Butch Welsch

It seems like only yesterday that we were all talking about the upcoming change from 10 SEER to 13 SEER as the minimum manufactured air conditioning unit. Actually it’s been over two years, some 26 months, since that change went into effect. Do any of us remember all of the problems we went through after that change took place?

There were several years of discussing and supposedly years of planning for that upcoming change. Yet it seemed when it occurred as if it was sprung on our industry by surprise. There were significant shortages of many of the components needed to provide a 13 SEER system. Several months went by before the distribution system returned to “normal” (whatever that is).


Now let’s fast forward to where we are, here in the spring of 2008. Yes, 26 months removed from the last major change, but wait! More importantly now is the fact that we are only 21 months away from the next major industry change. 2010 sounded, and even still sounds, so far away that we just sort of put it out of our minds. But January of 2010 is when manufacturers must stop manufacturing units using that old reliable R-22 and change to the new R-410A. No big deal. We went through the 10 to 13 SEER change, certainly we learned from the problems that we encountered. I’m not sure we learned our lesson.

The issue was brought to my attention as I was reviewing the mix of air conditioning units that we installed in 2007. There certainly weren’t a very high percentage of R-410A units. So I decided to conduct a small survey. Granted, this is not a scientific-type survey.

I contacted distributors of four of the major brands of air conditioning units here in the St. Louis area and asked them to give me the percentage of the air conditioning units that they sold during 2007 that utilized R-410A versus R-22. The results were: Manufacturer #1: 31 percent R-410A; Manufacturer #2: 8.8 percent R-410A; Manufacturer #3: 27 percent R-410A and Manufacturer #4: 30 percent R-410A.

I have put these numbers together, and have done some interpolating based on the relative number of units sold by each distributor. The overall average comes out to approximately 24.5 percent of the units sold in 2007 in the St. Louis metro area were R-410A units. This number is a long way from the percentage that we are going to need to be installing starting Jan. 2010.


My first reaction was to talk to the manufacturers about this issue. But upon further review, I believe the responsibility belongs to us, the contractors. The manufacturers are going to manufacture what we sell. If their distribution is only around 24.5 percent R-410A, that’s because that’s the percentage of units we as contractors are selling. It’s our responsibility, as the ones who make the sale, to work harder at educating the public regarding the major change that is going to take place in the near future.

An additional factor enters into the picture when you are discussing a R-410A vs. R-22 unit with a customer. We have seen the cost of R-22 refrigerant rise dramatically over the last few months. Assume this trend continues. If an R-22 installation you make today has a refrigerant leak in 16 months, how upset is that customer going to be that he has to pay $X per pound to replace refrigerant with the knowledge that that refrigerant will more than likely continue to rise in price since it is no longer the industry standard.

I’m sure that we all don’t want to go through the headaches we went through in early 2006. If we, as contractors, will educate our customers about the change that is coming and start selling a larger percentage of units with the new refrigerant, then the manufacturers will have to change the percentage of each style unit they produce. If we start this selling process now and cause the manufacturers to begin changing their manufacturing percentages earlier, then I’m sure we can count on the transition to the new refrigerant to be much easier on all of us in the industry.

This is not a time to stay in the background and point the blame at someone else in the supply chain. This is an opportunity for us contractors to be leaders of the industry, and in the end make the industry better for all of us.

Publication Date:04/07/2008