Rooftop HVAC units are up high and out of sight, but they're major fixtures in the quest for energy efficiency in commercial buildings. We asked some of the industry’s leading experts for their opinions on product improvements and real-world energy savings.
NOTE: Companies were chosen at random. Inclusion of these companies does not represent a preference for or recommendation of any company or product by ContractingBusiness.com.
CB: Would you say there is a difference in the way building owners are looking at “energy management” from say 10 years ago? How has that perception changed, or is it actually an entirely new perception? Many factors seem to be at work here, (budgets of course, and even public perception).
Kevin Miskewicz, Senior Manager, Commercial Marketing, Mitsubishi Electric US, Inc. Cooling & Heating Division
“I think there is a difference in how building owners approach energy management compared to 10 years ago. As public perception continues to shift even more toward sustainability and energy reduction, building owners increasingly choose mechanical systems and practices that meet those desires – for instance, Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) technology. These HVAC systems have been common in both Europe and Asia for decades, and in the last 10 years we have seen exponential growth here in the U.S. These systems provide the energy efficiency and sustainability qualities that owners are looking for; for that reason, we’re confident in their continued expansion.
“Mitsubishi Electric has always placed a strong emphasis on energy efficiency and management and we’re glad to see more and more building owners embracing this trend.”
Greg Day, Applications Engineer, LG Electronics:
"Building owners are increasingly becoming more involved in the construction process, with their understanding and perceptions of products and contractors vastly improving from years past. For example, we’ve seen our clients participating at a greater rate in discussion of the controls that are implemented, including the types they want and how they would affect system performance. In particular, building owners are learning about new technologies like VRF (variable refrigerant flow) and doing a better job overall of ensuring their buildings are energy-efficient.
Building owners are increasingly becoming more involved in the construction process, with their understanding and perceptions of products and contractors vastly improving from years past. — Greg Day
"LEED (the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) has become a big part of drawing building owners’ attention back into the building process. This green building certification program, which recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices, is an outstanding acknowledgement in showcasing buildings’ commitment to sustainable practices. But to achieve this, buildings need a certain amount of prerequisites and points. And having an advanced building automation system with an integrated HVAC system, like the VRF systems from LG, can help earn those points.
"Some states, as we’ve seen in South Carolina, have required building owners to complete an energy survey, in addition to mandating local codes with higher efficiency standards. The advanced controls we provide as part of LG’s HVAC and VFRF systems scale easily to meet the requirements of jobs and optimize the way a building is operated, allowing for access by computer log-in, scheduling changeovers and other features. Building owners are likely to be recognized for maintaining an energy-efficient facility, as they’ll consistently save costs on their utility bills through controls that provide convenient management of air conditioning units, even in multiple sites.
Al Fullerton, Business Leader, Trane Unitary Products:
"The idea of energy management has expanded to be not just about energy costs but also more about sustainability and green practices. It’s been a slow and steady expansion."
Bryan Ware, Portfolio Leader for Light Commercial Rooftops, Trane:
"Sustainability has traditionally been important to larger businesses, but smaller businesses and operations that may be more budget-constrained, such as retail and education, are now looking for solutions as well."
CB: Which types of commercial structures have you seen as being most in demand of energy improvements? Rank the top three if you can, and explain the ranking. What factors are at work in each?
Al Fullerton "As public money gets tighter and tighter, searching to find savings in energy is becoming more popular, as a place to find funds for the public sector. I would also add that the public sector generally has a longer timeline that they will consider for a project and return on investment, while the private sector is less willing to do so. In terms of payback, the public sector might accept 10 years, whereas the private sector is thinking a two- to three-year time period."
The public sector generally has a longer timeline that they will consider for a project and return on investment, while the private sector is less willing to do so.
— Al Fullerton
Edouard Ferrier, Applications Engineer, LG Electronics: In order, the projects we’ve come across as being most in demand of energy efficient updates are schools, correctional facilities and municipalities. There are a few reasons for this, the first being that these facilities are generally facing tight budget constraints. With only a certain amount of money on hand for building improvements, it’s important that every dollar be spent wisely. This is best done through choosing systems that are both easy to install and also energy efficient, saving money on utility bills moving forward.
"Having an energy efficient building is becoming more attractive to building owners in an effort to be better recognized for minimizing energy consumption, reducing installation costs and increasing occupant comfort levels. When we’re called in to outfit a building, it often has older, outdated systems that need to be replaced. Newer systems are significantly more energy efficient than ones installed years prior and are more environmentally sound in their operation.
"In schools, teachers and administrators are exceptionally welcoming of a VRF system because it promotes occupant comfort through individualized zone control. The LG Multi V IV, for example, delivers outstanding energy savings while enabling occupants to simultaneously cool or heat only the zones in use. Its flexible design allows for easier and faster installation and is available in a variety of capacities to best suit each building’s needs. The Multi V indoor units are equipped with controls to adjust room set point temperatures and turn on/off as needed, offering personalized comfort for the end-users. LG’s VRF technology also comes into play in correctional facilities and municipal buildings, where it’s necessary to have a central system that can control various zones. Nursing homes and office buildings also greatly benefit from the separation of zones and smaller ductwork that a VRF system offers."
