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5 HVACR Industry Topics to Put on Your Radar

5 HVACR Industry Topics to Put on Your Radar

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the built environment accounts for nearly 40% of electricity consumption in the U.S. A large portion of this energy is consumed by HVACR systems to heat or cool the indoor environment.

The HVACR industry has always been versatile with ever-evolving practices, upgrades, and disruptive products and technologies. Though shifts may often seem slow progressing to the general population, the industry is currently primed to utilize and contribute to big tech trends and, more importantly, is gearing up to be on the center stage of global change.

AHR Expo has gathered a council of industry experts aimed at discussing some of the biggest trends, issues and opportunities that lie ahead for HVACR. Recently the Council convened to discuss and develop consensus views on five areas that are poised to be hot topics for the industry and at the upcoming 2020 AHR Expo in Orlando.

Trend 1: Global Climate Change

Global climate change is not a new discussion topic, however, the inclusion of HVACR systems and their potential to support the lowest emission output possible is becoming more mainstream. Moving beyond the political landscape, long-term sustainability goals and embodied carbon are heavily considered in the design, integration, and installation of whole building systems.

Engineers are challenged with designing systems that meet or exceed performance expectations while staying on course with changing regulation. Contractors are faced with new regulations and must adapt to methods for installation and maintenance. On the global scale, net-zero initiatives are driving design and furthering the consideration of the entire HVACR system and its importance to the building function, as well as the necessary energy to support it.

Some areas of consideration for HVACR professionals include:

Embodied Carbon Considerations — Government regulations are a driving force for designers and builders to consider the full cycle of embodied carbon and a building’s carbon footprint. Additionally, manufacturers and plants are held to tougher pollution standards and the emissions performance of suppliers and contractors is considered prior to project sign-on.

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are becoming commonplace in many countries around the world, with the expectation of further growth in the coming  years. Currently, EPDs use the common methodology outlined in ISO 14024 to define and compare products. There are several supporting organizations in North America, including NSF International, the Sustainability Consortium, Carbon Leadership Forum, SGS Global Services, among others. LEED Version 4 also began to address EPD of products.

Low GWP Refrigerants — While low GWP refrigerants are already in use across the industry, some options introduce safety hazards through fire and combustion risks and may require significant modifications to vapor compression equipment. Not surprisingly, the quest to develop the next generation of refrigerants is already underway and is a buzzing topic of conversation among industry professionals.

Electrification — The push to connect everything to the electrical grid in the future is a political hot button that is discussed across nearly every market. HVACR systems have been given a front seat in this debate for their potential to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., buildings still primarily rely on natural gas, coal, or fuel oil as an energy source. The electrification discussion stakes claim that HVACR systems can be quickly decarbonized by removing old systems and upgrading to clean energy systems with electric heat or heat pumps

Trend 2: Indoor Climate Controlled Growth Facilities

Indoor growth (farming) facilities are seeing an increase in interest for a few reasons. The first is the practicality behind their use in supporting rapid population growth. We are now living in areas of the world previously thought uninhabitable. This has pushed the boundaries of human living areas and expanded the built environment with fewer limitations.

New markets are also taking on the challenge of investing in indoor growth facilities. The hemp and cannabis industry is a huge flagship for indoor growth and is becoming more commonplace across the U.S. Producers are looking for input and expertise to build an entire industry from the ground up.

Indoor climates require precise control of a built environment, something the HVACR industry masters more than any. The opportunity to lead the design and production of an indoor growth environment, as well as the new jobs technicians, builders, contractors, manufacturers, suppliers and all those touching the industry will take on, makes this a viable opportunity for the industry as a whole.

Trend 3: Building Automation & Control

The area of Building Automation & Control (BAC) is quick paced and always changing. It maintains a prominent presence at the AHR Expo, and each year showcases new technologies and products that push boundaries. Where technology will take us is yet to be seen, and therefore makes this a buzzworthy topic for the foreseeable future. What’s more, the BAC discussion is expanding to include the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence (AI) and security.

