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


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.

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 The 130-bed facility for abused women and children had an outdated water chiller system that suffered from leaky pipes and had utility bills of $2000 a month.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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2 Comments » for VRF heating and cooling technology has “unlimited” potential, say advocates
  1. Variable Refrigerant Flow systems are now all the rage with consultants, who are jumping on that band wagon in order to pursuade clients that they are cutting – edge companies.
    I’ve seen this happen time and time again: A new form of techniology becomes in vogue and like lemmings they all follow.
    IF a technician messes up on a weld, a VRF system will lose its entire Freon charge and the owner will incur a costly repair bill. moreover, as we all know, fluid flow results, ultimately, in pipe erosion and system overhaul.
    Chilled water/hot water heating, or packaged unitary systems, are now and will remain my favourites, until such time as VRF systems have evolved to the point where i can specify their installation and not lose sleep over it.

  2. Kurt Fischer says:

    Mike McCartney, there are methods of mitigating the risk of losing entire charge such as daisy chaining a few outdoor units (master/slaves) and keeping their refrigerant piping separate. Engineers should be embracing the technology and promoting the savings potential and various other benefits to their customers.

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