The atmosphere of HVACR contracting has changed radically. From the equipment being installed, to the refrigerant used to provide cooling, so many things have changed that only one thing is really clear: There is no such thing as business as usual. New refrigerants, higher efficiencies, government mandates, and new technologies are offering sweeping changes in partnerships, markets, and levels of activism for those in our industry. However, no matter how many aspects of business change, the constant focus is on staying informed to stay on top of the game. That’s why this yearThe NEWSis running constant articles on “The New Face of HVACR” in 2010.
We’re starting with the most obvious change: the cessation of new products available with R-22. As of Jan. 1, no more new refrigeration or air conditioning systems can be produced or sold by manufacturers if they use R-22. But, how much awareness is there among consumers, or even among contractors? Andy Armstrong, director of marketing, Unitary Products division, Johnson Controls Inc., pointed out the need for more education of both groups.
PROMOTING AWARENESS“It is clear that there still is a great deal of ignorance and misinformation surrounding refrigerants for residential and light-commercial applications, especially among consumers,” said Armstrong. “At Johnson Controls, we’ve been aggressively working with our distribution channel to develop strategies to educate our customers and their customers. It has been consistent through the change from R-22 to R-410A that educated contractors and homeowners make better decisions.
“Although we’ve been working hard to ensure that all contractors have the necessary training,” he said, “there is still work to be done. We will continue to support our contractor customers with training as needed.”
Jeff Staub, application engineering manager, Danfoss, said, “When it comes to contractors, I believe that there’s still additional training needed.” There are two stages, he explained. “They’re dealing primarily with 410A for a/c, and 404A for refrigeration.
“As far as installations are concerned, they are pretty much up to speed,” Staub said. “But additional training needs to be taken into consideration. Throughout the years, consumers have had a choice of retrofitting or replacing.” If contractors can get a hold of R-22, they could repair some systems. “If they can’t, they may be forced to replace them.” This would require more customer education.
Each refrigerant also has implications for the oil circulation, he said, and contractors still need more experience in this area. Training for recycling and reclamation also might be necessary, he said, as according to information from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only 3 percent of refrigerant is being recycled or reclaimed at this time. More contractors may need to get EPA 608 certification.
Market shortages can push these activities into a higher gear. The price of virgin R-22 will drive up the contractors’ reclaiming/recycling in order to have this 22 available. If they have supermarket chain customers using R-22 and they don’t want to replace equipment, they will reclaim and bank refrigerant when it’s serviced.
“The customer will always look for their bottom line,” Staub said. It can be a little more difficult if you take an environmental approach (recycling for a price instead of venting for free to help the environment). “If I can keep my equipment running on R-22 without having to retrofit it, absolutely it makes sense economically,” he said.
Potential problems could arise for those who choose to move to interim refrigerants, where they could be losing efficiency, he said.
MARKET PREDICTIONSWill there be a shortage of virgin R-22 on the market in the near future? Indicators point out the likelihood, and if so, customers will need to choose whether to retrofit or replace their systems, or see if they can find recycled refrigerant. “Refrigerant banking, in general terms, is probably a better option for them,” Staub said.
In the coming cooling season, contractors can use many different strategies to help manage R-22 inventories. “Market economics, the weather, distributor strategies, the economy, financial stability, and many other factors will drive distributors’ decisions on how much R-22 inventory to carry into 2010,” he said. “It is our recommendation that contractors check with their local suppliers to better understand how they intend to deal with R-22; that will be the best indication of how much R-22 product contractors can expect in the pipeline.
“If we look at historical facts, I’d say there would be a shortage, but there are too many variables.”
In short, the supply is going to be short of the demand. Shorter availability of product will raise prices. This, in turn, will escalate the viability of recycling.
“I think the contractors’ outlook has to change,” Staub said. “This isn’t the only legislation that we’re going to see.” He anticipates continuous legislation for green refrigerants and “a vast array of alternatives.” And now Congress is looking to limit CO2 emissions.
Looking at supermarkets, “Some smaller guys looking at the bottom line, and larger guys like Wal-Mart are looking to be environmentally friendly,” Staub said. “Small guys have to look out for their bottom dollar.
“The contractors need to have a different outlook; it will be a continuing, lifelong education to give their customers different solutions, an emerging world with different technologies. The contractor has to be able to provide solutions.” And this is the aspect of HVACR that will not change, at least for some folks.
“Maintenance contracts are actually a big portion” of customer solutions, he said. In addition to helping customers keep their systems running more efficiently and leak free, “service contracts are absolutely a great way to provide steady revenue.
“We have to wait and see what technology brings us,” Staub said; “There are significant developments in interim refrigerants. Better blends will be available.”
The message today, he said, is to stay in a state of continual learning. “Keeping up with today’s technology is not enough.”