Ecovent – High Tech Disruptor of HVAC Air Distribution

 Just as Nest disrupted the thermostat industry with its Nest Learning Thermostat, there is a new tech start-up attempting to solve home comfort and air distribution balancing issues.   Ecovent stealthily started up around May 2015, but really debuted recently at the 2016 Consumer Electronics show. This time, the disruptor wasn’t developed in Silicon Valley, but in the northeast in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Ecovent markets itself as room-by-room temperature control with automatic adjustable air outlets that open and close based upon feedback received from a plug in room mounted sensor. The Ecovents replace standard supply registers and ceiling diffusers in ceiling, wall or floor models and receive feedback from a smart sensor that doubles as an electrical outlet that plugs into a standard wall receptacle. Multiple sensors communicate with a central “smart hub” that can be integrated with the home WiFi for control.

Ecovent Smart Sensor

Ecovent Wall Outlet

 

 

 

 

 

 

My immediate initial concerns regarding automatic air outlets that shut off a register while a system is running would be increased static pressure and velocity. In cooling mode, closing off registers could lead to less air movement accross the evaporator coil leading to decreased coil temperature and possible freeze ups. However, when researching their site, it is found that the outlets contain pressure, temperature and humidity sensors that prevent issues that could cause noise, temperature, humidity and pressure issues. In rooms with multiple air outlets, a single wall sensor can be set up to control multiple outlets. The entire connected system of multiple outlets and sensors is controlled via a smartphone or tablet app.

Econovent Control App

Ecovent, like Nest, has gone to marketing directly to the consumer instead of via installing contractors. Obviously, they are making similar claims as to the simplicity of installation that any consumer with a screwdriver and correct WiFi key should be able to perform. However, lowering cost and maintaining margin may be the real reason here as the claim is that an average 4 bedroom home will cost about $2000 to outfit, depending upon how many rooms, outlets and sensors are required. I priced out my 4 bedroom home and it was more like $2400. Certainly, this will be for the high end residential market for consumers who either really want to be on the cutting edge of technology and climate control or for those who have some serious system balancing problems that they have been unable to address with volume dampers. It will be interesting to see how Ecovent manages to find growth and who it’s angel capital investors will be. Google gobbled up Nest quickly, perhaps the folks at Ecovent are hoping for a similar outcome. However, this system will really actually be in competition with Nest and WiFi thermostats in general because individual zone control may potentially eliminate the need for smart thermostats with a sophisticated enough Android or iOS app.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology and energy, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal , LinkedIn and at our Facebook page!

 

 

 

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VRF HVAC Market In NYC Poised for Significant Growth

American Thread VRFThe combination of new FEMA flood insurance requirements, aging chiller and cooling tower plants, fears of legionella contamination and illness, a surging real estate market and increased population density are converging to create a perfect storm for VRF growth in the New York metropolitan area and beyond. Currently, we are involved in several multi-tenant VRF projects in Manhattan including two condominium projects converting from older traditional HVAC systems. The modular nature of VRF, its efficiency at part load and the ability to install long refrigerant line lengths from rooftop mounted equipment without oil return problems has made them the new system of choice for green urban design.

New FEMA regulations are providing significant pressure to relocate mechanical rooms which have historically been relegated to basements and sub-basements. Depending upon the market value of a building and it’s relationship to construction alteration costs, many projects located within the 100 year flood plain may be required to relocate mechanicals. VRF uniquely provides a cost effective method of relocating heating and air conditioning utilities to available roof locations in low, mid and high rise buildings in these area. This combined with the plethora of indoor unit applications for surface mounted, concealed, wall, floor or horizontal locations makes VRF perfectly suited for these types of installations.

The main design criteria, besides equipment location, will be refrigerant piping riser location, access availability and ventilation index requirements. VRF units have not typically been suited to applications with high latent loads and significant fresh air ventilation requirements, but with the advent of new lines of Energy Recovery Ventilators, this problem may be solved. Combining  a VRF system with an ERV for fresh air intake requirements now makes them more suitable for schools, public spaces and applications where significant ventilation is required.

