Articles by Larry Anderson
Welcome to our Expert Panel Roundtable, a new feature of HVACInformed.com. We will be asking timely questions about the HVAC market and seeking out experts in the field to provide responses. Our goal is to promote a useful exchange of information on a variety of topics and to create a forum for discussion of important issues facing the industry. Launching this new feature in the middle of a global pandemic made choosing our first question quite easy. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What has been the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the HVAC market?
Hiring and retaining employees in the HVAC market is an ongoing challenge. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers will grow 13 percent between 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. As the economic emerges from the COVID-19-induced slowdown, the industry’s workforce challenges will again be top-of-mind. Now is a great time for HVAC companies to update and expand their recruitment and retention strategies. Following are some suggestions compiled from various sources. Tips on hiring new employees: Use social media platforms. Employers should create an identity on social networks to reinforce the idea that the company is a “great place to work.” Tools to communicate the message include employee profiles, awards and recognition programs, and personalized photos and videos of employees on and off the job. Ensure there is a “careers” page on the website. The page should describe the company, possible career paths, and list any current and ongoing openings. Offer a referral bonus to current employees. Promote recruiting by word of mouth using a referral bonus, which could be offered in two stages – one amount for an initial hire and a second payment after the new employee has been on the job for a certain amount of time. Spread around business cards. Information to entice new employees should fit on a business card, including how to apply and email and telephone contact information. The cards should include information on what sets an employer apart from other companies and could be distributed at job fairs or wherever one encounters a prospect. Choose employees that fit into the corporate culture. Identifying intangibles is among the more difficult challenges during the interview process, but results are worth the effort. Be open to all age groups, including older workers. Older employees may provide a higher level of knowledge and expertise, and companies should promote a culture that respects and values mature workers. Avoid recruitment phrases such as “new or recent graduates preferred” or “maximum years of experience.” Don’t make assumptions about who is “overqualified” or outside the expected salary range. For example, older workers seeking second careers may be more flexible about pay and represent a “bargain” in the workforce marketplace. Tips on retaining employees: Make your employees feel valued. Customers benefit when employers listen to their employees, find out what matters to them, and then respond to those needs. Make sure employees are engaged and interested in their work. Enthusiastic employees are loyal to their workplace. A goal for employers should be to ensure that each employee derives satisfaction from their work. Engaging one-on-one with employees ensures a clear communication path and greater insights for employers. Ensure there is a perceptible career path. An employer should provide career development opportunities and a clear path forward to a bright future for employees. Provide opportunities for employees to learn. Employees should have chances to learn more about new technologies, new skills and/or changing industry trends. Promote a sense of camaraderie. Employees tend to be more motivated if they are part of a team that can help to support their personal and professional growth and success. Encourage a team spirit and an environment in which employees “feel like family.” Clearly communicate the company’s mission and values. Employees tend to stay at a company that shares their personal mission and values. Promoting a company’s mission internally creates a higher level of engagement by employees. Employees should believe in the corporate mission and feel their skills play a valuable role in achieving it. Ensure managers are great leaders. The role of an employee’s direct supervisor to maximize morale and job satisfaction cannot be overemphasized. Toxic managers can be the source of excess turnover – they can be a huge cost to companies in terms of recruitment and retention. Managers should treat employees as people, should encourage them, lead them, and help them along their career path. They should be coaches, not overlords. Recognize achievement. Employees appreciate recognition and positive reinforcement, which could include an awards program or other incentives. Encourage multi-generational cooperation. Baby boomers are very different than millennials in terms of their work habits and expectations, but those differences should not be seen as impediments. Rather, there is much that employees of various ages can learn from each other if they are encouraged to work together more closely. Companies should respect the contributions of employees from any generation. Mentor/mentee programs can help with career growth. Provide flexibility. Whether it’s flexible work schedules or teleworking, employees appreciate any accommodation an employer can provide. Employees who have more control over their work-life balance tend to experience higher satisfaction, and there is less turnover.
The American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2019 would provide an orderly national framework to guide replacement of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) over the next several years in the United States, with newer refrigerants that have less negative impact on the environment. HFCs are potent greenhouse gases with very high global warming potential. The future of the HVAC industry is tied to the manufacture of next-generation refrigerants and their adoption. Versions of the AIM Act – Senate bill S.2754 and House bill H.R.5544 – are currently in the Senate Environment and Public Works and the House Energy and Commerce committees. The global market is moving away from the use of HFC refrigerants, given that the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol requires their phaseout; however, the United States has not ratified the Kigali Amendment. Over the next 15 years, the AIM Act would phase down HFC to a low of 15% of current production and consumption levels. In addition, aftermarket supplies from recovery, recycling and reclaiming would ensure adequate availability of the refrigerants for use in legacy systems and in applications for which substitutes are not available. Economic Stimulus For The U.S. HVACR Industry The Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) contends passing the act would “serve as a potent form of economic stimulus for the U.S. HVACR industry,” in addition to providing clarity on the regulatory landscape. The AIM Act would create new manufacturing jobs in the United States, spur HVACR investment in the U.S. economy, and ensure the continued safety and training of licensed HVACR professionals, experts say. Over the next 15 years, the AIM Act would phase down HFC to a low of 15% of current production and consumption levels The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) support the federal approach to an HFC phasedown as preferable to a state-by-state approach, urging Congress to include preemption language in the AIM Act that would require states to follow a federal HFC phasedown schedule for the residential HVACR market. Addressing Safety Concerns Safety concerns arise with the introduction of A2L mildly flammable refrigerants as part of the next phase down of HFCs. ACCA says a unified approach across the United States will ensure the introduction of A2L refrigerants is done safely. Commercial and industrial HVAC markets have been using flammable refrigerants for years; however, building codes and safety standards in the residential market do not currently allow their use. ACCA also urges inclusion of language in the AIM Act to strengthen EPA certification programs and restrict the sale of HVACR systems and refrigerants to only trained and certified individuals. “If Congress does not provide the EPA the authority to regulate and implement an HFC phasedown, then the EPA may not be able to implement training and certification programs or restrict the sale of dangerous products to unqualified people,” according to testimony the ACCA submitted to the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Ending "Dumping" The future of the HVAC industry is tied to the manufacture of next-generation refrigerants The AIM Act would also seek to end the practice of “dumping,” in which foreign manufacturers export inferior products to the United States that are priced below the cost of manufacture. The AIM Act would restrict the import of HFCs as part of the production and consumption phasedown. However, the non-profit Competitive Enterprise Institute (CSI) rejects the need for the AIM Act. “The free market provides the best policy answer,” writes Ben Lieberman, CEI Senior Fellow. “Let the new refrigerants and equipment compete with the current ones, rather than favoring one over the other [through legislation].”
