It heats as well as cools, honest!!
Posted on 10th January 2017 at 10:49
By Colin Goode, Fujitsu VRF pre-sales engineer
Why do people continue to install radiators and boilers in new buildings instead of, or even as well as, much more efficient air to air or air to water heat pumps. Is it because they find them aesthetically pleasing or maybe we are not getting the message across?
The heat pump is far from new technology; in fact it has been around for practical space heating purposes from just after the First World War. Ducted air to air and water to air systems have been widely used in the USA since the late 50s.
In this country air to air systems started being widely available for commercial applications in the late 60s; about the same time that water-based central heating systems started becoming viable for all types of houses and other buildings. I can remember selecting, quoting and selling air to air ducted packaged rooftop heat pumps for retail projects as far back as the early 70s. These were standard fit items for companies such as Mothercare, Dixons, Boots, WH Smith, William Hill and so on.
Both technologies have similar time lines, yet it is the least efficient one that seems to have won out so far.
Even when VRF or other heat pump systems are installed with more than enough capacity to heat a building, too often a wet system is installed as well, with the air conditioning just used for cooling. Why, when this doubles the capital cost of a heating system?
One of the problems is that I am constantly coming across people, of vital importance to our industry, who do not really know what heat pumps are and/or what they do?
Most mainstream air conditioning units have the ability to heat as well as cool, and with VRF and other systems we are now moving further on with heat recovery and air to water systems. The pages of our trade press and every conference I go to is full to the brim with information about heat pumps; so surely everyone who needs to should be fully aware that air conditioning units can be used to heat as well as cool and that heat pumps are the most efficient way of heating most building.
Unfortunately, this is clearly not the case.
Of course manufacturers, distributors and contractors know perfectly well what the capabilities and advantages of heat pumps are, but I keep encountering builders, developers, architects and even some specifiers to whom the properties of heat pumps are a revelation.
One of the aspects of my job is to talk to prospective purchasers and their advisors about their VRF needs, so, either I visit their premises or they come to our training rooms to see working examples of our units on display. Many have no idea what modern systems are capable of, or their superiority over other forms of heating. Some do not even realise that the air conditioners can heat. To them, the words ‘air conditioning' are synonymous with cooling and nothing more.
With air to air, ground source and air to water systems, heat pumps can fill every heating niche in a modern building in a more environmental way than any other heating source. With the price of fossil fuels getting ever higher, heat pumps should be sweeping all before them and be the heating source of choice for every new development - but they are not.
One of the problems is that most builders and end users understand and are familiar with radiators. They were brought up with gas, oil and electrical central heating systems, when electricity was the least efficient and most expensive. When you start talking about an electrically powered system that can heat air and water, that is considered renewable and produces more heat energy than the electrical energy you put in, some of them still look at you as if you are mad.
Most people can talk more or less knowledgably about efficient boilers, solar power, wind power, PV cells, wood burning stoves, bio-mass boilers and so on, but when you start talking about heat pumps, their eyes glaze over.
We have made a start on getting the message across to the industry, but what we have not done yet is fire the general public with heat pump enthusiasm. Until we do that we will not make the final breakthrough, as, at the end of the day, builders will provide what the general public demands and they demand what they understand.
Also, many of the general public still think of heating through the medium of air as something that will blow hot air on your face, and the words ‘dry' and ‘stifling' are used, as they hark back to the old ‘forced air' systems of the 1970s, storage heater systems or plug in electric fan convector heaters.
However, it should not be too difficult to win people over, if we make the effort, as most of them are already used to the concept of setting a comfortable temperature and leaving it up to the system to decide whether to supply warm or cool air. They use these systems in their cars every day. It would not be too much of a stretch to transfer this familiarity across to their homes or places of work.
In my view, the millions of words written about heat pumps in the trade press over the years have done a very good job, but they have missed a swathe of people outside the core of the industry that are vital to our business.
The assumption seems to have been that anyone involved in the purchasing of a heating system for a new development or major refurbishment would either read the air conditioning trade press, or be advised by someone who does. This is clearly not always the case.
As an industry we have to do much more to get the heat pump message over to our ultimate customers. To do this, we have to leave the comfort zone of the air conditioning press and do much more to reach builders, specifiers, architects and even ordinary consumers directly. We need to take every opportunity we can; through their own trade journals, their exhibitions and even consumer media.
It is true that many organisations have already done this, but the problem is getting the odd article or advertisement into their target media, or doing the odd exhibition, is not enough. Like all successful marketing, it has to be both consistent and persistent, and we have to keep going until the average person hears ‘air conditioning' and thinks cooling and heating.
Alternatively, perhaps we should start using the term ‘heat pump' or ‘climate control system' instead of ‘air conditioning'.
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