CB: Can we assign a realistic percentage to the amount of energy commercial rooftop products have been shown to bring? What are the results with your product(s)?
Kevin Miskewicz: “HVAC systems account for roughly 40% of a building’s energy consumption. In turn, buildings account for 35 to 40% of total worldwide energy consumption. In the VRF category, systems are about 30% more energy-efficient than conventional cooling and heating systems, such as central air conditioning. Our systems are proven to be just as, if not more, energy-efficient.
People want to connect to their building, verify it is operating the way it should, look at alarms, change setpoints and adjust schedules.
— Dave Molin
“Unlike other manufacturers, some of our systems provide simultaneous cooling and heating with only two pipes, reducing the amount of air lost in traditional ductwork. The systems provide an energy-efficient way to capture and repurpose heat rejected through the conditioning process. Our high-performance INVERTER-driven compressor technology ensures energy-efficient system operation in almost any climate. And with our advanced controls capabilities, our VRF systems can provide even more energy savings as they’re able to remotely adjust temperature settings and turn systems on and off according to preference.“
Edouard Ferrier: "VRF systems can be more energy efficient than rooftop systems. Our VRF Multi V IV system incorporates an advanced compressor design and optimized heat exchanger that contribute to an enhanced AHRI certified efficiency of up to 36.0 IEER, one of the highest in the industry.
"These advanced components are part of the Multi V IV’s specific design as part of a greater effort to bring a new level of energy efficiency and flexibility to commercial office buildings.
"One of our favorite stories comes out of Cleveland, where a facility manager we know performed an extensive cost-benefit and energy savings analysis of his unit’s traditional HVAC system then performed the same analysis after recommending and installing an LG VRF system — the cost and energy savings were spectacular."
Al Fullerton: "Significant savings can be achieved by replacing existing or older products with new technology that utilizes variable speed compressors, such as those found in Trane variable speed rooftop units. Savings in the 40% to 60% range are not unusual in these applications."
CB: How advanced has the controls sector become at integrating with rooftop units, and providing easier and more responsive controls to the user/tenant? This could include comments about your products’ controls components.
Melissa Schumann, Product Manager, System Controls, Trane: "Our rooftop units are offered with industry-standard communication platforms, including BACnet and LonTalk, which provide detailed information about how the unit is performing. Having all that detail is vital to implementing controls strategies for energy efficiencies. However, all that detail can be confusing for daily users of the system. Tracer Concierge is a new system from Trane that takes all of the detail and sophistication you get with building automation and makes it easy to use for people who are used to using basic thermostats."
Dave Molin, Vice President, Controls Products, Trane North Amercia: "Varying studies provide slightly different numbers, but if 60 or 70 percent of energy consumption in a commercial building is due to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting, it seems logical that owners should want and demand one system to manage both of these energy-consuming services in their building.
"Therefore, a product such as Tracer Concierge, with a simple user interface, can help facility owners and managers optimize their energy and balance the energy consumption of the building with the comfort and control of the space. It allows you to easily change setpoints and adjust schedules from a simple display. The Tracer app also allows users to remotely access building systems from virtually anywhere using a tablet or smart phone, for more responsive control."
Kevin Miskewicz: “The controls sector has become an integral part of the HVAC marketplace and manufacturers are continually working to create new ideas and solutions to improve both controls capability and response time for tenants. Mitsubishi Electric designed our new Diamond Controls solution to help solve these exact issues.
Pick one person from your organization that will be the 'energy leader' for your business. Invest in getting them a certified energy manager degree or something similar.— Jason Bingham
“Diamond Controls is a compact, single-source controller and server platform, paired with an exceptional suite of professional services. This pairing offers a more efficient way to achieve total building automation. Diamond Controls has the ability to integrate not only our VRF systems but numerous other systems, including anything from elevators and CCTV to irrigation systems and outdoor lighting.
“Diamond Controls displays floor plans and representations of equipment, regardless of manufacturer, in 3D on a standard Web browser. Real-time trends, reports and analyses are provided and can be accessed at any time, in addition to detailed alerts that illustrate exactly where and what service is needed. This reduces the time it takes to diagnose and fix an issue. The ability to monitor and control the systems remotely also allows for well-informed and efficient servicing.”
Brent Johnson, Controls Engineering Manager, LG Electronics: "At LG, we pride ourselves on providing integrated air conditioning solutions to align with building energy management. As a typical rooftop unit is controlled by a thermostat for a single unit, requiring separate manufacturers and separate controllers for all the different components, LG’s approach to air conditioning solutions ensures that we’re the only manufacturer needed on a project, streamlining the entire installation, commissioning, maintenance and service processes for clients. We provide the essential units and controls that work in tandem with each other to successfully operate an energy efficient building.
