If you think the HVAC industry and the productswill look the same in the next 10 years then you’ve probably never traveled outside the borders of the continental United States.

In the rest of the world, everything is very different. You don’t find as many chilled-water systems in high rises or on campuses, very few packaged rooftops on stores and you would have to search hard to find a residential system with ducts in the attic. Why is that so? Because electricity and natural gas are at a premium in other countries and it makes no sense to waste these resources on less-efficient and outdated equipment and systems.

I thought it was a bit funny when I stopped at a Japanese manufacturer’s booth at the AHR Expo in January and noticed a sheet-metal residential air handler as part of its display.  When I asked the company representative about it, he laughed and said, “Oh, we have that made for us by a local company for some of our American contractors.”

Well, it’s a fact that you won’t find such clunky and rough designs anywhere else in the world — and this does make us look a bit backward.

Are chilled-water systems and packaged rooftops really so outdated and inefficient that there is little future for them?

In a recent meeting put on by the folks at LG, they showed the results of a study conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute where the power consumption of buildings with packaged rooftops and chilled-water systems was compared to installations where LG’s air-cooled VRFs were used.

The statistics were alarming. The study shows an almost 50% reduction in energy costs across the board! Also, in many instances the installed costs were lower.

It seems to be a given foreign HVAC manufacturers are more dedicated to reaching higher energy efficiencies than many of our domestic manufacturers who appear to be content with a minimum SEER of 14 over the next 20 years. But as I’m sitting here looking at figures provided to me by Fujitsu for its VRF systems, I see an efficiency rating of 18-SEER and heat-pump operation down to -15° F. They also have a small mini-split unit with SEERs close to 30!

Speaking of residential systems, we all know ductless systems cost too much to install, don’t they? Well, not according to Steve Cormier, national sales manager with the Split Panasonic Heating and A/C Solutions Group. Look at the figures he sent me and see if the actual installation costs aren’t pretty close to actual (see chart above).

Am I trying to drive domestic HVAC manufacturers out of business with this article? Certainly not! All domestic companies I saw at AHR Expo offered their own lines of high-efficiency ductless systems and I suspect your company also carries a similar line.

I’m just saying the future of our industry is changing and it’s time for all of us to get on board.

This article was originally titled “Through my crystal ball” in the May 2016 print edition of Supply House Times.