ACHRNEWS

HVAC Turns 13!: Manufacturer Training Adapts to New Needs

September 4, 2006
Fundamentals will still play a large role in all aspects of HVAC technical training. (Photo courtesy of Carrier.)
When the government-mandated change to a 13 SEER efficiency minimum became official, unitary manufacturers had a lot to do in a relatively short time. In addition to gearing up to meet the regulation's deadline, they also had to gear up their training departments and get them ready to teach contractors about the finer points of higher-efficiency systems.

The new units are larger than the 10 and 12 SEER units they replace, and this could affect a contractor's business operations, pointed out Norm Christopherson, senior training specialist, York UPG - a Johnson Controls company. "Thirteen SEER units may be more than 50 percent larger than 10 SEER units," he said. "The larger physical size of 13 SEER units will create warehouse space concerns. And it may require several installers to move a 13 SEER unit that, in a 10 SEER size, could have been moved by one installer."

Emerson's "Tech Tips," a feature of The NEWS Website www.achrnews.com, has been addressing these very issues for the past several months. According to Emerson, contractors should already have been re-evaluating their inventory storage space and working out their labor requirements.

Now that the industry has all but finished its first 13 SEER cooling season, The NEWS wanted to find out how manufacturers' high-efficiency training programs have responded to contractors' needs. After all, without proper training, the industry could be looking at major consumer problems down the road. "Higher SEER systems are more sensitive to errors in installation and inaccuracies during selection, installation, and service," said Christopherson. "It is actually possible for a poorly installed, incorrectly charged 13 SEER system with incorrectly sized ducts to operate with an actual SEER of 7.

"There is a need for proper load calculations and equipment sizing," said Christopherson, in addition to "proper duct sizing, minimal airflow restrictions, good duct installation, and low air leakage." Additional technical problems could arise from the systems' almost universal use of thermostatic expansion valves (TXVs), and their increased need to have a matching indoor coil.

TXV TRAINING

According to Raymond Granderson, supervisor of training products and services for Rheem Air Conditioning, the most significant change in 13 SEER training has come from the reintroduction of TXVs into the cooling market. When 11 and 12 SEER units made up the bulk of the product, "Our training was focused heavily on fixed metering with a smaller emphasis on expansion valves," he said. "Now there is more of a balance between expansion valves and fixed metering."

The company's modular training offers a course on TXVs. "It's a very popular program," Granderson said. "The information is well-received in class."

"We spend quite a bit more time talking about TXVs and airflow," agreed Phil Rains, technical trainer, International Comfort Products. "We focus on how the TXV works, how it is different from piston-regulated systems, and we stress that technicians must charge TXV-equipped systems by using the subcooling method. We also include a refresher course on how to use the subcooling and superheat methods."

"Today's 13 SEER technical training is concentrated more around systems and system controls. Properly matching individual components - indoor coils, TXVs, refrigerant piping, and controls - is critical to achieve new SEER ratings," said Brian Lynch, manager, customer technical training, Carrier Corp., Syracuse, N.Y. "Some new technologies have also been incorporated and training is provided in these areas: microtube technology, TXVs, and advanced digital control strategies."

Contractors from across the country participated in a free training session at York Business Day 2005.

MATCHED COILS

"The technical training for 13 SEER is very similar to what was offered in the past, with the addition of a strong focus on coil sizing to match the new condensing units," said Jerad Adams, marketing manager, split system products, Bryant Heating & Cooling Systems.

"We have been stressing the importance of matched systems," confirmed Jamie Byrne, vice president of sales, American Standard. "A matched system is critical for reliability, system performance, and giving the customer what they paid for in terms of SEER rating.

"We have always placed emphasis on choosing the right matched system for specific applications," he added.

Indoor coil installations went fairly smoothly in the 10 and 12 SEER markets, said Granderson. "It won't work so well in the 13 SEER world. However, we need to consider that while indoor coils have grown larger, furnaces have become smaller. In a retrofit situation, if both the coil and furnace are replaced, the new height may not be that big of an issue. No doubt there are issues concerning the physical size of the components that must be addressed."

"The indoor coil must be replaced with a coil that is an ARI match with the outdoor coil," said Christopherson. Failure to use a matched coil with the condensing unit, he continued, could well result in one or more of the following:

  • Reduced capacity.

  • Loss in operating SEER regardless of the listed SEER.

  • A strong possibility of liquid floodback to the compressor resulting in loss of lubrication and eventual compressor failure if a system is charged for 13 SEER requirements but uses a lower SEER coil.

  • In severe cases of liquid floodback, compressor slugging may result.

    "It just makes sense to use a matched condensing unit and evaporator coil, properly sized from a load calculation followed by properly sized ducts and installed according to the manufacturer's recommendations," Christopherson said. "Comfort, capacity, reliability, and efficiency are at risk when we take shortcuts."

