Some observations on air quality, solar and energy conservation.

The heart of Panasonic’s WhisperComfort Spot ERV system is a ceiling-mounted air heat exchanger. Photo courtesy of Panasonic

After walking miles and miles through Chicago’s McCormick Place at the2012 AHR Expoand hitting virtually every HVACR-related booth over a continuous eight hours to the point where I could hardly stand, I welcomed the opportunity on the second day to sit through several programs put on by manufacturers - but I was one of the few. Later in the day, there were only two of us in the room to listen to a couple of very interesting presentations on products that I had missed on my walk the day before.

I really was interested in what Panasonic Home & Environment Co. had to offer. It was sad that so few were there to hear about it, but I doubt that many in the media would see its potential anyhow, because at first glance (and the reason why I had missed it on my tour), it looks like all it has to offer are bathroom vent fans and the like. But by paying close attention, I came to realize what Panasonic was really introducing is the WhisperComfort Spot ERV, a whole-house ventilation system that is very affordable and easy to install.

For several years I’ve been writing about the need to ensure that stale indoor air is vented regularly and replaced with clean outdoor air. And that process is quite simple. However, efficiently exchanging conditioned indoor air with outdoor air has always been very expensive. In fact, I’ve written about whole-house ventilators in this magazine several times over the past 18 years, and I know that the reason why the market is so poor is that such systems usually cost as much as replacing the existing A/C system. But what Panasonic presented was a modular group of components that can be installed one at a time and quite inexpensively.

The heart of the system is the ceiling-mounted air heat exchanger, which looks like an oversized bathroom vent fan and sells to the contractor for just about $500. Yes, vent ducts must be run from the outside and it needs very little power, but that’s about it. The company also manufactures several other components, such as bathroom fans and the like that can be ducted into the system.

I particularly like Panasonic’s bathroom fans (which can also stand alone) because they consume very little power (a few watts) and they don’t need a wall switch because they can be set to automatically turn on and off whenever someone enters the bathroom. They also come on automatically whenever high humidity is detected. So, all the settings are adjusted on the fan.

Another air-quality item that I found interesting was Humidifall’s beautiful continuous waterfall that flows down a sheet of glass or a mirror and since it works off humidity control, also serves as a humidifier. According toHumidifall, this system is more efficient to operate than many other types of humidifiers, but does so in a far more attractive way.

Although there were vendors hawking UV lighting to sanitize the air on almost every aisle of the show, I was particularly interested in one bySanUVoxthat mounts attractively through the discharge duct. It includes external LED operational indicators and has a sail switch to ensure that it only turns on when the system is operating. SanUVox states that its UV bulb can last for as long as five years.

SanUVox states its UV bulb can last as long as five years. Photo by Jim Wheeler

Solar happenings

The second interesting program I sat through that day was put on byKU Solar, a solar manufacturing company out of Italy with offices in Kansas City, Mo. The company states it is now the largest such supplier in Europe. No, it doesn’t make photovoltaic cells as you might expect. It just uses the sun to heat water. So what’s new about that? It’s what it does with the water.

Of course you can use the cells to heat domestic water, as well as homes during the winter. However, the program KU Solar put on showed that by using cells to power absorption air-conditioning systems, it also can provide indoor cooling. Air conditioning from the sun? Yes! And in 3- to 5-ton sizes for homes!

Such a system, KU Solar pointed out, does require some backup source for heating on cloudy days, and it comes with an installed price starting at $30,000. But with local and federal tax credits and energy savings, the cost doesn’t look too bad. Is it for everyone in every location? No, but I can see a definite market among the affluent and environmentally concerned.

Humidifall’s continuous waterfall also serves as a humidifier. Photo by Jim Wheeler

Energy conservation

The fact is I didn’t spend too much time looking at the products in the building-control portion of the show floor because much of that doesn’t go through wholesale distribution. However, because I was invited, I did stop at theEcobeebooth look at its totally different and attractive EB-STAT-02 Zigbee Enabled Smart Internet Thermostat, which sells through distribution. What’s new here is that the product can easily connect to the Internet through a local WIFI interface so programming and alarm monitoring can be handled remotely, making this thermostat ideal for both home and commercial use. And with a contractor price in the $300 range, it is very affordable.

And finally, although it doesn’t really manage anything electronically, I was really interested in the combination wood-burning electric or fuel-oil furnace from Napoleon. You can view its products Not for every market again, I’m sure, but this residential-style furnace can operate on logs, as well as with other types of backup heat sources. It can’t be used with an air conditioning A coil because the wood burns at too high a heat, but is does connect to a standard ducted system.