Some of the more commonly discussed challenges facing contractors today include raw material and natural gas prices and continued uncertainty of how the 13 SEER minimum efficiency standard will effect them.

One related issue less commonly discussed and becoming more important is a change in HVAC system parts availability and usage - especially with the more stringent efficiency standards of 13 SEER. With this development, contractors are utilizing parts, technology, and additional training as never before. The NEWS spoke with representatives from Rheem, its distributors, and dealers about their concerns over all aspects of the 13 SEER parts market.

Today's contractors are faced with a much more stringent requirement on the parts they can use to achieve the highest energy efficiency possible. Chris Owen of Neese-Jones Heating and Cooling in Alpharetta, Ga., inspects a Ruud unit on a service call.


"Many of today's parts need to be used in a much more precise application than they've ever had to be in the past," said Ed Lightner, product support manager, Rheem Air Conditioning Division.

"With this increased precision, HVAC equipment is much less forgiving and less interchangeable than before."

Especially in today's 13 SEER world, contractors must pay even greater attention to the issue of mismatched systems to ensure proper energy efficiency and home comfort.

For example, technicians have been known to keep a few "generic" motors in their trucks, with the expectation that they would be able to depend on one of them working as a viable replacement for an average replacement job. That is no longer the case.

"That standard, off-the-truck motor will still work for most applications, but it will take a toll on the system's efficiency," Lightner said. "As a result, the homeowner will not receive the efficiency expected. In addition, wattage draw will increase as well."

Contractors today need to be more specific about which replacement parts they use for their service and replacement jobs. Arriving at the jobsite with the wrong part can often mean costly delays in completing jobs due to additional trips to the local parts supplier.

Another issue affecting efficiency performance is the renewed focus on thermostatic expansion valves (TXVs). TXVs have been around for many years, but their direct effect on overall system efficiency has given them a renewed spotlight in today's 13 SEER environment. Still, TXVs are somewhat of an unknown entity, which is reflected by the growing popularity of TXV training classes.

"Our No. 1 training program year-to-date is the TXV training course," said Raymond Granderson, training manager, Rheem Air Conditioning Division.

"There's a renewed interest in TXV training because they have significantly changed the industry on the residential side due to their ability to more accurately meter refrigerant flow."


To compensate for these changes, many contractors are focusing on enhanced customer service to become more efficient. As with any industry, quality customer service, a dedication to staying up-to-date with the latest technology, and being prepared for the future are key components for successful contractors.

With the need to have the right parts and the cost of transportation fuel increasing, contractors need to minimize the time spent on every service call, as well as their travel time to and from service calls. To save time and money, some contractors are taking a different approach to service calls.

"We're trying to get more information from the customer in the initial call," said Kerry King of Hometown Heating and Cooling in Redford, Mich. "In addition to asking about specific symptoms, we ask for the model and serial number of the unit. Taking that one extra step on the front end can save a lot of time at the job site, since minutes are money."

In 2001, Rheem introduced the ProStock concept as a way for Rheem and Ruud distributors to provide an enhanced, more efficient shopping experience for their contractor customers. These stores feature clean and well-lit aisles, with color-coded gondolas that focus on keeping the majority of products in plain view for contractors, not behind a parts counter. This saves contractors significant time in getting the parts and supplies they need to get back to the job.

"ProStock stores work with contractors to provide quality products in a timely manner," said Don Harter, general manager, Rheem Replacement Parts. "That's part of our philosophy - we are committed to finding ways for our customers to grow their business, maximize their profits, and excel in their local markets."

When interacting with homeowners, contractors who provide a strong sales presentation and offer homeowners top-line information can have advantages in their local markets. Offering good, better, and best system solutions, providing information on IAQ and energy efficiency; and itemizing quotes helps homeowners make decisions to best suit their home comfort needs, while positioning contractors as a trusted source and asset. For example, every service technician with Hometown Heating and Cooling leaves a brief questionnaire and consumer literature pieces with the homeowner for them to keep in mind while evaluating their specific home comfort needs.

With technology advancing virtually every day, and homeowners becoming more aware of personal health, IAQ, and energy efficiency issues, some contractors are looking to additional training to sharpen their competitive edge in the industry. Rheem has expanded its training class offering by hosting a class that focuses solely on R-410A.

According to Granderson, the impact 13 SEER has on TXVs has motivated more progressive contractors to get prepared in advance for the upcoming R-410A transition. "Contractors were requesting more information on R-410A," he said, "so we took the information we were providing in our other classes and expanded it for those who wanted to get prepared for the future."

Thorough training is critical for success in today's 13 SEER marketplace. A technician from Biewer Heating and Air Conditioning in Elgin, Ill., carefully inspects a Rheem air conditioner.


Harter believes the future is now for the rapid growth of technology and IAQ awareness. "These changes are happening rapidly," he said. "Before, it was hard to raise consumer awareness. Now homeowners are much more in tune with IAQ and technology advancements than ever before. The focus on IAQ and electronic enhancements is growing rapidly and will be continuous."

"Ruud is on the cutting edge of technology, with robust system monitoring capabilities that provide diagnostic alerts to contractors and homeowners in real time," said Greg Wilkes, manager of distribution, Dealer's Supply Co., in Forest Park, Ga.

In addition, Rheem created the 13 SEER Pamphlet Series for contractors and homeowners to help them understand new 13 SEER business realities and further equip contractors with the tools and programs needed to overcome current challenges.

"Rheem is committed to listening and responding to contractors to meet the many new requirements and expectations of today's marketplace," said Ed Raniszeski, Rheem director of market development and communications. "We are dedicated to developing strong partnerships with distributors and contractors, and are constantly researching new technologies and solutions to help turn challenges into opportunities that assist and satisfy our business partners and their customers."

Publication date: 08/21/2006