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!

 

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!

Yes, It Is Summer in the City and It Is Hotter – The Heat Island Effect

This image captured over New York City on October 2, 1999, is a false color composite combining surface temperature and vegetation abundance information. Red indicates surface temperature, green indicates vegetation abundance, and blue indicates visible brightness. Red and pink areas are characterized by higher surface temperatures and lower vegetation abundances. Green and yellow areas are characterized by higher vegetation abundances and lower surface temperatures. Blue and black areas have lower surface temperatures and little or no vegetation. (Image courtesy of Chris Small, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University)

Yes, it is hotter in the city, especially at night. Why is this? It’s called the Urban Heat Island Effect and it means that urban areas heat up at more than twice the rate as rural and suburban areas. The high density of population, traffic, concrete, tarmac and carbon dioxide add up to an increased heat rate and a radiant capture effect. At night, this captured heat is radiated back from these surfaces as the earth attempts to cool down and can sometimes lead to a more than 20 degree difference between cities and suburban/rural areas. I know that it will usually be at least 10 degrees cooler at my north shore Long Island home than it will be in Manhattan only 20 miles to the west. This is also partially the reason why the New York City ASHRAE cooling design temperature is 96 degrees while the Long Island design temperature is only 89 degrees. The Heat Island Effect (HIE)  is nothing new, the EPA has been studying it for years. However, the build up of greenhouse gases as the result of global warming and the reverse migration back to cities has accelerated the effect and increased the ratio differential between the city and the ‘burbs. Just last year, National Public Radio spotlighted the HIE in this story (see http://www.npr.org/2012/09/04/160393303/as-temps-rise-cities-combat-heat-island-effect). Of course, every cloud has it’s silver lining and the one positive effect of the HIE is that trees and flora in urban areas actually get a growth benefit because of increased photosynthesis due to the warmer evenings and increased carbon dioxide. In fact, a Cornell study shows that a red oak tree grows eight times faster in Central Park due to the HIE! (See http://inhabitat.com/nyc/study-shows-red-oaks-grow-8-times-faster-in-central-park-due-to-urban-heat-island-effect/cornell-study-of-urban-tree-growth-1/). Even NASA has been studying the effect of HIE from satellite imagery. So what’s the answer to this dilemma? Well, it certainly isn’t to increase the capacity of your air conditioning unit if you live in the city because that will exacerbate the problem. The real answer is to plant more trees. Trees and other vegetation help alleviate the urban heat island effect by providing shade, intercepting solar energy, cooling the air, and reducing air pollution. New York City and all urban areas need more green space and less building in the balance and that is what some municipalities are having the courage to recognize. Dale Quattrochi, a senior research scientist at the Marshall Space Flight Center, studied the urban heat island effect in Atlanta. Quattrochi recognized that “when trees absorb sunlight, they don’t heat up like urban materials do. In fact, trees transform solar energy into cool air through a process called evapotranspiration. Trees transpire, or release, water through pores in their leaves, and sunlight helps evaporate this water from the leaf surface. In other words, trees “sweat” to cool off, just like people do. Trees also improve air quality by absorbing air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. But not just any tree will do. Trees like oak and sycamore emit higher amounts of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs). BVOCs are naturally occurring pollutants that contribute to the development of ground-level ozone. Planting trees such as maple and elm, which are low BVOC emitters, can improve a city’s air quality more effectively than high BVOC emitting trees.” Unfortunately, New York City and Long Island lost tens of thousands of trees during Hurricane Sandy and this will only help to increase the HIE and the heat differential.

So, to escape the summer heat in the city, head to the park or the country or, more importantly,  join your urban green space advocacy group and plant oak trees!

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!

