October 23, 2017 by Aaron Engel
Cold winter months keep Canadians indoors a great deal more than their southern climate counterparts. Staying indoors longer can be detrimental to health, particularly when you consider the trend toward tighter and more energy efficient home construction mandated by recent building codes. Little or no infiltration of outdoor air, combined with increased indoor time, intensifies the need for HVAC-based indoor air quality (IAQ) systems to reduce the unhealthy accumulations of biological contaminants, volatile organic compounds (VOC) and excessive CO2 breathed indoors.
On-demand IAQ is a combination of an air quality monitor, Wi-Fi smart thermostat and an air handler-based indoor air purification system. The three components are available bundled together, branded and packaged for HVAC wholesale distributors to market to HVAC contractors for installation in residences. On-demand IAQ responds to a homeowner’s IAQ condition and automatically corrects it when it surpasses air quality set points, such as VOC, CO2 and particulate, thus the title, on-demand IAQ.
The components inter-communicate via the home’s Wi-Fi network. This automation is possible due to the recent emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is a network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators and network connectivity that enable them all to compatibly exchange data. There are many whole-house air purifiers, air quality monitors, and smart Wi-Fi thermostats already on the market, but it is the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) home connectivity that gives these components the ability for inter-communication.
Florida Energy Water & Air (FEWA), an Orlando, Fla.-based HVAC contractor began installing on-demand IAQ systems late in 2016 consisting of an air quality monitor and a whole house air purifier (FEWA prefers combining it with its own compatible Wi-Fi thermostat brand). The company has sold more than 150 systems and expects the category to command nearly 12.5-per cent of its HVAC sales in 2018, according to Dan Cloutier, FEWA’s HVAC division director.
A SKYROCKETING MARKET
FEWA’s results are not surprising considering recent sales statistics in air quality monitors and home automation. Statistics on just air quality monitors have skyrocketed in the last decade. The IAQ monitor market was valued at $2.52 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $4.63 billion by 2022, according to marketsandmarkets.com, a B2B firm that provides research on 30,000 growth emerging opportunities/threats that will affect 70 to 80-per cent of worldwide companies’ revenues.
On-demand IAQ is just the beginning for HVAC contractors. It is a gateway to an entirely new niche that goes well beyond installing IAQ and HVAC products. For HVAC contractors, on-demand IAQ offers the opportunity to enter the fledgling home automation market. Marketsandmarkets.com research firm also reports that home automation systems were a 39.93 billion market in 2016 with a growth potential of nearly $80 billion by 2020.
With home automation expansion appearing as a sure thing, the only uncertainty is what trades will do the majority of the installation. The HVAC and IAQ tie-in makes HVAC contractors the best choice, because it is unlikely whether cable, home theater, electrical or security contractors would want, or have the qualifications to install the whole house air treatment systems or thermostat portions of home automation due to the required technical expertise.
An installed on-demand IAQ system offers HVAC contractors the opportunity to add accessories they never dreamed of installing five years ago, such as security cameras, smart doorbells, door lock hardware, lighting controllers, smoke/carbon monoxide alarms and security systems, all which intercommunicate via the home’s Wi-Fi network. Future on-demand improvements promise that the HVAC system could serve as the home automation hub.
AIR QUALITY MONITOR
An air quality sensor, plugged into a centrally-located 120v outlet in the home, monitors the air for contaminants including particulates, CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Should the concentration of these contaminants reach a level of concern, the air quality monitor wirelessly signals a smart thermostat to activate the air handler’s blower. The air is cleaned by the air handler’s on-board whole-house air treatment system before the contaminants reach a critical level. When air quality is restored to an acceptable level, the air quality monitor then signals the thermostat to turn off the ventilation fan. Until now, no matter how effective any IAQ system may be, it would be ineffective if the system fan was off. With this new approach, the system is proactively addressing the air quality concern and automatically solving the issue.
Thus, excessive contaminants will trigger the monitor. For example, excessive levels of household cleaning chemicals, pet or cooking odors, would trigger the monitor’s VOC sensors. Dusting or vacuuming could trigger the monitor’s particulate sensors.
VOCs and CO2 are typically monitored in parts per million (ppm). Particulates can be monitored as fine as the Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 standard. Air quality monitors typically include adjustment capabilities to raise or lower the threshold sensitivities of all three contaminant categories.
The air quality monitor also notifies the homeowner of poor IAQ with an onboard LED warning light or a notification to a smartphone, the latter which can be accessed anywhere on the globe via an app.
The Wi-Fi thermostat, which replaces the original thermostat and uses the same 24v wiring, is programed to accept wireless information from the air quality monitor. The thermostat also has smart and connected capabilities such as remote operation, that provide temperature control based on past usage, occupancy and other intuitive features. Some on-demand IAQ bundles omit the thermostat and leave the control choice up to the contractor.
WHOLE HOUSE AIR TREATMENT SYSTEM
Toxic VOCs, such as formaldehyde and toluene, are the source of many household odours. Until recently, reducing high VOC levels was accomplished through dilution by continually re-circulating the air. Dilution can be accelerated when combined with an outdoor air damper or an energy recovery ventilator (ERV).
While dilution works, it is slower and not as energy efficient as removing VOCs with an HVAC system-based whole house air treatment system that uses gas phase air purification technology. Gas phase air purification removes VOCs from the HVAC airstream by adsorbing them into carbon titanium-based media.
The most effective gas phase air purification devices use photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) to remove VOCs without generating harmful ozone in during the process. The gas phase media consists of carbon cells infused with titanium dioxide. A UV-C lamp shining on the carbon media creates a PCO reaction that neutralizes VOCs by breaking them down into trace amounts of harmless water vapour and carbon dioxide. The same reaction keeps the carbon cells clean, effectively regenerating them. Gas phase air purification has a long history in commercial applications where it is used for VOC control in heavy industry and commercial buildings.
Existing air quality monitors may not detect biological contaminants, such as mould, bacteria, viruses, and allergens, which represent about one-third of indoor air pollution. The UV-C light within the PCO system irradiates the air handler’s interior surfaces such as the coil, as well as the airstream disinfecting biological contaminants including mould, biofilm, bacteria and viruses.
A combination UV light/gas phase carbon/PCO air cleaner is designed to remove VOCs and microbes, while the air handler’s onboard fibre media filter removes particulates.
The initial offerings of on-demand IAQ are already serving as a springboard for more innovation. Expected introductions at next year’s AHR Expo and CMPX trade shows are on-demand products that go beyond thermostats and will include control centres that will seamlessly integrate all aspects of a building’s IAQ with home automation.
The future technology of IAQ is here now and ready for the innovative contractors that want to incorporate it into their business model.
Aaron Engel is vice president of business development at Fresh-Aire UV (www.freshaireuv.com), a North American manufacturer of residential, commercial and medical UV disinfection and carbon/titanium/PCO-based systems, as well as on-demand IAQ packages. Engel can be reached at email@example.com.