One of the other editors I spoke to at the2015AHR Expo in Chicago mentioned he really hadn’t noticed too much that was new, but rather almost everything was just an improvement or an updating.

This was particularly true of the HVAC equipment I saw on display. However, the one thing that caught my eye was some of the marvelous new efficiencies that were being touted for the ductless split-system heat pumps. And while these high numbers may not seem so important to those who don’t sell such equipment, they are good indicators of the future and what all systems may be able to reach in the future.

At the Carrier booth I was amazed to see a system rated at 30 SEER. But then across the hall at the Fujitsu booth they had a system rated at 33 SEER (14 HSPF). And we can already see these super-high efficiencies starting to impact larger systems. For example, Fujitsu is now advertising multi-zone ductless heat pumps that reach 21.5-SEER cooling efficiency and 10-HSPF heating efficiency. Also, Trane touted a variable-refrigerant flow system for commercial applications that can accommodate up to 64 indoor units with a system capacity of up to 36 tons and integrated energy efficiency ratings of up to 31 IEER.

In all fairness, I saw similar numbers and similar new features at many other equipment manufacturers’ booths. Such companies as Mitsubishi, Panasonic and LG all are setting the pace for what we can expect in the future. In particular, super-long refrigerant lines and full-rated heating outputs to -14° F (and below) are becoming quite common.

Such systems are now reaching into more northern climates that I had ever expected in the past. And as a result I think we soon will start to see a gradual phasing out of conventional hydronic heating-cooling systems in larger facilities. The long refrigerant lines are an important advance in doing this and the equipment is far more compact, thus requiring less space. It also is much more efficient and far less costly to install.

Another interesting feature I noticed on some of the ductless split systems is the addition of occupancy sensors, which automatically put the local unit into an economy mode
whenever the room is unoccupied for any length of time. And at least one brand senses the direction of the occupants and redirects the airflow.

Of course, another feature I noted on several of the systems was a progression into the field of energy management. Rheem displayed controls that operate both the HVAC and their high-efficiency water heaters. And there were, of course, systems that can be accessed remotely from smartphones.

But probably the biggest entry into integrating the HVAC with whole-house control that I noted was from Trane, which ties its residential equipment into the “Nexia” system that is provided by a sister company of its owner Ingersoll Rand.

I have watched with interest the growth of what we used to call the “Smart House” concept through the past several decades. I’ve wondered why anyone would really want it. However, such systems are now becoming quite popular and we are closer to seeing what the old TV cartoon series “The Jetsons” once promised.

Yet, what I see as a stumbling block to full whole-house integration is the lack of a standard operating protocol.