The Newsrecently published information on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ruling that it is legal for businesses to sell prepackaged split-system appliances to unlicensed customers, often referred to as do-it-yourselfers. The EPA received many comments about its decision to impose a stay on its regulation, which originally limited the sale of the appliances.

Here are some of EPA’s notes on the comments:

“Commenters who opposed the stay argued that the stay would result in refrigerant release because uncertified individuals would ultimately install most precharged split systems purchased directly by consumers, and special skills are needed to install these systems. These commenters disputed the claim that uncertified purchasers of split systems would hire certified technicians to perform the part of the installation that involves violation of the refrigerant circuit.

“First, according to the commenters, many such purchasers would buy equipment from home products stores precisely in order to avoid paying a third party for installation. Second, it would be relatively easy to violate the requirement to hire a certified technician without fear of detection.

“Commenters also stated that certified technicians would be reluctant to install precharged split systems purchased by homeowners because they could not operate on the wages of an installer and would not want to become involved in warranty disputes between the purchaser and the manufacturer.”

MANUFACTURERS’ PERSPECTIVES

Viewpoints varied from manufacturers contacted by The News. While there wasn’t a general consensus, the mixture of answers provides a vision of the industry’s attitude toward businesses that sell prepackaged split systems directly to the public, bypassing the traditional distribution channel.

“I think that most distributors and a lot of dealers don’t see it as a widespread trend,” said Tom Huntington, president of the York International Unitary Products Group. Huntington said that it takes a specially trained person with special tools to install a prepackaged system and he believes the number of people experienced enough to do so, who don’t already work as installers or technicians, is “relegated to a small niche of people.”

Huntington, who said that York products are not sold directly to consumers, added that the cost of equipment purchased through a home center as opposed to a dealer or distributor is often marked up higher because of higher profit margins — thus making it not much of a bargain for homeowners who are purchasing based on price.

“The subject has a lot of emotion, but when you really get down to how much equipment is going through these do-it-yourself home centers, it really is small potatoes,” Huntington said.

Scott Boxer, president of Lennox Industries, Inc., stated, “In an industry reliant on proper sizing, installation, and service to satisfy consumers, why would anyone want to place their products at the doorstep of a consumer and walk?

“HVAC systems are technical by their very design and while manufacturers strive incredibly hard to produce the highest quality products possible, nothing turns great product into a consumer problem quicker than a poor installation.

“Lennox is committed to sharing responsibility for consumer satisfaction with contractors and not allowing consumers to purchase an applied product and install it themselves,” Boxer said. “Our brand is built on quality; reliability, innovation, and consumer satisfaction, and we don’t intend to change now.”

Boxer and Dennis Kloster, vice president of sales and marketing in Nordyne’s Light Residential and Commercial Division, agreed on the importance of having the installations performed by a qualified technician — a NATE-certified technician.

“Nordyne is a firm believer and proponent of two-step distribution (manufacturer to distributor to dealer/contractor) and NATE certification,” said Kloster. “We also believe that it is imperative that only a qualified technician purchase and install HVAC systems — split system or packaged.

“An untrained consumer has a high probability of inadvertently leaking refrigerant into the atmosphere. In addition, consumers are not trained in the importance of changing out the indoor coil or air handler when the outdoor unit is replaced. This, as our industry knows, will lead to lower-than-expected efficiency and comfort levels. Homeowner personal safety is also a concern when dealing with high-side refrigerant pressures.

“The solution is simple — do not allow the sales of prepackaged split-systems to unlicensed consumers and continue encouraging NATE training for our industry’s technicians.”

Spokespersons for The Trane Company and Carrier Corporation made it clear to The News that none of their respective equipment is sold directly to the end user. Goodman Manufacturing Company had not responded by the deadline.

CONTRACTOR FEEDBACK

Several contractors were asked byThe Newsif they would install HVACR equipment which a homeowner had purchased from a home center or distributor.

“We have people calling almost daily during this 90 degree F weather asking if we will sell equipment over the counter or install equipment they have somehow purchased,” said Phil Favret of The Favret Company, Columbus, OH. “I will not do either. You could not sell your labor at a high enough price to cover the overhead you have lost by not also selling the equipment.

“Plus, is this really someone you would call your customer, someone you would try to fit in your service schedule during your peak season? Also, do you want to give a warranty on equipment you truly may not know how it was acquired?”

A Pittsburgh, PA, contractor left the door open for installing prepurchased systems — barely. “We have not run into this problem recently,” said Dave Boehmer of Boehmer Heating and Cooling. “As it stands now, we would probably not install equipment purchased by the homeowner. But, as our industry changes, who knows?

“One thing for certain is that contractors will always need to cover their overhead and make a profit,” he said. “Our overhead is labor driven, so it really doesn’t change whether we supply the equipment or not. I don’t see significant savings to the homeowner by having them buy direct.”

An Austin, TX, commercial contractor, one of the winners in The News’ 2001 “Best Contractor to Work For” contest, is adamant about what he would do if asked to install a prepurchased system. “There is way too much potential for the installing contractor to get in the middle of conflicts which are out of his control, like equipment/ parts problems, performance problems, service problems, existing code violations already at the jobsite, etc.,” said Scott Pargin of YPS.

“This situation reminds me of the old story about going into a fine steak house and bringing your own steak. No way.”

Publication date: 08/05/2002