5 HVAC Industry Topics to Put on Your Radar

In anticipation for the 2020 AHR Expo, a council of experts was recently assembled to discuss industry trends

5 HVAC Industry Topics to Put on Your Radar

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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 HVAC systems.

The HVAC industry has always been versatile with ever-evolving practices, upgrades, disruptive products and technologies. Though shifts may often seem to progress slowly to the general public, 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.

In fact, HVAC has the potential to play a large role in the future of every person on the planet — a notion that is gaining greater realization by industry professionals. The challenge is crafting an environment for humans to thrive in while keeping negative environmental impacts to a minimum.

To achieve these goals, cross-role communication among industry personnel is essential. In an effort to support the open flow of communication, the AHR Expo has gathered a council of industry experts aimed at discussing some of the biggest trends, issues and opportunities that lie ahead for HVAC.

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, Florida.

Global Climate Change

Global climate change is not a new discussion topic, but the inclusion of HVAC 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 regulations. 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 HVAC system and its importance to the building function, as well as the necessary energy to support it. 

“Minimizing climate change to the 1.5 degree C limit by 2050 will require swift and unprecedented changes in the HVAC industry. There are great challenges and opportunities to be taken seriously if we want to arrive at net-zero emissions in operating, embodied, and transportation carbon, yet maintain the superb wellbeing of building occupants,” says Luke Leung, director of sustainable energy at Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP.

Indoor Climate Controlled Growth Facilities

Indoor growth facilities are seeing increasing interest for a few reasons. The first is the practicality behind their use in supporting rapid population growth. With progress made in HVAC and systems capable of cooling and heating extreme external environments, 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.

Additionally, as the human population rises, so does the need for sustainable food options. Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to food production in relation to population growth is the loss of land space to nurture crops large in number and size. The process of indoor farming is already in practice in some areas around the world. 

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.

“With more and more U.S. states allowing for the decriminalized use of marijuana and the widespread use of CBD products, there is a sudden increased demand for production. As a result, indoor grow facilities for cannabis is one of the fastest-growing verticals we’ve ever seen,” says Pam Duffy, Spark One Solutions, LLC and P.E. licensed engineer serving the HVAC industry for more than 10 years. “Many building owners are taking big capital risks to build these facilities, and producing high-quality products requires a precise approach to climate and lighting control. Currently, there’s a limited number of organizations in our industry that specialize or even have experience in this area. The prediction is that those who are willing to dive head-first into this market will be rewarded for many years to come.”

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 Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence (AI) and security.

The HVAC industry isn’t unique in tapping the IoT for deepened communication and information sharing. However, it provides unique and exciting opportunities because it allows for the open flow of communication between humans and the built environment. 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 HVAC?

Artificial intelligence in the HVAC 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 of building system diagnostic accuracy, as well as the role of HVAC professionals in the future.

There are, however, concerns associated with increased connection and network sharing. Cybersecurity is an area of potential threat introduced with BAC and multiple building systems. This is new territory for most in the HVAC 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.

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.

Now more than ever, 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 based on many variables including occupancy and usage patterns.

Smart home control systems have skyrocketed in recent years, adding an attractive real estate feature to homes with updated HVAC and lighting systems. Consumers are also conscientious about the fact that we spend nearly 90% of our time indoors, as indicated in an EPA sponsored survey of national human activity, and the indoor environment and its potential exposures can influence personal health.

This shift of attention toward interior environments quality means the HVAC 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 that HVAC 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.

HVAC professionals can benefit from the opportunities to cater to this new audience and their set of priorities.

Job Force Recruitment

The trend that perhaps stands to be the greatest obstacle for the HVAC 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 HVAC 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 HVAC professionals. This is an industry where long-term careers can be built as the role of HVAC is and always will be vital to all areas of the world, in every building and in every home.

“The way we promote the greatness of the HVAC industry to younger generations is through in-person interactions and open communication. We need to invite them into engineering firms, let them shadow mechanical contractors, visit job sites, and attend events like the AHR Expo, ASHRAE events, and other industry association events. The opportunity to have real-life experiences in the field will make all the difference,” says Karine Leblanc, an engineer at US Air Conditioning Distributors. “Having been exposed to the industry at a younger age myself, I remember the experience of visiting an engineering office and having a project manager explain to me why the thermostat should not be at its location. I was only 15 at the time, but this one interaction shaped what has become my engineering career.”

These topics and more will be discussed at the 2020 AHR Expo, to be held Feb. 3-5 in Orlando, Florida. For more information, visit www.ahrexpo.com.


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