“Be careful what you wish for,” said Tom Huntington, general manager of York, a Johnson Controls company, during a recent conversation about government regulations. Aside from being too good at golf, Huntington is a pretty astute observer of what is developing not only on Capitol Hill, but around the nation.

Trends take years to develop. This industry is on the cusp of some changes that will likely draw new boundaries for future generations of HVAC contractors.

I attend a variety of local and national contractor meetings, sometimes as a speaker, sometimes as an observer. The pay is not very good for speaking engagements (or maybe I’m a lousy speaker), so I spend a lot of my time observing. National meetings have a tendency for discussions about items like federal energy-efficiency standards, tax credits for small businesses, and health care reform - all important in the big picture. Local meetings, once primarily a venue for a few laughs and beers, have evolved into more serious business discussions about topics such as ordinances and codes - and a few laughs and beers.

NATIONAL IMPACT

On June 28, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a series of bills dealing with energy policy that include provisions allowing the Department of Energy (DOE) to overturn rules governing minimum efficiency standards for heating and cooling products. The bill would allow the DOE to set aside the national 13 SEER minimum standard for cooling, and replace it with a patchwork of minimum standards for various regions. There are arguments on both sides of this proposal, but the general sense of the HVAC industry is that multiple standards would be very disruptive.

Jim Ellia, Efficient Heating and Cooling, informs about new Ohio state codes during a Cleveland ACCA chapter meeting.

LOCAL IMPACT

At a recent Cleveland Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) meeting, a goodly amount of time was spent with updates from various members about items of local interest such as insurance costs and changes to the building code. Jim Ellia of Efficient Heating & Cooling, Maple Heights, Ohio, attended a meeting on codes and brought back to the membership his concerns and suggestions. The room quieted while Ellia was speaking.

A similar ACCA meeting in Austin, Texas, (the pay for the keynote speaker was lousy, but the barbequed chicken was great) saw the actively involved local utility representative discussing the maze of building code regulations that frustrate local contractors. Everyone was attentive as he spoke.

The city of Bowling Green, Ky., has explored higher-efficiency standards for air conditioning equipment. Yes. The city.

The state of California has enacted a third-party verification that is required as a follow-up behind contractors that have performed air distribution system repairs.

PENDING CONFUSION

If the federal, state, and local government can all have a hand in controlling the industry in which you work, is it any wonder that a common topic of discussion at meetings is the proliferation of regulations? As small business owners, managers, technicians, installers, or administrative personnel, every day you must contend with rules that were cast upon you by well-meaning, but usually uninformed people.

I doubt that any of you are wishing for more regulation in your business life. However, if I were a betting man, I’d wager that there will be some mighty big changes on the horizon. Now is a good time to speak up on behalf of your industry, and be heard.

Publication date: 07/09/2007