As the demand for cooling and comfort has increased over the years, mechanical systems technology has had to keep pace. Environmental concerns have mobilized policymakers around the world to impose new standards and regulations for energy conservation and refrigerant usage.
Having successfully maneuvered through the minimum 13 SEER mandate, the industry is now preparing for 2010, when all HCFC refrigerants must be phased out. This has caused a level of concern among contractors, who are tasked with installing and maintaining air conditioning systems for their customers that can be sustained for many years.
“The training and support (related to R-410A) is available. It’s just a question of whether or not contractors will avail themselves of it,” says Steve Miles, president of Jerry Kelly Heating Air Conditioning, St. Charles, MO.
“The last time I spoke with my local distributor, he said that easily 50% of contractors are not certified to use R-410A,” Miles says. “We’ve been installing R-410A equipment for 5 or 6 years now. I think it’s going to create marvelous opportunities for contractors who know what to do, but it’s going to create enormous headaches for homeowners, when they have unqualified technicians dumping the wrong refrigerant into a system. When the change out occurs, it’s going to be a mess.”
One such monumental shift in the industry took place in the 1980s, with the introduction of the scroll compressor by Emerson Climate Technologies, under the Copeland brand. In the beginning, contractors were wary of the unproven technology. It wasn’t long, however, before the scroll was a preferred technology for residential air conditioning systems, due to its compact size, high-efficiency, and reliability.
When13 SEER was announced, some manufacturers and distributors worried that they’d have to completely retool or change out their inventory to meet the demand for 13 SEER systems. However, with 20 years of field proof behind it, the scroll’s design already allowed for higher efficiencies. If anything, the scroll’s ability to reach these higher efficiencies was being underused prior to the 13 SEER transition.
Efficiency – at what price?
As new regulations are imposed, in any context, there are always questions and concerns about altering behavior. When 13 SEER became the minimum efficiency standard, certain things needed to change, such as truck-size and types of equipment to stock.
The 13 SEER mandate was a challenge, however contractors were able to transition smoothly because they had established a level of comfort and confidence in some of the equipment already on the market. That equipment works seamlessly with the higher-efficiency systems. Scroll compressors are amazingly versatile and reliable, and proved capable of performing at the higher efficiency levels.
“Scroll compressors are very simple, with fewer moving parts, and appear to have a much better track record than other compressors,” Miles says.
R-410A on Deck
With refrigerant leaks and energy consumption on regulators’ minds, the Montreal Protocol marked the phaseout of all HCFC refrigerants by the year 2010, and heating and cooling contractors had to find an alternative to industry standby R-22.
The air conditioning industry, particularly on the residential side, seems to have come to an agreement that R-410A will be the environmentally-friendly refrigerant of choice. Though there is still much to be done to ensure the entire industry is prepared for the 2010 phase-out of R-22 and other HCFC refrigerants, there are already millions of scroll compressors on the market specifically designed for R-410A.
The industry learned a valuable lesson in preparation for the 13 SEER transition. Because many manufacturers, distributors, and contractors effectively navigated through that transition, the industry has taken a “sooner-than-later” approach, and has embraced more environmentally friendly refrigerants.
The Results of Forward Thinking
Heating and cooling contractors have always had to battle unfair stereotypes about their trustworthiness, stereotypes that are promoted through tabloid television shows, at least on an annual basis. The HVAC industry, and contractors, in particular, should help each other by promoting the benefits of responsible HVAC service and installation.
The fact that the industry is working early to phase-out HCFCs has a positive impact on the environment that will become more apparent with time. As contractors talk to their customers about energy efficiency, comfort, and sustainable systems that will be compliant for a number of years, they're building their reputations and earning loyal customers.
Transitions can create pain, but also opportunities. The components are out there now for contractors to sell, and they’ll be able to tell their customers they’re getting a system which will save them money on energy for years to come.