Twenty five years ago, as chief editor of Contracting Business magazine, I wrote an article titled, “The Comfort Revolution (CB, Dec. 1992, p. 4).” The article described how our industry had gone off course, veering its focus away from providing optimum comfort, the very reason our industry exists, to a race to selling higher and higher efficiency equipment.
Both then and now, while high efficiency equipment is a very good thing for our customers as well as overall energy efficiency and the environment, it should not be installed without a balanced focus on comfort. Along the way, health and safety were added to the mission, giving further balance to the equation. Over the past three decades my colleagues and I have been blessed with the opportunity to deeply study these areas and share ways to significantly improve HVAC systems with HVAC professionals across North America and beyond.
An important truth we learned along the way is that relying on the equipment alone to deliver comfort and high efficiency still leaves a huge hole in reaching our objectives. We realized early on that the air distribution system, which is comprised of the fan, filter, coil, ductwork, fittings, elbows, boots, registers and grilles, plays a major role in delivering balanced comfort with less energy consumption.
The Comfort Revolution Revisited
About 13 years ago I revisited this topic in an article that reviewed our industry’s progress over the previous 12 years. By this time a growing group of HVAC service companies was carrying the torch. They accomplished this by educating their field people, and in turn, their customers about the importance of evaluating the entire system, not just swapping boxes.
It’s great to see how much progress has been made since then by a significant number of contractors. Today, we estimate about 6,000 HVAC companies and 25,000 field people have made delivered performance an integral part of their offerings, and those numbers are growing rapidly.
Utilities Are Part of The Solution
Fortunately, a number of utility companies have also recognized the value of this approach, and invested heavily in training contractors on testing and delivering measured HVAC system performance in the communities they serve.
One of the first was Austin Energy, an Austin, TX municipal utility. This forward-thinking organization has been investing in their contractor base for the past 15 years by supporting and requiring their local HVAC companies to be trained and certified in HVAC system performance and air balancing. They continue to offer incentives and subsidies to the contractors who participate in these education programs.
A big shout-out goes to Southern California Edison, who, for the past seven years, supported these training programs both in the residential and commercial HVAC arenas. They’ve taken their support further by also subsidizing online training, as well as field training and coaching in backyards and rooftops across Southern California. Because of Edison’s deep commitment to raising the bar, thousands of service technicians, installers, and salespeople in Southern California continue to receive in-depth training on how to deliver true energy efficiency as well as comfortable, safe, and healthy environments. Other utilities in several other states have also started the process.
I look forward to the day when all utilities and utility commissions across the country follow this example, and understand the value of delivered performance for their ratepayers. Once they realize what this can do for them, they will also see that this approach can have a huge impact on energy efficiency and the environment through reduction in greenhouse gases. They will also be able to better deliver energy across the grid without problems currently caused by peak demand, and the mandate to not build additional power plants.
Meanwhile thousands of HVAC contractors continue to embrace these best practices. They continue to invest, mostly without subsidy, in the tools and knowledge to better design, install, service, and test systems, providing customers with measured performance. The leaders of these companies are the true leaders of our industry. This leadership isn’t based on how much volume their companies do, or how many employees they have. It’s based on how they do business and what they do to keep learning and improving.
Dominick Guarino is CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), one of the nation’s premier Performance-BasedTM training, certification, and membership organization, focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. His e-mail is [email protected] For more info on Performance-Based Contracting™ go to WhyPBC.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058.