HVAC Industry at a Crossroads: Step Up or Be Stepped On!

HVAC Industry at a Crossroads: Step Up or Be Stepped On!

If you’re a manufacturer or wholesaler, look beyond the condensing units, air handlers, furnaces, and package units that leave your factory or warehouse. Focus on gaining a strong understanding of measured field performance, and how it’s impacted by the entire HVAC system including equipment, ducts, fittings, registers, and grilles.

Twenty-two years ago National Comfort Institute (NCI) set out on a mission to help the HVAC industry move towards measured performance. We believed the industry would soon fix a large percentage of HVAC systems in customers’ homes and buildings once the issue was recognized. Well, here we are, two decades later, and more than 90% of systems nationwide are still underperforming.
Our industry is at a crossroads. We’ve had ample time to step up and deliver proven, measured performance.

But time is running out. On one hand, we must quickly begin to demonstrate significant energy efficiency progress to government agencies like DOE and EPA, state agencies including Public Utility and Energy Commissions, and most importantly, to our customers. We must be able to prove we can provide measured performance in the HVAC systems we service and replace.

Federal and state agencies are feeling pressure from their constituencies to get results. Either we start to clean this up, or it will be imposed on us.

On the other hand, if we don’t move quickly in this direction, we’ll face government interference. We’d likely see regulation and government overreach into our industry up and down the distribution channel as we’ve never seen before. This includes equipment manufacturers, distributors, and service and installation contractors.

One of the biggest problems with deeper government involvement is they will likely get it wrong and use a one-size-fits-all or a measure-based approach (which is already going on in numerous state-mandated utility incentive programs).

This means instead of actually testing and diagnosing individual HVAC systems and making precise corrections, there would be mandates to always perform certain “improvements” and install certain  products, whether needed or not.

The last time this happened, every “black box” and snake oil salesman came out of the woodwork, pitching inexperienced legislators and program managers on silver-bullet products promising to fix everything. The problem with these “fixes” is they often aren’t proven ineffective until the damage is done. In many cases, not only do these products NOT improve energy efficiency or comfort, they often make things worse, wasting even more energy and reducing equipment reliability.

The best way the industry can avoid government interference is for serious HVAC professionals to prove we can do this ourselves.

How? It’s up to our ENTIRE industry, not just the contractors, to step things up, by learning what it really takes to deliver true performance.

If you’re a manufacturer or wholesaler, it means looking beyond the condensing units, air handlers, furnaces, and package units that leave your factory or warehouse. It means focusing on gaining a strong understanding of measured field performance, and how it’s impacted by the entire HVAC system including equipment, ducts, fittings, registers, and grilles.

Manufacturers and distributors must step up and learn how this all works together, and then support their contractor/dealers with whatever means they can. This includes better training and support. It also means providing carrots -- incentives for proving installed systems that actually work as designed and sticks -- such as raising the bar for purchasing their brands, and cutting off the bad actors.

If we can’t get together on this, our industry could suffer yet another black eye, and the landscape will look very different over the next decade.

Contractors of course need to step up and get serious about learning how to test and measure the performance of installed systems and the systems they service. Good training is key -- not just basic training on installing and servicing a box, but truly understanding the whole system and how to test, diagnose, and provide solutions to their customers.

Those who have been following my Last Word column over the years have heard some of this before. The main difference is today the clock is running down. Federal and state agencies are feeling pressure from their constituencies to get results. Either we start to clean this up, or it will be imposed on us.

The choice is ours. If we can figure out how to unify our industry and prove we can do it ourselves, we may be able to fend off over-regulation. If we can’t get together on this, our industry could suffer yet another black eye, and the landscape will look very different over the next decade.

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