This month on we are running an online poll to gauge our web visitors’ opinions on the regional standards rule established by the Department of Energy (DOE). Although the poll has only been up for a week at the time of writing this column, I am already disturbed by the early results.

It’s a typical web poll — we ask “What best describes your thoughts on the Department of Energy’s rule establishing regional standards?” and then provide four options for people to click on.

So far, 78 percent of our online voters have clicked “First I am hearing of it.” (The other options are “Good for the industry,” “Government overreach,” and “Not enforceable.”)

So what, you ask? Well, the fact that more than three-fourths of our online visitors are reporting that they’ve never heard of regional standards makes me nervous. This rulemaking from the DOE fundamentally changes the residential HVAC market, and it’s something every contractor should be aware of.

To recap the basics of the rule: for the first time, DOE has moved away from one national minimum efficiency standard for residential HVAC equipment and is going to require different standards for air conditioners, heat pumps, and furnaces depending on the region of the country that they are installed in. DOE has divided the country into three regions and issued new minimum efficiency standards for each region. The whole rule becomes effective in January 2015, but the first part of it — the standards just for nonweatherized furnaces — kicks in May 2013.

Admittedly, I am hyper-aware of the regional standards rule because it was one of the biggest stories I started covering when I joined The NEWS almost two years ago. I’ve been following it closely ever since, although Herb Woerpel, a great reporter we hired in December, is now writing about the latest developments.

When I first started writing about regional standards, I thought 2013 sounded far in the future. But now it’s just around the corner. It seems pretty late in the game for members of our industry to report that they haven’t heard about this rule yet.

Go Back to the Beginning

There are potentially a lot of reasons that could explain why people are unaware of the upcoming regional standards. It could be that the message has gotten lost in the general shuffle of information overload. Plus, this rule has taken a long time to develop, so it hasn’t been the easiest story to keep tabs on. If you’re interested in more of the background, shoot me an email, and I’ll send you links to a bunch of articles that The NEWS published as the DOE developed its rule.

Follow the Latest

Currently, there are other new and very interesting developments underway regarding the standards, including HARDI and ACCA’s pending petitions against the DOE’s rule. Our editor-in-chief, Kyle Gargaro, wrote a big cover story about these lawsuits in the Feb. 6 issue.

Plus, Herb reported in last week’s issue on the DOE’s current proposals for how to enforce the regional standards. Think about it: there aren’t any DOE police, so the burden for enforcing these standards is going to fall on the industry. A very interesting discussion is currently taking place in D.C. to try to determine how much of the load should be carried by each segment of the HVAC chain — manufacturers, distributors, and contractors — so you may want to tune in.

If you’re a member of any industry associations, you should get up to speed on their position on the rule, and how they’re currently trying to work with (or against) DOE. The associations are more closely connected to the folks in D.C. who are implementing the standards, so you’ll have a better chance of making your voice heard if you work through your representative organization.

Make It Local

I also should point out that, since we’re a national publication, we’ve covered the regional standards from a national perspective. But because the new rule establishes three regions across the country, it’s important for contractors to research how this will affect them locally.

Soon it won’t be OK for contractors to admit in a web poll that they’ve never heard of regional standards. Instead, they will need to be knowledgeable of the standards in their region and capable of educating consumers on their options under the new minimum efficiency standards.

Publication date: 03/19/2012