Members of a family were eating lunch in a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, seated at a table below an air outlet and return air inlet for the central air conditioner. At another table sat a family who had just traveled from Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. There was another family seated at a third table. One of the diners experienced the onset of fever and cough later in the day and went to the hospital, later diagnosed with COVID-19. That was on Jan. 24, 2020. By February 5 – some 12 days later – a total of nine others from the three families had become ill with COVID-19. The only known source of exposure for the affected persons was at the restaurant, and researchers have singled out droplet transmission prompted by air-conditioned ventilation as a likely means of the virus transmission. COVID-19 droplet transmission The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting on the case under the title “COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020.” Examination of the potential routes for transmission of the disease in this instance concluded that the most likely cause of the outbreak was droplet transmission. Furthermore, researchers theorize that strong airflow from the air conditioner could have propagated droplets among the three tables. Lower concentrations of aerosols might have been insufficient at greater distances to cause infection This route of transmission is probable because the people at the other two affected tables were further than 1m away, say researchers, beyond the usual range for large droplet transmission. Generally, larger respiratory droplets remain in the air for only a short time and travel only short distances, 1m or less. Also, in this case, pre-symptomatic transmission is likely, since the initial patient was asymptomatic during the lunch. Aerosol Transmission Appears Less Likely Virus-laden smaller aerosolized droplets can remain in the air and travel longer distances; however, none of the staff or other diners in the restaurant were infected, which makes this route of transmission less likely. Because aerosols tend to follow the airflow, lower concentrations of aerosols might have been insufficient at greater distances to cause infection in other parts of the restaurant. Avoiding recirculating indoor air “We conclude that in this outbreak, droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation,” say the researchers. “The key factor for infection was the direction of the airflow. To prevent spread of COVID-19 in restaurants, we recommend strengthening temperature-monitoring surveillance, increasing the distance between tables, and improving ventilation.” Researchers also point to the value of daylight to impact the viability of germs The research was conducted by the Department of Control and Prevention for Infectious Disease at the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The case supports recommendations by experts at the University of Oregon and the University of California, Davis, to take care not to recirculate indoor air which could increase potential contamination. Impact of natural light on novel coronavirus Rather, bringing more air from outside and using higher rates of air exchanged can help to dilute indoor contaminants, including viral particles. A solution might be as simple as opening a window. Researchers also point to the value of daylight to impact the viability of germs in an indoor environment. However, they say more research is needed to fully understand the impact indoors of natural light on the novel coronavirus.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rolled back a standard set under the Obama administration to require leak repair and maintenance for industrial and commercial refrigeration and air conditioning equipment containing 50 or more pounds of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The industry embraced HFCs, which are potent greenhouse gases, as a replacement for ozone-depleting refrigerants such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The requirements that have now been rolled back merely extended the leak prevention requirements already in place for CFCs to the newer replacement chemicals. Since the rollback, leak repair and maintenance requirements now only apply to Class I and Class II ozone-depleting substances. Environmental Groups Environmental groups are among those opposing the standard rollback, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “This rollback will fuel the climate crisis by adding more super-polluting HFCs to the atmosphere each year, in an amount equal to the carbon pollution from a million cars,” says David Doniger, Senior Strategic Director in the Climate & Clean Energy Program at the NRDC. “It will save industry just $24 million a year, a pittance when spread across thousands of industrial facilities.” His rollback will fuel the climate crisis by adding more super-polluting HFCs" The bipartisan American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which has been introduced in the Senate and the House, may provide an opportunity to reinstate the requirements. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers support the new legislation. The final rule change to Section 608 of the Refrigerant Management Regulations was first proposed in 2018. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) had sought to retain the leak repair provisions in the best interest of the environment, equipment maintenance and the consumer. Properly charged equipment operates more efficiently than improperly charged equipment. Lesser charged equipment can also accelerate failure rates, lower system performance and decrease energy efficiency. Inspecting equipment Under the new rule, equipment owners no longer have to inspect periodically for leaks or report leaking appliances to the EPA. They do not have to repair appliances to a certain level or verify with testing. They also do not have to retrofit or retire appliances that are not repaired, or maintain records related to any of the above. Leak detection and repair is widely considered an industry best practice, and the industry has invested in management, leak detection and repair programs to support compliance. Therefore, revising the standard may have little impact on HFC emissions, according to some industry sources. In any case, existing refrigerant management best practices should remain in place, say the experts. The rule change is also likely to cause confusion since some refrigerants are still subject to leak detection requirements and others are not. The rule change is also likely to cause confusion Existing standards Even with the relaxation of the leak repair requirements, existing standards for purchase, handling, recovery and reclamation of HFCs remain in place and are also considered best practices. EPA’s proposed rule from 2018 had considered rolling back those rules, too. Among those supporting the recent EPA rollback of leak repair and maintenance requirements was NEDA/CAP, a multi-sector manufacturing coalition of companies that include the Boeing Company, BP America, Eli Lilly & Company, ExxonMobil Corp., Georgia-Pacific, Intel Corp., Koch Industries, Merck & Co, NewPage Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp., Procter & Gamble and Weyerhaeuser.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, HVAC systems have been at the center of concerns such as indoor air quality and the need to minimize potential exposure. At the local level, HVAC installers have increased their efforts to keep equipment and supplies clean, and technicians are wearing gloves and masks as protection to keep customers safe. Many HVAC companies have also sought to give back to local communities hard-hit by the pandemic. As an industry, HVAC has remained committed to maximizing service to communities, and to each individual customer. Pandemic response For example, Johnson Controls has been part of the pandemic response from the beginning. The company first responded to the developing crisis in Wuhan, China, where local personnel worked to fulfill urgent needs for new hospitals. Local personnel worked to fulfill urgent needs for new hospitals As the pandemic evolved, Johnson Controls also implemented local and regional contingency plans across the globe to ensure employee safety and customer support. “As a global company, we have been addressing this crisis from the very start and are proud of our frontline leadership responding in every corner of the world,” says George Oliver, Johnson Controls Chairman and CEO. He pledged the company will do whatever is needed to keep essential products, services and personnel up and running. Helping Hospitals Johnson Controls’ products and services in the HVAC category are essential to hospitals and operating rooms and are a necessary component for operation of almost all the Critical Infrastructure Sectors recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Properly ventilated buildings are critical to improve air quality and prevent the spread of disease and secondary infection. According to Johnson Controls, it is essential to maintain systems and keep them in service where people continue to live and work. Industrial refrigeration is also vital in markets ranging from food and beverage processing to the petrochemical industry. Here is another example of the HVAC community’s involvement in responding to the COVID-19 crisis: AAON, a semi-custom commercial HVAC equipment manufacturer, provided 50-ton customized HVAC units for the Stony Brook Temporary Hospital on Long Island, just east of New York City. The Tulsa, Okla., company provides 44 of the units, totaling 2,200 tons of HVAC apparatus, which equates to the cooling capacity of more than 700 single-family homes. Aiding the pandemic AAON worked around the clock to make the equipment and ensure the units arrived in New York City on a tight timeline. AAON’S New York sales office had called President Gary Fields to inquire about the company’s ability to meet the hospital’s need. A 1,038-bed temporary hospital to treat non-COVID-19 patients during the pandemic was constructed A 1,038-bed temporary hospital to treat non-COVID-19 patients during the pandemic was constructed at Stony Brook University. The Army Corps erected four temporary tent-like structures near the university’s athletic fields as part of the New York State initiative to relieve local hospitals during a spike in patients due to the pandemic. Ultimately, like many temporary facilities built in response to the pandemic, the hospital was not used. However, the facility will be ready in case it is needed for a second wave of the pandemic.