One concern in the design and planning of VRF systems is the criteria laid out in ASHRAE Standards 15 and 34. Standard 15 was created to provide guidance for safety concerns in large refrigeration plants using ammonia and other early refrigerants. Over time, the scope of the Standard has been expanded to cover most refrigerants and systems, but the technology and features inherent in VRF systems have not been specifically addressed.  The overall purpose of ASHRAE Standard 34 is “…to establish a simple means of referring to common refrigerants… It also establishes a uniform system for assigning reference numbers, safety classifications, and refrigerant concentration limits to refrigerants. The standard also identifies requirements to apply for designations and safety classifications for refrigerants. The refrigerant concentration limit, in air, determined in accordance with this standard and intended to reduce the risks of acute toxicity, asphyxiation and flammability hazards in normally occupied, enclosed spaces” 

The concentration limit for R410A has been set at 26 lb/Mcf (thousand cubic feet). Engineers need to consider this limitation when designing and submitting plans for VRF system unit locations serving smaller occupied spaces. There are several ways that the cubic area of these spaces can be enhanced and enlarged by allowing free air return, transfer grilles and door undercuts to fall within the realms of these calculations. The standard enumerates similar concerns for the refrigerant piping locations. For a further interpretation of these standards see this Mitsubishi City-multi bulletin.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal and at our Facebook page!

 

NY State Legislature Passes Geothermal Tax Credit

The New York State Assembly and Senate have passed the Geothermal Tax Credit bill A2177A (A2177A-2015). This bill allows for a 25% state income tax credit up to a maximum of $5000 for a new geothermal HVAC system. It now is before Governor Andrew Cuomo for signature and adoption or veto.

Next up is NY State Assembly Bill  A5508 for NY State Sales Tax exemption on all geothermal HVAC equipment sales ( A5508). These exemptions coupled with the already existing 30% Federal Resdiential Renewable Energy Tax Credit on geothermal systems will combine to make new geothermal installations much more competitive with fossil fuel systems for new installation and retrofits. These bills are making geothermal HVAC more affordable for New York State consumers and providing all of the same incentives available to the solar industry, which has proliferated since the inception of these incentives.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology and energy, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal , LinkedIn and at our Facebook page!

How Sandy and Flood-Resistant Codes Impact HVAC in NYC (and Beyond)

The reverberations from construction code revisions as a result of Hurricane Sandy are now being felt for HVAC installations in New York City. Have you tried to file for installation of an HVAC system in lower Manhattan lately?  If so, you may have been pulled for audit to assure compliance with Appendix G – Flood Resistant Construction if your installation cost is greater than $40,000 and/or considered a substantial improvement to the property.

“Every alteration application in a special flood hazard area that is not classified as substantially damaged or as a substantial improvement, and has an estimated cost of over $40,000, must include calculations of buildings’ market value and relevant documentation. For more information, see 1 RCNY 3606-01, FEMA’s Substantial Improvement/Substantial Damage Desk Reference and/or FEMA’s Substantial Damage Estimator Tool.

The vast majority of properties in lower Manhattan below Canal St. are in affected flood zones. The City has thrown an additional wad of red tape into the permit application process to ferret out any buildings that do not comply with FEMA’s new flood standards in order to compel them to bring themselves in line with new flood-resistant construction codes that call for the relocation of any utilities (HVAC included) that are located below the new flood map’s Base Flood Elevation (BFE). For most buildings, this will not be a problem as long as the cumulative construction costs are less than 50% of the market value of the building:

“Substantial Improvement: The applicant must compare the cumulative construction cost of the alteration work, regardless of the time necessary to complete the work, and all other alterations and repairs during this timeframe, to the market value of the building prior to Hurricane Sandy (calculated per 1 RCNY 3606-01). If the cumulative construction costs equal or exceed 50 percent of the market value of the building, then the building MUST comply with the flood zone regulations for new buildings in Appendix G, even if the owner does not want to elevate the building.”

