced settings that need a lot of menu navigation like programming. Using NFC technology NFC provides a remote user interface using a smartphone to facilitate the configuration or setting of the product. In effect, the smartphone becomes the user interface of the product, and there is no need to use a complex display with a keyboard. The approach also does not require complex IT installation or pairing as would be required with other technologies like Bluetooth or Wifi. Because communication is based on proximity, data exchange is safe, and you do not need a password or login to connect. The Electric Radiator is COTHERM’s first equipment to use NFC technology, and the first market introduction is in France. The first company to introduce the technology is ‘Univ’R Chauffage’ for the 2021 winter season. For an installer, simplicity is key. Permanent communication link The actual appliance is simplified to include only the most commonly used functions The NFC approach provides time savings for installation as it does not require a login/password of a local network. And it is error free: An app can have a pre-defined setting package that is impossible using a native LCD+ keyboard on traditional equipment. For the user, the actual appliance is simplified to include only the most commonly used functions. There is no pairing or setting, ensuring simplicity. And the system is hacker-free as it requires a proximity exchange and works without the cloud. Data exchange is only activated while the smartphone is close to the radiator; there is no need for a permanent communication link. As a consequence, there are no waves pollution and no energy consumption that may be due to maintaining permanent communication. For appliance manufacturers, the cost-effective solution is innovative and easy to use. Limited support is needed as there is no installation (except downloading an app from the store). Industrial HVAC products The approach also enables a contactless customization of the appliance at the end of the production line in the factory with no power supply on the appliance because NFC is energy harvesting. The approach can be used for industrial HVAC products as well as residential appliances. NFC provides cost advantages, eliminating the need for a high-end display on an appliance. Some sensitive technical data or setting may be reserved for a technician only Information is also addressable: A filter can be set with data from the appliance accessible by profile. Some sensitive technical data or setting may be reserved for a technician only or for use at the factory. In the HVAC application as implemented, the controller of the appliance is used as the NFC tag and the smartphone is used as a reader/writer terminal with color display. The controller of the appliance includes an NFC antenna and a small, dedicated NFC controller with memory. Providing additional benefits On the other hand, the smartphone can be iOS or Android and needs to have the COTHERM NFC App downloaded. NFC is available on iPhone from iPhone 7 and on Android; all smartphones with NFC are compatible. NFC technology provides additional benefits, too, including: Traceability and storage of historical data. Easy setting of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth configuration when combined with NFC. Preset of the appliances or any equipment at the factory, including enabling or disabling. Functions or changing settings to enable customization based on distribution channel for brand. Directly points to the correct app on the store for download when using the smartphone for the first time. Self-launch of the app when the smartphone is close to the NFC tag. Further expansion is planned in Europe. The combination of the technology has received an innovation reward as a European funding project Touch & Heat by DIGIFED Europe program (Horizon H2020). Partners in the DIGIFED program are IoTize, a French startup, and Lucht LHZ, a German manufacturer of Electric Radiator. Product introduction in other European countries is planned for 2022. HVAC equipment such as water heaters or heat pump water heater controllers are the next target for the technology.

The Role Of ‘Smart’ HVAC In The Buildings Of The Future
The Role Of ‘Smart’ HVAC In The Buildings Of The Future

The last 18 months have seen an acceleration in digitalization across many aspects of work and home life. Home spaces have become workspaces, and commercial buildings have had to adapt to changed use and lower occupancy rates. Coupled with this, there is a growing need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from buildings - according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the buildings and construction sectors combined are responsible for over 30 percent of global energy consumption, and nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions. Installing separate systems This means that demand for a smarter approach to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) management is crucial for building managers, who need to ensure that their properties can adapt to changed use, respond to the wellbeing of their occupants, and run efficiently to keep emissions as low as possible. Armed with this data, facility managers can take proactive steps to improve usage Of course, architects and developers have been installing separate systems to control HVAC for decades which have given building managers greater control and access to different areas of a site. However, with digitalization comes the addition of web-based platforms to allow these verticals to integrate seamlessly with each other, providing data on how efficiently and effectively a building operates through a single view application. Armed with this data, facility managers can take proactive steps to improve usage, which will see properties proactively react to the environmental and personal needs of their occupants. Centrally controlled lighting Many commercial buildings will already have a certain element of smart technology installed – from centrally controlled lighting and HVAC systems to remote management of security and energy management systems. However, it is often the case that these multiple applications are managed in silo. This means facilities managers don’t have a consolidated view of their data. In addition, not all managers will be using the data these devices produce to take steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their properties. Embracing smart technology – and a central control platform - gives building managers access to instant data on how their HVAC assets are performing in one place. This insight can be used to gain a thorough understanding of how the different systems in the building interact, and the external factors that may impact them. Effective building controls By using this data, operators can implement effective building controls to manage efficiencies By using this data, operators can implement effective building controls to manage efficiencies, identify maintenance issues, ensure the wellbeing of occupants, and inform future investment priorities. So, for example, if a building is now being used in a different way due to changed occupancy, the data will show the manager what needs to be done to ensure it is operating as efficiently as possible. We know that there will be increased demand for more flexible spaces as companies move towards remote or hybrid working models. It is likely that we will visit our offices less for day-to-day work and use them more as hubs to meet and collaborate. The ability to turn a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ building into an agile asset that can learn and adapt to its surroundings will become increasingly important. Smart HVAC management Smart offices will become independently intelligent, learning how occupants use the space and services, adjusting lighting, HVAC and other systems to maximize health and comfort. Smart HVAC management will create a trend for ‘healthier’ buildings that will have a positive impact in terms of improved quality of life and wellbeing of occupants, ultimately resulting in higher productivity levels. In short, there has never been a better time to adopt smart HVAC technologies. Intelligent buildings that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago are now a reality. As buildings become smarter, they can learn how occupants use the space and services and proactively adjust lighting, HVAC and other systems to improve use, cut emissions and reduce energy consumption.

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