Which measures can lessen the spread of the novel coronavirus, and which can make it worse? As the pandemic continues to unfold, there is an overabundance of advice on the subject as it relates to HVAC systems. For example, one theory goes that air conditioning, by removing humidity from the air, may enable infectious droplets to linger longer than they would outdoors or in another space where humidity is higher. More humidity can weigh down viral droplets as they float through the air. Does it make sense, therefore, to turn the AC off to minimize spread of the virus? Not according to ASHRAE, which officially opposes the advice not to run residential or commercial HVAC systems. In fact, ASHRAE asserts that keeping air conditioners on during this time can help control spread of the virus. Ventilation And Filtration May Control COVID-19 Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled, says ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. Changes to building operations, including the operation of HVAC systems, can reduce airborne exposures, says the professional association. ASHRAE asserts that keeping air conditioners on during this time can help control spread of the virus Ventilation and filtration can reduce airborne concentration of the novel coronavirus and thus the risk of transmission through the air. Furthermore, unconditioned spaces can cause thermal stress to people that may be directly life threatening and may also lower resistance to infection. In general, disabling of HVAC systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus, ASHRAE concludes. ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force In response to the pandemic, ASHRAE has created an Epidemic Task Force comprised of experts to address the relationship between the spread of disease and HVAC. “When called upon by circumstances to assist in situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, our technical and standards committees act within their spheres of competence to do whatever they can to help,” says William Bahnfleth, chair of the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force. Also, ASHRAE’s Environmental Health Committee has updated a Position Document on Infectious Aerosols. Observational studies and modeling of COVID-19 suggest the likelihood of transmission through the air via aerosols. Evidence-Based Infection Control ASHRAE pledges to take full advantage of the knowledge among its members to create evidence-based infection control practices during this pandemic and prior to future pandemics. The society will also conduct training on engineering guidelines and operation of interventions that promote healthy air quality, which are not always understood in the context of building design, construction and operations. Observational studies and modeling of COVID-19 suggest the likelihood of transmission through the air via aerosols ASHRAE will continue to support research that advances the knowledge base of indoor air management strategies aimed to reduce occupant exposure to infection aerosols. The association’s Healthcare Facilities technical committee has worked to produce guidance that can be implemented immediately to help hospitals and clinics cope with increasing volume of COVID-19 cases. Guidance includes design of existing infection isolation, intensive care and critical care rooms. Guidance also covers how to create additional observation/segregation rooms for a small-scale admission surge as well as to establish wards/suites for a large-scale surge.
A fuel called “Bioheat” is made by blending biodiesel made from organic and recycled products with ultra-low sulfur heating oil. The feedstocks used to make biodiesel include vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant grease. About half the biodiesel produced in the United States is made from soybean oil. Blends are designated in percentages – a 5% blend of biodiesel with heating oil is B5, a 10% blend is B10, and a 20% blend is B20. Blends up to 5% are called “Bioheat,” while blends from 6-20% are “Bioheat Plus.” Blends from 21-100% are “Bioheat Super Plus,” and ongoing research is under way on higher percentage blends. The process of blending biodiesel into heating oil must meet ASTM D396 and 6751 specification and standards. Biodiesel-based Heating Oil Much of the home heating oil currently used in the United States contains biodiesel, but its use is not required in every state in New England, where the cold climate favors use of heating oil over electric heat pumps. The New York Heating Oil Association has pushed for mandates to use B20 blends by 2034, with the percentage of biodiesel increasing gradually from a B5 blend required in 2017. New York is the only state with an active mandate. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont require all neighboring states to have active mandates before laws go into effect. Although Massachusetts implemented a Bioheat mandate in 2010, it was subsequently replaced with a voluntary program because of costs. Lowering The Carbon Content The process of blending biodiesel into heating oil must meet ASTM D396 and 6751 specification and standards The home heating oil industry is concentrated in five Northeast states: New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, which use 3 billion gallons of heating oil per year between November and March, according to the Energy Information Administration. The addition of biodiesel lowers the carbon content (and thus the environmental impact) of heating oil. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions, including nitrogen oxide. The process of making biodiesel from renewable and organic sources also boosts the environmental profile. Greenhouse gases emitted by the heating sector are significant. For example, in Rhode Island, the sector produces a third of the state’s 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents released annually. All Electric Systems And Heat Pumps Although biodiesel can help to meet carbon reduction goals, there is also a push for more expensive “all electric” systems (i.e., heat pumps) in cities throughout the Northeast. Pricing of heating oil blended with biodiesel is comparable with that of pure heating oil but may be somewhat higher. A blended fuel also burns cleaner and more efficiently, which reduces heating system maintenance and improves energy efficiency. Bioheat fuels can be used in the same tank and furnace system as standard petroleum heating oil without modification. Concerns Surrounding Biofuels The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions, including nitrogen oxide There is some concern that producing biofuel stock could strain the food supply by displacing food crops in order to produce plant-based fuels on a large scale. Currently biodiesel is limited by the volume of available feedstock needed to achieve scale. Also, the lifecycle of producing renewable fuels may emit greenhouse gases. American GreenFuels, New Haven, Conn., has announced its biodiesel product has achieved environmental claim validations from Underwriters Laboratories. UL has confirmed that biodiesel produced by American GreenFuels contains an average of 42 percent post-consumer recycled content and 46 percent byproduct synergy feedstock content. As the largest biodiesel producer in the Northeast United States, American GreenFuels produces biodiesel from plant oils and recycled waste materials.
Mobile systems are growing in popularity across the HVAC market, driven by convenience and changing demographics of the workforce. For younger employees, smart phones are almost an extension of their hands. As they enter the HVAC workforce, they are eager to embrace mobile systems. However, the simplicity of mobile systems is also attractive to older workers, who may be less inclined to use a complex desktop computer system. In the case of mobile systems, “limitation leads to creativity,” says Alex Meaney, senior Wrightsoft trainer at MiTek Holdings. Stripping down functionality to make a system available on a smart phone also makes it particularly easy to use. Utilising mobile systems HVAC professionals use WrightSoft’s software products, including mobile systems, to translate a site’s heating, cooling and ventilation needs into system designs and product choices to address those needs. Mobile systems do not complete the total design process, but they provide a start. Meaney says mobile systems are a “gateway to those who are less technically savvy.” Mobile systems are a “gateway to those who are less technically savvy” In addition to providing Right-J Mobile load calculation software for mobile platforms, WrightSoft also offers full HVAC design and build software for desktops. WrightSoft’s software can capture information from a CAD drawing or PDF and then calculate elements such as load, air flow, pressure drops, friction, etc. to ensure system performance, while taking into consideration elements such as moisture and outdoor temperature. The software creates a ductwork configuration and provides a materials list for the installer. The flagship Right-Suite Universal product is sold modularly so customers only pay for what they need. The simplified interface does not require CAD expertise. In addition, the company’s latest Right-CAD product offers a more traditional CAD experience. Right-Mobile Consultant Another WrightSoft mobile system is the Right-Mobile Consultant, an in-home selling tool that can compare systems and operating costs, create a proposal, and includes tools for pricing. All the products are certified by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and are based on ANSI standards. A feature of WrightSoft products is that they incorporate digitization of ACCA Manual J, which addresses load calculation. The software also incorporates expanded performance data, including proprietary engineering data provided by manufacturers, pre-loaded to enable users to recommend equipment based on ACCA Manual S, which directs residential equipment selection. The aggregated performance data provides value to WrightSoft’s OEM partners by allowing installers to automatically select equipment that complies with Manual S requirements by merely checking boxes in the software. The expanded data is more detailed and specific than Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) ratings, which are incorporated into some software systems but were never intended to be used by contractors to size equipment. WrightSoft is part of MiTek Holdings, which also has HVAC-related subsidiaries M&M Manufacturing and Snappy, which provide metal ductwork. MiTek is owned by multinational conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway. Easing entry into the HVAC market Mobile systems can ease entry into the HVAC market of new, younger employees by providing instant access to expertise that older workers “keep in their heads” and had to learn over many years on the job. Helping to expand the labor pool is particularly timely as HVAC contractors have struggled to find enough