Before thousands of HVACR professionals converge on the Georgia World Congress Center for the AHR Expo, held February 6-8, AHR has released its 2023 Trend Report, aimed at identifying the state of the industry ahead of the show. Industry associations, manufacturers exhibiting at AHR, and experts from various fields within the HVACR space all contributed to the report, which aims to lend value in understanding the challenges and opportunities within the industry from every point of view.

Among the most popular trends, topics, and concerns within the report were decarbonization, indoor air quality (IAQ), the supply chain, refrigerant regulations, and workforce development/labor shortage.

The report encourages readers to carry the input from industry professionals with them onto the show floor.

“So when you have your conversations on the [AHR] show floor, and maybe you run into someone who's a distributor and you're a contractor … you’ll hopefully have at least a baseline idea of what they're up against or what opportunities are ahead,” said Nicole Bush, AHR Expo press officer.


1. Refrigerant Regulation

Federal law often plays a part in what an industry should focus on and the refrigeration regulations are no exception.

The AIM Act and the HFC phasedown schedule commencing this coming year will have wide-reaching impacts on the HVACR market, and as the industry moves forward, code adjustments will become a necessity. And the next stepdown, which is a 40% reduction, is right around the corner.

David Budinski, vice president and general manager, residential and light commercial, at Johnson Controls, noted in his contribution that it’s more critical than ever to be at the forefront of environmental protection.

“Embracing the low Global Warming Potential (GWP) refrigerant transition is one of many steps to help customers reduce their emissions and another positive step in supporting healthy people, healthy places, and a healthy planet,” Budinski said.


2. Decarbonization

Decarbonization remains a key focus for the Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). Just last year, the AHRI board of directors approved a decarbonization statement reiterating the associations position in support of efforts that reduce carbon emissions, AHRI president Stephen Yurek noted in the Trend Report.

Scott Lynch, president and CEO of the American Boiler Manufacturers Association (ABMA), said decarbonization is a buzzword in the sector but also a shift its members need to pay attention to. At a number of their sessions, they’ve focused on this topic.


3. IAQ

“For many years, the V in HVAC was somewhat forgotten,” said Patrick Nielsen, chairman of the Home Ventilating Institute (HVI) board.

But that’s changing all over the place.

In his contribution, Nielsen said that many in the industry are changing their messaging to focus on IAQ and health, as COVID has heightened people’s awareness of the importance of the air they breathe in.

The Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) has 385 members and in the past year has gained a number of members from the HVACR industry.

“Collectively, these members reveal the industry’s growing interest in innovations like remote control of HVAC technologies, artificial intelligence, and occupancy sensing and its implications for IAQ management,” said Greg Walker, president and CEO of CABA.

However, the growing interest and trends of decarbonization, IAQ, electrification, and energy in general also add to an existing issue and recurring topic of the Trend Report: the supply chain.


4. Supply Chain

Talbot Gee, CEO of Heating Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), said as a result of the push to decarbonize the U.S. economy, heat pump demand has significantly strengthened in recent years.

“Furnace demand will decline if electrification is taking root. This year, we have seen the annual rate of heat pump shipments exceed furnace shipments,” Gee said in the Trend Report.


5. Workforce Development / Labor Shortage

No report on the HVACR industry would be complete without mentioning the labor shortage.

But the industry is focused on this — working on retaining, training, and recruiting.

Rheem has a channel partner training program that they conduct both in-person and virtually.

“We’ll have nearly 100,000 participants in training this year alone,” said Randy Roberts, vice president of sales and marketing of Rheem air conditioning division, in the report.

Additionally, the new technology in HVACR equipment makes it easier for less-experienced technicians to be more effective quickly.

Howard Weiss, executive vice president of ESCO Group, noted in his contribution that the pandemic gave the HVACR industry an opportunity to try a new approach when it comes to the technician shortage. It provides an opportunity to explain the size, scope, and importance of the HVACR industry.

“It is up to all of us to educate the public, and potential recruits as to the size and scope of our industry, while providing them a blueprint for possible areas of employment. While there are so many great attributes to a career in our industry, with COVID-19 fresh on everyone’s mind, it should be a powerful recruitment talking point.”