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A 30-year HVAC Time Capsule

June 4, 2024
NCI's Dominick Guarino looks back at predictions he made in 1994 as CB's editor, about the future of HVACR.

First, my sincere congratulations to Contracting Business magazine on its 80th Anniversary!

In the July 1994 50th Anniversary Issue of CB, I wrote a retrospective article as if it was written 10 years later, in 2004. Here we are 30 years later, and I thought it would be fun to look at those predictions and see where I was close, and where I was really off base.

While this editorial can’t possibly cover them all, I’ll highlight some of the most prescient along with outcomes from this little time capsule.

Comfort and Society

One of my predictions was that by 1999 widespread improvements in indoor comfort and health in commercial buildings would increase employee productivity by 25%. Absenteeism would be down 50%, and health insurance claims would be down 30%. All the while energy consumption would be down 50%.

Similar improvements were predicted for the residential sector. Sad to say I really missed the mark on that one, and honestly it might be 2040 before we see these kinds of numbers. Lots of work to do!

The article also predicted fiber networks would become ubiquitous in commercial use. Interestingly it wasn’t until the early 2000s that fiber started becoming available to everyone through cable networks.

Part of that vision was that video communications would be readily available. In a separate article that year, I imagined HVAC technicians would be able to use a handheld video device to communicate with a master tech or service manager back at the office and show them what they were seeing.  While smartphones were around for a while, the first true video phones weren’t introduced until 2010 – 16 years after the article was published!

These innovations changed the way we work today and have allowed our industry to make great leaps in service quality and diagnostic abilities.

IAQ and Other Innovations

In the editorial, I imagined a world where indoor air quality (IAQ) would become a major focus as “hundreds of thousands of customer service and data processing jobs would be with workers based in their homes, reducing the need for commercial office space.” Well, COVID helped things along. I don’t think anyone predicted that back then!

I also envisioned these changes would stimulate an increased focus on humidity control, comfort, and IAQ in homes as people would be living and working in those environments. For some reason, I was moved to insert the following sentence:

Because of poor outdoor air quality and a resurgence in street violence, Americans would spend much more time indoors, and air conditioning would be required by code in government-assisted housing. By 2004 98% of homes would have air conditioning.

Innovations at AHR

Here are some of the new products I believed (in 1994) that would be introduced at what is now called the AHR (Airconditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration) Exposition:

A major equipment manufacturer who recently merged with a controls company introduced their hybrid thermoacoustic/dessicant heat pump rated at 25 SEER. The unit requires no drain as condensed moisture is vaporized and vents through a 1-in. PVC pipe.

Possible? Maybe…

A controls manufacturer introduced their new wireless Enviro-Zone system which allows homeowners to create fully programmable environments or moodscapes. These new systems can control lighting, odor/fragrance, air movement, humidity, temperature, visuals, and sound. The systems incorporate the latest in visual relaxation, and noise cancellation technologies, and can be controlled by voice, TV/PC, or remote.”

Wow that one is scary! Smart Home anyone? – Siri didn’t come on the scene until 23 years later!

A new quadruple-effect absorption chiller system was introduced this year by a major Japanese manufacturer. The unit which is available in sizes ranging from 100 to 2,000 tons boasts cooling COPS of 2.1 and heating COPs over 3.0. (Double effect have COPs of up to 1.2).

In 2005 Kawasaki introduced the first triple effect absorption chiller with COPs of up to 1.8.  A quadruple effect is still theoretical – but stay tuned!

Solar technology will reach efficiencies of 40% with a payback of less than one year. Solar-assisted multi-zone split systems will reach efficiencies of over 50 SEER.

Currently monocrystalline silicone panels are reaching efficiencies of 20+%. There are predictions that perovskite solar cells are the next gen technology that will reach efficiencies of 40%+ within the next 10 years. While some early models were available 20 years ago, true hybrid solar HVAC systems have just hit the market in the past few years and are gaining momentum.


The 1994 article stated that, “Many of the comfort improvements over the next decade would occur synergistically with energy efficiency improvements. Better temperature control and air distribution, better building envelope designs, improved lighting (i.e. LED), and more efficient window design would allow for 50% reductions in equipment sizing compared to homes and buildings built in 1994.”

That one is right on target today when we do all of the above right!

By 2001, superconductors operating at room temperature will make electric motors 75% lighter and 50% more efficient than in 1989. Under the DOE standards of 2002 minimum efficiency ratings will be 20 SEER.”

We missed that by a few decades, but inverter technology is getting us closer by the day!

Heat pump technology will deliver 120F air at 0F degrees outside temperature.”

This was definitely accomplished! In fact, there are heat pumps now on the market that will operate down to at least -22F.

Here’s a funny prediction that was completely wrong, but was it?

In 1998 extensive scientific analysis proved that the so-called Global Warming Potential (GWP) and Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) of HFC-22 was less than that caused by cows burping. All R-22 restrictions were lifted and the wholesale price would stabilize at $3/lb.

I love this one!

The Comfort Industry

In my predictions, in 1998 the acronym HVACR (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration) would be replaced with ICCR (Indoor Comfort Control and Refrigeration). I also predicted that in 2000, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), would be renamed ICCA (Indoor Comfort Contractors of America).

Missed both of those by a mile, but it doesn’t mean that isn’t what’s happening in terms of ACCA and the industry’s direction and focus on actual delivered performance.

The manpower crisis of 1997 would completely change the way technicians and installers are recruited, trained, and compensated. Industry average test scores would increase from 40% in 1995 to 90% in 2004. This would be accomplished through improved curriculum, instructor certification, and better teaching tools including virtual reality trainers which would allow techs to work on virtual comfort systems, troubleshooting everything from refrigeration circuits, to controls and air distribution systems.”

“Because of improvements in software, designers, homeowners and building owners will put on VR helmets and ‘walk through’ virtual buildings where they can detect and correct design and potential installation problems, improve designs, for better comfort, efficiency and first cost – before the first shovelful of dirt is turned over.”

The first commercially viable virtual reality headset was introduced by Oculus in 2012 – 18 years after the original article was published!

Today’s Indoor Comfort Contractors have evolved tremendously from their ancestral “HVAC” counterparts. For example, all commercial contracting firms must design, build, and maintain their own projects, and are accountable for comfort and energy performance. The Plan and Spec process would have been banned in federal, state, and local government projects by 2002. Private sector projects will have gone Design/Build/Maintain in the mid to late nineties.”

Oh, how I wish this were all true! We are making progress, but it’s painfully slow.

This is by far the most fun I’ve ever had writing a follow-up article! Some of my observations are tongue in cheek, but not far off. The bottom line is we’ve come a long way but we still have a lot of work to do to raise the bar for our amazing industry filled with incredible people who care, and want to improve every day.