HVAC – The Path to Always Being Employed

Even during the depths of the recession, top HVAC technicians were in high demand. Between 2010 and 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a 34% increase in HVAC technician employment, which is much faster that other occupations. At a national annual median salary of $42,500 per year, which is well above the median national salary for all occupations at $33,840, a career as an HVAC technician can be lucrative as well as rewarding. The Department of Labor says that “Job opportunities for HVACR technicians are expected to be excellent, particularly for those who have completed training at an accredited technical school or through a formal apprenticeship. You would think that a vocation in such high demand, earning well above national average wages would lead to a dearth of talent pouring into the industry. Unfortunately, this is not the case because of what is known as the “skills gap”.

The Huffington Post explains the “skills gap” as “the approximately three million jobs in the United States that are posted but cannot be filled. These careers still require formal, institutionalized knowledge — but are not promoted as regularly by the institutions in our day-to-day lives, whether our families, our schools, or the media. Because of this, the supply side of these skills is incredibly low, but is in high demand. Examples of these careers include trades skills such as welding, plumbing and HVAC technicians.”

The vacuum created by this skills gap and the lack of institutional training to teach these skills has been filled by an array of private and public trade schools. Here in New York, private programs like Apex Technical and TCI charge tuition and fees of approximately $20,000 for a 900 hour degree course of study. On the public school side, the Suffolk County Community College Workforce Development Technology Program offers Certificate and Associates Degree programs in HVACR. Tuition for the ASS program is approximately $11,000 for residents and $22,000 for non residents (66 credits). For the certificate program, it is approximately $6000 for residents and $12,000 for non-residents (36 credits) plus books and fees. Seven (7) semesters are required for an AAS degree and four (4) for  a certificate. The Greater New York Chapter of The Air Conditioning Contractors of America offers two scholarships annually for the SCCC Workforce HVAC Program.

For those with mechanical skills and acumen, trade union apprenticeship programs are also available to acquire HVAC skill sets through Local 638 (Steamfitters) and Local 355 (JATF) from participating employers.

After your days as a field technician are through, there are many career advancement paths in service and installation management and supervisory positions. With a sought after technical skill set, there will always be a job opening for HVAC industry technicians and professionals.

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!

New York State Poised to Make Geothermal Heat Pumps Tax Exempt

Closed -LoopPress release from the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization (LI-Geo.org):

The New York State Senate and Assembly have proposed new legislation related to geothermal heating and cooling installations.

On January 9, 2013, New York State Senator Maziarz introduced a bill to amend the tax law to exempt both sellers and purchasers of geothermal systems from sales and use taxes for materials.

The same day, New York State Assembly Member Jaffee introduced an identical bill to the Assembly.

This legislation will make geothermal heating and cooling systems more affordable and thus more economically attractive to all NYers. Please write to your NYS representatives to show your support for these bills.

The proposed bills are to amend the tax law to exempt both sellers and purchasers of geothermal systems from sales and use taxes for materials. (Sales and use taxes for the labor involved in capital improvements, such as these installations, are already exempt.). This is similar to the sales and use tax exemption that has aided the solar PV industry in New York State to prosper.

This change in the law will help the in-state geothermal industry—geothermal engineers, installers, designers, service providers, equipment distributors and manufacturers—be both more competitively priced and profitable.

Please write or e-mail your Senator, asking him or her to support this bill. We have a sample letter prepared on our web site for you to sign. Please feel free to customize the letter. If you do not know who your senator is, you can click here to find him or her.

You can also leave a comment about the bill for the Senate at the bottom of the page.

Please also write or e-mail your Assembly Member, asking him or her to support this bill. We have a sample letter prepared on our web site for you to sign. Please feel free to customize the letter. If you do not know who your assembly member is, you can click here to find him or her.

The bills are available for reading at the following links:

Senate Bill S01343

Assembly Bill A01411

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!

