HVAC: An industry Under Seige

Sept. 26, 2016
This rant is solely the cynical opinion of its author.

HVAC is under siege.  We’re under siege from multiple fronts and like a battered spouse in a co-dependent relationship, we just keep taking it and making excuses for the abuser.

Fox News reported that, “Secretary of State John Kerry said in Vienna on Friday that air conditioners and refrigerators are as big of a threat to life as the threat of terrorism posed by groups like the Islamic State.”

In an earlier Contracting Business column, I described how the Pope singled out air conditioning as a “harmful habit of consumption.”  

And I thought refrigeration and air conditioning was a good thing. Since a heatwave resulted in the deaths of over 35,000 un-air conditioned Europeans in August 2003, I think it’s fair to say our industry saves lives. Moreover, it makes the Sunbelt habitable. It makes hospitals healthier.  It makes homes more secure by allowing us to close and lock doors and windows. It keeps food fresher. It makes offices more productive. It makes the manufacture of many drugs possible. Air conditioned clean rooms are essential for computer chip manufacturing (no AC, no Internet).

And yet, more and more people are condemning and criticizing air conditioning as though it is one of mankind’s worst mistakes instead of one our greatest triumphs. We used to laugh these people off as wackos.  Well, the wackos are now writing the rules.

We are long past the point where air conditioning efficiency mandates make economic sense for consumers. Consumers are forced to spend dollars to save pennies.  Unable (for now) to cram even higher efficiency mandates down the industry’s throat, our unelected government bureaucrats have come up with a novel end run. They are changing the test standards, necessitating higher efficiency.
The first federal efficiency standard was reluctantly signed into law by Ronald Reagan in late 1980s because manufacturers preferred nationwide uniformity over varying state standards. Reagan wisely feared letting the government camel get its nose under the industry tent. We did, and look where it got us.

Then, the industry heroically retooled every manufacturing facility in response to the Montreal Protocol, to purportedly save the world.  Once done, everyone acted like the problem was solved.  Talk about the ozone hole virtually disappeared.  Three decades later, what are results?

According to the annual data from NASA’s OzoneWatch site, in 1994 the average September to October area of the ozone hole was 23.6 million km2. By 2002, this dropped to 12.0 million km2.  Ah, sweet success! Nope. The next year it shot up to 25.8 million km2.  By 2012, it dropped to 17.8 and last year was 25.6.  

The ozone hole is seasonal and variable.  Contrary to popular conception, it predates CFCs. It was first noted by British scientist Gordon Dobson in the 1950s (ozone is measured in Dobson units). Maybe the theory was wrong.  Maybe we do not understand ozone.  

Maybe we do not understand climate change either.  Sure, the world’s been warming. It’s been warming since the last ice age. However, it does not appear to be warming (much) from man’s CO2 emissions.  Otherwise, the warming would not have paused for the last two decades as the satellite record shows. Otherwise, the computer models — the entire basis of the global warming scare — would not have failed spectacularly.  

Nevertheless, R-410A has a global warming potential of 2080, and will disappear in seven years. The new mandate is 750. R-410A’s replacement will be partially flammable. Terrific, huh? Think about storage, transportation, leaks, and general liability. We do not even have codes for this.

Speaking of codes, a proposed change racing into the 2018 Uniform Mechanical Code will limit the use of flex duct in residential buildings to no more than five feet. Like every other mandate, homeowner affordability be damned.

Don’t be surprised when thermostats are limited to 80F in cooling mode and 65F when heating. We will take it, of course, like we are taking efficiency mandates, installation regulations, redefinition of confined spaces, requirements for valueless record keeping, and so on. We will keep taking it until homeowners can no longer afford air conditioners.  

John Kerry will be so happy.  

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.