2015 was a busy year for ACCA.
The contractor organization initiated a new open membership structure that went into effect in July that allows contractors to more easily join by paying one price. Since the change, ACCA has experienced significant membership growth, and the organization expects that trend to continue, said Paul Stalknecht, president and CEO of ACCA.
ACCA also partnered with 12 state contracting associations in 2015 to support advocacy efforts.
“Partnerships like these help keep the industry strong,” Stalknecht noted. “We need to make our presence felt at the local, state, and national levels.”
Based on the association’s Contractor Comfort Index (CCI), which reached scores in the 80s in 2015, contractors were extraordinarily optimistic last year. A CCI greater than 50 means contractors are expecting short-term growth. In 2015, the CCI never dropped below 72 and scored an 80 or higher for five months, which is the longest streak in the five-plus years ACCA has conducted the survey.
“From what contractors tell us, they had a great year,” Stalknecht said. “There was record cold weather in the winter and high temperatures in the summer across most of the country. While weather is a factor in contracting success, it’s not the biggest factor. Contractors, especially ACCA members, continue to become savvier about the ways they do business. They have taken the control from the weather and have focused on solid business practices that keep them busy 12 months of the year. It’s the savvy business person who is going to experience long-term success.”
While ACCA and its members had a successful year, there were a number of challenges the industry faced as a whole. Some of the biggest were keeping up with the regulatory proposals and bills in Congress, Stalknecht said.
ACCA sat on three working groups that negotiated new standards for commercial warm-air furnaces and commercial unitary air conditioners, walk-in coolers and freezers, and central air conditioners and heat pumps. It also participated in stakeholder negotiations aimed to uncover an alternative to the proposed 92 percent AFUE standard for residential natural gas furnaces.
“No one regulatory issue took command of the industry in 2015, but several significant proposed rules from the U.S. Department of Energy [DOE], the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] left their mark,” Stalknecht said. “In March 2015, the DOE released a proposal to set national energy-conservation standards for residential natural gas furnaces at 92 percent AFUE. This after a 2013 court settlement threw out a proposed regional standard that would have set the AFUE minimum at 90 percent in only the Northern half of the country. Last year’s 92 percent proposal is still working its way through the regulatory process, and a large group of stakeholders are currently working to find an alternative to preserve the option for noncondensing furnaces nationwide.
“This past summer, a special working group of stakeholders finalized negotiations under the DOE ASRAC [Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee] process to set new standards for commercial heating and air conditioning equipment that will save tremendous amounts of energy over the next 30 years,” he continued. “Finally, at the end of the year, a different working group successfully negotiated new standards for central air conditioners and heat pumps that will go into effect in 2023 in the hopes of aligning the new standards with any future refrigerant changes. This is important because we know the EPA has big plans for refrigerants. Late last year, the agency proposed to amend Section 608 refrigerant recovery rules to cover HFC [hydrofluorocarbon] refrigerants. This is part of a longer goal of eventually transitioning to new refrigerants that don’t trap heat when it’s emitted.”
However, the biggest surprise last year came from OSHA’s Confined Spaces in Construction rule, which dictates preventive measures contractors may have to take when working in attics and crawl spaces.
“This rule is being challenged in court by the National Association of Home Builders, and, to date, the compliance deadline has been extended several times,” Stalknecht noted.
LOOKING AHEAD IN 2016
ACCA is going to continue down the path the board of directors has set, said Stalknecht, which includes participating in industry working groups on rules and regulations that government agencies are proposing.
“In 2015, ACCA participated in a number of working groups and will participate in more in 2016, as this is likely the new norm for how rules will be created moving forward,” Stalknecht said.
Additionally, ACCA will conduct its popular conference for service professionals, the 2016 Service Leadership Forum, on Oct. 27-28. Immediately preceding that, ACCA will present the Business Technology and Operations Forum, which offers two days of targeted education for contractors and their top managers, on Oct. 25-26. Both of these events will be held in Cincinnati.
ACCA is also focusing on its Quality Assured Programs in 2016.
“One of the primary reasons HVAC contractors apply for accreditation is to participate in energy-efficiency programs — most notably the Energy Star Certified Homes program,” said Wes Davis, vice president of quality assured programs, ACCA. “Contractors must be credentialed in order for the home to earn an Energy Star label. Furthermore, other program sponsors have seen the benefit, and there are other regional efforts that also point to the QA Contractor Accreditation as a requirement to participate.”
ACCA’s accredited contractors have access to distinctive logos, marketing, and advertising; have access to technical support from ACCA staff members; and will be able to use the organization’s new HVAC Quality Installation (QI) mobile app.
“The app is designed to simplify the collection of information when it comes to HVAC system installations,” Davis said. “It will have built-in verification support for elements associated with a quality HVAC system installation. This mobile app offers the accredited contractor a level of third-party, in-the-field oversight. The app doesn’t replace good management, but it provides good managers with the records they need to increase sales, identify top performers, and reduce callbacks and warranty claims.”
ACCA will also offer its accredited contractors access to an online training course that reviews the basics of building science this year, Davis noted.
With the upcoming 2016 election, this is the last year the Obama administration will control the regulatory process, and Stalknecht said he expects an avalanche of new rules to be released by fall.
“Congress has only a limited time to vote to ‘disapprove’ rules that have an impact of more than $100 million on the economy,” Stalknecht explained. “So, the existing administration will release the rules before any disapproval vote could land on the desk of a Republican in the White House in 2017. We know the DOE will finalize a new rule for natural gas residential furnaces; we just don’t know if it will allow for the continued manufacture of noncondensing furnaces through a size limit. We can also expect several rules from OSHA and/or the Department of Labor that will impact overtime rules, union organizing activities, and joint employer rules.”
Publication date: 3/7/2016