employees. Cloud-based systems are also increasing productivity of HVAC installers Cloud-based systems are also increasing productivity of HVAC installers. Because information is now stored in the cloud, installers can enter information on a mobile product and then continue working on the same project on a desktop. WrightSoft’s focus is on residential installations, although some professional engineers also use the software for commercial projects. The company does not track how their software is being used in the market. WrightSoft typically interacts with customers at the point of sale, again when the software is updated, and also for support and training. Cloud technologies WrightSoft does not manage customer data or have access to a customer’s files. “Being in the cloud enables us to better tie all our technologies together and to tie into other industry partners in the building space,” says Micah Dawson, Product Portfolio Manager, HVAC at MiTek USA. MiTek overall is well positioned to expand their cloud-based services and develop a broader cloud offering over time, he adds. “There is a lot to know about HVAC design, and it requires a lot of input and analysis,” Dawson says. “People don’t realize they need software to help them.” HVAC systems are becoming more complex, which makes it harder for installers to rely on informal “rule of thumb” assumptions based on experience. “We as an industry have moved those assumptions, but some installers are not keeping up as things are becoming complex,” he adds. The incremental benefits achievable by using software can make the difference in a company’s success or failure, says Dawson, citing the turnover of companies entering (and sadly, exiting) the HVAC industry as a reflection of the need. There is a lot at stake for smaller companies especially, and there are around 60,000 HVAC contracting businesses with four or less employees. How software helps A wrong calculation or bad design choice could wipe away the profitability on a single job; or perhaps worse, hamstrung profitability over time could cause a smaller company to die “by a thousand paper cuts,” Dawson says. “Software allows you to get the design right at the digital stage, where it doesn’t cost anything, so you can be sure of the equipment you are spending so much money on,” says Dawson. Because of COVID-19, Meaney has shifted his training to online Because of COVID-19, Meaney has shifted his training to online, and the company is investing to improve that training. “We have enhanced and broadened our training availability significantly,” he says. Among the benefits of online training is the ability to spread out course material into shorter sessions spread over a longer period – several two-hour sessions rather than all crammed into two long days. In any case, Meaney expects online training to continue to play a larger role in the post-COVID-19 world. In general, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the market focus on indoor air quality as we have all spent two months locked inside our houses. The benefit of using software to correctly design HVAC systems for the home will be more important than ever. Meaney predicts “the dam will break” after the quarantine ends as people look to improve their systems, not to mention catching up on routine maintenance.
Machine learning provides a tool to lower energy costs in a building, and Honeywell has launched a platform that incorporates the newer technology. Combining self-learning algorithms with building automation, Honeywell Forge Energy Optimization is a cloud-based system that analyzes a building’s energy consumption pattern and adjusts its settings. “We can help building portfolio owners fine-tune their energy expenditures to drive efficiencies and create more sustainable practices,” says David Trice, Vice President and General Manager, Honeywell Connected Buildings. Autonomous building solutions Honeywell says the autonomous, closed-loop building solution may deliver double-digit energy savings while decreasing a building’s carbon footprint. It can be implemented without significant capital expense or changes to a building’s current operational processes. The system autonomously and continually optimizes a building’s internal set points across hundreds of assets every 15 minutes by evaluating whether the HVAC system is running at peak efficiency. When analyzing when to make an adjustment, the system considers factors such as time of day, weather, occupancy levels and other data points. The system considers factors such as time of day, weather, occupancy levels Honeywell Forge Energy Optimization calculates its decisions 96 times per 24-hour period in every building in a portfolio. Deployment is a simple plug-and-play process with no changes needed to business mechanics. Systems do not need to be rip-and-replaced. Results of the technology The technology has been demonstrated in a pilot at Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, achieving an initial 10% energy savings. The pilot achieved the extra savings over and beyond what was achieved earlier in the highly smart, energy-efficient building with fully connected lighting, cooling, building management, power and efficiency control optimized based on real-time occupancy. The pilot also uncovered local control issues with the chiller plant and fresh air handling unit that were not adjusting to set points. “Honeywell Forge [was able] to drive further energy savings beyond our achievable optimization with the techniques we [had],” says Dr. Mansoor Al Awar, HBMSU’s Chancellor. The university is collaborating with Honeywell to support the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to drive operational efficiencies. Energy consumption in commercial buildings is significant. Buildings and buildings construction combined are responsible for more than 36% of global final energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Energy demand in these sectors continues to rise, driven by improved access to energy in developing countries, greater ownership and use of energy-consuming devices, and rapid growth in global buildings’ floor areas. Opportunities for energy saving It is a market where the potential impact of greater efficiencies is huge It is a market where the potential impact of greater efficiencies is huge. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning often presents the largest opportunity for energy savings in a commercial building. “Buildings aren’t static steel and concrete – they are dynamic ecosystems and their energy needs fluctuate based on ever-changing variables like weather and occupancy,” says Trice. “We are evolving building operations far beyond what would be possible even with a robust team of engineers and the rules they code in their building management system.”
When a visionary industrial designer turns his attention to the HVAC industry, it’s probably wise to take note. Recently, technology entrepreneur and philanthropist, Elon Musk expressed his vision for residential HVAC, based in part on a new heat pump his engineers designed for the Tesla Model Y electric compact sport utility vehicle. Efficient, quiet home HVAC system According to several reports, Musk seeks to build an efficient and quiet HVAC system for the home, piggybacking on the technology used to make heaters for the newest Tesla Model Y. It’s the first of Tesla’s electric cars to use a heat pump, which is more efficient than previous electric heating systems. Tesla’s previous vehicle models used resistance heating, which is a battery hog Tesla’s previous vehicle models used resistance heating, which is a battery hog. The new heat pump component, including a compressor/chiller and liquid cooled condenser, is designed to be more energy-efficient and provides a more reliable vehicle operation range in cold weather conditions. Model Y heat pump “The model Y heat pump is some of the best engineering I’ve seen in a while,” said Musk on Twitter, adding “[The] team did next-level work.” Musk would ‘love to do HVAC that’s quiet and efficient with humidity control and HEPA filter’ for the home. Tesla car-inspired temperature controls Musk stated that he imagines a full-home HVAC system that is inspired by and maybe linked with the temperature controls inside someone’s Tesla vehicle. The proposal is in line with Musk’s mission to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy. He said, “Reducing a home’s energy usage while deploying solar power capacity are complementary goals”. High-efficiency particulate air filters Tesla HEPA filters are about 10 times larger than a normal automotive cabin air filter Tesla already has experience with HVAC systems and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters used to clean the cabin air in their Model 5 and Model X vehicles. The Tesla HEPA filters are about 10 times larger than a normal automotive cabin air filter and about “100 times more effective,” according to the company. Tesla HEPA filters The filters remove at least 99.97% of the fine particulate matter and gaseous pollutants, as well as bacteria, viruses, pollen and mold spores. Tesla refers to the extreme level of air cleaning as ‘Bioweapon Defense Mode’. Among other benefits, the filtering system protected California drivers from smoke and kept the vehicles’ cabin air clean during the recent wildfires. Musk first mentioned home air conditioning systems about two years ago, alluding to a home HVAC system that is quiet and efficient with humidity control and a HEPA filter. HEPA filter in a home system “The use of a HEPA filter in a home system would be a ‘life changer’ for people with allergies”, says Musk. The growing popularity of home air purifier products supports the conclusion. Communication between a Tesla vehicle and a Tesla home climate system would allow an intelligent air conditioning system to ‘know’ exactly when a resident will get home and only cool the home as appropriate to save energy. Energy-efficient, high performance HVAC systems Musk has also questioned the wisdom of home air conditioner systems that make pure, fresh water Musk has also questioned the wisdom of home air conditioner systems that make pure, fresh water and then dump it on the ground. The HVAC market has had its share of innovation in recent years, as today’s more energy-efficient, quieter and better-performing systems can attest. Smart thermostats, climate control systems There has also been lots of development in the area of smart thermostats and climate control systems, with the results approximating what Musk envisions achieving with communications between his smart vehicles and smart home systems. But is it time to rethink the technologies again? There is certainly opportunity in the market for any systems that provide better, more sustainable performance, no matter where the ideas originate. Given Musk’s success envisioning a future of electric cars and lower-cost space travel (among other ideas), his thoughts on the future of the HVAC market are at least worth considering.