    "Coil sizing is definitely something that is of critical importance," said Adams. "Bryant's N-coil easily fits into space vacated by an old A-coil, which avoids some of the issues that could arise."

    "Lennox Industries began preparing our dealers for 13 SEER more than three years ago," said Alicia Bradshaw, marketing programs manager, Lennox Industries. "In January 2005, we launched HVAC Learning Solutions, an organization devoted to teaching sales, business, and technical skills to its independent residential dealers. The organization worked quickly to deliver the knowledge dealers needed for success in the post-13 SEER marketplace."

    Gary Elekes (left), president of EPC Inc., presented a Business Day session titled, "Financial Structure for an HVAC Dealer." Elekes is talking to a contractor (right) at York Business Day 2005.

    SALES AND BUSINESS TRAINING

    The move to 13 SEER has not raised purely technical concerns. Manufacturers have been busy equipping their dealers with the tools they need to sell the higher-efficiency units.

    "In spring of 2006, Lennox redeveloped the retail sales training offered to its dealers' salespeople," Bradshaw said. "The revised class includes information about how to sell high-efficiency equipment, and special techniques for selling to the millennium customer: the educated, affluent, female homeowner."

    In addition, "HVAC Learning Solutions introduced three key business classes in late 2005 to help dealers prepare for the change to 13 SEER." The "Marketing Workshop" class is intended to drive sales leads. "Profitable Pricing Strategies" deals with getting the right price on sales and service work. And the Lennox Masters of the Game Conference Series "helps leading dealers leverage changes in the marketplace to grow and become more profitable," Bradshaw said.

    "With sales training, we educate dealers on how 13 SEER is now the baseline, but it is still easy to sell up to the extremely high-efficiency products through a thorough explanation of the benefits of enhanced comfort available from the higher-tier products," said Adams.

    "Trane doesn't call it training anymore," said Lauri Crawford, Trane brand manager. "The word ‘training' implies an event, but ‘learning' is a lifelong process and is critical to the success of any business.

    "The change to 13 SEER is a good example," she said. "Our dealers learn how to sell total comfort, not just hot and cold. We stress the importance of matched systems, as well as the opportunity for enhancements, such as a higher SEER for more efficiency and solutions like Trane CleanEffectsâ„¢."

    Dick Harshaw gave a training session presentation at York Business Day 2005.

    STRESSING THE BASICS

    "We kind of reach back and re-emphasize things that were always issues and considerations: proper sizing of refrigerant line sets and ample clearance. As we take it to the next level, we need to be cognizant and ensure that consumers receive the efficiency that they're seeking when they purchased it. We try to put that into our training program," said Granderson.

    "The technical side of such things as the refrigeration circuit - those are fundamental things that just don't change. Clearances were always topics in the 12 SEER world," he said. "You don't want the outdoor unit in a little, confined space."

    "We still place a lot of emphasis on the basics - HVAC fundamentals, refrigeration cycle, charging, troubleshooting, etc.," said Rains. "Although efficiency levels rise and refrigerants change, the laws of thermodynamics remain the same."

    "Many things remain the same," said Bradshaw. "The core group of technical trainers has remained with the organization. The number of training locations has increased, but Lennox facilities remain in the same general geographic areas. Tuition for sales, business, and technical courses remain unchanged from 2004 levels. And the company has continued its video subscription program, now renamed the ProLearn Technical Training DVD Series."

    "Fundamentals are still a part of all training conducted," said Lynch. "This would include safety, product operation, refrigerant handling, installation, and troubleshooting."

    Selling strategies for 13 SEER products are being taught by manufacturers, in addition to technical skills. Here, Dick Harshaw (standing, left), president of Lodestar Consulting Systems, conducts a session on "13 SEER Selling Strategies."

    NEWER ISSUES

    This cooling season comes with a learning curve for many contractors. Their experiences this year will probably shape future manufacturer training itineraries.

    According to Bradshaw, some aspects of Lennox's technical training have evolved. "Under the auspices of Lennox, HVAC Learning Solutions has doubled the number of its HVAC technical training centers across North America, updated the technical curriculum, implemented a technician training needs assessment, and established training plans for 17 different job titles in a residential HVAC company," she said. "Having high-efficiency systems next to older equipment in the labs "gives technicians a real-world learning experience."

    In addition, the company's Field Technical Consultants program has added minischools on high-efficiency cooling products to its class schedules. "Minischools are four-hour, product-oriented training sessions held at Lennox facilities and in dealers' shops around the country," said Bradshaw. The company also invested in computer-based product training for most of the new products it has introduced since late 2005. "Robust, multimedia programs now guide dealers and their employees through the technical features and marketing points of new products."

