VRF is Unique Solution for Historic Tribeca Landmark

The Wool Exchange, 1896. Later the American Thread Building.

260 West Broadway Today

260 West Broadway Today










Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the eleven story building at 260 West Broadway was built by the New York Wool Warehouse Company as the New York Wool Exchange in 1894-1896. Designed by William B. Tubby in the Renaissance revival style, the building was advanced in the simplicity of its overall design. The Wool Warehouse Company, a business venture by a group of wool men, sought to create not only a building exclusively for the wool trades but also an actual trading organization, the Wool Exchange, with the intent of wresting control of the wool trade from Boston. Both the Wool Warehouse and company and the bank that supported it failed in 1898.

In 1907, the American Thread Company occupied the building and since the 1920’s the building has been known as the American Thread Building.  The building was later converted to residential and commercial condominiums in the early 1980s.

Today its impressive, broad facades curving from Beach Street into West Broadway make the former New York Wool Exchange a distinguished downtown landmark fronting Tribeca Park.

In 2012 Air Ideal Inc. had been the HVAC contracting company that had been providing service and maintenance for the existing cooling tower and condenser water system that served the commercial offices and some of the residential spaces in the building. After the system reached its life expectancy it was struggling with water quality, pipe integrity and chemical treatment issues.  John Ottaviano, Air Ideal’s President, recommended that the old water cooled system be replaced with a new VRF system.  A VRF system was presented as the ideal solution because of the long refrigerant line runs required throughout the building and because one of the building’s priorities was to have all outdoor equipment located on the roof of the 11 story building. The building board also wanted to have the capability of billing condominium owners for their individual electric power consumption based upon usage. The board requested a system that could be expanded as more owners decided that they wanted HVAC systems and better environmental control that would enhance their residential resale values.

As the building is located in a very busy area in Tribeca in lower Manhattan, Air Ideal also wanted to have the ability to provide a remote monitoring capability that would allow it to view any problems that might be corrected without dispatching service technicians to diagnose the issues.  Individual condominium owners wanted the ability to select indoor units that could satisfy a multitude of different applications since each loft style condominium is unique in size, layout and design. Mitsubishi City-Multi was presented to the board as the product that had the flexibility to meet these unique criteria.  Subsequently, New York City developed stringent inspection and cleaning requirements for all cooling towers because of the recent legionella outbreak and the elimination of the cooling tower became a major benefit for the building leadership, its liability and its residents’ health concerns. Replacement of the existing cooling tower and the condenser water risers had been a consideration, but the costs for such far exceeded that of the ultimate solution.

After much consideration, the board selected Air Ideal’s proposal for the Mitsubishi City-Multi System with Phase I consisting of 94 ton of outdoor equipment and 102 tons of indoor equipment (43 units). The control system would consist of an AE-200A central controller with electronic sub-meters and AG-2000 software for tenant billing and monitoring capability. As the building did not require simultaneous heating and cooling (there was a building hydronic heating system to remain), the Y series was selected to reduce the overall project costs. The project would become a collaborative effort between Air Ideal, the building’s leadership and staff, individual condominium owners, the building management company (Orsid Realty) and the project managers (IP Group and Jonathan Rose Associates).

The project was started in December, 2014 and completed in August of 2015. The system has been operating without service issue to date and the building is happy enough with the outcome that there is a desire to expand the system with capacity to potentially encompass the entire building (A proposed Phase II would add approximately 81 tons).

Mitsubishi City-Multi heat pumps on the roof of 260 West Broadway with the Freedom Tower in the background

Mitsubishi City-Multi heat pumps on the roof of 260 West Broadway with the Freedom Tower in the background

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!


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!

Tough Heating Season Forecast in the Northeast for Oil Consumers

With home heating oil prices currently at $4.25 per gallon here on Long Island and a much colder season forecast ahead, this Newsday article predicts a difficult winter for those heating with fuel oil.  Two thirds of Long Islanders still heat their homes with oil and the majority of those would choose to convert to natural gas, if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, Long Island’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure (see Northeast map above) is not being expanded and  National Grid, the private entity responsible for local gas service, is loathe to invest shareholder money to do so.  Michael White, executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, has been an advocate for gas infrastructure expansion to improve Long Island’s economy. White was quoted in the Long Island Business News stating, “it appears we are dependent upon the interests and investments of private fuel suppliers and pipeline companies to actually get approved, construct and operate infrastructure to supply us with natural gas. This paradigm clearly constrains Long Island’s ability to have an adequate and reasonably priced supply of natural gas to support our on-Island generating facilities, as well as conversions from heating oil to natural gas and overall growth.”

