Residential cul-de-sac

Ask the Engineer: Three Priorities for More Sustainable Living

One of our top engineers shares her perspective on the role of homes in leading more sustainable lives.

Challenging what’s possible means empowering experts and innovators to lead by example and share their expertise with others.

Katie Davis is one of those innovators. She has more than 20 years of experience in various engineering and leadership roles in manufacturing, most recently as the lead engineer for the Trane Residential HVAC business. She loves helping her team grow and solve complex problems, like developing climate technology that helps fight climate change. She also has 10 Huskies and maintains excellent air quality in her home, which we think qualifies her as an expert on sustainable living.

We asked Katie about her vision of sustainable living—as an engineer and a homeowner—and here is what she shared:

In my role in the residential HVAC business, I'm focused on creating a vision of sustainable living for people in their homes. To make this vision a reality, we're working on three key areas that can revolutionize how we heat and cool our homes, especially if these advancements are widely adopted:

  1. Maximizing Energy Efficiency
    A top priority is maximizing the efficiency of our residential product portfolio. We strive to make all our products as efficient as possible to provide homeowners with cost savings. By developing heating, cooling and comfort systems that deliver more energy output than they require, we help reduce energy bills significantly while minimizing the carbon footprint of the system.

  2. Using Low GWP Refrigerants
    Refrigerants are important fluids used in heating, cooling, and refrigeration systems as they have the ability to absorb and transfer heat. However, it's crucial to be aware that certain refrigerants can contribute to global warming. That's why we are committed to finding and using alternative refrigerants with low global warming potential (GWP) that still ensure our systems operate efficiently. This transition towards low-GWP refrigerants is a key step in making our HVAC systems more sustainable.

  3. Electrifying Heat
    According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in the winter of 2022-23, almost 5 million households used heating oil as the main space-heating fuel. Shifting to electric heating systems, like heat pumps, offers significant environmental advantages. By relying on electricity from the grid, which is increasingly sourced from renewables, heat pumps contribute to the decarbonization of heating. Although electricity generation may still involve various sources, such as natural gas and nuclear power, the growing adoption of renewables ensures a gradual reduction in carbon emissions associated with heating.

Explaining heat pumps

Heat pumps have actually been around for quite some time. We started developing and improving this technology back in the 1960s. But many people still don't fully understand how they work and the fact that they can both heat and cool spaces.

Let's clear up some misconceptions. Heat pumps operate by transferring heat from one place to another, rather than generating heat themselves. This means they can extract heat from the outdoor air, even in freezing temperatures, and bring it inside to warm up your home during the winter. But here's the interesting part: heat pumps can also work in reverse to cool your home during the summer months.

During the cooling process, the heat pump works in reverse. It extracts heat from the indoor air, turning the refrigerant into a gas, and sends it outside, where the heat is released into the outdoor air. This leaves the indoor air cooler and more comfortable.

It's important to note that heat pumps are not only efficient but also more environmentally friendly. By using electricity as the direct energy source instead of burning fossil fuels, they can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with traditional heating and cooling systems. Plus, as electricity generation increasingly shifts to renewable sources, such as solar and wind power, heat pumps become even greener.

New developments for some of the coldest places

An exciting area of innovation is the development of cold climate heat pumps, with recent breakthroughs that allow cold climate heat pumps to operate efficiently even at extremely low temperatures. In a recent field trial in Idaho, our system operated effectively at -23 degrees Fahrenheit (-30.5 degrees Celsius). This innovation enables homeowners to stay warm during harsh winter conditions while minimizing their environmental impact.

An eye toward a more sustainable future

We always have our eyes on the future. Our focus is on accelerating innovations that will make homes more environmentally friendly and comfortable, both now and for the long run. By improving system efficiency, using more sustainable refrigerants, and advancing the use of electric solutions, we're helping homeowners save money on energy while increasing their role in making the world a better place for future generations. It's a win-win for everyone.

Hear more from Katie in Season 3 Episode 2 of the Healthy Spaces podcast: Homes of the Future

Learn more about heat pumps

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