Conservation + Comfort: Face Your Fears - Make the Change

November 10, 2008
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The HVAC industry should be used to change by now. There was the need for certification in the early 1990s, the phaseout of R-12 in the mid-90s, and the switch to 13 SEER equipment in 2006. Each change brought a certain amount of hand-wringing and stress, but for the most part, the transitions went smoothly and everyone adjusted nicely. The phaseout of R-22 is now looming over the industry, and contractors are having to learn about its widely accepted successor, R-410A. Some industry sources have indicated that the adoption rate of R-410A has been slower than they hoped; however, many contractors are bucking that trend and moving their companies to primarily selling equipment with the new refrigerant.

JUST DO IT

Two years ago, Rick Coggins, general manager, Ace and A, Decatur, Ga., decided the time was right to start educating customers about R-410A. That effort has paid off because this year the company expects that more than 90 percent of its cooling installations will be R-410A equipment from Ruud or Bryant. Keeping customers satisfied is the reason why the company decided to make the switch before the mandated phaseout of R-22.

“For 35 years, we’ve been working in the residential retrofit market, and a lot of our customers are repeat customers,” said Coggins. “We didn’t want to get into a situation where a customer has a major equipment breakdown in 2012 and says, ‘You knew R-22 was going to be obsolete – why didn’t you sell me an R-410A system back in 2008?’ ”

While some contractors may be slow to embrace R-410A, others have jumped on board and are fully trained in the use of the new refrigerant. (Photo courtesy of Rheem.)

That’s the same reason why Sandi Gaus, office manager-owner, Mr Heating and Air Conditioning, Mount Washington, Ky., switched the company to selling only R-410A equipment from Maytag over two years ago. “We knew this major change was coming, and to install an R-22 system in someone’s home is really doing them an injustice. We just don’t run like that. I wouldn’t want it done to myself, so I wouldn’t do it to anyone else.”

Gaus is so convinced that changing to R-410A is the right thing to do, the company will not install R-22 equipment at all anymore. If someone is determined to have an R-22 system installed, then that person will have to look elsewhere. “I just won’t do it,” she said. “I want no part of it because in four or five years when that R-22 system needs refrigerant, the customer is going to see how much it costs and blame me for it, even though I told them to go with an R-410A system. They’re going to forget we had that conversation.”

Coggins will grudgingly install R-22 equipment but only after he’s done everything possible to talk the customer out of it. There’s not much of a price difference between the R-410A and R-22 units, however, customers will still make a decision over a few dollars. “I get people on the phone all the time who want us to quote them a price because they’re just trying to find the cheapest equipment. Even though that’s not the customer I’m looking for, you don’t like to see a customer slip through your fingers even if they are going to be cheap,” said Coggins.

FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

Changing to R-410A did not come easily to Ace and A; as Coggins noted, they were scared to death about making the switch. However, the company realized that the mandate wasn’t going away, and they’d have to face it sooner or later.

“We decided to get ahead of the curve and prepare ourselves, and then just go ahead and make the switch,” said Coggins. “We needed to find out what the bugs were in R-410A, get our people trained, and buy the right equipment. Now we look back on it and say, ‘Wow, that was really no big deal. It was a lot easier than we thought it was going to be.’ We heard all the horror stories about R-410A, and none of them turned out to be true. It’s been very simple.”

Unfortunately, some of those horror stories came from training classes that Coggins attended several years ago. Instead of focusing on the benefits of R-410A, the trainers decided to discuss all the potential problems of the new refrigerant. “One of the trainers had us convinced that if we left a drum of Puron in our truck in Atlanta when it’s 98ºF outside that our truck was going to explode. They had us scared to death,” said Coggins.

Fear of the unknown may have been one of the reasons why the staff at Ace and A were not too thrilled about making the transition to R-410A. Coggins noted that the company almost had a revolt, but once it was explained that there would be lots of training and management support, everyone got used to the idea. Although he admits to holding his breath the first time the company installed an R-410A system and turned it on.

The transition was a little easier at Mr Heating and Air Conditioning. “There was no question that we had to make the change,” said Gaus. “As with any industry, you always have changes. We had to get a little bit of training, and that was about the extent of it. The biggest change is making sure we label the units. They need to be labeled R-410A, so if the customer calls a different contractor, that company knows immediately it’s an R-410A unit.”

Coggins believes it was the fear of change, rather than the actual change itself that caused the most angst. “Heating and air conditioning guys don’t like change. We’ve had a lot of change thrust upon us in the last few years, and it’s scary. It’s like anything else, once you face your fears, you realize there wasn’t anything to fear anyway.”

Most customers have had no problem accepting the new refrigerant, and it’s become even easier now that more contractors are offering R-410A equipment. (Photo courtesy of Nordyne.)

CUSTOMER ACCEPTANCE

Customers certainly have had no problem accepting the new refrigerant. It’s become even easier now that more contractors are offering R-410A equipment. Gaus stated that two years ago, she used to receive phone calls from customers asking about the new refrigerant, but now that more of her competitors have made the switch, she’s fielding fewer calls.

Coggins has experienced much the same thing. “When we brought up R-410A with customers two years ago, they would look at us funny. This year it’s been a lot easier because more customers understand what’s going on. I think there are a lot more companies quoting it and selling it this year, so customers are used to hearing about it.”

When servicing R-22 equipment, both Gaus and Coggins have their technicians discuss the benefits of installing an R-410A system with customers. With Gaus, her technicians bring it up during every service call, and if a system needs more than 2 pounds of R-22, the technicians give an estimate for an R-410A system on the spot. “Between 60 and 65 percent of customers go ahead and change out the system. We explain they’re wasting their money on the old unit,” said Gaus.

Coggins said that all of his technicians also talk about the benefits of R-410A equipment during service calls. “If they’re replacing a motor on an older system, we’ll talk to the customer about the benefits of moving to an R-410A system instead of spending money on the existing unit. We’ll explain that R-410A is more environmentally friendly and will save money down the road because the cost of R-22 is going to go through the roof. We try to point out the benefits of R-410A whenever we can.”

One of the biggest benefits of R-410A is that it will still be available long after the production of R-22 units ceases in 2010. Contractors should not wait until the last moment to make the switch, said Coggins. “Don’t be afraid. It’s not gonna bite you. Go out and get the classes, get your people trained, and do it. It’s a reality. It’s going to happen.”

Publication date: 11/10/2008

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