Because Long Island’s energy utility infrastructure is controlled by a host of players including private entities (National Grid, ratepayers and private contractors) and public entities (the Public Service Commission, Iroquois Pipeline, NY State and local government), expansion of main and branch service is an excruciating process. This unfortunate stalemate has historically left the majority of Long Islanders with only the costly options of No. 2 fuel oil, electric or propane heating.  We have previously written here about which of these energy options gives you the best bang for your buck.

Taking into account federal tax credits of 30% and LIPA incentives, it is clear that any Long Islander who plans to remain in their home for 5 years or more can get the best rate of return or return on investment by installing a geothermal ground source heat pump to heat their home. Unfortunately, there is a significant initial investment to make in order to convert to geothermal, which has scared away many consumers, even with a financial investment analysis proving out its viability and sound capital return. However, a new program allowing Long Islanders to pay for this conversion through NYSERDA with 2.99% on-bill financing may just be the answer for those too far from the pipeline for gas conversion and hesitant to put savings at potential risk. In order to obtain this financing, a homeowner participates in the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, where a BPI accredited contractor approved by NYSERDA will perform a comprehensive home energy assessment to identify opportunities for energy savings. The contractor will write a report that recommends specific energy improvements for your house along with cost figures for making the improvements and estimated energy savings. This program also includes air sealing, energy-efficient furnaces, boilers, water heaters, air conditioners, lighting fixtures and appliances. A homeowner can finance up to $25,000 with this program. An On-Bill Recovery Loan is 2.99% for terms of 5, 10, or 15 years. Once approved for the loan, the consumer’s interest rate is fixed for the life of the loan.

With the advent of variable speed and inverter driven compressors, another efficient option for consumers looking to move away from oil is VRF or “variable refrigerant flow” heat pumps. The market is now flush with systems manufactured by Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, Daikain, Samsung and the like, which have dominated Asian and European markets, but have only recently caught on here. These systems are extremely beneficial to multi-family residential complexes like condominiums and apartment complexes because they are modular, expandable and very efficient at part-load. They achieve their efficiencies because they can operate at partial loads from 10% to 130% in diverse settings, even at low ambient temperatures.

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!

VRF System Ratings and Qualifying for Demand Side Incentives

The American Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) has finally developed a new certification program for variable refrigerant flow multi-zone split air conditioners and heat pumps. In years past, systems manufactured by Mitsubishi, Daikin, LG and the like were unable to qualify for utility rebates and Federal tax incentives because there was no way to rate their efficiency performance. This was primarily because multi-zone ductless and ducted VRF systems had so many potential variations of installed indoor components that it made it nearly impossible to accurately rate SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating), EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) and HSPF (Heating Season Performance Factor). To solve this problem, AHRI came up with this new 2012 certification program. “This certification program covers matched variable refrigerant flow multi-split air-conditioner and multi-split heat pump systems, that comply with either the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) or the Energy Policy Act (EPACT) and use distributed refrigerant technology with cooling and heating capacities for outdoor units from 12,000 Btu/h [3508 W] to 300,000 Btu/h [87,692 W] and indoor units from 5,000 Btu/h [1,462 W] to 60,000 Btu/h [17,538 W]. Each indoor unit is designed to condition a single zone.”

As a result, we can now submit certain combinations of VRF systems to LIPA (utility) for residential and commercial rebate programs. This is great news because VRF systems provide their greatest savings because of their ability to operate at part load capacity. Very rarely will an air conditioning or heating system be required to operate at peak load (outdoor temps at or above 95 degrees F or below 15 degrees F). This is where the variable speed compressors in VRF systems and their ability to shift load from one area to the next comes into play. Although some VRF systems may not be able to achieve the top peak load efficiency ratings that a single or dual speed DX system can, they are considerably more efficient in partial load situations because of their DC inverter driven ability to ramp up and down from 10% to 100%+ of required capacity. Also, because most of these systems utilize electronic expansion valves that allow for an increase or decrease in refrigerant volume flow depending upon load, they have the ability to shift capacity requirements as the cooling or heating load shifts in a space due to environmental factors like solar gain variance (sun movement), occupancy levels and infiltration. This ability also allows for the use of up to 150% of indoor coil versus outdoor coil capacity.  This is something that cannot be done with standard ducted systems unless they have VAV (variable air volume) terminals or are part of a chilled water system.

