Even though summer is pretty much behind us, many homeowners and businesses are replacing air conditioners before the next cooling season. Why?
- Because their old units use the R22 refrigerant that’s being phased out by the EPA.
- Because they want to take advantage of significant TAX BREAKS only available this year.
If you’re planning for an AC replacement, this is a great time to educate yourself about the new HVAC technology that can save you money and provide better comfort conditions.
New HVAC technology for AC replacement: 10 improvements to look for
1. Better refrigerants
You may already know this, but don’t buy an AC replacement unit that uses the old R22 refrigerant (also known as Freon). As we mentioned above, it’s being phased out by the EPA because it has caused damage to the Earth’s ozone layer. The latest HVAC technology uses friendlier refrigerants such as R410a.
2. Better energy efficiency
SEER is a rating that measures the maximum cooling efficiency of an air conditioner, measured under ideal conditions. SEER ratings for today’s new air conditioners range from 13 (lowest efficiency) to 25+ (highest efficiency).
Just 10 to 15 years ago (when your old air conditioner was built), SEER ratings were around 9 or 10. Plus, they lose efficiency over time, so by now it’s probably 7 or 8. So if you get a new AC replacement unit with a SEER of 16, you’ll greatly increase energy efficiency and noticeably reduce energy costs.
3. Better fans
In the past, AC air handlers had fans that only ran at one speed: full blast. Today’s new HVAC technology offers variable-speed fans that can run at lower speeds on cooler days, and high speed only when needed on the hottest days. That means less energy usage and less noise!
4. Better compressors
The compressor is the heart of your air conditioning system. Your old system probably has a single-stage compressor that (like the old fans) can only operate at full capacity. On or off. Those old compressors make a lot of noise, don’t control humidity well on cooler days, and use a lot of electricity.
New HVAC technology includes dual-stage compressors that can run at lower capacity when needed. There’s also Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) technology that runs at the precise capacity needed for the current conditions. VRF is super efficient, great at controlling humidity, and extremely quiet.
You can also get compressors that are built with scroll technology, which is a newer design that’s also very quiet and more efficient than the old compressors.
5. Better ducts
Chances are, your old HVAC system has ducts made from sheet metal, which is durable but noisy. It’s also not great for efficiency, since they are not insulated to prevent heat and cooling loss.
Modern ductwork options include fiberglass-lined or fiberboard ducts which are quieter and more energy efficient. Also, flexible ducting makes it easier to create bends in tight spaces. There’s even a new greener option: duct wrap made from old denim, which not only insulates but prevents moisture build up that can trap contaminants in your HVAC ducts.
6. Better sound reduction/noise control
Tired of your AC waking you up at night, drowning out your conversations or interrupting business? Your old AC might be producing 80 decibels or more.
Due to some of the improvements we’ve mentioned here, including quieter compressors, variable speed fans, and insulated ducts, the quietest new HVAC technology produces about 40 decibels, about the level of a small desk fan.
7. Better controls
Today’s residential and commercial HVAC systems have greatly improved options for controlling temperature and humidity settings.
Smart thermostats make it possible for homeowners and smaller businesses to control their HVAC system from their mobile devices. Forget to turn down the heat when you left for vacation? Need more AC in the conference room during a big meeting? Adjust in seconds using an app on your smartphone.
Sensors are also automating temperature and humidity control for large commercial spaces. Sensors can detect everything from temperature to humidity levels and even carbon dioxide levels, sending that data to building management systems that can automatically adjust HVAC equipment and ventilation.
8. Better ductless heating and cooling
Especially in older buildings, it can be impossible (or cost-prohibitive) to install ductwork. If you have existing ductwork, it can sometimes be inefficient for heating and cooling some parts of your space, leading to areas that are too hot or too cold. Ductless mini splits can be a great option for cooling spaces without ducts, or for adding supplemental cooling in problem areas.
This new HVAC technology is a step up from using window air conditioners and a smart AC replacement option. A ductless mini split has an outdoor condenser/compressor just like a traditional ducted split system, but instead of one big air handler with ducts, it uses multiple small air handlers installed in each room.
9. Better comfort with zoning
Larger homes and businesses often have issues with inconsistent heating and cooling. This happens not only because of poor HVAC design, but also because different rooms or spaces have different requirements.
For example, a home may need more heat in bedrooms where children are sleeping and more cooling in living areas for a party.
In an office setting, computer server rooms and conference rooms may need to be kept at lower temperatures than open work areas for employees.
New HVAC technology, such as VRF systems and ductless mini splits, solve this problem by creating comfort zones that can be independently controlled. VRF systems can even provide both heat and cooling simultaneously to different areas within your space.
10. Better diagnostics
Today’s new HVAC technology is controlled by computers, which provides some advantages when things go wrong. Your repair technician can connect to the equipment and see diagnostic information.
In some cases, it’s even possible for your service provider to diagnose issues, and sometimes even make adjustments, remotely. This capability reduces downtime by speeding up the process of fixing problems.
The very latest HVAC innovations for new construction
In an article about new HVAC technology, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention some of the very latest air conditioning technology options:
Ice-powered air conditioning
In the old days, ice was used to create refrigeration. Now a California company is using ice to cool buildings with far less power. The Ice Bear is essentially a battery that cools by making ice during off peak hours, and using that ice to cool the building during peak hours. They claim that the Ice Bear reduces peak cooling electricity usage by 95 percent.
Solar-powered air conditioner
An Australian company is making a chiller that’s powered primarily by solar panels and supplemented by natural gas when needed. This new HVAC technology eliminates electricity costs, and the company says the equipment has fewer moving parts, which means longer life than traditional compressors.
To be fair, geothermal heating and cooling is not new. In fact, it is very popular in some European countries. But it’s catching on here in the U.S. because of the growing trend toward green HVAC technology. Geothermal HVAC systems don’t burn any fuel, and they don’t use refrigerants that can cause environmental damage. Geothermal HVAC uses heat pumps, water, and an underground piping system to heat and cool a space.
These systems are not ideal for AC replacement, however. That’s because they are expensive to install in an existing space; these systems are better suited for new construction.