HVAC Trends to Watch

Homeowners Becoming Increasingly Environmentally Conscious When Selecting Products

download (6)The HVAC industry is evolving. This change may not be rapid, but it’s visible. Innovations like smart thermostats and geothermal heating systems reveals that homeowners are becoming more aware about being environmentally friendly and energy-efficient technology. And anything that helps save them some money is guaranteed to be a win win situation. This year is shaping up to be a time of technological leaps and bounds, and the industry needs to keep up.

User-Friendly Controls
While smart, Wi-Fi-connected thermostats promise significantly increased energy efficiency, the real draw for homeowners seems to be how easy the interfaces are to operate.

Take the Nest Learning thermostat, for example. It is programmed by the user to remember his preferred temperature settings. If the user prefers the thermostat to kick in a faster, warmer temperature, on cold, wintery mornings, the Nest thermostat will store that information and adjust the temperature accordingly. The thermostat also monitors temperature with humidity and activity sensors, and it can determine regional climate by the user punching in their zip code. Furthermore, the Nest can be accessed remotely through the Internet or using a smartphone app, giving the user the ability to control the heat even when he is out of town. Installation seems easy enough: According to the Nest website, if you can install a light fixture, you can install the Nest.

Wireless-controlled thermostats present HVAC data in a language that contemporary consumers understand. Homeowners, especially the younger ones, are accustomed to easily digestible, visual representations of information and data. The reporting tools that smart systems include take the mystery — and obscurity — out of an industry that has been thriving on overall complacency from its customers.

DEVap Air Conditioning
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) developed the DEVap (desiccant-enhanced evaporative air conditioner) in 2011 and estimates that it reduces air conditioning energy usage by 40-90 percent.

In essence, the system separates hot air into two streams. A liquid desiccant dries one air stream, while the other air stream is humidified. When DEVap combines the two streams, it creates cool, dry air, with no coolant required. Earlier DEVap system renditions did not prove as effective in very hot or humid climates, because they failed to establish comfortable room temperatures or humidity levels. NREL’s innovation, though, means building residents won’t notice any stuffiness, stale air, or high-humidity levels.

So far, DEVap is found primarily in commercial buildings, and the technology is so new that it’s hard to find for residential use. But, given how promising the innovation seems, and how cost-effective it has already proven to be, we’re anticipating great gains in 2013.

Zero-energy buildings — buildings that produce energy instead of just using large quantities — will gain traction with companies that target eco-friendly employees and consumers. Many businesses are already headed in this direction with geothermal heating and cooling, solar-powered systems, and white roofing. If HVAC manufacturers can work to design structures that are both energy efficient and comfortable for their residents, we’re sure to see some fresh companies take on the challenge.

At this time, solar roofing and geothermal heating are steep investments and more suited to commercial properties. This will be the case with zero-energy buildings as well, simply because businesses have the resources to invest in long-term energy-saving projects. If we see several successful versions of zero-energy buildings, perhaps the trend will move toward residential buildings in the next decade or so.

Until recent years, the average Joes and Janes have been content to sit in office buildings, unworried about their health. Awareness of “sick building syndrome,” however, is on the rise, and consumers are becoming more and more concerned about IAQ. This correlation makes perfect sense. IAQ is intrinsically related to a buildings’ HVAC system.

We predict that businesses and employers will begin paying more attention to employee wellness programs and insurance, and also the quality of the buildings they operate. Consumers will demand more environmentally friendly ways of improving IAQ, and green household cleaning products will continue to experience a surge in popularity, as well as an expansion to big-name brands.

We expect to see more demand for natural refrigerants, specifically, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and even propane in place of traditional fluorocarbons, which have a high global warming potential.

As inspiring as these trends are, all the Nest thermostats and geothermal heating systems in the world cannot succeed without a movement toward high-quality workmanship in the initial installation of heating and cooling systems. These HVAC trends are expensive, but their long-term impact may be well worth the upfront expense. HVAC Contractors Baltimore

Online Shopping Trends

Online Shopping at it’s Finest: 10 Trends to Watch

downloadOnline shopping is about to explode. Retailers of all types are widening their product offerings, free shipping, adding in-store pickup and always doing social media experiments. It’s getting harder to tell pure play Internet retailers from the bricks and mortar shops with online portals, and most of the retailers are innovating how customers shop online from time to time.

pick-up-sign1. In-store pick up. In the past few months we’ve seen Walmart implement in-store pick up for orders placed online, while Sears and Kmart are going a step further bringing online purchases out to your car. In Chicago, Sears and Kmart are even testing home delivery and bundling items with those from its retail partners at Sears’ Marketplace, further blurring the lines between online only retailers and those that came before. And in Florida, Farm Stores lets shoppers order groceries online and pick up at a drive through.

