Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

Taking a Look at High Efficiency Systems

Artlip and Sons Inc. installed a geothermal system at a forest preserve.

High-end HVAC systems known for their energy efficiency include geothermal, solar, High Performance Air Systems (HPAS), and variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems. Although these new technologies can be very expensive to install, over the life of the systems, they can result in big savings for the customer.

These non-traditional heating and cooling methods are moving steadily from the commercial side of the business into the residential market, offering homeowners the benefits of comfort, energy efficiency, cost savings, and tax credits. To residential contractors, these emerging market sectors might present new opportunities to expand market share and service contracts.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, geothermal systems are energy efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems. In Plainfield, Illinois, Ken Wiesbrook of Wiesbrook Sheet Metal Inc. and president of SMACNA Greater Chicago, has installed several residential geothermal systems.

“The majority of our geothermal customers are in the city, so they use the vertical loop system, often locating wells under a driveway” Wiesbrook said. “One customer with a farm house dug his own trenches, and we installed a horizontal loop system. Another customer has a high-end home on a lake with eleven HVAC units and closed coils running out into the lake—the geothermal system even heats the swimming pool.”

Artlip installed geothermal systems in two Illinois schools.Design flexibility is needed for colder climates. “Today’s geothermal systems include two-stage and variable speed technology, which offer the design flexibility needed, especially in northern states where the heating BTU capacities required are much greater than the cooling BTUs required. The two-stage and variable systems are more efficient and provide better comfort,” said Hank Artlip, president of Artlip and Sons, Aurora, Illinois, who specializes in installing geothermal systems.

High efficiency systems with variable speed compressors also provide energy savings. By eliminating short-cycling, two-stage and variable speed compressors provide energy savings that can also benefit customers with conventional systems. Jeffrey Laski of S and M Heating Sales Co. in Southfield, Michigan, installs many high efficiency systems.

A S&M Heating Co. technician services a high-efficiency system.“A single stage compressor can leave warm spots in the home because the compressor frequently turns on and off, satisfying the thermostat too quickly,” he said. “Variable compressors run continuously at a lower tonnage, providing more even temperatures. These results don’t go unnoticed by the customer as “we’ve received testimonials from them saying they have never been so comfortable in their homes.”

Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) is another new technology that is moving from the commercial to the residential market.

When Russell Kimball purchased Evergreen State Heat and AC in 1998, the business mix was about 80 percent sheet metal and 20 percent service/line-set pipe-wire-fire. Being located in the Pacific Northwest, twenty years later, the Everett, Washington company has completely reversed this business mix as local customers adopt ductless Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) systems.

“These systems use electronic inverter technology to change AC to DC power with an amazing reduction in amperage needs and have up to eight indoor heads per outdoor unit. They even have the ability for some heads to be heating while others are cooling,” Kimball explained. “We now do over 80 percent pipefitting and service and under 20 percent sheet metal fabrication and installation by union labor hours.”

Kimball encourages contractors to master new technologies. “If you work through VRF wholesalers, they will teach your sales force how to explain the advantages to customers. You can even request free VRF training units for your JATC, so your service personnel understand the latest equipment,” he explained.

Many utilities also offer rebates to help customers with the initial costs of high-efficiency systems. Because of the high installation cost, Artlip helps homeowners find every tax break. “We assist with the paperwork and provide the documentation for any tax breaks or rebates,” he explained. “Our customers receive installation rebates through SMART and equipment rebates through manufacturers. Geothermal systems also qualify for a federal tax credit.”

Each of these technological advances offers members opportunities to strengthen their businesses.

“We have made big changes at Evergreen State Heat and AC to adjust to shifting customer demands,” Kimball concluded. “Each of these technological advances offers members opportunities to learn about the systems and possibly incorporate the service to strengthen their business diversity.”

Related Links

Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit » 

Artlip and Sons »

Evergreen State Heat and AC »

S & M Heating Sales Co »

Wiesbrook Sheet Metal Inc »