Eco-Friendly HVAC systems

High Performance Homes: The Future of Eco-Friendly HVAC

The persistent global push towards sustainability and net zero is inspiring home designers and builders to seek a greener approach to heating and cooling. HVAC systems play a crucial role when designing and building energy-efficient homes to achieve net zero certification – both new builds and retrofits – minimizing energy consumption, while enhancing comfort.

In this article we will explore the future of eco-friendly HVAC systems, highlighting some recent innovations and their potential to revolutionize the way we heat and cool our homes.

Rising demand is increasing prices

Fuelled by climate change warnings and technological innovation, the HVAC equipment market in North America is projected to grow by $8.62 billion (USD) from 2023 to 2028, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.29%.

The increased demand and ever-rising fuel costs required to deliver the equipment from the manufacturers have both contributed to HVAC inflation and rising prices. To encourage the adoption of energy-efficient HVAC technologies, BC Hydro and CleanBC offer rebates and offers.

Greener heating and cooling options

As we begin 2024, energy-efficient HVAC systems remain the most in demand. These include heat pumps with HPSF ratings of at least 8.2 HSPF, and Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) ratings of 12 or greater, required to be awarded the Energy Star® label. High-efficiency heat pumps will result in less energy use and increased energy savings over the life of the system.

Furnaces should have AFUE ratings ranging from 94 and 98.5 percent, according to Energy.gov. Furnaces with higher energy efficiency ratings are typically condensing systems that condense and convert escaped water vapours into energy and heat.

Low GWP refrigerants

The current HVAC industry refrigerant, R-410A, has been flagged as a contributor to climate change. The EPA and Environment Canada have therefore mandated that manufacturers switch to a refrigerant with a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 700 or less by January 1, 2025.

The new 2025-ready low GWP compliant refrigerants such as R-454B have a GWP that is 78% lower than previous refrigerants and are Ozone-Depleting Free. GWP is a way to measure the gases being released into the atmosphere. In 2024, the USA and Canada are continuing their transition to low-GWP refrigerants.

When considering a new HVAC system, homeowners and contractors should consider that the transition to low-GWP systems is underway and gaining momentum. As a homeowner, you want to work with an HVAC professional who knows how to install, service, and troubleshoot systems now using refrigerants such as R134A.

Smart and monitored HVAC systems

Smart HVAC systems use interconnected technology to evaluate your HVAC system’s performance and optimize efficiency, enhancing control, while providing personalized comfort. Smart systems typically utilize smart sensors and IoT (Internet of Things) devices to constantly monitor the HVAC infrastructure and provide real-time data for analysis and control. They use adaptive control algorithms to analyze the collected data and then make real-time adjustments to your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning settings.

Many smart HVAC systems have learning capabilities that adapt to your preferences and habits over time. Most smart systems also allow you to monitor and control your HVAC system remotely, using mobile apps or web interfaces. If you forget to let the system know you’ll be away for a few days, so it can maintain a lower temperature, you can adjust the settings while you’re away. Some systems allow you to monitor indoor air quality, and they can provide alerts when you need to take corrective actions to ensure a healthy and comfortable indoor environment.

Smart HVAC systems may include features such as zone-based heating and cooling to concentrate energy where you need it most. They can turn down the heat when everyone leaves for work and school, and then turn it back up 15 minutes before occupants begin returning. They can also reduce the temperature by a few degrees while everyone’s in bed.

Air-source heat pumps (ASHP)

Air-source heat pumps extract heat from the surrounding air and transfer it into your home, even in Canada’s colder climates. ASHPs combine heating and cooling systems into one solution. Most include advanced filtration systems that improve the air quality, capturing dust, allergens and even some viruses.

At the forefront of air-source heat pump innovation are variable-speed compressors. They adapt to your family’s heating needs by adjusting their output. They will run at lower speeds during warmer weather and speed up when it gets colder. This makes them more energy-efficient, which reduces your energy requirements and operating costs. By varying the speed, these compressors eliminate the on-off cycling that is common with traditional systems. There are fewer temperature fluctuations, resulting in more consistent indoor comfort.

Energy recovery systems are another innovation that improves efficiency. By capturing and reusing heat that would otherwise be wasted during the heating process, they conserve energy and cut energy costs.

ASHP manufacturers are now incorporating smart controls and connectivity into their systems, enabling you to remotely control your heating and cooling, set schedules, and monitor your energy usage from your smartphone or computer.

Solar thermal HVAC systems

Integrating solar thermal technology with HVAC systems involves harnessing the sun’s energy to provide heating or cooling, and hot water for your home. This is accomplished either through direct thermal energy conversion or by powering absorption chillers. Solar HVAC is not just a technology of tomorrow, but a compelling option for today.

Traditional heating fuel sources and power grids can be vulnerable to a variety of disruptions including supply, capacity and aging equipment. Passive solar design focuses on managing solar gain, concentrating thermal mass and distributing solar energy through convection, conduction and radiation.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels, typically associated with solar power, convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar HVAC systems utilize PV panels to power the electrical components, such as fans and pumps. Solar thermal collectors harness the sun’s heat to heat a liquid – water or a heat-transfer solution – which provides space heating and hot water in solar HVAC systems. Heat exchangers transfer the collected solar energy to the air or water that’s circulating through the building. Like renewable solar energy systems, an energy storage solution in solar HVAC systems will typically offset intermittent sunlight.

The upfront costs for solar PV systems are typically larger than for traditional fuel or electrical equipment, but the long-term return on investment stands to be significant through energy savings.

Geothermal (or geoexchange) heat pumps

Recent innovations in geothermal heat pump technology have focused on new materials and cost reduction, making them among the best-performing and most energy-efficient solutions. These heat pumps utilize the earth’s stable temperature throughout the year to provide both heating and cooling, without the need for wells or power plants. Geothermal heat pumps can significantly reduce energy consumption to provide impressive energy savings while reducing carbon emissions.

Ductless systems

Ductless HVAC systems are becoming increasingly popular in homes without existing ductwork. Also called ductless mini-split or ductless multi-split, these include any HVAC system that can heat and/or cool your home without the presence of ducts. Ductless heat pumps use individual air handlers, mounted on interior walls, to deliver temperature control for one room or area in the home. Homeowners can install up to five indoor ductless units throughout the home, to collect and circulate the heated or cooled air, all connected to a single outdoor condensing unit.

There are several options available: Ductless heat pumps that can both cool and heat a room, ductless air conditioners and ductless zoning systems that let you tie several rooms together. Because there are multiple ductless units, there will be more maintenance, which includes changing the individual air filters regularly, as well as checking and cleaning the evaporator and condenser coils.

Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) systems

VRF systems are ductless solutions for HVAC that perform at a high capacity. They adjust refrigerant flow based on demand, allowing for greater energy efficiency and individualized comfort settings. Unlike split air conditioning equipment, VRF will allow multiple indoor units to run on the same system, which can be considered either a heat pump system or a heat recovery system.

Once considered mainly for commercial buildings, recent developments have focused on scaling VRF systems to control the climate in single-family homes. Recent innovations in VRF technology include improved heat recovery capabilities, enhanced system integration with building automation systems, and the use of Low GWP refrigerants.

VRF HVAC units are generally less bulky than traditional equipment, making them an excellent choice for retrofitting, renovating or applications where space is limited. VRF systems significantly reduce ambient noise both inside and outside the building, when compared with other HVAC options.

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