However, this does not relieve the applicant and/or contractor from providing the additional plans showing the flood zone location, the additional calculations to show that the work does not exceed the 50% rule, and mechanical plans showing that all equipment being installed is above the DFE (Design Flood Elevation), which in some instances is the BFE + 2 feet. Those who replace HVAC equipment located in basements in lower Manhattan and other designated flood zone areas do so at their own peril. Machinery and equipment servicing a building must be elevated to or above the base flood elevation in many designated flood zones. To find out if your building or home is in a designated flood zone and find out what your Base Flood Elevation is, refer to FEMA’s BFE Address Look-up Tool. For more information on flood zone construction filing requirements in New York City, see the NYC Department of Buildings Bulletin for Architects and Engineers. As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology and energy, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal , LinkedIn and at our Facebook page!

Consumer Beware – Geothermal Hacks Abound

Unfortunately, as this News 12 expose’ reveals, not all geothermal HVAC installers are looking out for their customers’ best interests.  Geothermal HVAC Installer Scams Consumers

We have received a spate of phone calls from potential customers regarding the alleged unscrupulous activities of a competitor whose prices and promised incentives seemed to be too good to be true. Unfortunately, downpayments were not held in escrow, as per local consumer affairs laws, and many trusting, green-minded consumers have been left with nothing to show for their investment. Even worse, some who have had there installations started now have no recourse because their projects were started and now the contractor in question is reported to be in bankruptcy proceedings.

Although we have received numerous calls asking us to take over installations in progress, it is a difficult decision for us. Although we want to help consumers who may have been duped, in many instances they have no record of what has been installed. There are no plans and no detailed proposal or specifications. As a result, we have no idea what has been installed as a ground loop heat exchanger. Without knowledge of the bore depths, piping size and material, manifold sizing or grout used, it is impossible for us to determine whether or not what has been installed can be used for its intended purpose. Simply connecting to terminated piping isn’t an option since we have no idea what capacity could be achieved, what Reynolds numbers are involved, what the pressure drop for pumping requirements is and what thermal conductivity was figured. Not only does this open up the potential for liability and future warranty issues, it also leaves concern for potential environmental impact.

This also creates a massive public relations problem for our industry and a proven technology. It is our hope that these consumers can find relief and that we can find a way to help them. However, this does reinforce the fact that consumers need to do their homework and check with the Department of Consumer Affairs and /or the Better Business Bureau before doing business with any home improvement contractor.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology and energy, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal and at our Facebook page!

IRS Deals Major Blow to Geothermal Market

Here in the northeast, the recent price erosion of natural gas due to hydrofracturing has made it more difficult to sell geothermal by ROI payback analysis alone. It was still a home run against oil comparisons when including the 30% Federal Renewable Energy Tax Credit. In a major blow to the industry, the IRS recently issued “Notice 2013-70 titled “Q&A on Tax Credits for Sections 25C and 25D“. This notice serves to clarify certain parameters and questions regarding the 25C and 25D Renewable Energy Tax Credits. Specifically, the following passages effectively reduce the Section 25D tax credits to a point where geothermal systems cannot be sold by the financial benefits alone using many of the financial formulas currently in use:

Geothermal Heat Pump Property.

Q-31: A taxpayer contacts a seller to inquire about the installation of a geothermal heat
pump to heat his home. The seller/installer informs the taxpayer that the following items
must be installed in addition to the geothermal heat pump: heat exchange equipment in
the ground outside of the house, a distribution system for the home, and a back-up
emergency heating or cooling system. Which of these costs, if any, are eligible for the
§ 25D credit?

A-31: Only the cost of the heat exchange equipment in the ground outside the house
can be eligible for the § 25D credit. The costs for the distribution system for the home
and a back-up emergency heating or cooling system are not eligible for the credit
because they are not incurred for qualified geothermal heat pump property. Section
25D(d)(5)(B) defines qualified geothermal heat pump property as any equipment that (1)
uses the ground or ground water as a thermal energy source to heat the dwelling unit or – 12 –
as a thermal energy sink to cool such dwelling unit, and (2) meets the requirements of
the Energy Star program in effect at the time that the expenditure for such equipment is
made. Section 25D(e)(1) provides that expenditures for piping and wiring to
interconnect qualified property to a dwelling unit are eligible for the § 25D credit.
However, nothing in § 25D extends the credit to other auxiliary equipment such as
distribution systems within the dwelling unit or backup emergency heating and cooling
systems.

Rebates.

