Gen Z Plumbers and Construction Workers Are Making #BlueCollar Cool

Many posts tout the wages blue-collar workers can make. Pay for new hires in construction now outstrips pay for new hires in professional services like accounting, according to ADP data. Skilled-trade influencers say they’re also trying to combat decades of stereotypes in which practitioners were seen as grease monkeys or stuck in low-end careers. 

I appreciate what these folks do out in the field. No shame in earning a pretty decent living in the trades. Also grateful for my knowledge worker job in this industry.

Nation’s 1st all-electric hospital coming to UCI Health medical campus

The all-electric Central Utility Plant is where facility operations will be monitored. That includes running the air source heat pumps. Brothman said the moderate temperature in the coastal region is key.

“Much like a traditional heat pump that is used in residential or other office buildings, these can run in forward or reverse to use the ambient outside temperature to heat or cool our heating and ventilation components in this facility,” Brothman said.

Proud to see my alma mater going all electric for its new medical center.

Thoughts on acquisitions

Over the last few months, I’ve seen some acquisition news in the HVAC industry and I have some thoughts.

Acquisitions are not new. When a business or start up launches, the goal is either sustaining their business long term, going public, or getting acquired.

In the HVAC industry, acquisitions happen but they usually don’t make the news. Tech companies such as Microsoft and Facebook, now Meta, have acquired a few companies over the years and they always make the news due to their size. See Mojang, LinkedIn, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

But large HVAC acquisitions do make the news in our little corner of the world. I remember hearing the news when Daikin acquired McQuay in the mid–2000s. Maybe because we’re all increasingly connected on the Internet, more and more acquisitions are making the news. Daikin acquiring McQuay, Goodman, Alliance Air, and many smaller firms hits my LinkedIn feed. DMG acquiring Toro Aire for their distribution network. And now Ambient, a company I’d never heard of, bought a controlling stake in DMG, DMG North, and Toro Aire.

All these acquisitions got me thinking: is further consolidation in the HVAC industry a good thing or a bad thing?

I would say yes and no.

My argument for acquisitions is that it lets the acquired company use the resources of the acquiring company. They can use it expand or build new facilities. We saw this with Alliance Air breaking ground on a new manufacturing facility just over a year after being acquired by Daikin. Companies also acquire other companies to expand their market reach. Back in 90s USACD, known as SCAD back then, acquired EB Ward to expand their operations into Northern CA. Ambient, which is an unknown in the West Coast, acquired DMG to get into the West Coast HVAC market.

My argument against acquisitions is that it reduces the number of players in a given market. Less choice means less competition and generally means higher prices for customers. Before we ended up with 3 national cellular carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile) we had numerous national and regional carriers, including Cingular, Sprint, GTE, and others.

It also can lead to stagnation. Using the same cellular example, the only differentiation would be coverage and a few differentiating features. Can you name one feature from a carrier that distinguishes it from the other?

I concede that the HVAC market is not the same as the US cellular market, but it is hard not to envision a future where only a few large companies make the same basic product with only a few differences.

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.