11 Green Technologies Changing HVAC 2021

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The future doesn’t look bright at the rate the United States consumes energy. In 2019, Americans came close to exceeding the national record for the highest energy consumption ever measured since the Energy Information Administration (EIA) started keeping track in 1949. With an all-time high of 101.2 quadrillion British thermal units (Btus) set in 2018, not much progress was made to conserve energy a year later in 2019, when Americans consumed 100.2 quadrillion Btus.

Of these record-breaking amounts, 11.5 quadrillion of the Btus—a mere one-tenth of the staggering total—came from renewable energy sources such as solar, hydropower, wind, and biofuels. With more people working from home in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s logical that residential energy use will be at an all-time high. These inconvenient truths beg the question: if 90 percent of the energy consumed is from non-renewable sources such as coal and fossil fuels, how can the United States increase its renewable energy sources?

While this US energy report card is nothing to be proud of in the face of a climate change crisis, there is a bright side. At a time when political divisiveness is at an all-time high, an overwhelming majority of Americans agree that green energy is a priority. In 2020, the Pew Research Center showed 77 percent of Americans agree that developing alternative energy sources should be prioritized over consuming more non-renewable sources.

And while shifting our energy-guzzling nation’s dependence from non-renewable to renewable energy is one solution to course-correct climate change, developing technologies that support efficient heating and cooling homes and buildings is also essential to create a healthier environmental future.

Who are the biggest consumers of energy? Residential and commercial HVAC use accounts for more than half of all the energy consumed in the United States. To reduce the consumption of HVAC technologies field by non-renewable energy sources, green technologies are emerging to help offset high rates of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

While some of the green HVAC technologies are marketed directly to consumers, HVAC professionals are positioned to help residential and commercial consumers invest in money-saving green technologies to help save energy and money and create a healthier future for the planet.

Read on for a list of 11 green HVAC technologies that are leading the way to a cleaner future by offering energy-efficient ways to heat and cool homes and businesses.

Methodology

The following green HVAC technologies were selected based on meeting one or more of these criteria:

  • Definition: The product uses “green energy”, defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as wind, solar, geothermal, landfill gas, biomass, and low-impact small hydropower.
  • Standards: Meets Energy Star label standards for residential and commercial energy efficiency.
  • Accessibility: Widely available for purchase at home improvement stores, online retailers, or through licensed HVAC contractors.
  • Cost: A mix of low-, mid-, and high-cost price points.
  • Environmental impact: Manufactured from repurposed materials using low-emission processes.
  • Cutting-edge: Currently in the research and development stage.
  • Money-saving: Eligible for energy-saving tax credits or rebates or significantly reduces annual energy costs by 20 to 30 percent.

Dual Fuel Heat Pump

The phrase “right tool for the right job” applies well to dual fuel heat pumps: a technology that alternates between electric and gas to provide efficient heating and cooling. When temperatures are above 35 degrees F, the heat pump draws in and heats air using electric power.

By contrast, when temperatures drop lower than 35 degrees F in the colder months, the dual fuel pump fires up the furnace using gas which provides energy-efficient heat when it’s most needed. When temperatures rise in the summer months, the heat pump can reverse the refrigerant, bringing cold air over the coils to cool a home.

Ductless Heating and Cooling Pumps

For spaces without central HVAC systems or with inefficient heating and cooling options, ductless heat pumps provide efficient and easy to install HVAC systems. Up to eight indoor units can be connected to one outdoor unit through refrigerant lines that run through one three-inch diameter hole in an external wall.

The advantages are numerous for this type of technology, notably the ability to climate control specific rooms, cutting energy costs by 30 to 60 percent, and having one energy-efficient unit to provide all matter of HVAC needs for small spaces and multi-story homes.

  • Sample: Several qualified brands identified by Energy Star

Geothermal Heat Pump

Using two-way technology to move the earth’s existing energy, geothermal heat pumps provide renewable space heating and cooling and water heating. By pumping warm air from the ground into a home during the winter and drawing it out in the summer, this technology eliminates combustion from fossil fuels and emits no carbon dioxide. Homes and businesses can rely on geothermal heat pumps to provide heating and cooling year-round.

High-Flux Solar Furnace

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is “transforming energy through research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.”

For the past 30 years, NREL has developed and tested a high-flux solar furnace (HFSF). Much like a magnifying glass concentrates sunlight, the high-flux solar furnace can split water molecules to produce hydrogen (a fuel that produces very few greenhouse gas emissions), decarbonize natural gas, test materials and glazings for solar energy collection, and provide insights for thermochemical energy storage.

This technology is accessible to universities, private businesses, and government agencies for testing to promote research and development of energy-efficient products as well as defense purposes.

