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by Paul Nalewajk

What do we feel will be the biggest change in HVAC equipment in the next 3 to 5 years?

Change of refrigerant type:

We are going to be forced to live with the phase out of Refrigerant 22. This is the refrigerant that has been used in almost all of the packaged air conditioning equipment manufactured over the last 40 years. It is also the refrigerant that is currently being used in most of the packaged equipment being manufactured today. Over the next 15 years, the production of R22 within the United States will be phased out completely.

Most manufacturers of packaged HVAC units are currently manufacturing equipment that uses Refrigerant 410-A. This is not simply a case of switching one refrigerant for another. Internal components such as compressors and metering devices must be redesigned to accommodate the new refrigerant, which operates at significantly higher pressures than R22.

Design of packaged equipment:

We We believe that the design of packaged equipment will change in response to concerns about mold growth and indoor air quality. More equipment will be built with plastic or stainless steel drain pans and these pans will have slopes built in. Manufacturers will give purchasers the option of having ultraviolet lights installed within the unit. These lights inhibit mold growth and allow coils to stay cleaner. We believe we will also begin to see more equipment manufactured with double-walled panels and that this trend will be partially driven by mall-required design criteria. If the interior surfaces of a unit are covered with sheet metal rather than with acoustic liner, it is less likely that mold growth will occur. New units will be purchased with factory installed variable frequency drives that modulate air flow based on load and save significant energy. New equipment will incorporate variable refrigerant flow strategies that allow the volume of refrigerant circulated to be modulated based on individual zone loads.

More components / complete units from Mexico and China:

We believe that we are going to see more of the components within packaged air conditioning equipment being manufactured in Mexico and in China. We also believe that in the near future we will see complete units manufactured in China. These units may be built for American manufacturers with Chinese labor and components, or we may actually see Chinese air conditioning manufacturers competing against manufacturers who currently produce the majority of the equipment for the American market today. While most people within the United States prefer to buy American, a 30% reduction in cost can present a serious challenge to national loyalty.

New types of equipment as factory option:

We believe that we are going to see more equipment manufactured with high humidity removal capability and more equipment ordered with demand ventilation as a factory option. We are currently living with the effects of requiring increased quantities of ventilation air in our buildings. High interior humidity and the inability to remove this humidity are the result. Manufacturers cannot change the physical laws that dictate how much moisture current equipment will remove from the air, but they are now making equipment available that is capable of dealing with increased ventilation requirements. New equipment will be installed with carbon dioxide sensor that will function to modulate the quantity of outdoor air introduced into a building based on indoor carbon dioxide levels. This will serve to reduce energy consumption and decrease the need for humidity removal.

Manufacturers to increase their product and stock greater quantities:

We believe that manufacturers of packaged HVAC equipment are going to be forced to increase their inventory of completed product and to stock this equipment in greater quantities in most metropolitan areas. “Proactive replacement” is the current watch-word, but the bottom line is that a large percentage of the existing equipment serving our stores will not be replaced until it fails. Unless a unit exists, in stock, the retailer is looking at a 3 to 6 week lead time to produce the unit. This is obviously way too long to leave a unit inoperative. The end user may have a national account and brand loyalty, but when he has a hot store, the replacement unit is going to be whatever the local contractor can purchase and install within a week. If a manufacturer wants the lion’s share of the retail replacement market, he will have to take the risk of holding inventory.

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