Mike Murphy

The HVAC industry in the United States has very few barriers to entry. Nearly anyone with a pickup truck and a knack for installation or service can become a contractor. They can go on to become immensely successful or terribly broke. Because that is the proverbial “American Dream,” we have good reason to love this land of opportunity. The greatest challenge is one’s own drive and determination to provide a better service value than the next guy. It truly is a great country in which to live and work.

However, HVAC is nearly the last cowboy.

I never would have thought that those wild roughnecks from Australia would be able to claim that their HVAC requirements are more stringent than those in the United States of America. No, the Aussies don’t have to wrestle crocodiles to get inside of a house to work, but they do have regulations that would choke a painted pony back home on the range.


No one wants to hear about the possible onset of more government regulations, or standards and guidelines, of how to conduct one’s business. In some ways, it is a good thing to be one of the last holdouts - the HVAC industry is one of the few remaining home service industries that have very limited constraints. Oh, sure, building permits are a pain in the butt, when you pull them. But, after that, only a handful of states actually have licensing laws, and the refrigeration police are never around when you really need them to do something useful. They are more likely to be wasting taxpayer dollars writing tickets for technicians caught on “20/20” while urinating behind condensing units instead of catching criminals who are venting HCFCs.

Of course, there are only a very small percentage of criminals out there giving all the good contractors a bad name. However, it is amazing how diligently the criminals are working. Only 3 percent of all refrigerant is currently being reclaimed. Damn, those criminals must be working double-overtime and moonlighting on the side to release that much R-22 to the atmosphere. I’m sure there are a lot more of the honest people who are simply peeing in backyards in the United States.

Down in Australia, it’s quite a different story. Twenty years from now, the U.S. HVAC industry may very well function more like the world’s smallest continent and one of the largest islands.

HVAC contractors are required to apply for certification on every completed HVAC job, and one in five jobs are personally inspected for quality and efficiency of installation. A peculiar code infringement regarding cash payments can result in a $1,500 fine if the job is not documented properly. Every kilo of refrigerant is accounted for.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plans for a closer watch over HVAC are considered humorous down under in the land of plenty. It’s old hat - a 20-year-old hat.

Europe is somewhere else on the curve entirely. Heating and air conditioning technicians are revered for their craftsmanship in many Euro-countries. Canada has the Montreal Protocol. Need I say more? Eh?


Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover.

The EPA does, in fact, have a third-party review process that it is implementing in the United States. It is not a mandatory program. However, it is being promoted under the Energy Star label and is managed by the EPA and Department of Energy. The Energy Star program reasons that consumers deserve to get what they pay for, and the truth is that many HVAC systems do not deliver the intended efficiencies because of less-than-stellar installation practices. This Energy Star program will gain a following among consumers.

The EPA HVAC standards by which an Energy Star installation will be judged is based upon a recent Quality Installation initiative developed by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) that has recently been ANSI-recognized. Any installation under the program is going to be verified; however, most inspections will be verified through a commissioning report that will be sent from the installing contractor. A sampling of the actual jobs will be visited by the independent third-party reviewers.

Is it possible that the EPA has been sending covert agents to Australia? Don’t turn out the lights yet, the party’s not over. But the last cowboy is heading for the door.

Publication Date:02/11/2008