    "Replacements get to be very difficult," said Granderson. "Sometimes those issues are not easily dealt with. We try to work with the contractor, if he has a problem job, help him find alternative ways to solving the problem. Look beyond the physical limitations and be creative," he said. "Think outside of the box; don't get hung up on it having to be this way all the time. Work through distributors to find a resolution for it."

    "We get a lot of questions from technicians about the details of replacing an existing R-22 system with a new R-410A system," said Rains. "Some technicians want to know if they can replace the old outdoor unit without changing out the indoor section and refrigerant lines. If you don't replace the indoor coil and refrigerant lines, you risk degraded system performance, refrigerant line leaks, and contamination of the R-410A refrigerant. You may shorten the system's life and in some cases, void the manufacturer's limited warranty.

    "The key here is the word ‘system.' Today's higher-efficiency products are designed to work as a system," Rains said. "The right charge, the right charge balance, the right refrigerant metering, the right oils, the right system protection all depend on the system design. It was designed as a system and should be installed as a system."

    "American Standard has been selling high-efficiency systems for years, up to 18 SEER," said Byrne. "So nothing [new] has come to light recently. We have always had questions regarding the technique for charging higher-efficiency systems; now we just see more of that demand."

    "More than anything, we see the benefits of committed learning," said Crawford. "A dealer in Arkansas told us he shares his learnings from Trane with a builder customer, successfully selling the builder on high-efficiency units."

    Proper air system design "is even more critical to meet today's energy requirements and homeowner comfort expectations," said Lynch. "Carrier's new application training guide will provide this guidance.

    "Homeowners today are looking for a higher level of control of their home HVAC system, whether it is individual zoning, IAQ, and or remote monitoring," he concluded. "New material is being developed to address these needs."

    Sidebar: Current Program Details

    AMERICAN STANDARD: Onsite and online classes are available through the Learning Management System. Classes cover technical topics, as well as strategies to help homeowners "uncover the best comfort solution for their homes," the company said. (For more information, contact your local American Standard distributor.)

    BRYANT: The company offers "a full range of technical classes and sales/business practice classes to enable our dealers to best serve their customers." (For more information, visit www.training.carrier.com.)

    CARRIER: Materials have been developed for distributors/dealers to conduct localized training for technicians. New 13 SEER products will be incorporated into the one-week "HVAC Basic Apprentice Start-Up & Installation Course" (BASIC), and "HVAC Mechanical Pro Troubleshooting" and "HVAC Electrical Pro Troubleshooting" courses. In addition, an interactive tool, "HVAC Performance Plus," is available on TXVs. (For more information, visit www.training.carrier.com.)

    DAIKIN AC: Daikin University offers state-of-the-art training centers, skilled and experienced instructional staff, and courses "designed by training professionals around specific objectives based on industry needs and job task analysis," said the company. Hands-on training is available on a complete range of functional Daikin systems in classrooms. (For more information, visit www.daikinac.com.)

    GOODMAN GLOBAL: The company has dedicated training professionals who provide instruction on Goodman®- and Amana®-brand products. Training classes are offered through and scheduled by the company's independent and company-owned distributors. (For more information on 13-plus SEER product instruction, contact your local Goodman and/or Amana distributor about upcoming classes.)

    INTERNATIONAL COMFORT PRODUCTS (ICP): The company offers a collection of training solutions to meet contractors' needs. Classes include distributor-sponsored locations across the country and hands-on training in the ICP Mobile Training Center, a classroom on wheels equipped with functioning furnaces, air conditioners, and heat pumps. Classes also are available via the Internet, DVD, audio CD, and on computer. (For more information, visit www.icptraining.com.)

    LENNOX: HVAC Learning Solutions' programs and services include sales ("Technician Communications," "Customized Comfort Specialist," "Customer Service Workshop"), business ("Financial Management," "Operations Accountability," "Profitable Pricing Strategies", "Marketing Workshop," "Masters of the Game Conference Series"), and technical (installation, maintenance, service, duct design, IAQ) training. Classes are open to current, active Lennox dealers and prospective dealers across North America. (For more information, visit www.lennoxdavenet.com.)

    RHEEM: "Thermostatic Expansion Valves: Why and How," outlines what is needed to understand expansion valve function and operation, as well as minimize TXV installation and field service mistakes, the company said. The program discusses TXV components, the forces that make them work, and different variations of TXVs. The program points out typical TXV issues and how each issue manifests itself in system superheat and pressure. (For more information, visit www.thetrainingnetwork.com.)

    TRANE: The company's learning programs are available both onsite and online through its Learning Management System. (For more information, contact your local Trane distributor.)

    Publication date: 09/04/2006