  • The IoT not only gives a closer connection between the occupant and the systems control but also enhances the service response time due to faster diagnostics and technician reporting. Already the IoT is streamlining the customer relationship — but where else can it lead HVACR?
  • Artificial intelligence in the HVACR industry has piqued interest in the idea of self-diagnosing buildings, where a broken system pinpoints a specific area of issue and auto-orders replacement equipment. This idea is provoking as it raises the question of the reliance on building system diagnostic accuracy, as well as the role of HVACR professionals in the future.
  • Cybersecurity is an area of potential threat introduced with BAC and multiple building systems. This is new territory for most in the HVACR industry. As seen in areas using cloud-based and multiple networked systems technologies sharing communication, the opportunity for hackers is real and needs to be considered by all. This means building design and construction teams need to communicate potential risks and best practices associated with network use, and building owners need to be diligent in protecting their networks and secure information.

Trend 4: Changing Consumer Demand

Consumer demand speaks to all the above-mentioned topics as the driving force behind innovation and change. The recognition that the largest population of building occupants is the incoming millennial generation, and that this cohort will also be the next generation of building owners brings to light a number of considerations that may not have mattered in the same way to previous generations.

  • Millennials perhaps more than any generation prior are active in the quest for sustainable options. They’ve been dubbed “generation green,” with 66% even stating they are willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies with commitments to positive environmental impacts, according to a Nielsen global survey.
  • Consumers are demanding control of environments in which they occupy. Dwellers are aware of and seeking control of their health in relation to outdoor and indoor environmental exposure. This includes the demand for clean air, the ability to closely control and monitor the indoor environment, and the opportunity to live within smart buildings that conserve energy.
  • Smart home control systems have skyrocketed in recent years, adding an attractive real estate feature to homes with updated HVACR and lighting systems. Consumers are also conscientious to the fact that we spend nearly 90% of our time indoors, and the indoor environment and its potential exposures can influence personal health.
  • This shift of attention toward interior environments quality means the HVACR design and system selection has the potential to be influenced by different priorities than those currently in use today. Occupant desire for greater control coupled with their purchasing of buildings and leasing of spaces reflect this priority and indicate it will change the manner HVACR is done.
  • Business owners will likely also demand better indoor environments as it has been shown to impact employee productivity and wellbeing. It can also be anticipated that there will be increased legal exposure to building owners to provide safe and clean air as occupants become more knowledgeable, technologies capable of measuring and monitoring space quality become less expensive, and data becomes more readily available. Restaurants, merchants, theaters, etc. may also take advantage of this new focus through marketing clean air to distinguish themselves from the competition — much like the food grade systems we see in place in cities across the world.

Overall, a more health-conscious group of individuals is aging into building ownership with funding to spend on improving the interior space they occupy. HVACR professionals can benefit from the opportunities to cater to this new audience and their set of priorities. Manufacturers are also keen to this shift and are responding with products and technologies that excel in innovation to meet the charge.

Trend 5: Job Force Recruitment

The trend that perhaps stands to be the greatest obstacle for the HVACR industry in the immediate future is the need to replenish an aging job force. Due to a reduced interest in skilled trades as a career path and the economic recession in the early 2000s that contributed to stagnation in hiring, the industry faces a lag of incoming professionals to meet the replacement demands of those aging out of the industry. What’s more, even if rising students are interested in pursuing engineering or a skilled trade, they may not choose the HVACR industry over others requiring similar applied skills. The industry needs to take notice of these challenges and work together to recruit a new generation of HVACR professionals. This is an industry where long-term careers can be built as the role of HVACR is and always will be vital to all areas of the world, in every building and in every home.

The workforce will also need to consider a broader demographic than represented today to fill the void in the workforce. Women, as well as ethnic minorities, should be considered as part of this solution.

The HVACR industry needs to do a better job of championing the many opportunities that exist in the HVACR business to attract individuals from all backgrounds. This will not only help fill the shortage of professionals but will also introduce a broader set of ideas and talents to the conversation, ultimately making the industry stronger.

To read more about these trends, visit https://bit.ly/363js67.

All these topics and more will be discussed in forthcoming articles as well as at the 2020 AHR Expo in Orlando, Feb. 3-5. For more information, visit ahrexpo.com.