Now an independent company, HVAC giant Carrier plans to extend its product range, expand its geographical coverage and increase its service and digital offerings. The company is well-positioned to continue to benefit from strong industry growth, given its significant installed base, disciplined operation, and commitment to innovation. In the last month, Carrier Global Corp. has debuted as an independent, publicly traded company after separating from United Technologies. It will trade under the symbol “CARR” on the New York Stock Exchange. “For more than a century, Carrier has been a symbol of excellence, and today, as a standalone company, we have defined our own strategy, vision, culture and priorities,” said Dave Gitlin, Carrier President and CEO. “We have an unmatched legacy and look forward to delivering sustainable long-term growth to our shareowners and other stakeholders.” Carrier's Legacy As A Leading HVAC Manufacturer In the last month, Carrier Global Corp. has debuted as an independent, publicly traded company after separating from United Technologies. It will trade under the symbol “CARR” on the New York Stock Exchange. Based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Carrier traces its history back to 1915, when it was founded as a manufacturer and distributor of heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems. Willis Carrier is credited with inventing modern air conditioning, and his company’s success later included marketing air conditioners to residential markets in the 1950s. Carrier traces its history back to 1915, when it was founded as a manufacturer and distributor of heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems. Carrier Air Conditioning Corp. was acquired by United Technologies Corp. (UTC) in July 1979. In November of 2018, UTC announced its intent to spin off an independent company known as Carrier Global Corp. That separation was completed this year. Strategies For Long-term Growth And Profitability As an independent company, Carrier will increase its focus on distinct operating priorities and strategies for long-term growth and profitability. Specifically, the new company plans: To invest in its sales force and product innovation; To increase product extensions and geographic coverage; To grow service and digital offerings to create recurring revenue opportunities; and To implement tenacious cost reduction, including a $600 million reduction in supply chain, factory, and general and administrative expenses by the end of 2022. Leading In Residential And Commercial HVAC And Refrigerants Carrier has an extensive global footprint, offering solutions in more than 180 countries. Leading positions include the North American residential and commercial HVAC equipment markets and refrigerated equipment for the North American and European truck trailer and container businesses. The newly independent company also includes global fire detection and suppression and security systems businesses that were also previously part of UTC.Carrier traces its history back to 1915, when it was founded as a manufacturer and distributor of heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems “Since Carrier’s founding, we have been leaders in inventing new solutions and entirely new industries, and now we will use that leadership to create value for our future shareholders,” said Gitlin. “We are investing strategically and strengthening our market positions with a relentless focus on customers to drive growth. At Carrier, we have a strong foundation, and our best days are ahead.” Carrier pledges to continue to contribute to communities around the world through employee volunteerism and environmentally responsible operations, products and services. The company also supports development of online STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education for children around the world.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the ultraviolet irradiation industry has seen an unprecedented surge in demand for germicidal solutions. UV-C light is a short-wavelength, ultraviolet light that kills germs by inactivating a microorganism’s DNA. Germicidal UV-C energy is just one of three proven methods identified by ASHRAE of controlling airborne infection. The other two are ventilation and particle filtration. However, although UV-C is effective in killing other varieties of coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, scientists do not yet know about the impact of UV-C on COVID-19. The ultraviolet germicidal waveform (253.7 nm) kills every known microorganism including bacteria, viruses, molds and other pathogens – even antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Proven, Mainstream Technology We have redoubled our educational focus and hired a communications manager to oversee these efforts" Therefore, it's incumbent on facility engineers to use multilayer preventative infection-control measures such as germicidal UV-C to help ensure that whatever pathogen is not “killed” by one method (say filtering or cleaning) is inactivated by another (UV-C). UV Resources, Santa Clarita, Calif., helped establish ultraviolet air and surface treatment as a mainstream technology. However, there is still a surprising amount of doubt and misinformation surrounding the application of UV-C technology, says Daniel Jones, President, UV Resources. “We have redoubled our educational focus and hired a communications manager to oversee these efforts,” he said. air distribution systems “While some bacteria and viruses are more susceptible to UV disinfection than others, all microorganisms tested do respond at the appropriate doses,” says Jones. “And, unlike antibiotics and vaccines, there is no way for microbes to develop a resistance to the germicidal energy of UV-C.” In-duct germicidal UV-C systems are installed in air-handling units or air distribution systems to inactivate microorganisms that propagate allergens and to disinfect moving airstreams “on-the-fly,” translating into better indoor air quality (IAQ), improved occupant productivity, and lower incidences of sick days. emergency waiting rooms Operating 24/7/365, upper-room germicidal fixtures can inactivate microbes in under a second A UV-C lamp system is a complete solution that includes a UV-C lamp, wiring harness or some means of connecting the lamp to an electronically-matched ballast, and can include accessories such as lamp/ballast monitors, safety switches, viewport/access doors and lamp timers. Upper-room germicidal UV-C fixtures — ideal for infection control — work by interrupting the transmission of airborne infectious diseases in high traffic communal areas. Immunocompromised and contagious individuals in emergency waiting rooms, urgent care facilities, doctor offices or senior living centers increase the potential for community spread by positioning potentially undiagnosed/untreated patients near others. upper-room germicidal fixtures The upper-room UV-C fixtures utilize the natural rise-and-fall of convection or mechanical air currents to lift airborne infectious agents above seven feet, where they are exposed to UV-C irradiation and killed. Operating 24/7/365, upper-room germicidal fixtures can inactivate microbes in under a second, including measles, mumps, TB, and cold viruses. These fixtures are wall-mounted and use baffles to direct the UV-C energy upward and outward ensuring that no UV-C energy enters the occupied portion of the room. Kill ratios of up to 99.9% on a first-pass basis have been modeled, and concentrations are further reduced by each subsequent pass of recirculated air (“multiple dosing”). The powerful GLO Upper-Room Germicidal Fixture from UV Resources delivers up to 350% more irradiance than conventional upper air UV systems elevate infection control “Healthcare and commercial office buildings have