At Paris Olympics, some athletes distrust an unusual cooling system

Paris has been gearing up for the Summer Olympics for some time. I did not know this about their plans.

For all the steps Paris organizers have taken to put on the greenest Olympics ever, their boldest measure — the one they’ve touted again and again — pertains to the dorms in the Athletes’ Village. The rooms don’t have air-conditioning.

That is not exactly true. They’re not using “traditional” air conditioning where there is active air cooling a space. They plan to use chilled water systems with piping in the floors to “cool” athletes’ rooms.

The bid to forgo air-conditioning was just a tiny part of the overall Paris plan to reduce the footprint of a massive event. But it is highly symbolic, as it has forced participating countries to consider whether they want to participate in a sustainability experiment — abandoning conventional, energy-intensive privileges in the name of green goals. The collective decision of some of the largest countries also raises questions about equality: Portable air-conditioning represents a cost that some delegations from poorer countries might not be able to afford, meaning athletes in the same Olympic Village might be sleeping at different temperatures.

Did Paris unknowingly give “richer” countries an advantage since they could afford giving portable air conditioners to their athletes? I’d love to see the Post follow up with an analysis after the games.

Blond designs “attractive and desirable” heat pump system for Electric air

Electric Air is another company looking to make their mark with heat pumps in the HVAC residential market.

“Heat pumps, condensers and other home heating and cooling products tend to be fairly unconsidered in terms of their aesthetics because they’re often hidden away in a loft or basement,” Blond director James Melia told Dezeen.

“We felt that if you’re going to spend a significant amount of money making a big change to your home infrastructure it helps if the objects you’re buying are attractive and desirable.”

One way to help heat pump adoption among homeowners is to make them look nice. Quilt here in the US is trying to do the same thing.

Don’t Believe the Biggest Myth About Heat Pumps

Matt Simon on Wired.com:

If heat pumps don’t actually work in frigid weather, no one told the Nordic nations, which endure Europe’s coldest climates, with average winter temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees F). As of 2021, Norway had heat pumps in 60 percent of households. In 2022, Finland installed more of the appliances per capita than any other country in Europe, while Sweden has similarly gone all-in on the technology. In the United States, heat pumps are selling like hotcakes in Alaska, and last year Maine announced it had reached its goal of installing 100,000 of the devices way ahead of schedule. These places ain’t exactly perpetually sunny California. (US-wide, heat pumps now outsell gas furnaces.)

I will professionally die on this hill. I’ll go as far as to say that people who say that heat pumps don’t work in cold climates is on par with people who don’t believe in climate change, that the world is round, etc.

Can Quilt Disrupt the Residential HVAC Market?

Last week a HVAC start up company called Quilt held an event in Redwood City, CA to launch their new product: a residential heat pump.

I feel like I’m uniquely qualified to talk about this company because 1: I’m in the HVAC industry and 2: I’m a huge tech nerd. I lived in the Bay Area for almost 10 years. I follow companies such as Apple, Google, etc. So of course I watched their announcement live. Here are my thoughts.

What is Quilt

Quilt is a brand new HVAC company based in Redwood City dedicated to selling heat pumps directly to homeowners. It was started by ex-Google and Apple employees. It looks like they are trying to tackle the residential HVAC market with the direct to consumer model. Companies like Nest, All Birds, Warby Parker, etc. have tried to disrupt industries by going direct to consumer. Let’s see if Quilt can do the same.

What are they offering

Their product is an all in one solution for residential heat pump equipment, installation, and servicing. From their website , t is a 2.5 Ton heat pump with up to 2 zones on a single heat pump. The indoor fan coil is a high wall mount.

What’s different

What makes them unique is their design aesthetic and go to market strategy.

Traditionally, if a homeowner wanted to install or upgrade their HVAC system, they’d have to find a local contractor. The quality of contractor varies greatly and they usually have a brand or a few brands they are either loyal or comfortable installing. In the latter case, if you have a stubborn contractor, if you wanted to install a heat pump, they may convince you to sticking with a gas furnace since that is probably what they are comfortable installing. Quilt solves that by using contractors that ONLY install Quilt equipment. If a homeowner wants a Quilt system, they have to use their installers.

