Blurring The Lines – HVAC, Solar, And Hydronics
If you are installing Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) systems, you are really moving solar energy stored in the earth into the building, during the heating season. Actually you are also in the hydronics business. If you connect the loop field to the manifolds, and then on to the heat pump you are a hydronic guy, or gal.
For years I have been encouraging the air side HVAC installers to consider solar thermal and hydronics offerings. In these disciplines, we are moving energy in pipes as opposed to ductwork. The end results — warmth, comfort, safety, energy efficiency, design — are what the customer hires you for. Your job is to design the system, and select the components that best match the job requirements and owners wishes. In many cases in the remodel or retrofit market using pipes to move energy from A to B can involve less labor hours. But more importantly for the homeowner, less tear up of the walls and ceilings is required. No additional “drops” to hide the ductwork.
In many cases pex tubing can be utilized to move the fluids. This eliminates the need to solder and use torches on the job site. Just as mini splits systems have become a plug and play installation, modern hydronics and solar thermal are also this simple.
A movement is under way to provide cooling via hydronics with ceilings systems or chilled beam products. Basically a chiller is located in the best possible location to eliminate noise concerns, and then small diameter pex or pert tubing is threaded thru the building to the terminal units.
There will always be a need to move some air in a building. Ultimate comfort should include air filtration, humidification, possibly dehumidification and basic air changes. So there will always be a place for ducted systems. Recently I was visiting a trade show in Germany. The ducted system products are oft en plastic conduits. Some are square or oval to retro fi t into tight spaces. Distribution boxes or manifolds keep all the CFM requirements in balance.
I’m sure any of you installers and technicians could be trained to do hydronics and solar. Usually, any tradesperson who is competent with hand and basic power tools can cross trades easily. Mechanics make good hydronic and solar installers, by the way.
Keep in mind also the “millenniums” are coming of age. They “get” alternate energy and the need to supplement a fossil fueled economy with alternate sources. They speak solar fluently, from my observations. They are our next workforce, and the next customer base. The see and want things differently then their “boomer” parents. They will be the ones caring for us, the “boomers,” as we age. I expect to see many changes as this generation takes charge. It would be wise to start staffing up with this generation, learn the digital ways; know what they will buy and the lifestyles they lead. I predict they will demand efficiency in everything they buy and do. Including the retirement needs of the boomers. Pay attention!
A good way to get in the solar business is to install a system on your shop, or one of the employee homes. Donate a system to a Habitat project or a Solar Decathlon team. Grab some pizza and refreshments and turn it into a fun mixer.
There are still some good money making solar thermal jobs getting underway. Military bases seem to still be onboard with the ST program. Typically the bases have excellent, year around DHW loads. Keep an eye out for any facility that has a large DHW load, and that is your ST potential. Water Parks, Correctional facilities, military housing, and laundry facilities are a few examples of where the numbers can pencil out.
So keep your options open. The more offerings you have in your quiver, the more valuable you are to your current and future customer base. The next generation of home and building owners are paying more attention to energy consumption. Offering them the latest in efficiency and progressive products will get their business.
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