traditionally represented the early adopters of UV-C technology to disinfect airstreams, HVAC surfaces and the upper air,” says Jones. “The healthcare industry has once again led the surge in use of UV-C during this current pandemic. However, the unprecedented global impact of this pandemic will elevate infection control and life-safety issues to the forefront of vulnerabilities that can lead to business-crippling crises in every business across every industry.” Just as no one would operate an HVAC system without air filters, the time is near when no one will operate HVAC/R systems without UV-C installed, says Jones. However, UV-C technology has long been misunderstood and therefore under-utilized in the HVAC market. Air-stream disinfection systems Upper-room UV-C fixtures cost as little as $2.50 - $3.10 per square foot of treated space UV Resources has been a key driver in advancing this technology; collaborating on UV-C research, authoring white papers and technical articles aimed at educating, and leading the industry’s expansion through science and education. “Indeed, our industry educational roots can be traced to our late founder and respected industry leader, Forrest Fencl, who pioneered the modern application of UV-C in HVAC/R equipment and contributed countless hours serving ASHRAE as a Distinguished Lecturer on UV-C,” says Jones. Upper-room UV-C fixtures cost as little as $2.50 - $3.10 per square foot of treated space. Air-stream disinfection systems range from $0.60 - $0.80 per cfm (cubic feet per minute), and HVAC Surface Disinfection systems are approximately $0.15 - $0.20 per cfm, literally bargains when compared to human lives, lost productivity, healthcare costs and healthcare resources. air conditioning system It’s easy to think of UV-C as high-tech and therefore expensive, but this simply isn’t true. A UV-C coil irradiation system has an average installed cost of $0.20 per cfm, and many users report that their cost for an installed UV-C system featuring high output lamps was even less. Using a 10,000-cfm system as an example, the installed UV-C fixtures would cost $2,000, with an annual operating cost of $188 at $0.10/kW – operating 24/7/365. That is less than 1% of the average power savings gained through a more efficient (better heat transfer and lower pressure drop) air conditioning system. reduce energy consumption Virtually all commercial HVAC/R systems are potential candidates for UV-C because of the universal benefits it brings, including: destruction of surface and airborne microorganisms; the restoration and preservation of heat transfer and airflow capacities to "as-built" condition; improved indoor air quality; and reduced maintenance. On the human side, providing ‘clean air’ has taken on a whole new meaning of providing a safe environment" Adding UV-C to existing HVAC/R systems can reduce energy consumption by up to 25%, while improving IAQ, airflow volume and comfort levels. Users report that UV-C installations are very cost-effective, with many customers achieving paybacks in less than six months on energy use alone. They also report that UV installations cost no more, and sometimes less, than a professionally executed coil cleaning. efficiency-enhancing technology The focus at this moment for engineers and facility managers is infection control and improved IAQ. By using UV-C, in both upper-room and in HVAC systems, they can have the dual benefit of providing a healthier environment for occupants and reducing the performance-robbing impact of bacterial buildup on AHU cooling coils. “On the human side, providing ‘clean air’ has taken on a whole new meaning of providing a safe environment,” says Jones. Cost-concerned managers should understand that UV-C fixtures can be installed for an average of <$0.20 per cfm – a fraction of the 10-25% potential energy and maintenance savings yielded by the efficiency-enhancing technology, he comments.
Google’s Nest smart thermostat is testing a new capability that will alert homeowners of problems with the operation of their HVAC systems based on artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that analyze system performance. The technology will empower Nest Learning thermostats to provide ‘early warning’ of HVAC problems and even direct homeowners to a repair company. The new capability will involve measuring factors such as how long it takes to heat or cool a room. If the required amount of time changes, it likely reflects an underlying problem with a system’s operation. And because the system ‘learns,’ the analytics capabilities will improve over time as the system becomes more familiar with operational norms of a home HVAC system. Providing early warning Signing up for the report is easily performed through the Nest app in the ‘settings’ section Homeowners are notified by email of a suspected problem. To take advantage of the capability, Nest customers must sign up for the monthly Nest Home Report, which is an email that includes metrics on monthly power usage and ‘safety events.’ Signing up for the report is easily performed through the Nest app in the ‘settings’ section. Anyone who doesn’t want the HVAC alerts can opt-out and still receive the monthly report. In addition to providing early warning of problems, Nest is partnering with Handy, an online repair service, to direct users to HVAC professionals who can help diagnose and repair any heating or cooling problem. Handy is a ‘gig’ marketplace platform for connecting individuals in search of household services with pre-screened independent service professionals, including HVAC specialists. Nest will take note of the changes, whether related to a cooling or heating system, usually before the homeowner could notice the variations Independent service professionals There is a ‘seamless’ 60-second booking process, secure payment and a satisfaction guarantee. HVAC providers can register as a Handy Professional at the Handy website. Handy is not an employer but specializes in connecting independent service professionals with customers. During an initial test period, Nest users in 20 U.S. cities will have the ability to book a technician through the alert system, including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Las Vegas and San Diego. The capability will be made available in additional cities across the United States over time. Alternatively, a homeowner could show the information from a Nest alert to their own HVAC technician or book through another service. According to Google, the new feature will send email alerts if ‘the Nest thermostat detects unusual or unexpected patterns,’ based on the thermostat’s historical data and current weather. Providing advance notification The alert system would be unlikely to provide advance notification if a major component were about the fail Nest will take note of the changes, whether related to a cooling or heating system, usually before the homeowner could notice the variations. Although the option can provide useful alerts to undiagnosed problems, Google emphasizes that it should not be used as a substitute for periodic checkups by HVAC professionals. Furthermore, the alert system would be unlikely to provide advance notification if a major component were about the fail. However, regular maintenance checks would ensure advance notification of any component on the verge of failure. Also, customers might not need to notify a professional of a problem, for example, if they know of an explanation for the changes, such as a door left open. The ‘early warning’ alerts are an additional feature of the smart Nest Learning Thermostat, which can save up to 12% on heating bills and 15% on cooling bills. It can also create a schedule based on comfort preferences and energy usage targets. The anomaly detection alerts are a natural extension of Nest’s predictive capabilities.
