Keeping cool in a pandemic
With healthcare infrastructure being pushed to its limits to manage the pressure created by the COVID-19 pandemic, will there be changes to demand for cooling-related products and maintenance of HVAC systems in institutions such as hospitals? Well, it depends who you ask.
“I’m not conﬁdent that the pandemic will create an increased demand immediately, but it could accelerate replacements in the future,” says Joe Monaco, regional manager for Goodman Canada. “The impact of the pandemic could result in a need for more economical products that deliver highly efﬁcient performance.
“Right now, it is tough to forecast the future of the industry. That said, the HVAC industry has successfully weathered previous economic disruptions in the past. While this one may be unique, I am conﬁdent that everyone in the HVAC industry will do whatever it takes to help during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”
GE Appliances’ Ryan vanDyk says there will be increased urgency around keeping existing systems running effectively, as well as being able to quickly and efﬁciently supply and replace new systems, where needed.
“Additionally, I anticipate an increase in IAQ features in not only these types of institutions, but in residential settings as well,” he says. “We are certainly preparing for this demand with features like increased air ﬁltration, air puriﬁcation and self-cleaning technology.”
He expects there to be an increased demand and reliance on residential cooling systems this year as more people spend more time at home.
“The outcome, I believe, will be that older system performances will be tested and perhaps we will see an increased demand for emergency replacements,” says vanDyk, who also anticipates sales to come from homeowners who do not currently have a cooling system.
“People are spending abnormal amounts of time in their houses,” adds Nicholas Orth, senior marketing manager for Allied Air Enterprise. “It makes me wonder if it’s going to make people pay more attention to heating and cooling – hot and cold spots.”
Protecting frontline workers
With the mechanical sector listed as an essential service, manufacturers and service providers are continuing to produce and service much needed heating and cooling products. To keep those workers protected, precautions are being taken by equipment producers all over the world.
“We are focused on the critical needs of our country and our employees during this pandemic,” says vanDyk. “We provide important products and services to people across this country. People are spending more time at home and rely on our products to keep their food and medicine safe, homes clean, temperatures comfortable and to cook meals for their families.”
In addition to pre-screening all service calls, technicians have personal protective supplies and both technicians and consumers are being asked to respect the recommended social distance of six feet.
GE Appliances has also implemented new safety measures within its plant operations. “Workspaces were adjusted to achieve appropriate social distancing. Assembly line workstations have been separated by six feet or by installation of plastic dividers. Additional supplies are provided to employees to support employee protection. Additionally, robust cleaning protocols have been enacted throughout the buildings along with temperature scans upon entry,” vanDyk says. “As we face this unprecedented crisis together, we will continue to focus on the health and well-being of our employees, customers, and owners.”
At Napoleon’s manufacturing facilities in Barrie, Ont., all associates follow the recommendations from the provincial and federal governments and health authorities. The company gives daily updates to all of its associates on what the company is going do related to providing guidelines, and about what to do and who to call if they have any questions about COVID-19.
“This information changes by the hour, so our upper management is following up on the news,” says Christian Romeroll, the company’s managing director of HVAC. “We need to make sure we can take the right decisions moving forward.”
One of those decisions for Napoleon was to shut down all operations for two weeks in March to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and do a gradual return to work.
“We’re using skeleton crews on some of the lines to guarantee people can perform following the parameters of social distancing to avoid any situation that could be uncomfortable for the associates,” Romeroll says.
At the Allied Air and Lennox headquarters, any employees that can work remotely are now working from home.
“The plants are still running. They’ve taken measures as far as how they’re cleaning and sanitizing the plants and encourage and place people where social distancing works,” says Orth. “We’re keeping the plants as safe as we can.”
Importance of integration
We live in an age of connectivity. People are always on the lookout for the latest technologies to make their lives more convenient. Our smartphones, for example, can be used to control and help manage an almost unlimited number of things in our daily lives via apps. When it comes to homeowners, having appliances that can communicate with one another is increasingly becoming expected.
“Integrated technology currently is of growing importance to homeowners,” says Monaco, of Goodman Canada. “They want their central heating and cooling systems to connect seamlessly to a home automation system previously or planned for installation. That need is fuelled with a desire for more control of the HVAC system beyond the thermostat.”
Over the past several years, interest in remote, app-based access to temperature controls has been rising amongst Canadian homeowners, and he says that interest in systems that learn from users’ habits is the latest evolution being explored.
“I believe that homeowners are seeking HVAC systems that are smarter and more energy-efﬁcient than the old systems currently installed in their homes. Communicating controls will continue to be a technology shift with homeowners,” Monaco adds. GE Appliance’s vanDyk agrees.
“Consumers are more connected than ever,” he says. “They are trending towards, and seeking, products that can offer a strong connected experience and, even further, will look for platforms that will enable them to control multiple pieces of equipment within the household or business.”
Written by Andrew Snook