Canadian Consulting Engineer

By Bronwen Parsons   

VRF heating and cooling technology has “unlimited” potential, say advocates

Buildings Events HVAC

At the AHR Expo in Orlando at the end of January, a presentation by LG Canada vigorously promoted the benefits of variable refrigerant flow (VRF) heating and cooling technologies.

Kevin McNamara, senior vice president of air conditioning systems for LG Electronics USA, said the technology has “unlimited runway” potential and that they see VRF as displacing a large portion of the chiller and rooftop HVAC systems. “Our goal is to fundamentally change the HVAC industry in the U.S.,” he said.

The energy saving claims of VRFs have been criticized by some on the basis that the projected savings were not being measured accurately. But McNamara dismissed these criticisms, saying that the true measure of energy savings can be seen in the dollar savings. He cited an independent study of a 200,000-sq.ft. building in Auburn, California, which had switched from traditional chillers and cooling towers to VRF.

VRF systems don’t cycle on-and-off like traditional systems, but vary their flow as required. They don’t need ductwork, don’t require a lot of space, and are quiet. They also use less refrigerant that traditional systems per BTU, and “electrical savings are huge,” said one contractor in the audience. Some of the opposition to VRF technology has come from central controls manufacturers, because the units integrate their own modulating controls.

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McNamara predicted a massive expansion in the use of VRF technology in multi-family residential retrofit projects, especially for providing cooling systems to older buildings. A local women’s shelter in Orlando was presented as a retrofit example. The 130-bed facility for abused women and children had an outdated water chiller system that suffered from leaky pipes and had utility bills of $2000 a month. A contractor and LG contributed to a $416,000 project to install VRFs. The centre’s manager was at the presentation and expressed great satisfaction.

LG is putting a lot of effort into education, recognizing that it takes a big investment of time for small contractors to travel to learn about the technology. The company has training centres across the U.S., and has opened a flagship LG Learning Academy training centre to act as a learning hub. McNamara said they recognized that to become comfortable with VRF technology, “Engineers and contractors need someone to talk to.”

He said the U.S. construction market is forecast to be very strong over the next four years. New York, California and Texas are the three biggest VRF markets in the U.S.

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