Quiet-Duct Wrap

Quiet-Duct Wrap is blanket-type insulation that absorbs heat and noise on one side and reflects heat and offers fire retardant on the other. Made from recycled cotton instead of fiberglass, this product is easier on the skin and lungs for HVAC installers and doesn’t cause itching or breathing irritations. Fibers are treated with an EPA-registered antimicrobial agent that resists mold, mildew, fungi, and pests and provides fire-resistance. This product is ideal for insulating ducts in crawl spaces, basements, and attics.

Radiant Floor Heating

Warm feet, fewer airborne allergens, and energy efficiency—what’s not to love about radiant floor heating?

The most energy-efficient type of radiant floor heating is hydronic (liquid-based) which uses the least amount of electricity. Energy can be sourced from non-renewable or renewable energy sources or a combination of both. Cables and tubes can be installed in concrete or beneath existing flooring in air space. The process of convection draws hot air up from floor to ceiling to warm living spaces.

Radiant floor heating is ideal for spaces that need warm floors periodically such as bathrooms or other tiled floor surfaces and can be controlled or scheduled for peak-usage via wall thermostats to conserve energy.

Renewable Energy Certificates (REC)

Want to financially support green technologies without buying an appliance? Some utility companies offer renewable energy certificates (REC). Even if green energy isn’t available in a particular area, consumers can purchase energy from renewable energy sources from participating utilities in other states.

Buying RECs is an ideal option for renters or homeowners who want to further the research and development of green technology products without investing in new home appliance solutions. While this isn’t a tactile HVAC product, more financial support for green technologies means increased crowd sharing technologies such as RECs and helps green energy become more mainstream and accessible to a wider-variety of energy consumers.

Solar Electricity Panels

While they’ve been gaining in popularity for nearly two decades, the cost of solar electricity panels has dropped substantially. Lawrence Berkeley Labs quoted the national installation median price for residential solar systems as $3.72 per watt in 2018—a difference of nearly 70 percent compared to $12.05 per watt in 2000.

Federal government tax credits supporting solar panels started out at 30 percent of the total cost of installation for residential customers, but this program is slowly phasing out with no guarantee for renewal. With this program, customers who install solar panels in 2021 can earn a tax credit up to 22 percent of the solar panel installation cost.

As energy costs are projected to rise, investing in rooftop solar electricity panels makes financial sense in the long-run for homeowners who are able to afford this renewable energy source. Loans and lease agreements are also available to finance the purchase and installation of solar panels, which typically range from $10,000 to $15,000.

Smart Thermostats

Gone are the days of freezing or sweating when returning home from a trip while waiting for the heating and cooling to kick in.

Smart thermostats allow individuals and businesses to pre-program or control HVAC systems from a mobile device. Using a proprietary app or integrating with popular systems such as Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant, or Samsung SmartThings, people can adjust their home internal temperatures as needed anytime from anywhere. Notifications are optional to alert people when temperatures reach a certain level to prevent pipe freezing in the winter and extraneous humidity in the summer.

Most smart thermostats have Energy Star approval and save energy consumers an average of 23 percent on annual energy costs.

Sustainable Retrofits

In cases where replacing an entire HVAC system is cost-prohibitive, sustainable retrofit technology is the next best option. For high-rise apartment buildings and commercial buildings with rooftop HVAC systems, retrofit technologies can improve energy efficiency, make troubleshooting older systems easier, and save money.

As well, an unexpected benefit of investing in retrofit HVAC technology is that companies can ensure that their systems meet Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ventilation guidelines to increase fresh air and reduce the amount of recirculated air to prevent highly-contagious viruses such as Covid-19 from spreading in residential and commercial spaces.

Zoned HVAC System

For those living in bigger homes with multiple people, the days of arguing about which rooms to heat and cool can be resolved with zoned HVAC systems. Ideal for multi-story homes with finished attics and basements, high ceilings, large windows, or extra rooms that aren’t often used, zoned HVAC systems rely on thermostats installed in every room to provide climate control information to a central HVAC control panel.

Once a room or zone of the house reaches its set temperature, dampers act as valves to open and close air from coming in and out. This also minimizes allergen transfer better than non-zoned HVAC systems, providing relief to those sensitive to airborne allergens.

Methodology

The following green HVAC technologies were selected based on meeting one or more of these criteria:

  1. Definition: The product uses “green energy”, defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as wind, solar, geothermal, landfill gas, biomass, and low-impact small hydropower.
  2. Standards: Meets Energy Star label standards for residential and commercial energy efficiency.
  3. Accessibility: Widely available for purchase at home improvement stores, online retailers, or through licensed HVAC contractors.
  4. Cost: A mix of low-, mid-, and high-cost price points.
  5. Environmental impact: Manufactured from repurposed materials using low-emission processes.
  6. Cutting-edge: Currently in the research and development stage.
  7. Money-saving: Eligible for energy-saving tax credits or rebates or significantly reduces annual energy costs by 20 to 30 percent.

Rachel Drummond

Rachel is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).

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