"Not only do we offer central controllers that help facility owners manage the entire building, but we give occupants and owners the option to define comfort settings so individual comfort is maintained for the entire system, even capable of being broken down by zone.
"One of our newly introduced controls is the AC Smart IV. This central controller communicates with LG indoor units and controls up to 128 devices, providing convenient features in addition to basic unit control and monitoring. Some of these features include scheduling, auto-changeover, email alarm notification, visual floor plan navigation and interlocking. This can be applied to office buildings and schools, among other commercial settings. It also has a touch-screen display with user-controlled web access to amplify its simplicity."
CB: Are tenants seeking greater control, or are they content to trust the contractor provider to monitor remotely?
Brent Johnson: "As they become more aware of the opportunity, building owners in a certain space are demanding more control over their own comfort. At LG, we make it easier for those tenants to gain greater control to set their own comfort as opposed to having the contractors fixing it. For instance, our controls allow owners to set up schedules and temperature set points, something they may have previously had to call in for. In paving the way toward efficiency and convenience in energy management, the more control we allow building owners to have, the better."
Kevin Miskewicz: “We’re seeing an increased demand for control at all levels. While some tenants are content to allow building owners and facility managers to control systems remotely, others are not. That’s why our systems have the capability meet all control preferences.”
Al Fullerton: "This varies across the map. Many large companies have a professional energy manager on staffs who handle building controls."
Dave Molin: "One trend we are noticing is the transition to mobile control. People want to connect to their building, verify it is operating the way it should, look at alarms, change setpoints and adjust schedules. There is an increasing expectation to do this that from a smart phone or tablet without logging in to a central computer system or physically be present in the building to make adjustments. There is a sense of seeking greater control in that they want it to be easy to make changes from a user interface, but also be able to do that whenever, from wherever they want."
CB: What are your tips to contractors seeking to become better at building a reputation as building energy managers?
Jason Bingham, Vice President, Energy Services, Trane: "First, contractors need to invest in knowledge. Pick one person in your organization that will be the “energy leader” for your business. Invest in getting them a certified energy manager degree or something similar.
"Second, connect your internal energy leader with a partner like Trane and their Building Advantage business, which provides the technology, experience and resources to bring building energy management to life.
"Third, conduct joint calls with key customers to start the discussion around energy. Find those customers who have energy as a top priority and are frustrated in their ability to get it done. Focus there to solve their energy problems.
"Fourth, watch your energy business grow."
Brian Bogdan, Director of Engineering, LG Electronics: "We can’t stress this enough — continued education and training is of the greatest importance in helping contractors become experts at building energy management. It’s vital to understand the system you’ll be installing and operating to ensure successful performance of the units. In addition, that knowledge can then be transferred over to the tenants so they can best manage the equipment themselves.
"LG hosts our own regional training academies to ensure proper installation and maintenance of LG products that, in turn, allows consumers to reap the full benefits of our technology. We provide both classroom and hands-on training in the lab. We also have 14 partner academies that offer LG-specific training courses in order to increase our reach of training and help educate more contractors."
CB: Of course, you sell a product, but how can an HVAC contractor best find objective information? Is there one clearing-house of information?
Brian Bogdan: "There are great resources out there that a contractor can use to find accurate and helpful information. ASHRAE, for instance, has handbooks to help contractors garner knowledge on all things HVAC, as well as training courses.
"Once a VRF system is identified that will provide the best value for a particular project, you can become an expert on it, gather performance data and get comfortable with the different applications of VRF systems. For those interested in LG products, which have large capacities, compact designs, high energy ratings and easy installation, we provide a range of project profiles showcasing applications of our energy efficient products and the results, as well as a host of product details, catalogs and brochures on our website.
"What’s more, the AHRI Directory keeps listings on their site of product performance ratings, if contractors or engineers need to confirm product credibility."
Al Fullerton: "Many products, including those from Trane, are rated in accordance with AHRI industry standards. That is one way to get an equivalent comparison of energy consumption of different products.
Bryan Ware: "At the end of the day, if you’re going to look at a standard where products are measured and tested, AHRI is the right place. There are other tools on the market that are brand-neutral that can help analyze performance data. Trane Trace is a brand-neutral design and analysis software program that helps optimize the design of a building’s HVAC system based on energy utilization and life-cycle cost."
CB: Which ancillary item have you heard contractors say is the most challenging to improve, other than replacing the rooftop unit?
Al Fullerton: "Savings in the 40 to 60% range can be achieved by replacing an existing unit with new rooftop technology that utilizes variable speed compressors. That does vary by tonnage. The ancillary item that is the easiest to address — in addition to rooftop units — is lighting. The building envelope, such as the windows, roof, shading, would the hardest."
Bryan Ware: "Building owners want the best opportunities for energy savings, whether it be through new construction, replacement or retrofit. There is a broad portfolio of products available for different efficiency levels that can help in any situation, on any budget."