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Watch for Stricter Installation Guidelines

March 6, 2006
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When I'm wrong, I don't admit it. I just find a way to justify it some time in the future. I have learned this sleight of hand from my lovely bride. (Or perhaps I have actually married the perfect woman who tolerates me as I'm becoming evermore stupid in our 19 years of marriage.)

A few years ago I opined that the Department of Energy (DOE) had glossed over some important changes that would come with the then pending change to 13 SEER as the baseline for residential cooling efficiency. One of my suggestions had been that outdoor units would become larger and therefore more difficult to service. Some people might say that this was an obviously wrong prognostication. I prefer to think of it only as a miscalculation of sizable proportion. How was I to know that some manufacturers were researching microchannel coil materials? Besides, I don't believe that size really matters. (Does it, honey?)

Microchannel coil technology, not yet adopted by all the unitary manufacturers, has actually been used in the automotive industry for decades and has been on HVAC drawing boards for nearly as long. It's often said that there isn't anything new being developed in our industry. However, this one qualifies. If you are a contractor in the service business, you may want to get your people ready for the new look out in the field. There are a few service features to be aware of in regard to microchannel coils. Leak repair being one of them – it's actually pretty easy.

Another whacky suggestion I had was that the DOE should consider mandating proper equipment servicing. After all, the automotive industry has been subject to environmental and performance checks in most states for a long time – why not HVAC? A high-efficiency system doesn't stay highly efficient for very long when it's not serviced properly. Why would the DOE mandate the manufacturer of energy-efficient equipment without ensuring that it first be properly installed and later maintained in order to continually achieve the desired energy savings?

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

Last year a 26-member committee, spear-headed by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), worked together on a "draft specification that defines quality contractors (QC) and quality installations (QI) for the residential and commercial sectors." This coalition of contractors, OEMs, utilities, and members of government entities and trade associations recently released its recommendations. The QC/QI initiative provides needed guidance for stricter standards regarding installation practices. Though, as one of the document's reviewers, I fear that some of the standards may be too cumbersome for implementation, the goal is laudable. It's about time that contractors are generally held more accountable for their work, and provided with guidelines to model.

To be sure, there are many contractors who have already flourished in the Age of Accountability; they've taken the proverbial bull by the horns. They test systems before and after to ensure proper performance. They are as concerned about airflow as they are about gas pressure and refrigerant charge. However, there are too many HVAC contractors that really do need stricter regulations to govern their actions – regulations that are actually enforced.

Whoa! Who said anything about regulations? Enforce? That sounds too much like government intervention. These are just 26 people who thought they came up with some good ideas for the betterment of HVAC. Right?

Let's see: "... coalition of ... government entities ..." A bunch of them might be from Washington, D.C. No, couldn't happen. Fortunately, ACCA and the other members of the committee are being proactive in light of rumblings coming from the DOE and the Energy Star program.

I may be wrong again, but keep an eye on this QC/QI initiative. It's going places.

Mike Murphy, Editor-In-Chief, 248-244-6446, 248-244-2905 (fax), mikemurphy@achrnews.com

Publication date: 03/06/2006

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