An HVAC Industry History Lesson: Let’s Not Forget About Comfort

One other common misconception among HVAC contractors back in the 1980s and 1990s was that comfort and energy efficiency were mutually exclusive. It was thought that if you wanted energy efficiency you’d have to sacrifice some comfort, and vice-versa. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

Nearly 21 years ago, I published an editorial in this Contracting magazine entitled, “The Comfort Revolution (CB, December 1992, pg. 4).” The article pointed out how after 20 years of focus on energy efficiency, our industry had lost sight of delivering comfort. The energy conservation movements of the 1970s and 1980s had effectively derailed our industry’s primary mission: maintaining comfort in indoor environments.

Dominick Guarino, National Comfort Institute

So what happened? During those decades the entire industry, starting with equipment manufacturers, was racing to create and sell higher efficiency furnaces and air conditioning systems. This frenzy was also fueled by government agencies who continually pushed for higher minimum SEER and AFUE ratings.

Even back in the 1990s, as equipment efficiencies began to stabilize, true comfort was difficult to define. Contracting magazine invited a dozen or so marketing managers from the top manufacturers in our industry to a focus group to find out if they could agree on the definition of comfort as it relates to indoor environments.

We couldn’t get unanimous consensus from the group, but a few common themes did emerge. Most of the group agreed that, at a personal level, comfort is really the ability to control one’s environment. Another interesting observation shared by most was that comfort is the absence of discomfort. The best HVAC system is one you don’t even know is there. It just keeps you comfortable quietly and efficiently.

One other common misconception back in the 1980s and even early 1990s was that comfort and energy efficiency were mutually exclusive. It was thought that if you wanted energy efficiency you’d have to sacrifice some comfort, and vice-versa.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

What we’ve learned over the past two decades is that performance is where comfort and efficiency intersect. With measured, delivered performance, you, as an HVAC professional, can provide the best of both worlds, and by the way, also maintain a safer, healthier home.

When you provide “delivered performance” in the form of comfort and energy efficiency, it means the BTUs are getting to the right places at the right times.

When a system is operating at peak performance it also means it’s tight, delivering cleaner, healthier air throughout the home. Delivered performance also insures the home itself is well balanced, greatly reducing positive and negative pressure zones and thereby reducing the chances of flue spillage and other causes of carbon monoxide.

Do you see how all these things are tied together? By the way, they’re all tied to the home being properly sealed and insulated, which from a technical standpoint, is part of the duct system. The rooms make up the “ductwork” between the supply outlets and return inlets. This led to to the concept of the “House As A System,” which was also the title of another editorial (CB, April 1994, pg. 6;, where the house is defined as being part of the HVAC system and vice-versa.

What we’ve learned over the past two decades is when you study the physics of a home and its mechanical system — using real testing, not simulations or modeling — you begin to understand the undeniable truths about home performance and HVAC system performance, and how they’re inextricably intertwined.

But the lesson we must learn from the past is not to fall into the trap of just focusing on saving energy, and forgetting why we’re using that energy in the first place. If energy efficiency defeats the purpose of keeping humans comfortable, safe, and healthy, why bother? If we’re asking consumers to spend thousands of dollars to make their homes energy efficient because it saves energy and it’s good for the environment, but they are miserably uncomfortable doing so, why would they? Would you?

If our industry is to move towards a future that includes energy efficiency and performance, we have to remain painfully aware that making our customers’ homes comfortable is still our primary mission. The customers we’re tasked with keeping comfortable are the people who pay our bills, put food on our tables, and help send our kids to college. They’re our ultimate judge and jury.         

Dominick Guarino is CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (www.nationalcomfortinstitute. com), a premier Performance-BasedTM training, certification, and membership organization, focused on helping contractors grow,and become more profitable. His email is [email protected]. For more info on, Performance-Based ContractingTM, go to or call NCI at 800/633-7058.             

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