The need to achieve energy efficiency and improve performance propels a lot of business in the HVAC industry. When installing systems, building owners often strive to comply with the latest voluntary standards. However, some cities are taking the lead to make building performance standards mandatory, thus providing additional incentive for customers to invest in new, more efficient and climate-friendly HVAC technologies. Building Energy Performance Standard NYC has deployed its Carbon Mobilization Act, which will cut six million tons of CO2 annually by 2020 Washington D.C. adopted the first Building Energy Performance Standard, which will reduce energy use in buildings by more than 20%, thereby lowering carbon dioxide emissions by a million tons annually. The first compliance cycle in 2021 will cover buildings of 50,000 square feet, and the threshold will drop over the next few years to include smaller buildings. New York has deployed its Carbon Mobilization Act, which will cut six million tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2020, thus preventing 43 premature deaths and 107 emergency room visits every year, and creating at least 26,700 green jobs, according to New York City officials. Clean Buildings Act Washington State projects that its 2019 legislative package, the Clean Buildings Act, will reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 14 million tons by 2035. “Jurisdictions are looking to Building Performance Standards because they are the most powerful and direct tool for driving improved performance in existing buildings,” said Cliff Majersik, Executive Director of the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), a non-profit organization that promotes energy efficiency, green building and environmental protection. Fighting climate change IMT is promoting the use of Building Performance Standards (BPS) and working with cities to explore, develop and execute the policies. Fighting climate change at the local level means taking serious steps to reduce carbon emissions generated by buildings, which include shifting to mandatory policies. A powerful new tool in the fight against climate change is the mandatory Building Energy Performance Standard A powerful new tool in the fight against climate change is the mandatory Building Energy Performance Standard, which requires building owners to meet performance targets by actively improving the energy performance of their buildings over time. By setting long-term targets, a BPS provides the commercial real estate market with the certainty it needs to make confident investments in properties over time. Energy-efficient HVAC systems in buildings A BPS also provides flexibility for building owners to use whatever technologies, including HVAC products and systems, along with whatever operational strategies they decide are most effective and economical to meet the target. Leveraging technology advancements in the HVAC industry can contribute positively to a building owner’s ability to meet the target. According to IMT, benefits of Building Performance Standards include: Carbon reductions, especially in existing buildings. Job creation, including large opportunities for the expansion of private firms offering architectural, engineering, construction, equipment sales, and installation services (including HVAC). Economic and social benefits, including healthier air quality for occupants, lower carbon emissions, and lower utility bills that benefit the bottom line of local companies. American Cities Climate Challenge IMT is driving the BPS initiative in partnership with the American Cities Climate Challenge, sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which is an opportunity for 25 ambitious cities to significantly deepen and accelerate their efforts to tackle climate change and promote a sustainable future for their residents. Originally open to 20 American cities, the program was expanded to 25 cities due to the strength of the applications received. The goal of the American Cities Climate Challenge is to enable mayors and their partners to scale and implement proven climate solutions and innovations that will help grow the economy, protect public health and improve the quality of life for citizens.
COVID-19 is a human tragedy for thousands and is having a profound impact on the world economy, including the HVAC market. Many businesses are scrambling to survive even as they address the intense human element of the crisis. A survey by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) gathered insights on the effect the coronavirus pandemic is having on the HVAC industry. More than 70% of survey respondents expect the medical implications of the pandemic to last up to three months. (The survey closed out on March 18; 47 ACCA members participated.) Another 65% of respondents expect COVID-19 to translate into long-term business viability concerns; 9% are concerned their businesses may not survive. Implementing New Measures More than 70% of survey respondents expect the medical implications of the pandemic to last up to three monthsMeasures implemented among ACCA members to address the crisis include the addition of hand sanitizer, cancellation of large events, extra office cleanings and work-from-home programs. Among smaller companies, only about 10% of employees are working from home. Strategies include providing video consultations for homeowners. Technicians are urged to wash their hands both before entering a customer’s house and when they leave. Some 32% of respondents to the ACCA survey reported supply chain delays. Interestingly, nearly half of the ACCA members who participated in the survey say they don’t have a formal disaster plan in place. One concern among industry associations is that local governments will limit or stop HVAC inspections as a measure to help stem the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, lack of inspections could open the way for unqualified and unlicensed installers to take advantage of consumers during the crisis, when customers are rightly concerned about pollutants, bacteria and other harmful elements in the home. Protecting Consumers Several HVAC associations have written an open letter to organizations representing local governments to express concern about the situation. The letter states: Another 65% of respondents expect COVID-19 to translate into long-term business viability concerns; 9% are concerned their businesses may not survive“Local governments should be doing everything they can to protect consumers from health and safety consequences of nonexistent or improper installations. We are hopeful that all code officials and building inspectors continue to be leaders in their community and enforce local code and permitting regulations.” The letter is signed by presidents, CEOs and directors of ACCA, Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), Air Movement and Control International (AMCA), and Heating, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI). Also signing the letter is Thomas W. Jackson, CEO, Jackson Systems. Addressing Representatives The letter is addressed to representatives of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, American Association of Code Enforcement, National Association of Towns and Townships, and International Code Council. The letter also states: “As an industry, we understand the unique circumstances that code officials and inspectors currently face, particularly with home and building owners who are concerned about coming into close contact with others. However, HVACR contractors continue to work in peoples’ homes and buildings every day, and in so doing, are implementing the appropriate protocols to ensure they can serve customers and simultaneously provide peace of mind.” China alerted the World Health Organization in December to several cases of an unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province. In January, officials identified a new virus as belonging to the coronavirus family, which includes SARS and the common cold. It was named COVID-19 and has since spread to all of mainland China and throughout the world.
HVAC industry employees are included among “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During the COVID-19 Response” as designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The guidance memorandum states: “If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security … you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.” The edict comes from the DHS Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, whose goal is to provide a listing of essential workers to help state and local officials as they work to protect their communities. The list also seeks to inform critical infrastructure community decision-making to determine the sectors, sub-sectors, segments, or critical functions that should continue normal operations, appropriately modified to account for Centers for Disease Control (CDC) workforce and customer protection guidance. Business As Usual For HVAC Employees HVAC industry employees are included among “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During the COVID-19 ResponseSeveral sections of the March 19 document are relevant to the HVAC marketplace. Specifically, the guidance memorandum singles out “employees of firms providing services that enable logistics operations, including cooling, storing, packaging and distributing products for wholesale or retail sale or use.” It also specifies “workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.” Under “information technology,” the document also mentions “data center operators, including …. HVAC and electrical engineers …” Furthermore, under an “Other” category, the document lists “workers to ensure continuity of building functions.” Vital Health and Safety Requirements A March 17 letter to “Federal, State and Local Officials” from a group of HVAC industry organizations made the case that their business is “essential.” As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, many states have targeted for closure non-essential businesses that typically involve crowdsThe letter reads: “While citizens are coping with a variety of unforeseen and unusual restrictions, it is essential that they are able to maintain their HVAC and commercial refrigeration equipment. Aside from providing comfort, this equipment is vital for health and safety in addition to productivity, particularly for air filtration and food and medical supply preservation, especially in this time of quarantine. When equipment fails, technicians must be able to repair or replace it as quickly as possible.” The letter continues: “Accordingly, as states and local jurisdictions consider their health crisis travel restriction plans, we respectfully request that HVACR technicians and engineers be considered essential businesses.” Representatives for the HVAC Industry The letter is signed by representatives of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Heating, Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), Air Movement & Control Association (AMCA), and North American Technician Excellence (NATE). Also signing are Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA), Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Contractors (PHCC), Heating Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), and American Association of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, many states have targeted for closure non-essential businesses that typically involve crowds.
