Just when some may have been thinking that discussions of unitary equipment efficiencies were going to be relegated to the back burner for a while, the heat gets turned up.

The date Jan. 23, 2006 brought changes in baseline efficiency for manufactured residential products, moving from 10 to 13 SEER. With that change came a number of related concerns, from space constraints to indoor coil matches. A few of the concerns turned out to be of only minor consequence, while some of the more important puzzle pieces are still being fitted as the market adjusts.

Before the dust has barely settled on the last round of National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) standards, both the residential and commercial arenas are proving that efficiency is once again a major driver for this industry, and of major interest to consumers and building owners.

The heretofore mentioned federal efficiency standard for residential HVAC appliances is already being challenged, and the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program is effectively causing commercial mechanical contractors to look for higher-efficiency products to satisfy owners’ requirements.


Currently, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has the responsibility of implementing NAECA, including updating minimum required efficiency levels periodically. NAECA includes specific authority to preempt the provisions of state and local codes that would allow trade-offs for lower-efficiency equipment. Energy-efficiency advocates are pushing Congress to rewrite the laws granting the DOE direct authority to set national minimum efficiency ratings on heating and cooling products. The argument is that the current national 13 SEER cooling standard and 78 percent AFUE standard for residential gas furnaces should be replaced with regional standards based on climate. The law would suggest that if you live in a Northern climate, the minimum AFUE should be 90 percent; or if you live in the hot and humid Southeastern United States the minimum SEER should be 14 or 15. If you live in the hot and dry Southwestern United States, the minimum SEER should be 15 or 16. (The exact SEER numbers have not yet been determined).

On June 22, the U.S. Senate passed an energy bill, which would enact such regional standards. The U.S. House of Representatives is working separately on its own energy bill, which would have similar ramifications in the HVAC industry.

At the same time this activity is taking place on Capitol Hill, advocates are suggesting changes are needed in the way SEER ratings are applied. (See the feature article “SEER Ratings Challenged” in this issue.)


As LEED develops a growing following among building owners, commercial mechanical contractors are being pressed to develop solutions to meet the requirements. The initial sense of LEED may be that it is simply a green sustainability program. Aside from a limited influence on building materials and the envelope, a mechanical contractor is primarily dependent upon a choice of environmentally-friendly refrigerants and high-efficiency systems. However, these HVACR contributions are heavily weighted with regard to a building’s achievement of LEED status. Between 23 to 30 points, almost 44 percent of the 69 points achievable under the USGBC’s LEED program, are either directly influenced by the contractor or the contractor has some other involvement in those awarded points.


As the baseline SEER moved from 10 to 13, there has been talk about a new way of selling; that efficiency was becoming less important. It is true enough that the lack of fast payback, once associated with high-efficiency equipment, has taken some of the wind away from the sails. However, as you can tell from the recent activities, efficiency is alive and well as a driver in both the residential and commercial markets. You can expect efficiency to be as important in the coming years as it was during the last 20 years.

The ever-increasing levels of efficiency being required as a result of government regulations and environmentally conscious building owners may be more difficult to attain, but the demand for high-efficiency products is continuing.

The time to sharpen your selling skills is now. It may seem that customers have little choice but to purchase a “high” efficiency product, so why sweat it? Because the customer always has a choice to repair or replace.

Publication date:07/23/2007