Sustainability continues to be a driving force in HVAC innovations. A focus among nearly all industries, steps toward sustainability have grown within reach thanks to green technology and other advancements. Sustainable HVAC, however, still has its challenges. After all, new technologies are expensive to develop, and most consumers aren’t prepared to pay the higher prices for the greenest equipment. As a result, even HVAC technicians are less likely to invest in green technology if they fear it won’t sell.
Slowly, however, consumers are catching on to the benefits of sustainable HVAC as they discover it saves money on energy bills and maintenance costs. Those savings can potentially pay more than the additional upfront costs over the lifetime of a system.
Of course, other sustainability trends in the HVAC industry continue to be compulsory, as government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency tighten regulations and restrictions for HVAC equipment and the refrigerants used to operate it.
“The HVAC industry is headed in a green direction,” Farnen & Dermer COO Zach Dermer told Future of Everything. “With energy-conscious consumers, all heating and cooling products will be purchased based on efficiency ratings. As efficiency levels of equipment increase, homeowners’ out-of-pocket utility expenses decrease, as well as their carbon footprint.”
Dermer, whose team is commonly known as the Comfort Guys, continued describing his vision of the future HVAC industry.
“Newly-introduced products will reduce, if not completely eliminate, the need for fossil fuels as a main source of heating,” he said. “Solar, geothermal, and other alternative energy sources will soon not be considered alternative. The cost of these energy-efficient technologies will lower and become more common for everyday use, for every type of home.”
Which HVAC industry changes will boost sustainability in the future? The following trends hold plenty of promise:
Stricter Efficiency Standards
Minimum efficiency standards for certain new residential HVAC equipment will increase in 2023, and it’s not too early to start planning for the change. Residential air conditioning and air-source heat pumps in the northern United States will need to meet a 14 SEER rating, while those installed in the southern U.S. region will require a minimum 15 SEER rating. The last time these minimum ratings increased was in 2015, after the U.S. Department of Energy’s 1992 implementation of minimum energy efficiency requirements.
The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio measures how efficiently equipment operates, with the higher ratings signaling greater efficiency. HVAC professionals should plan ahead as they will not be able to install new systems that don’t meet the stricter requirements as of Jan. 1, 2023. According to the DOE, however, households using the more efficient equipment will collectively save between $2.5 billion and $12.2 billion on energy during the 30-year calculation period.
SEER ratings aren’t the only tightened efficiency standards that will impact the HVAC market in 2023. The minimum heating efficiency for air-source heat pump systems will increase from 8.2 HSPF to a new minimum of 8.8 HSPF.
The HVAC industry cannot function without refrigerants, but these coolants are known to be toxic to the environment. Refrigerants, therefore, are also regulated by the government with stricter requirements being phased in overtime. As a result, the choice of refrigerant is constantly evolving to meet sustainability standards. First, the industry phased out R-22, which was known for its ozone depletion. Now, the HVAC industry is leaning toward A2L refrigerants, a class of coolants with extremely low toxicity and flammability.
The industry also is transitioning from the formerly popular R-410A to a safer R-454B by 2023. Called Puron Advance, the refrigerant was developed to meet the goals set by the United Nations Protocol Kigali Amendment, established in 2016, which determined to cut global production and consumption of hazardous hydrofluorocarbons by more than 80% over 30 years. While these chemicals are friendly to the ozone, they are still potent greenhouse gases. Most consumers are unlikely to notice the transition for some time, as the former refrigerant is only scheduled for elimination in new systems, and existing systems will continue to operate as usual.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates refrigerant recovery because of the chemicals’ hazardous nature. Because many refrigerants can be extremely dangerous to the environment if released, safe refrigerant recovery is one of the most important roles of a professional HVAC technician, and safe and proper refrigerant recovery will remain a priority for many years. To accomplish these important safety measures, technicians must ensure they are using the correct equipment that is always functioning properly, and they are currently trained in the various methods used to recover refrigerants.
The HVAC industry also continues to move toward sustainability with the broader adoption of green technologies and smart HVAC systems. For example, the Internet of Things is rapidly expanding its reach, and concepts such as remote monitoring and smart thermostats are boosting the sustainability of properties around the world. Some HVAC systems even generate data, which is then analyzed by AI to determine their most efficient settings and best times to perform maintenance.
Smart HVAC is far from the only green tech that’s boosting sustainability. Consumers can now save money and conserve energy with devices such as on-command hot water recirculators, energy analysis software and even duct wrap can significantly reduce a property’s carbon footprint.
Green-tech isn’t limited to electronic gadgets and devices. New HVAC systems rely on alternative fuel sources that can drastically improve their sustainability. Electrification continues to be a major initiative across the sector, as switching from gas to electric HVAC systems supports overall energy efficiency initiatives. Future HVAC systems will more commonly rely on sources such as geothermal heat to supply the energy needed to heat and cool our homes, employing the Earth’s natural energy to operate. Likewise, hydronic heating uses hot water flowing through radiators to warm a space. Even ice is being used in air conditioning as a safer alternative to fuel and refrigerants.