Refrigerants used in cooling systems for homes and businesses are being replaced with alternatives that have less potential for global warming. But the transition comes at a risk: Some of the new refrigerants are flammable. Although less flammable than gases such as propane, for example, new refrigerants can still ignite and burn with a high intensity under ideal circumstances. The new materials have low-flame velocity and are less easily ignited; however, one byproduct of combustion is toxic hydrogen fluoride. Flammability risks of non-toxic refrigerants Non-toxic refrigerants are categorized by flammability risks. A1 designates no flame propagation; A2 indicates lower flammability; and A3 indicates higher flammability. Hydrocarbons such as propane have higher flammability (A3) and are restricted to a lower charge limit that does not address refrigeration needs of large systems. Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) are mildly flammable, have a low flammability limit (LFL) and have been categorized as an A2L refrigerant. They tend to burn slowly and give off little heat. Hydrocarbons such as propane have higher flammability NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) offers online and instructor-led training to educate firefighters about flammability and toxicity risks associated with new refrigerants. The training also covers asphyxiation challenges, jet stream fires, transportation issues and other life-safety considerations associated with flammable refrigerants. The training covers how to adapt response tactics to mitigate consequences from refrigerants in various types of emergencies. Strict adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs), personal protective equipment (PPE) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) protocols and decontamination practices are also covered. Categorising refrigerant flammability The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) provides funding to NFPA to develop training on the emerging technology. According to an ASHRAE report, refrigerant flammability can be characterized by three factors: Likelihood that a refrigerant leak would result in a concentration range that reaches the lower flammability limit; Presence of a sufficient energy ignition source; and Likely severity of a combustion event, and probability of a secondary fire. ASHRAE is the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. The Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Technology Institute (AHRTI) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) are researching the flammability of refrigerants, including factors such as refrigerant charge size, release height, leak rate, humidity, and room size and temperature. When choosing the best refrigerants, it is likely a tradeoff will be required among global warming potential, flammability and efficiency. Codes and standards Codes and standards are being modified to address the use of new materials Currently, codes and standards are being modified to address the use of new materials, although risk mitigation concerns of the fire service have historically not been considered. One issue is the risk of using large amounts of flammable gas in a refrigeration system to cool a larger room. Additional safety measures are needed to make the risk acceptable. Detection of leaks is another issue, especially the need for repeated calibration of leak detectors to ensure accuracy. More than 200 countries will be ushering in the new class of refrigerants.
Small airborne particles contribute to the spread of infectious diseases of all sorts, and current concerns about the novel coronavirus COVID-19 are highlighting the role of HVAC systems to minimize airborne disease transmission and to ensure better indoor air quality in general. Because small particles can remain airborne for some period of time, HVAC systems can play a positive role in minimizing disease transmission, specifically by: Supplying clean air to susceptible occupants. Containing contaminated air and/or exhausting it to the outdoors. Diluting the air in a space with cleaner air from outdoors and/or by filtering the air. Cleaning air within the room. Developing resources ASHRAE has developed resources to help maximize how HVAC systems can have a positive impact as the coronavirus spreads. The society recommends strategies such dilution ventilation, laminar and other in-room flow regimes, differential room pressurization, personalized ventilation, source capture ventilation, filtration (central or unitary), and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) (upper room, in-room and in the airstream). ASHRAE suggests that owners, operators and engineers should collaborate with infection prevention specialists knowledgeable about transmission of infection in the community and the workplace and about strategies for prevention and risk mitigation. “The recent escalation in the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 is alarming on a global scale,” said ASHRAE President Darryl K. Boyce. “While [we support] expanded research to fully understand how coronavirus is transmitted, we know that healthy buildings are a part of the solution." ASHRAE offers guidance to building owners, operators, and engineers on how to best protect occupants from exposure to the virus and specifically how airborne particles might be circulated by HVAC systems. Practical standards and guidelines For example, ASHRAE’s recently approved position document on Airborne Infectious Diseases summarizes practical standards and guidelines that all types of facilities should follow. ASHRAE Standards that can have a positive impact on the spread of COVID-19 include those covering ventilation for acceptable indoor air quality, testing methods for general ventilation air-cleaning devices, thermal environmental conditions for human occupancy, and air quality within commercial aircraft. Another ASHRAE standard covers a method for testing UV lamps for use in HVAC units or air ducts to inactivate microorganisms on irradiated surfaces. ASHRAE also advises that new and existing healthcare intake and waiting areas, crowded shelters and similar facilities should go beyond minimum requirements. The virus Since the first notification on Dec 31, 2019, of more than 40 cases of an unusual viral pneumonia of unknown origin in Wuhan, China, the infection has spread to all of mainland China and later throughout the world, according to Healix International. The coronavirus, later designated COVID-19, infects the lungs, causing a viral pneumonia, and causes initial symptoms of fever with cough and sore throat. It can progress to shortness of breath and breathing difficulties leading to pneumonia. There is currently no vaccine or specific treatment. Among the available ASHRAE resources are a full position document, standards, publication, technical committees, research projects and material to prepare for COVID-19. ASHRAE is a global society advancing human well-being through sustainable technology for the built environment.
Data is playing an increasingly important role in smart buildings. Analysis of building system data is guiding an expansion of capabilities in the smart building environment, making building systems – including HVAC – more efficient and effective. The convergence of multiple building management systems is inevitable -- it's just a matter of time and it’s already happening. The data collected from the various systems make up a data profile that can be put to work to create new outcomes. Customers want to increase their control of environments using smart technology. I spoke with the folks from Johnson Controls (JCI) about these topics at the recent AHR Expo in Orlando. As it relates to HVAC, they say data can guide system operation based on historical data and a variety of sensors that can determine, for example, that there are 15 to 20 people in a conference room and adjust the HVAC system accordingly. Contributing technologies include wifi access, smart phone connectivity, smart meeting room technologies and sensors such as proximity and heat systems. Sensors used for fire and security are augmenting data that can be used to guide the operation of HVAC systems. Improving efficiencies Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can do even more to optimize how systems operate "Every generation of HVAC we launch is more energy-efficient and more environmentally friendly," says George Oliver, JCI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. As the largest consumer of energy in a building's infrastructure, HVAC is the focus of efforts to improve efficiencies. Applying new tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can do even more to optimize how systems operate. "We want to optimize the equipment, processes and sensor data to create a model to best operate a building," says Oliver. The benefit is a huge reduction in energy usage and lowering of the carbon footprint. The goal is to combine an energy-conscious view of operating a building while improving the customer experience. There are cost savings in the range of 20 to 40% of operating a system. Building platforms, access control, and video management Johnson Controls is seeking to incorporate new technologies into building platforms and control, as well as access control and video management. “Buildings have so many kinds of systems, but how do we put all that together?” asks Oliver. Technology is coming together through protocols and an operational technology (OT)-informed world. Johnson Controls has been working with direct channel partners and end users on enhancing their platform and improving their ability to manage data, whether in an existing building or new construction, to optimize how equipment is being utilized. Concepts of AI, machine learning, smart Internet of Things and “smart edge” guide how Johnson Controls operates as a company. A single data platform enables creation of a smart building today that incorporates an integrated, streamlined approach. The additional capabilities are being managed by Android or iOS “apps.” Adopting new technologies The user environment of HVAC has been slow to change" “The user environment of HVAC has been slow to change, but it is accelerating now with adoption of new technologies,” says Mike Ellis, JCI Executive Vice President and Chief Customer and Digital Officer. Adoption of new HVAC equipment is critical to modernizing systems, and the new equipment works alongside the trend to “digitization.” “The industry is at an inflection point in a positive way, and is accepting the technology,” said Ellis. “What we’re hearing from customers is that they want to make a difference, create a differentiation, and bring it together in a unique way.” But will existing players (like JCI) drive the changes, or will it come from outside, high-tech firms? “We believe the domain players inherit an advantage because they really understand the importance of data in the building environment. Among collected data, the secret is: What data is important and how is it analyzed? How is that technology deployed? Industrial companies have the right ecosystem to make it happen, based on 130 years of seeing how buildings operate.” Moving forward “We realize the industry is being disrupted, which begins at the top,” says Oliver. “Smart edge” refers to the remarkable amount of expertise at the edge of the network, where tens of years of data informs the building “science.” The resource is impossible to duplicate. Johnson Controls is working with end-customers to define and direct how JCI is moving the company forward. The accelerated roadmap is based on the experience of people in the buildings. “We are right at the heart of major global trends – sustainability, connectivity and data, and cyber- and physical security,” says Oliver.