2. Pick up depots. Smaller retailers without a vast network of stores like Walmart or Sears may open designated pick up locations for goods ordered online. Retail consultant Neil Stern of McMillan/Doolittle points to French retailer Chronodrive.com as an example.

images (2)3. Mobile Apps. Smartphones are the dominant cell phone and apps for all platforms are growing. The ones that allow for price comparisons or send out coupons are already among the most heavily used with good reviews, but we’re just getting started.

4. Less flash more function. Forget about flashy apps or features like virtual dressing rooms. Consumers haven’t responded to these and rightly so. Maybe the technology will get there, but until it does, user reviews are better gauges of clothing fit and quality than any technology can offer.

5. Video. Look for more user-generated video on retail sites. Retailers are letting customers upload video clips modeling new clothes or using a new purchase. Davis believes this is one trend that will definitely pick up speed.

download (1)6. Social networking. Facebook and Twitter aren’t even close to played out yet. Consumers can increasingly “like” or follow a favorite retailer and get discounts or tips on deals. JCPenney is using Facebook to actually sell goods and more than 12 million consumers “like” Victoria’s Secret on Facebook as of last month (March), making it the most popular retailer on the site (its Pink brand ranks No. 2, according to the Channel Advisor Facebook Commerce Index). That’s an active population of customers reaching out and requesting information from the retailer. And social shopping is just getting started, says Jim Okamura, managing partner at Okamura Consulting, a group specializing in online retail. “There’s evidence (that Facebook offers) a good return on investment and there are a lot of retailers that haven’t done anything yet,” he says. “This is going to be the year of Facebook testing.

download (2)7. Daily deals and flash sales. This may seem like a very crowded playing field, but sites like Ruelala and OneKingsLane are reproducing at a furious pace. And based on how quickly many items sell out, often within minutes of email notifications going out, more will jump on this popular trend.

8. Retail based social networks. This is one trend experts don’t expect to happen at any large level. Sears is still trying to build a social network of its own customers and Walmart tried and abandoned a similar effort, neither attempt bodes well for its success. Facebook really owns this space, but look for small, focused sites to create communities of like-minded users, says Okamura.

signssigns329. International. “There’s been an accelerating trend in international or cross border e commerce, of small niche online retailers are now doing 10-20% of their sales outside of their own country,” says Okamura. Look to online shops like SousVide Supreme that sells specialized cooking equipment and StyleTrek.com, a community built to launch up and coming international designers as models. Other big name retailers like Zara and Top Shop are building out their online business to reach U.S. shoppers, even as the store base grows more slowly.

10. Deal aggressors. Of course there are always deal sites, like Deal news, Consumer Search, Fat Wallet and Brad’s Deals that are cutting through the din of so many sites and sales to bring consumers only the information they’re interested in.

And according to Don Davis, editor of trade magazine Internet Retailer, there’s one more positive side effect for shoppers: the in-store experience is likely to become better as online shopping grows. As it becomes easier to compare prices, stores will be forced to create better physical experiences with more knowledgeable sales staff and proprietary items hard to find anywhere else.

On one thing all our experts agreed. There will be more choices for consumers. More things to buy, more ways to compare products and prices, and more methods to evaluate goods.

Current Roof Trends

Top 4 Current Trends in Solving the Roof Risk Problem

roof-915444_960_720Roof risk problem is one of the hottest topic in roofing industry today which is being discussed on both insurance and reinsurance carriers, as well as vendors. Interviews are being conducted with industry experts ─ from the C-suite to actuaries, underwriters to adjusters, to inspectors and agents ─ in order to identify the current trends in solving the roof problem, which was detailed in this article. So what is everyone talking about?

1. The Age of Roof Characteristics. The roof was once just part of the overall risk. Rarely was it viewed as a separate risk, much less a composition of risks. Enter the new age of roof characteristics. Carriers want to break the roof risk down – when was this roof constructed, who constructed the roof, what materials were used, how was the roof constructed. We see time and again, especially any time the good folks over at the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) enter the lab, that construction and materials matter! IBHS has played an important role in researching and identifying good versus bad roof materials, spurring carriers to act.

2. Inspection Innovation. Years ago, most companies said “yes, we inspect.” That was the extent of the inspection program. But now that we know what to look for in this age of roof characteristics, there’s a shift to have inspectors look for it. The market is seeing innovation in the inspection process ─ not just more inspections, but smarter, more strategic inspections. Like the advancements in Florida’s wind mitigation inspections, national carriers see the need for certified inspectors in fixing the roof problem, along with data-driven analytics to know which properties to inspect and when (like recent building activity), hyper-specific inspection criteria (based on location based hazards and property history), and finally, more documentation (from photos to checklists).

