Business expert and former heating and cooling specialist plumber Phil Coombs discusses world industry trends in heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) and the opportunities and implications on the horizon for the plumbing industry of the future.

The Coombs family has played a significant role in the direction of the plumbing and air conditioning industry for seven decades. In this article I will focus on industry implications and opportunities, specifically in the plumbing industry, concentrating on single dwelling, multi dwelling and light commercial applications.

As we know, the rst heating and cooling systems in this country started with hydronic heating, which then progressed to add coils and fans as ducted heating emerged. In the sixties came cooling and a whole new industry of air conditioning commenced.

Traditionally, these market sectors were dominated by hydronic heating, ducted heating, and add-on cooling. The major shift in the world market over the last decade has been to heat pump single split, multi split and VRF/VRV systems.

The work has predominantly been undertaken by mechanical contractors with refrigeration mechanics doing the pipework. Today the market has been commoditised and you can buy equipment from anywhere. Due to the increasing influence of retailers selling systems, it is often installed for at or below cost.

My research has highlighted that this trend will continue and potentially get worse.

So what are the implications and opportunities for plumbing companies that operate in this space?

In today’s business world, most SME companies cannot operate profitably in a commoditised market and certainly cannot exist as low price operators. Successful companies today are making good pro ts from specialising in market niches, so the question you need to ask yourself is what market niche do you specialise in?

Specialist companies are often characterised by being at the forefront of industry trends. I would identify the following as the market trends in the industry that may provide niche opportunities in the future.

Industry market trends that may provide future niche opportunities

  1. Forced ventilation via HRV/ERV will be an increased requirement as split systems and VRV, in most applications, have not addressed fresh air requirements. in many parts of the world this is already being legislated.

  2. The SMART home will be the next big thing so we must understand it and provide designs compliant with building codes, customer solutions and expectations. this is in conjunction with the industry trend to what is called IOT (the internet of things).

  3. There is also a world shift towards the passive house which results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating and cooling. in this instance, forced ventilation becomes critical.

  4. The continual drive for energy savings will continue, however this will be in parallel with the growing trend towards indoor air quality and a healthy environment.

  5. The continual striving towards energy efficiency, sustainability and the use of renewable energies will see the development of the zero house, meaning that energy consumption will match the PV solar system, most likely with battery back-up.

  6. Growth trends to hydronic heating with air to water heat pumps will see significant energy savings. this will include the growing trend for hot water delivered by heat pumps over gas and electric element units.

  7. With the advent of heat pump technology, hydronic solution providers can now add domestic hot water provided by the same unit through storage coil tanks, again at significant energy savings.

  8. The same heat pump unit can provide chilled water as well as hot water, meaning hydronic plumbers can now provide cooling via a range of fan coil terminal devices and even under floor cooling though under floor heating systems.

  9. Research today highlights that the human body needs seventy percent of its thermal comfort from radiant, not convection.

    The next development will be radiant heating and cooling using hydronic. in recent times they have been using this technique in larger buildings using chilled beams. My prediction is there will be a trend to use radiant heating and cooling in residential and light commercial applications.

I can see significant growth opportunities for plumbers to get back into HVAC through hydronic heating and cooling using air to water heat pumps for those plumbers prepared to move out of their comfort zone.

From my experience, I have learnt that what made you successful in the past won’t be what makes you successful in the future, and companies must continually strive to look for the next big thing.

If you would like to know more about any aspect of this article, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Philip Coombs ‘The Profit Coach’ Director of Simply Business Australia phil@sbasuccess.com.au
03 9797 0590

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