Rebates generally represent a reduction in the purchase price or
cost of property, and the taxpayer must exclude the amount of the rebate from the
amount of the qualified expenditure on which the taxpayer calculates the tax credit. In
general, in order for a receipt of funds to be considered a nontaxable rebate, the rebate
must be based on or related to the cost of the property; the rebate must be received
from someone having a reasonable nexus to the sale of the property, for example, the
manufacturer, distributor, or seller/installer; and the rebate must not represent payment
or compensation for services.

So, not only is the IRS taking away the ability to take a tax credit on the duct distribution system installed as a necessary part of the majority of geothermal heat pump installations, it appears to also eliminate radiant floor distribution systems as well. Depending upon your interpretation here, only the ground loop, connecting primary loop, geothermal heat pump and electrical wiring for the system actually qualify for the tax credit. To add insult injury, Utility Rebates must also be figured against the tax credit value.

Until now, I don’t know of a residential customer who has not claimed these items via Form 5695. How the IRS plans to enforce this determination and/or clarification moving forward is another story. You can easily foresee inflated ground loop and equipment installation segments with a $1.00 ductwork marketing special from contractors looking to bend the rules or create loopholes. A major and essential component for the operation of  any energy efficient system has apparently been eliminated from consideration. Unfortunately, this may be a serious job for the tax lawyers and lobbyists to try to reverse which may have to high a price tag for a burgeoning industry represented by IGSHPA and the Geothermal Exchange Organization. Between these two organizations there is neither the staff nor the PAC fund necessary to mount the political backlash necessary to reverse such a decision. Perhaps if they were to join forces with ACCA, ASHRAE and other industry organizations that are affected, there might be the necessary political clout to quash such a narrow interpretation.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology and energy, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal and at our Facebook page!

LG Brings New Indoor VRF Heat Pump to the US Market, Filling a Void for Urban HVAC Design

New LG Multi V Space

For some time now I have been advocating for an indoor single phase VRF (variable refrigerant flow) split system with a horizontal discharge condensing unit for window, through the wall and/or louver applications. Even though VRF systems have the capability for long refrigerant piping runs for outdoor roof or areaway space, sometimes that space is just not available to designers and contractors. Many condo or coop boards will not allow multi-dwelling building unit owners to put there equipment in common areas like roofs or courtyards. Inevitably, many are forced into using thru-the-wall condensing units in order to have central air conditioning in their residences. As a result, the highest efficiency alternative, VRF,  is not a consideration because a through wall system was not available. Consequently, condo owners and smaller commercial tenants would have to settle for a 12 SEER thru-the-wall condensing unit instead of a 18+ SEER VRF alternative with variable speed compressor for additional partial load efficiency.

LG has answered the call for a single phase through wall option with its new Multi V Space hi-rise VRF solution. This 4.4 ton unit has a front condenser air inlet and outlet that sits flush against an exterior louver. It is designed to operate in turbulent wind conditions, which is often the case in hi-rise buildings in urban settings like Manhattan, San Francisco or Chicago. Condenser air discharge airflow is adjustable in three directions to prevent condenser air short cycling. Service and control access is all through a single interior panel located within the space. Refrigerant piping is flexible with connections at the rear or either side. Unlike the larger commercial 3 phase units, no condenser air discharge ductwork is required indoors. An optional automatic louver can open and close with system interlock to prevent draft in off cycles. The unit is quiet with projected sound power ratings at or below 55 dB(A). At only around 19″ deep, the unit footprint will mean very little floor area loss in an apartment or office.

Although the Multi V Space has been announced in the US, it is only currently available for purchase in Europe and Asia, but will be available in the US market shortly.  Click here for a link to preliminary PDF literature on the equipment.  This unit can be paired with any of LG’s indoor evaporators, both ducted and ductless,  just like its standard outdoor heat pump counterpart. The flexibility of the system should open up a world of options for HVAC design and layout in multi-tenant urban environments where exterior HVAC equipment space is not an alternative. It will be interesting to see if competitors develop a similar alternative once the Multi V  Space hits the market. More on this product as it becomes available.

As always, to keep up to date with what’s new in HVAC technology, visit our website at airideal.com and follow us on Twitter @airideal and at our Facebook page!