WiFi Enabled Thermostat Wars Disrupt Complacency

SP32-20130207-121226The patent battle that has unfolded between Honeywell and it’s upstart competitor, Nest, is well documented, but it has also forced Honeywell to inovate instead of resting upon its current product offerings and leaving the competition to its legal legions. The Nest learning thermostat has become a tech media darling because of its simple design, ease of use and installation, and non-proprietary WiFi connectivity. Unlike Honeywell’s Redlink product line, the Nest thermostat does not require a proprietary router or gateway. It simply uses the already available WiFi network to connect to Nest servers. Previously, if one wanted a Honeywell wireless system with WiFi connectivity and control via the internet, they had to purchase and install the Redlink bundle including gateway, as well as wireless FocusPRO thermostat. Now Honeywell has developed their own WiFi thermostat from the FocusPRO line that can connect directly through your wireless internet router and be controlled via your PC, smartphone or tablet. According to Honeywell’s literature, the FocusPRO TH6320WF1005  ” installs just like standard FocusPRO models, so you’ll breeze through the familiar installation. After that, it’s just a simple matter of a few easy steps to set up the remote access for use with a computer, smartphone or tablet.1 All the homeowner needs is access to their home network, and a computer or device with access to mytotalconnectcomfort.com. The connection is quick and easy.”

The most surprising revelation is the pricing of the WiFi FocusPRO. It is currently on the market at less than half the cost of Nest ($249 at their site) at about $115. The big difference is how they are going to market. Honeywell has prominently printed on their installation instructions, “Must be installed by a trained, experienced technician” whereas Nest continues to market their easy installation to all do-it-yourself homeowners (or those willing to pay $119 for Concierge install).  Honeywell has priced their product in such a manner that the installed cost by a qualified technician at a one hour street rate would be competitive with the installed cost of a Nest learning thermostat with professional concierge installation through their site or affiliates ($368).*  However, Honeywell continues to hedge their bets by selling a touchscreen DIY model through big box stores (see RTH8580WF literature) for around $150.

Of course, this begs the question “are the two products comparable”?  Honeywell’s literature touts the following WiFi capabilities for owners via the internet:

  • View and change their HVAC system settings (Heat, Cool, Off, Auto, Fan, EM Heat)
  • View and set the temperature
  • Access multiple thermostats if the system is zoned
  • Access multiple locations if more than one system is connected
  • Receive temperature alerts via e-mail or app
  • Get automatic upgrades as new features are available
  • Schedule remotely via the web

What you will not currently get from the WiFi FocusPRO that the Nest Learning Thermostat offers are:

  • A learning mode that does not require programing and allows you to set your own temperatures and then creates an auto-schedule over time
  • Motion sensors that detect unoccupied situations to set back to “Auto-Away mode” for deviating schedules
  • Balanced operation for radiant floor heating
  • “Airwave” which continues to run in fan mode to utilize evaporator coil temperature for further dehumidification and energy savings
  • A web enabled “Energy Report” that allows you to track potential energy savings
  • Filter reminders

Although not tested head-to-head by the writer, it is assumed that energy savings may be higher with Nest because of the Auto-Away function that will alter from a preset schedule via built in motion sensors to create more setback opportunities. However, if you are only looking for web enabled remote control of your system and aren’t interested in other applications, then Honeywell may have struck a balance between cost and functionality. This might particularly appeal to second homeowners who just want to monitor a vacation home and get temperature alerts, landlords who want to monitor tenants and non-tech types who simply want to raise or lower the temperature before they get home or after they leave.

It may appear that a price war could brew in the future and that Nest may have to lower their retail point as economies of scale allow. Recently, Nest was available at Lowes for $198.  CNN/Money recently took Nest to task for its price point, (see video), because it claims the Nest hard material costs were only $69, but CNN neglected to include the soft cost of design, financing and hard cost of assembly labor and logistics. Nest might be better served by increasing their tech rich features by adding increased value via software features like home security monitoring through its motion sensing capabilities, which has been rumored by some for the future.  Honeywell, on the other hand, has always kept its eye on the profit motive and they may have bigger fish to fry as they pursue smart grid technology and demand side programs in their recent venture with Opower.  Honeywell may well be more concerned with the higher profit margins that can be gleaned in local utility demand side conservation programs than in the battle for the lower margin DIY and home automation markets. Only the future will tell.

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! 

*In full disclosure, we here at Air Ideal are Nest Concierge and Certified installers. We also sell and install Honeywell products.