ACHRNEWS

The Future of HVAC Contracting

April 16, 2012
Do you remember the “Back to the Future” movies where Michael J. Fox jumped into a time-warping DeLorean sports car and sped into a future that was totally foreign? Can you imagine what an HVAC contractor from the 1990s would think if he were suddenly transported into 2012?

He would find a foreign business world dealing with regional efficiency standards, R-410A refrigerant, dry-charged R-22 units, 25C tax credits, building performance standards, and home performance contracting. And if that were not scary enough, he would also be faced with the possibility of new legislation called the HOMES Act that would make him part of a RESNET Energy Smart Home Performance Team.

Government Influence

In the last decade, our legislators and our regulatory agencies have had a huge influence on the industry and how contractors conduct their business. This government influence will continue to drive our business.

We have already gone through the 13 SEER minimum standard, and we thought we had changed over to R-410A refrigerant only to have the EPA’s allowance of dry-charged R-22 units create another major upheaval that is still causing ripple effects throughout the market.

If that wasn’t enough for an HVAC contractor to absorb, the federal government has been moving toward a new method for achieving energy savings from the inventory of existing homes in the United States. In the recent past, there were tax credits and rebates if the homeowner purchased the right furnace or condensing unit.

Then in 2010, the Home Star legislation was introduced in Congress, which became known as the “Cash for Caulkers” bill. This proposed legislation changed the whole emphasis from a prescriptive method to a performance-based method, where the incentive increased as the energy savings increased throughout the home.

This was great in theory, but then someone would have to certify the energy savings, and the bill said that someone should be the Building Performance Institute, an organization that had very little involvement in the HVAC industry. The Home Star bill stalled in the Senate, to the relief of many in our industry, but it created momentum toward performance-based energy legislation.

The HOMES Act

Now a new bill that has been introduced in the House of Representatives titled the Home Owner Managing Energy Savings Act of 2012, or HOMES Act. This bill would establish a Home Energy Savings Retrofit Rebate Program and provide a federal rebate of up to $8,000 for homeowners to improve the energy performance of their homes.

The amount of the rebate is driven by the percentage the energy performance is improved, starting with a $2,000 rebate for a 20–24 percent reduction and graduating up to $8,000 for a 50 percent reduction.

On the plus side, this legislation stipulates that the rebate go directly to the homeowner from the government and not from the contractor. But, in order to take advantage of this program, the HVAC contractor has to be accredited by the Building Performance Institute (BPI) or become part of a RESNET Energy Smart Home Performance Team.

The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) is a national nonprofit organization that sets national standards for the assessment of a home’s energy performance and making cost effective improvements to the home. A RESNET team consists of a RESNET-certified home energy rater, an HVAC contractor that has completed the ACCA QI process and employs at least one NATE technician, and an insulation installer/air sealer.

According to several of my industry sources, the HOMES Act will not be passed by the current Congress, but it is yet another indication of major change that is coming to HVAC contracting. I saw this change taking place at the recent Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) conference with a dramatic shift toward home performance contracting. ACCA announced a new Building Performance Council and was instrumental in creating a new ANSI standard for home performance. At the conference, Carrier also announced a new Energy Experts program that includes the Carrier 360° whole-home energy audit.

All of these signs have led me to believe that home performance contracting is coming, and it’s coming fast. If you want to stay competitive, hop in the DeLorean, tighten your seat belt, and set your sights on the road that will lead you to this future.

Publication date: 04/16/2012