With summer underway, the threat of extreme weather conditions, including hail, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and more, is brewing. And, while it may be sunny and 75°F out now, old man winter — and his malady of frozen mischief — will only hibernate for a few more months. Is your contracting company, and its residential and commercial clients, ready to overcome the harshest of conditions this year?
Contractors across the U.S. experience a wide variety of conditions, climates, and weather extremes on a day-to-day basis.
In the Midwest, a technician may trudge through 3 inches of snow one morning only to encounter a perfect 72? temperature the next day. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states the decade from 2000 to 2009 had twice as many record high daily temperatures as record-lows in the U.S.; nine of the top 10 years for extreme one-day precipitation events have occurred since 1990; and, between 2000 and 2013, more than 20 percent of the U.S. experienced drought at any given time.
While there is no ready-made how-to guide for dealing with extreme weather conditions, contractors and manufacturers can take certain steps and precautions to ensure they are best prepared to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws their way.
“We prepare for seasons, but leave enough daily flexibility to be able to accommodate what might be three different seasons in as many days,” said Charles Wiercinski, operations manager, Kettle Moraine Heating & Air Conditioning, North Prairie, Wisconsin. “We prepare for that which can be prepared. The rest is a mix of art and science, juggling the proactive and reactive sides of the business. Basically, we start our day with Plan A, and, often, we end it having executed Plan G. There is no magic formula, unfortunately, but having a smart, focused team that knows what needs to be done makes all the difference in the world.”
Weather in the Midwestern states is impossible to predict, said Joe Kokinda, president and CEO, Professional HVAC/R Services Inc., Avon, Ohio. “Recently, a bunch of guys went on the road without jackets when the [daily] temperatures were above 80?F. And, today, they are in the high 40s to mid-50s. During the winter months, we’re tasked to run our pipes and properly dehydrate our fixtures in below 0?F temperatures. We always prepare for what we can. We carry tents for our slab and roof work to protect the crews from exposure. Propane heaters are the rule in the winter, and protection of the RVs is also important.”
Wiercinski said his crew holds seasonal meetings to prepare for inclement weather and acknowledges the importance of managing a day-to-day calendar around weather fronts. “It’s vital to leave enough room in the schedule to handle whatever the day may bring, but also have a plan to maximize technician efficiency. Dispatch plays a key role by making snap decisions daily to keep the technicians busy while maintaining a certain amount of flexibility in the calendar. The whole company keeps one eye on the following day’s forecast, making any necessary adjustments.”
MANUFACTURING THE WEATHER
Contractors are not the only ones who must prepare for weather swings. Manufacturers are creating and adapting equipment to better withstand the punishment and damage that can be inflicted by acute climate events.
Lennox utilizes its environmental testing center, known as the SEET lab, to put its equipment through rigorous testing before it ever sees the field.
“The idea behind testing our equipment in the SEET lab is that you stress the unit with extreme heat, extreme cold, and temperature swings,” said Tom Brittain, cooling product manager, Lennox Intl. Inc. “The testing has to be extreme so that we can understand how entire systems perform in tough conditions.
“We have 22 stations in our lab where those systems are set up at various stages in testing. There is a 12-week test for air conditioning systems and a 16-week test for heat pump systems. We are testing for heat up to 135? and cold down to 0?. We also have what is called the stress acceleration factor. We stress the units to failure 16 times faster than what you actually see in the field. We push it to its limits.”
Another manufacturer, Unico Inc., has taken on extreme weather by making equipment that can handle a wide range of temperatures. Unico partnered with Argoclima to bring the iSeries to the U.S. market, which performs in temperatures ranging from 122? down to minus 25?F.
“We put a lot of time and effort into making our products more efficient,” said Scott Intagliata, marketing director, Unico. “About three years ago, we began working with Argoclima, a on the iSeries. These refrigerant-based outdoor inverter units feature a high efficiency rating, which allows us to improve our products’ SEER ratings and present a fantastic range of operation. We’re creating more efficient products, and a product range with a large operating sphere. We examined a cold environment, researched the market, and saw you could cool down to low temperatures with the iSeries.”
BENEFITS FOR ALL
Equipment that can handle wide temperature ranges benefits both manufacturers and contractors. Communication between the creator and installer is essential.
“If you don’t test for extreme weather in the lab, then you aren’t prepared for it in the field,” said Brittain. “Our dealer base has a lot of confidence that they aren’t going to run into early problems with the unit. We actually bring a lot of contractors into our research and development facility to meet our engineers and see the test facilities. We want the contractor to have the utmost confidence in our products.”
“Installing systems that can handle sub-zero winters, as well as hot, and often muggy summers, means an increased opportunity to offer more options and permanent solutions,” said Wiercinski. “Staying comfortable in our homes year-round sometimes requires a furnace working alongside a whole-home humidifier in the fall/winter and an air conditioner working alongside a whole-home dehumidifier in the spring/summer.”
While extreme weather has its obvious negatives, Wiercinski said there are some benefits that can be drawn from it, too.
“The extreme weather makes it very easy to laud the advantages of high-efficiency, variable-speed heating, since furnaces and boilers run for such a significant part of the year,” he said. “Also, it’s very easy for our customers to see the benefits of investing in a better piece of equipment, both for their comfort and because, many times, they can see an immediate impact on their energy bills.”
Publication date: 6/22/2015