Ultimately, this is a great win for the VRF industry, energy conscious consumers and VRF system installers.

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!

The Benefits of Combining VRF and Geothermal Technologies

Two of my favorite (and most efficient) technologies can actually be combined to form an uber-efficient HVAC system. Both Mitsubishi and Daikin have provided water-cooled condensing units as part of their US line-up for several years. However, only recently has this technology been refined through plate and frame heat exchangers and control logic to perform optimally with geothermal ground loop heat exchangers. Mitubishi’s WR2 series (heat recovery) and WY series (heat pump) along with Daikin’s VRV-WIII series can combine the benefits of variable speed inverter compressor technology and geothermal heat pump efficiency. Add to this the additional benefit of being able to install multiple types of ductless, ducted and concealed indoor evaporators and you have one of the most flexible and highly efficient solutions for a green building project. Because of the system’s flexibility, it can be designed into new building and retrofit mechanical schemes (see Mitsubishi schematic).

Unfortunately, as these systems are only available in larger sizes of 6 tons and up and only available in 3 phase, they are not yet a viable option for single family homes. However, we are seeing these systems specified on multiple dwelling residential projects like apartment buildings and condominiums. For the most part, this is really primarily a commercial option that can deliver added points for LEED buildings and deliver the ultimate in sustainable design. Existing ground source heat pumps on the market provide dual speed for their premium models (like the WaterFurnace Envision line), but there has not been a variable speed inverter compressor option available to the market. In redeveloping their water-cooled condensing unit lines to accommodate the geothermal market, these VRF/VRV manufacturer’s have provided a significant boost in efficiency. Based upon an energy modeling study for assisted living facilities in various cities across the country, it was proven that this type of hybrid VRF-Geothermal installation provides on average a 37% efficiency increase over VRF air-cooled heat pumps. Although VRF/Geothermal is still a costly initial installation versus established fossil fuel and air-cooled systems, emerging energy efficiency technology experts are now touting ground-source variable refrigerant flow heat pumps as an affordable energy option.

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!

VR Technology Becomes Mainstream Solution in Urban Environments

Variable Refrigerant technologies have become a mainstream HVAC application in urban environments over the past decade. The flexibility of unit design and layout configurations has made this a market niche for Air Ideal and other mechanical design/build firms in the New York metropolitan area. With a variety of indoor evaporators for floors, ceilings, walls and concealed spaces, they provide a simple solution for city projects with minimal space considerations for mechanical equipment. For many years SCAV (self contained air-cooled vertical) package units were the dominant city specified systems for individual tenant spaces, but they were notoriously inefficient and provided poor climate control and distribution across spaces with high diversity and multiple loads. Mitsubishi, Daikin and now LG and Fujitsu have all brought commercial products to the US city markets that provide solutions for office, retail, industrial and multi-dwelling residential projects.

These Asian manufacturers have also had the savvy to provide the necessary marketing expertise and design and application software to design/build contractors and engineers so that they can be properly specified, installed and commissioned. Each manufacturer and their individual distributors have been intelligent enough to provide direct training and certification for their equipment through local training and education centers located close to the metropolitan areas being served to further enhance their products diffusion to the marketplace. This also prevents poor installations as the result of lack of product knowledge and technical application inexperience.

The only barrier towards gaining major market share in urban HVAC applications has been the relative cost of these products. Equipment cost, import tariffs and three step distribution have been competitive disadvantages, but as more systems have been specified and installed, the economies of scale are ramping up and making these systems a viable alternative to standard unitary products. The partial load efficiencies of inverter technology from these products has also served as an ROI tool for convincing more owners and developers to include Variable Refrigerant equipment as a green alternative to standard unitary HVAC systems.

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!