Today's climate is rife with environmental incentives, from promoting eco-retrofitting in new commercial construction to new mandates on energy-efficient furnaces in homes. Fortunately, technological advances in heating and cooling equipment are making it possible to meet increasingly strict standards-and providing new business opportunities for HVAC contractors.
"Buying a furnace is like buying a roof. It's not really where people want to spend their money," says Dick Thomas, an executive member of the Toronto chapter of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI). And Canadians can't even buy a new furnace today unless it's 90% efficient. Still, despite a significantly higher price tag for the newer units, "the furnace market has been thriving," he says.
That may be good news for business, but you shouldn't sell a system without familiarizing yourself with the main developments in energy efficiency and indoor air quality, as well as the reasons that people can save money by buying them.
As government regulations squeeze inefficient systems out of the market, newer ones are equipped with innovations that are also taking a chunk out of people's utility bills. Micheline Joanisse, a Natural Resources Canada (NRC) spokesperson, points to two reasons for this:
Brushless DC Motors-An ECM (Electronically Commutated Motor) is a brushless motor in forced air heating applications that reduces the electrical consumption of the furnace motor. Built-in intelligence enables the motors to run at many different speeds and react to changing duct pressure, saving 300 - 500 W for a low-pressure duct system, according to the NRC.
That means that if a filter gets blocked, for example, "it senses the blockage and automatically increases the fan speed to ensure you get air flow," Thomas says.
In homes with a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) or Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV), it is common to connect the motor into the existing furnace ductwork, says Joanisse, so that the furnace motor must run continuously to effectively distribute fresh air through the house. Therefore, let your residential customers know that by reducing their overall electrical energy consumption, they'll save an average of $130 per year, she says.
In milder climates like Vancouver, people can benefit from new technology in cooling systems, as well. One advance is the multi-split air conditioner, which has indoor heads in several zone-controlled locations, concentrating cooling in warmer areas. Infrared sensors in the systems that detect movement can sense when rooms are unoccupied, automatically setting the temperature back to reduce overall power consumption.
For central air-conditioning equipment, contractors should look for units with a higher seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) rating The number represents the total Btu output of a central air conditioner or heat pump during a normal cooling season, divided by the total electricity (in watt hours) consumed during the same period. (Energy Star requires a rating of 14 or more).
"Filtering for most HVAC systems has become much better over the years," says Thomas. He points to two new twists on existing technology that are giving buildings a breath of fresh air:
Ultraviolet lights-Do you offer to install ultra violet lights in the HVAC systems in homes and buildings? Developed recently to help improve indoor air quality, the technology has improved in recent years, according to Thomas. "They don't save you money, but they're great for your health because it kills any mold or bacteria floating around," he says.
HEPA filters-High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters remove nearly 100% of particles 0.3 microns or larger. Originally designed to rid the air of radioactive particles, they're now used to remove allergens such as dust, pollen and mold from the air in homes. "If you have allergies or asthma they're great," says Thomas, adding that contractors could do more to promote them to their clients.
It's easy to put off retrofitting a system that's more or less out of sight. But changes that can positively impact your health, pocketbook and the environment are a lot harder to ignore.