Pandemic drives heating, cooling tech

Since COVID, there has been an increased interest in and focus on cleaner indoor air, especially in hotel rooms and other spaces where new guests move through daily. The pandemic made a lasting impact on owner and guest expectations for a healthy air experience during their stay. This will fundamentally drive more integrated indoor air quality, filtration, enhanced dehumidification and ventilation performance across hotels, said Jerad Adams, senior manager, product management at Friedrich Air Conditioning.

According to research from Friedrich, 92 percent of commercial building owners expect healthy-building demand to continue and 61 percent of commercial buildings have now been involved in healthy-building certification systems. Tenants and guests are increasingly drawn to Fitwell- and WELL Building Standard-certified facilities and are willing to pay 4 to 7 percent more for a healthier indoor environment. “This type of demand absolutely drives product innovation and advancement, and you will see the industry adapt,” Adams said.

At the same time, there has been a change in purchasing trends from hoteliers as well, according to Adams.

“We have transitioned away from initial product inquiries and purchases solely based on upfront equipment cost,” he said. “We are seeing a much more thorough and holistic approach when it comes to in-room comfort and air conditioning. Hoteliers’ questions go far beyond whether a system will heat and cool effectively and how much it costs to purchase. Owners are asking: How efficient is it to operate? Will it improve indoor air quality? Will it address issues such as humidity? Is it simple to install and maintain? Can it precisely adjust to the needs of individual guests to deliver better comfort? Is it quiet and easy to operate? What type of energy management system integration will it accommodate? How does this product support our environmental sustainability efforts?”

As a result, Adams said the heating and cooling industry is rapidly evolving to the changing market dynamics. Government regulation, hotelier needs and guest comfort have led to a revitalized portfolio of packaged terminal air conditioners.

There also is newer heating and cooling technology, like variable refrigerant flow heat pumps and heat recovery systems, that use more energy-efficient, inverter-driven compressors that reduce the amount of energy needed to keep a space comfortable, said Tom Varga, business development manager at Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC U.S. 

“The VRF system’s outdoor unit provides soft-controlled starts, while producing the exact capacity for hotel rooms’ air conditioning or heating needs,” Varga said. “With features like zoned cooling and heating and smart controls, heat pumps can make a world of difference in a hotel’s energy consumption. For example, a 150-room hotel with a conventional HVAC system uses about 6,000 amps of electrical service, whereas the same size hotel with connected VRF units may require just 1-2 amps of electrical service per unit—about 300 amps—reducing energy needs and costs.

“VRFs also have a smaller footprint than conventional systems and a two-pipe water-loop system that enables hotels to maximize usable space for areas like a revenue-generating rooftop bar,” he continued.

All-electric VRF technology allows hotels to use zoning in their buildings, allowing shared areas, back-of-house spaces and guest rooms to each have a unique HVAC solution, Varga said.