The 1980s: Industry Reacts To Energy Concerns, IAQ Warnings

November 6, 2001
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The first half of the 1980s brought about an intense interest in renewable sources of energy, including solar energy for heating. This search for alternative energy sources was spurred largely by the oil embargo of the 1970s. The high cost of oil led to a push to develop other forms of energy.

The nuclear uncertainties of the decade also contributed to the energy debate. In 1979, the country survived what could have been a major disaster with the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island. In the 80s, the accident at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl instilled a deep fear of nuclear power in the public.

The emphasis on cutting down on fuel consumption changed the way some buildings were constructed, inadvertantly leading to what we know today as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). Homes and businesses were constructed tightly to prevent conditioned air from escaping. This led to problems with indoor air quality (IAQ), which renewed interest in ventilation.

Contractors and manufacturers had their share of heating concerns during the decade, but much of the history in the 80s seems to encompass the industry’s reaction to earlier events.



Oil Embargos

One of the major events that set the stage for industry events in the 80s was the oil embargo of 1973. Syria and Egypt launched an attack on Israel. The U.S. threw its support towards Israel, so Arab nations slowed oil production by five million barrels a day.

In 1979, a war between Iran and Iraq further hampered oil production, and the price of crude oil skyrocketed. According to the West Texas Research Group (WTRG), the combination of the Iranian revolution and the Arab oil embargo caused crude oil prices to double from $14/barrel in 1978 to $35/barrel in 81.

Under the administration of President Jimmy Carter, Congress passed the Public Utility Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). The Electrical Generating Systems Association (EGSA) says that PURPA required utilities to reduce energy demand through energy-efficiency programs. This policy paved the way for tax credits on solar energy. (See article on solar developments, page 68.)

Many News commentators were hopeful that solar would change the future of U.S. energy needs. Dennis Hayes, then executive director of the Solar Energy Resource Institute (SERI), was quoted in a Jan. 28, 1980 issue as follows: “Solar power will offer the U.S. a clean energy future, decrease our dependence on petroleum, and offer a decentralized approach to solving our energy problems.”

One of the most popular solar applications was solar water heating, which peaked during this decade. Its popularity was largely due to the fact that it was one of the easiest solar applications. A sensor attached to the water tank would detect when water temperatures were too low. When this happened, water would circulate in the pipes and the solar system would absorb heat from the sun and transfer it to the water.

Wind power also gained momentum. According to the Energy Information Administra-tion (EIA), 1,000 MW of wind power capacity had been installed before 1985. This exceeded the goal of 800 MW by 1988 set by the Wind Energy Systems Act of 1980.

EIA also claims that wind energy in the early 80s was not as efficient as it is now. Tax credits were also applied to wind energy, but they were based on the amount of capital invested.

Several other renewable energy sources were kicked into gear with the passing of PURPA, including geothermal energy and hydro-power. But as the decade went on and oil prices began to drop, interest in renewable energy dwindled. The nail in the coffin of renewable energy was the death of the tax credit.



Two researchers (above) at the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) inspect a solar energy system.

Nuclear Uncertainty

Attitudes toward nuclear energy changed after March 28, 1979. The Three Mile Island Unit 2 nuclear reactor in Harrisburg, PA, had been on-line only three months. Due to human error, a pressure relief valve was stuck open, and radiation was released into the atmosphere and the surrounding area. Three Mile Island threw a large shadow over the 80s.

The effects of the accident were investigated throughout the decade. But the great lasting effect, and the one that hit home for the hvacr industry, was the fear of nuclear energy.

Steve Howard, founder of the ACT Group, Inc., Phoenix, AZ, has studied the effects of Three Mile Island. Howard says that before the incident, there was already a great deal of public concern about nuclear energy. After the incident, opposition to nuclear energy was very strong.

Howard points out that no nuclear plant was ever constructed in the U.S. after the Three Mile Island meltdown. North American construction plans for nuclear reactors were eventually cancelled.

In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near Kiev in the former Soviet Union, experienced a meltdown far worse than Three Mile Island. It occurred during a safety test to simulate a reactor failure. According to Howard, automatic safety systems in the plant were disconnected in order to prevent interference with the experiment. Also, the emergency cooling system was shut off and the power output was lowered.

When power was dropped too low, technicians tried to bring it back up by removing control rods. Reactor cooling water was reduced, and the overheating began.

Thirty people were killed in the nuclear explosion, and it has been reported that 5% of the radioactive reactor core was released into the atmosphere. Irradiated dust was carried over the Soviet Union and parts of Scandinavia and Europe.

“These [accidents] were totally preventable,” Howard says. Moreover, technical training and safety procedures were inadequate, Howard maintains.



Tight Houses And IAQ

Another response to the 70’s oil crisis was to modify some construction habits and manufacture heating systems that were more energy efficient.

“In the need for energy efficiency, the first thing looked at was construction,” said Warren Healy, president of the Heating, Refrigerating and Air Condition-ing Institute of Canada (HRAI). “If you make the building envelope tighter, you solve energy efficiency problems.”

Healy says that this method had started to take off during the 70s, as a result of the oil crises. If homes and businesses were built just a bit tighter, more energy would be trapped in, hence less would be needed to heat or cool the space. In the 80s, some consequences of these building habits started to come to light.

In 1984, the World Health Organization Committee estimated that approximately 30% of new and remodeled buildings worldwide could be subject to complaints of poor IAQ. These complaints are linked to what is known as SBS, in which building occupants have health and comfort problems related to time spent in a building. Some of these main complaints are itchy eyes, throat and nasal irritation, and dry skin due to lack of moisture in the building.