The equipment they offer looks a lot nicer than traditional mini splits. Most HVAC equipment is not designed to fit in a home’s interior. Quilt designed their equipment to fit into a home’s interior AND exterior design. I have to say these are the nicest mini splits I’ve ever seen.

Pros

The go to market strategy, especially for the residential market is old and confusing, and definitely needs reimagining, disruption, and a new way of thinking. As a homeowner, I appreciate this approach.

The equipment looks amazing. The indoor unit is a wall mount, but they designed it to be as short as possible so they can fit it above a window. They have two different decorative panels that will fit into most home decor. It even has a built in light so you could mount it above a picture or piece of art.

The outdoor unit has a decorative matte black covering. The outdoor heat pump almost disappears in most homes yards.

The thermostat looks very similar to a Nest thermostat and looks easy to control.

Cons

Going to market and scaling is going to be very difficult. There’s a reason why the residential market is the way that it is. It’s very difficult for one manufacturer to service the entire United States. They are also limited to the Bay Area at launch. Scaling and rolling out will involve having to acquire and train local contractors which is a huge undertaking.

It’s expensive. Quilt is charging $6,499 per zone. Granted, it’s an all in one solution including installation. Also, not sure if it includes permits, demo, etc. It does NOT include potential credits and rebates for what it’s worth.

Questions

How many zones can attach to one outdoor unit. It looks like you can do up to two zones on one outdoor unit. The outdoor unit looks like it is a 2 1/2 ton. It looks like this is a pretty efficient unit I wonder who is manufacturing it for them .
How do you address homes with more than two zones? Do they just add more systems or can you add morphine coils to a larger outdoor unit?

My Thoughts

I think what Quilt is doing is awesome. If you think about the process of buying a new heat pump or air conditioning system for your home, it is complicated. First thing you would have to do typically is find a contractor. And there are different types of contractors and the quality can vary. By establishing themselves as a heat pump brand that can do the entire job top the bottom, from supplying the equipment to installing it, is going to make it easy for consumers. They also help with finding rebates which is going to bring down the cost of heat pumps.

The task ahead of them is also very difficult. There’s a reason why most HVAC manufacturers do business the way that they do. The United States is a huge country and it is next to impossible for any manufacturer to serve the entire country by themselves. That’s why the auto industry has car dealerships. But as we’ve seen with Tesla, that business model can be disrupted.

Overall, I think the product looks cool, we’ll see how it performs when the first units get installed. We’ll see how they do, but anything that helps heat pumps get into the minds of everybody, homeowners, building owners, etc. the better for the HVAC industry and for really the entire planet in general.

My VRF Origin Story

My VRF Origin Story

I can trace the trajectory of my career all the way back to a job walk in Pasadena.

Back in 2007, our sales manager suggested we take a look at an installation of a new type of heat pump. It was one of the first installations of its kind. It had the ability to connect multiple fan coils to a single outdoor condenser. It even had the ability to heat and cool different zones of the system at the same time. The system was called a Variable Refrigerant Flow system or VRF.

I was a young sales engineer at the time and I understood those words but my mind had a hard time comprehending how that could work. I went to the job site and took these few photos with my Sidekick 3. I didn’t know it at the time, but I ended up concentrating on and spending the majority of my career on VRF.

Back then, it was a new technology and even today in 2024, it still is considered “advanced” or “complicated” (at least in the United States). I’ve spent the last 10+ years selling, educating, and advocating the benefits of VRF and I can trace it all the way back to that job site visit.

Outside Air Ventilation for VRF Systems

Outside Air Ventilation for VRF Systems

One of the challenges when using VRF is integrating ventilation or outside air. There are different ways to bring in outside air.

