As winter marches on, and with energy resources in question after a disastrous hurricane season, American homeowners are opening their energy bills with trepidation, and heating and cooling system manufacturers are seeking ways to offer them relief.

New software developed at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering, with support from industry sponsors, may provide some answers. Called CoilDesigner, it helps manufacturers design customized heating and cooling systems that cost less to build and use less energy.

"CoilDesigner can help designers reduce heating system equipment costs by more than 10%," said Reinhard Radermacher, professor of mechanical engineering, director of the Center for Environmental Energy Engineering at the Clark School and an internationally recognized expert in energy conversion systems; in particular, integrated cooling, heating, and power (CHP) systems, heat pumps, A/C, and refrigeration systems. "It also gives manufacturers the ability to design products that could use less energy to heat and cool homes, and even switch from gas-powered components to electricity-powered components on the fly, depending on prevailing energy prices. The advantages to system manufacturers and their customers will be significant."

Developed with the support of industrial sponsors such as YORK, a Johnson Controls Company, CoilDesigner software allows manufacturers to search through millions of design options to create the most efficient and/or lowest-priced heat pump or A/C system for their clients' needs.

"CoilDesigner's analysis tools pointed us in the right direction," said Mahesh Valiya Naduvath, manager of YORK/Johnson Controls' engineered systems heat transfer team. "The software's features and capabilities are very user-friendly."

When used early in the product design process, the software can provide significant benefits to manufacturers, which in turn can mean cost savings for consumers, Radermacher said. "The benefits to consumers from this design software could be seen as early as 12 months from now."

Features of the CoilDesigner software include a user-friendly interface specifically geared toward the needs of design engineers and allows for programming by multiple users. Other utilities include unit converters and calculators for assorted variables.