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issue: November 2007 APPLIANCE Magazine

44th Annual Report on HVAC
Ruled by Regulation

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by Jill Russell, Contributing Editor

Demanding regulations and evolving environmental protocols continue challenging the HVAC industry.

Carrier’s Edge Performance thermostats provide a stylish functionality to comfort control. Interchangeable faceplates enable homeowners to customize color, textures, and finishes to match the thermostat to their decorating taste. The thin thermostats measures in at 0.8 in. and feature an Edge Expansion Port. The optional port, with a memory card, allows homeowners to program the thermostat on their computer instead of at the display.

After the push for 13-SEER products went into effect in January 2006, the U.S. HVAC industry began cooling off in terms of annual unit shipments. Shipments aren’t looking up for 2007 either. Numbers for unitary air-conditioners for the first six months of the year totaled just 2.6 million, or about 13.4% lower than the previous year. The natural recession of shipments after the 13-SEER surge was exacerbated by the slowdown in U.S. housing sales.

The focus in the industry, around the world, is on environmental issues. In the United States, energy efficiency is still in the forefront as several U.S. states, empowered by the Department of Energy (DOE), are working to pass regional standards for space-heating and air-conditioning products. As of press time, energy efficiency Title S 1419, which would allow regional standards on those products, was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and was sent to the full Senate for legislation. Both the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA) lobbied against the regional standards, along with several members testifying before Congress.

“We’d like to see one rule, not 50 of them,” Steve Yurek, ARI president tells APPLIANCE. “It is easier and more predictable in the market. We are working with states that are enacting different provisions to help minimize the impact on the industry. We want a national level of regulation, so there is no burden placed on manufacturers and consumers with higher prices for these products.”

In other legislation, the DOE—after raising the requirement for Energy Star air-conditioners to 14 SEER last year—announced plans for a residential water heater program. Final requirements were set for a December 2007 release, and an effective date of September 2008. The proposal includes a minimum energy factor (EF) of 0.80 for whole-home tankless water heaters, a minimum EF of 2.0 for heat-pump water heaters, a minimum solar fraction of 0.50 for solar water heaters, minimum EF of 0.80 for gas-condensing water heaters. As of press time, no revised minimums after formal industry discussion were available.

And this is only the U.S. challenges. Yurek says the HVAC industry can expect global standards in line with the Montreal Protocol and the Kyoto Protocol. Individual U.S. states, including California and Oregon, are dealing with regulations to control ozone-depleting gases. ARI says its efforts in extending Section 608 of the Clean Air Act would assist in managing refrigerants and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) responsibly as an industry. Under the regulation, contractors and distributors would have to be licensed to handle, vent, capture, reclaim, and destroy them properly without emitting gases into the atmosphere.

“We’re working with our member and other manufacturers to globalize ARI certification and standards so that there is a common, global metric that can be used not only across the United States, but around the globe,” Yurek says.

Rheem Manufacturing’s RRRL-B gas-electric residential package unit is available in two- to five-ton capacities, with ratings up to 16.3 SEER. It uses R-410A as a refrigerant and qualifies for a tax credit through the U.S. Energy Policy Act & Tax Credit Program.

Persevering Product Development

Although 13 SEER is now the standard, companies are still pushing the product design bar to meet Energy Star standards and differentiate themselves from other manufacturers—all while juggling new and upcoming regulations.

Adam Schuster, manager of product marketing and development, Rheem Manufacturing (Atlanta, GA, U.S.), says the industry is finally beginning to get its feet on the ground after 13 SEER, and agrees that the next major push is the R410-A regulation from the Montreal Protocol in January 2010. The company says that the initiative is already a major focus for its business since it requires the redesign of new compressors, valves, and optimized tubing and coils.

Rheem recently released its Rheem Prestige series and Ruud Ultra series RRRL-B gas-electric residential package unit that is R-410A friendly and boasts a 16.3-SEER rating, with an energy efficiency ratio of 12.4. In addition to meeting regulations, Schuster says the company engineering efforts are focusing on electronics to enable enhanced diagnostics and communication abilities in its HVAC equipment. The RRRL-B accomplishes this with Comfort Alert diagnostics that monitor and analyze system operation, including the compressor and thermostat, with sensors that can detect failures. The line also features an 18-SEER condensing unit.

Climate Energy LLC (Medfield, MA, U.S.) and American Honda Motor Co. introduced an entirely new entrant to the marketplace, Micro-CHP, a micro-sized combined heat and power generator that became available for retail sale this year. Dubbed Freewatt, the MCHP system converts heat emitted from an internal combustion engine to generate 3.26 kW of heat and 1.2 kW of electricity. Climate Energy’s test results indicate that, when replacing an 80% efficient residential heating system, the unit saved homeowners 30% in energy costs. The system also produces 30% less carbon dioxide emissions than a traditional system. The unit has already seen success in Japan, where more than 45,000 units similar to that of the MCHP have been sold since 2003. The Freewatt will initially be available in the Northeast United States and will expand to target other colder U.S. climates.

Fedders Corp. (Liberty Corner, NJ, U.S.) introduced a furnace that is reportedly 80% fuel-efficient and matched to meet its 14-SEER condensing unit. The two-stage furnace also features all-position airflow, making it easy to install and providing homeowners a flexible choice in location.

Industry heavyweight Carrier answered homeowners’ questions about increasing energy cost with its latest gas furnace line offering a 96.6% Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating, which reportedly reduces utility costs by 30%. The unit uses the company’s PowerHeat SiN igniter, made from silicon nitride, a material that resists stress and heat intensity, and an S-shaped heat exchanger—technologies that combine to improve efficiency and reliability.

Also focusing on consumers’ pocketbooks, Johnson Controls released single-stage furnaces that qualify for tax credits and meet a 95.5% AFUE rating. The units have a hot-surface ignition system that lights the pilot light first and then allows the pilot to light the main burner. This prevents gas from seeping into the atmosphere when the pilot valve inside the gas valve opens. York says the units can provide up to a $150 tax credit and provide consumers with both product smarts and safety. With new technology that saves energy and positively impacts the homeowner’s bottom line, one hopes that 2008 will bring bigger unit shipments for HVAC. 


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