The most straightforward way to bring in outside air through a dedicated outside air system, or DOAS. As the name implies, these are basically specialized rooftop packaged units whose only job is to bring in and temper fresh outside air. The main downside to this is that it will require its own ducting system and you’ll have to find a way to integrate it into the space; either mixing with the comfort cooling system, or by dumping it directly into the space.

Another way to do this is to do what I took of picture of here. Many cassette fan coils have a small perforated hole on the chassis that you can punch out and bring in a duct to introduce outside air.

I always have to preface this by saying it is a SMALL amount of outside air, typically 3–5% of the nominal airflow of the cassette and it will be untempered and unfiltered. But in some cases, it makes sense. I saw this in a brewery in Oakland and it was close to an outside wall and in the Bay Area, the climate is generally mild.

I had to take a picture while enjoying a beer since it was the first time I saw the OA knockout being used.

On VRF’s modularity and scalability

One of the advantages of VRF systems is that they’re modular and scalable. From single modules starting at 6 Tons, and then combining modules to form systems up to 42 Tons, we have the ability to combine multiple systems allowing us to condition spaces all the way up to large professional sports arenas. Time for a story…

The year is 2017 and the Golden State Warriors finished the season with a 67–15 record. They steam rolled through the playoffs before meeting Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third year in a row. They easily defeat the Cavs 4–1 and were 2016–2017 NBA Champions. A month later, I received plans for the largest, highest profile project I’ve been involved in: The job was called New Warriors Arena which was eventually named Chase Center.

From what I recall, the systems themselves were pretty simple. Each system consisted of water cooled condensing units with ducted fan coils and a few cassettes. But with the size of the arena, we needed over 60 of these systems. Everything was tied together with central controllers.

On March 5th, 2020, Steph Curry made his long awaited return after breaking his hand during the 2019 season. I had a neighbor who had season tickets to the Warriors and he invited me to a game, so of course I took him up on his offer. I distinctly remember going to the game because there were stories in the news about people getting sick and my wife urged me to wear a mask while I took BART to the game. Once I got there, I had to take a look up and I saw a ducted fan coil installed above me. It was cool to know that I had a part in getting that fan coil up there. Admittedly a VERY SMALL part, but a part either way.

P.S. It turned out that that was Curry’s only game at Chase Center that year. We all know what happened a week later.

How to market on YouTube

If you’re anything like me, you have interests outside of work, at least one would hope. One way I like to pass time is by watching YouTube. I follow a number of different channels, but the majority of them fall into either Apple, tech, engineering, and explainer videos.

One channel I follow is called JerryRigEverything. He got his start doing mostly tech and iPhone repair and unboxing videos, but I recently saw a video that fell right into my professional interests.

It’s no secret that heat pumps are having a moment right now. With the IRA being rolled out and more awareness into the electrification of homes, you’re more likely to see heat pumps in the news. In one of his latest videos, Zack actually goes over the replacement of his existing furnace and replaces it with a Daikin heat pump.

This is wild to me. I’m seeing more and more efforts from HVAC manufacturers and they are trying different ways to market and reach customers. One marketing channel that I think is vastly underutilized is YouTube. Vy some measures, YouTube is the most popular streaming service in the United States, even more popular than Netflix. That means a ton of eyeballs are watching YouTube at any given moment. And depending on the channel and channel’s content, it’s a great opportunity for businesses to reach customers.

Here are some examples of manufacturers working with content creators to spread awareness of their products and their brands. It’s one of the reasons why I started a professional YouTube channe:l to help market and educate my customers on heat pumps, VRF, and our other products. Please like and subscribe 😉

If you watch one thing

Technology Connections is another great channel. In this video, he shows why it’s important to properly calculate the load of your home so you can choose the right sized heat pump. He also demonstrates that HEAT PUMPS WILL WORK IN COLD WEATHER!

I will shout this from the rooftops until this myth is dispelled.

Links

Three Reasons Why Building Owners Should Use VRF – This post got some good traction on LinkedIn so I decided to give it a permanent home on my site.