The EPA also suggests that SBS has its roots in the 1973 oil embargo, when national energy conservation measures called for a reduction in the amount of outdoor air for ventilation from 15 cfm/occupant to 5 cfm. This reduction was later found to be inadequate for occupant health and comfort.

Healy says HRAI became more concerned with IAQ issues during this decade. The organization started working with the Can-adian government to find ventilation sol-utions for tight homes and buildings. In the United States, industry associations focused more energy on issues such as ventilation and IAQ. In fact, it was during the 80s that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Condition-ing Engineers (ASHRAE) started to re-evaluate and broaden its ventilation standards.

Currently, the EPA says many buildings can reduce their IAQ problems by following ASHRAE Standard 62-1989, “Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality.” The standard recommends at least 20 cfm/occupant for office space. It also identifies indoor pollutants of importance, such as radon, asbestos fibers, formaldehyde, tobacco smoke, and microorganisms.

The 1980s was a big decade for ASHRAE in the way of IAQ research and development. Stand-ard 62 was developed in 1973, but was later revised in 1981 and again in 1989. The organization started an Environmental Health Com-mittee (EHC) in 1985 and held its first IAQ conference in 1986. The initial conference was held to create awareness on IAQ issues and to discuss proper ventilation rates. The IAQ conferences have continued yearly to date.

The hvacr industry also looked for ways to make equipment and units more energy efficient in order to deal with high electric and oil prices.

In 1980, The News covered a variety of industry measures to meet this efficiency demand. In what would become an industry theme for the 80s and beyond, energy-efficient products including gas furnaces, motors, and compressors were highlighted at shows and in the pages of The News.

Towards the end of the decade, energy efficiency was not just a goal — it became a demand. In 1987, the Energy Conservation and Policy Act (ECPA) was passed. The bill required a 78% AFUE for furnaces, and was scheduled to go into effect by 1992.



Sidebar: PHCC Educational Foundation Is Born

The history of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association (PHCC) began over 100 years ago, but one of the associations’ most important creations got its start in the 1980s.

The PHCC Educational Foundation provides training and business education for member contractors and provides scholarships for young people interested in pursing a career in the plumbing and hvac industry.

The idea was introduced in 1985 and carried into existence by a number of influential contractors and members of PHCC, including Chuck Hiley Sr., Raymond (Dick) Irwin, Dan Burnett, Bill Harvey, Ray Dauenhauer, and John Ward.

According to Gerry Kennedy, current chief operating officer of the foundation, the initial idea was to provide contractors with nontechnical training. There was a great deal of technical training already available, but some saw the need for educational courses that could help contractors run their businesses more successfully. Early courses covered overhead, cash flow, safety, and more.

Larry Howe was on the PHCC board of directors in the late 80s and has chaired the Educational Foundation for the last three years. Howe says the foundation did not take off right away. “As much as we tried to educate our members, they still didn’t understand what it was all about.”

The founding members continued to drum up support. “Once people understood what it was we wanted and where we were coming from, we received more support,” said Irwin.

He appealed to the delegates at the 1986 convention in San Francisco, CA, where the resolution to establish the foundation was passed.

Ray Dauenhauer Jr. became president of the association that year and served as president of the Educational Foundation. Irwin served as ceo, and Hiley chaired the 85-member advisory board.

According to Irwin, in the first few months of the foundation’s existence, contractors donated or pledged $3 million. This contractor support led to a great deal of manufacturer support. In 1988, the foundation instituted its scholarship program.

According to Kennedy, the foundation is currently looking into distance learning via the Internet some time in 2002. “Never in my wildest imagination did I think that would come to pass,” said Irwin.

“The vision of the Educational Foundation was to give something back to the industry,” said Howe. “I got involved because you want to give something back to improve this industry.”



Sidebar: 1987: ICE Tests Tech Competency

The first testing day for the Industry Competency Exam (ICE) was on Dec. 12, 1987. But when it first debuted, it was not known as ICE. It was known as the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute (ARI)-Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA) national competency exam.

The News reported in 1986 that ARI and GAMA would introduce what would be one of the first entry-level industry competency exams for vocational students. The goal of the exam was, and still is today, to provide hvacr contractors with certified students.

Chuck Otto of Johnson Controls was, and still is, on the committee responsible for reviewing the exams each year. Otto remembers that the exam took time to grow.

In the first year, 800 individuals took part in the testing, which was comprised of three separate exams: Residential Air-Conditioning and Heating, Light Commercial Air-Conditioning and Heating, and Commercial Refrigeration.

The News also reported that this number was seen as disappointing by test administrators, but, for the most part, reviews of the exam were good. “I think it went smoothly because we had so many test sites that we weren’t overwhelmed at any one site,” said then ARI director of education, Taury Silver, in a News interview.

Some educators had a wait-and-see attitude about the exam. One instructor told The News in 1987 that he didn’t think contractors would want to know if students were certified under the program. Another instructor said he was worried that ARI could end up controlling course content. Yet another instructor said the price for the test was too high. The fee for the test in 1987 was $15.

Leslie Sandler, current education director for ARI, notes that certification has grown by leaps and bounds. In fact, the name of the exam was eventually changed to ICE to reflect the number of industry associations that had decided to support it.

“It’s a good opportunity for industry itself to get involved with vo-tech schools and point them in the right direction,” said Otto.

Currently, 300 schools require ICE for graduation and SkillsUSA-VICA uses the certification as part of its national competition. If there needs to be any proof that the ICE exam has been successful, one must only refer back to this publication’s coverage in the late 80s. Students who passed one or more of the exams had their names printed in The News. Today, the number of passing candidates is so large each year that the names must be placed on our website.

Since 1987, 40,000 individuals have become ICE certified.

Publication date: 11/12/2001

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