3. Changing Eligibility Requirements. Are carriers’ products accounting for increased concern over roof risk? The answer is “yes” and the most direct path is by way of changing eligibility requirements, most commonly roof age. Armed with useful data on the impact of various roof characteristics on likely future loss, carriers are able to make underwriting rules to address the roof problem by excluding certain roof characteristics from coverage as well as roofs of a certain age. More carriers offer Actual Cash Value (ACV) cost on the roof, including offering policies that provide replacement cost coverage up until the roof is a certain age and then providing ACV after that. Carriers are exploring a separate roof deductible and having cosmetic exclusions, as well as increasing their focus on partial roof repairs as opposed to full roof replacements.

4. Buyer Beware of Storm Chasers. Storm chasers are much bigger and more aggressive than before. These roofing businesses, that go door-to-door in areas hit by storms (both immediately after, and, during slower periods months after storms) to do roof repairs, have exacerbated the roof problem and may be acting fraudulently by actually causing damage to the roof (under the pretext of “going up there and checking things out”) and/or by taking the claims check and not actually doing any repairs (or doing a terrible job). Unfortunately attempts to shut down storm chasers by way of law enforcement, consumer protection enforcement, and codification of better business practices, are not substantive in preventing the practice. Roofing Columbia

10 Restaurant Trends

The 10 Biggest Restaurant Trends Today

We may still be a few months away from the New Year, but for restaurant owners and others in the food service business, it’s never too early to start thinking about how to cater to diners.

download (3)Food research firm Technomic has pinpointed 10 trends that its consultants and experts anticipate taking off in a big way next year. Present year promises to continue some old trends, such as small plates, while bringing in some fresh concepts shaped not only by Generation Y, but also the teen digital natives of Generation Z.

images (3)1. Meals served with a side of bragging rights.
At present, customers can expect dinners out to increasingly become a “staged event that imparts bragging rights,” according to Technomic. That means more meals created with Instagram and Twitter in mind, as restaurants realize the power of the customer in generating social media buzz in real time. In other words, even if the year of the fast-food mashup is over, the Twitter-friendly Waffle Taco and Pizza Cake’s will continue to shape the industry.

2. Go small or go home.
Tapas and dim sum have been on the tip of every foodie’s tongue in recent years. Now, customers can expect other aspects of the menu to go small: menus are getting shorter, dining rooms are getting smaller and staff is being cut and replaced with new tech.

3. Traditional sit-down market shrinks.
The traditional fast food and fine dining industries are having a hard time measuring up to newer, alternative forms of food service. Fast casual is eating fast food’s lunch, with customers preferring to spend their money at slightly higher quality chains like Chipotle, instead of fast-food classics like McDonald’s. Then, there are fresh concepts like healthy vending, delivery services and innovative pop ups that all cut into the traditional restaurant market.

download (4)4. Beverage boom.
Restaurants are trying to make beverages a headlining act instead of a sideshow. With Starbucks premiering soft drink Fizzio and Coke increasing its share in Keurig, don’t be surprised to see restaurants mixing up new beverages in both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic markets next year.

images (4)5. Asia ascendant.
In the past, when American customers think about “Asian food,” it has been primarily Japanese sushi or Americanized Chinese food. In 2015, look for Korean and Vietnamese food and upscale ramen to take over mainstream menus. Yum Brands, parent company of KFC and Taco Bell, already opened Vietnamese sandwich concept Banh Shop in Dallas earlier this year.

6. Bitter is better.
Customers are developing a taste for bitter flavors. That means deeper chocolates, hoppier beers and darker coffee, with Dunkin’ Donuts and Tom Horton’s premiering their first dark roasts this year.

download (5)7. Customers’ (healthy) choice.
The rise of customers with personalized diets means that healthy eating is taking on many different, highly specific forms. With the plethora of dieting options, the best way to make restaurants work for customers whether they are following the paleo diet or eating only vegan is to display pick-and-choose options. Then, as nutrition buzzwords come and go, restaurants can stay current.

8. Locavores take over.
Everyone is going local – super local. The love for local food mean rising customer interest in “everything from house-purified water to regional seafood to locally manufactured products like beers and liquors.” That’s bad news for most chain restaurants, who struggle to convince customers that their products are as sustainable and environmentally friendly as independent competitors.

9. Highlighting the human factor.
With calls for sustainable chains of production and increased minimum wage, the spotlight is increasingly on the people behind the food. Expect these battles to continue in 2015, and for the outcomes to affect the menu.

images (5)10. Forget Millennials – it’s time for Generation Z.
Companies are endlessly trying to appeal to Millennials, jockeying for the attention of the social media savvy generation. Soon, they’ll have a new concern: grabbing the attention of Generation Z. As younger teens are finally beginning to make their own decisions about where they go out to eat, restaurants will have to start trying to appeal to a new kind of customer. That means high-tech service, louder music, moving visuals and heightened experiences. In other words, it’ll be enough for Millennials to be yelling at the kids to get off their lawns… and out of their restaurants.