What Would Happen if Every American Got a Heat Pump – I always get pumped up when I see an article on heat pumps in a major mainstream newspaper or magazine. Wired put out a piece posing the question, “What would happen if every American got a heat pump?”

It’s not a matter of if heat pumps will replace gas furnaces in American homes en masse, but how quickly they’ll do so.

New 2024 Stove Efficiency Standards: What They Mean for You – New efficiency standards were released by the federal government. Regarding electric stoves, they are required to be 30% more efficient than current models.

VRF Installation Practices

VRF Installation Practices

A few years back, I was asked to look at a home with a VRF system that wasn’t working correctly. I showed up and found sagging refrigerant lines and Y joints that were improperly installed.

VRF is an amazing mechanical cooling technology that is efficient and quiet. However, it takes proper designing AND installation for the equipment to work as intended. When I showed up at this house in Reno, I went into the crawl space and found refrigerant lines that were sagging and Y joints that were installed incorrectly. They were vertical instead of horizontal.

Why are sagging refrigerant lines bad? In every air conditioning system, RTU, split system, VRF, mixed in with the refrigerant is some amount of oil. The oil acts as a lubricant where it lubricates the moving parts of the compressor, similar as in a car engine. If there are areas where the refrigerant lines sag, it can cause oil to collect and not make it back to the compressor. Not lubricating the compressor can lead to wear and early failure of the compressor. It’s important to always install refrigerant lines straight with minimal sagging.

And why can’t you install Y joints vertically? Short answer: Gravity.

If you install Y joints vertically, gravity naturally prevents refrigerant from going into that top branch. This means that any fan coils coming off that branch doesn’t get the refrigerant it needs to operate properly. And then THAT leads to under cooling/heating in that zone. They need to be installed horizontally so refrigerant can flow to both branches equally.

With any piece of equipment, it needs to be installed properly or else it won’t work as intended, or at the worst, lead to early failure of the equipment. There are trainings available for each manufacturer. If you need training, please reach out and I can direct you to where you need to go.

Three Reasons Why Building Owners Should Use VRF

Three Reasons Why Building Owners Should Use VRF

Variable Refrigerant Flow is THE best technology for mechanical cooling. Here are 3 reasons why:

Efficient

VRF is extremely efficient compared to older technologies such as rooftop packaged units and chilled water systems. How is this possible? VRF systems use variable speed compressors at the outdoor unit and fans with EC motors at the indoor fan coils. By using these, the compressor will only use the appropriate amount of energy to send the refrigerant to only the zones that need it and the fans will only move as much air as it needs to to hit set point.

Real world analogy: when driving, you wouldn’t floor the gas to reach driving speed, let go, floor it, let go, etc. to maintain 65 mph. It’s EXTREMELY inefficient. You would depress the pedal slowly and smoothly to reach 65 mph and hold it to maintain it. This is how variable speed compressors work.

Scalable

VRF technology is scalable, meaning you use it from small applications from an elevator room to large applications such as hotels and college campuses. We can do this because the equipment is modular. Using various size ODUs and combining them to form larger systems, and then grouping these systems and controlling them via a central controller allows us to tackle any size project.

We also have different styles of indoor fan coils, from wall mounted, ceiling cassette, ducted, and using PMV kits, we can use any 3rd party AHU, which means we have a solution that we can use in any space.

Cost Effective

Using VRF can be cost effective over the life of the equipment. Since the systems are very efficient, they use less electricity to operate saving the building owner thousands over the life of the equipment.

It also uses a small footprint compared to other systems. Refrigerant piping takes up a fraction of the space of the equivalent ductwork of a RTU system or CHW/HW piping of a chiller/boiler/cooling tower system. You are able to place the outdoor heat pumps on the roof and eliminate mechanical equipment rooms, or even entire floors dedicated to mechanical equipment and open it up to leasable space. More leasable space to rent out to tenants and generate more money for the building owner.

If you’d like to see if VRF systems are right for your application, please reach out to schedule a lunch and learn.