Ah, the United States government. It does not matter how good the idea originally is, they will find a way to confuse and ruin it.

The regional standards established by the Department of Energy (DOE) that are set to go into effect May 1, 2013, is one such instance. While it fragmented the HVAC industry, I think the original idea was a solid one. Why should there be the same efficiency standard for an air conditioner in Michigan as there is in Arizona? Why should you need the same type of furnace in Florida as you do in Wisconsin?

The problem is in enforcement. For the first time, the HVAC industry is being regulated not on what is being manufactured, but rather what is being installed. Three approaches are being considered. One approach would have units equipped with Federal Trade Commission Energy Guide stickers that contractors would be prohibited from removing — since that works so well with mattresses and pillows. A second approach would require contractors to maintain records of each installation and submit information to a third party upon request. The final option would require contractors to provide distributors the serial numbers, installer information, and installation addresses. Distributors would need to report that to the DOE. Oh, and did I mention that the enforcement method can be decided as late as mid-January, thus providing only a limited time frame to put processes in place at the local distributor level?

Making the Rules

This is where the confusion and problems come in. Much like when my 5-year-old son plays Candy Land, it seems like the rules are being made up after that game has started. How do we enforce the rule on contractors that are on the border? Ah, make them keep records. It doesn’t matter if a fat-finger error leads to a big fine. What about this old lady’s house that makes it impractical to install the PVC venting required for the 90-plus percent furnace? Let’s do a waiver in those situations. How do I get a waiver when it is 10 p.m. and grandma is freezing? Submit the waiver after. Great, so we are on the honor system? Won’t that just help the shady moonlighter? Well, that’s a tough one. How about you take pictures with your iPhone and submit the waiver afterwards.

There are too many questions and not enough final answers. But that is par for the course with the government. Unless the lawsuits brought by both ACCA and HARDI open up this process again, the industry is getting regional standards next May. Complaining about the government is not going to help your business get prepared for the upcoming change (and besides, that is my job). It is time to start preparing.

Who is the first one caught holding the bag as the face of the industry? That would be the contractor — the one who shows up at John Q. Public’s front door. I doubt the DOE is going to spend any money educating the public on this, so it is up to the contractor.

Butch Welsch in St. Louis is being proactive. If his techs go into a home and find that it would be extremely difficult to install a 90-plus percent furnace, they have prepared a letter to explain the new law and the difficulties the homeowner could have. This is sent or handed to anyone in that situation who has a furnace that is at least 15 years old.

Also, ACCA has published a ComforTool so its members can help educate their customers. The flier explains the implication of the regional standards for furnaces.

“It is likely that most customers do not understand what the new regional standards mean for them or how they could cost them more money and cause potential problems,” said Paul Stalknecht, ACCA president & CEO.

Contractors need to explain this to their customers in a proactive manner. You are not “pushing” the lower efficiency furnaces; rather you are just giving the homeowners all the information so they can make an educated decision — before May 1, 2013.

Include this information in all the marketing you do this fall and winter. In addition to generating some business you might not normally have had, next year when you tell customers they need a high-efficiency furnace after the standards go into effect, there is a chance they will be aware of the situation and trust what you are saying.

Which is more than I can say about our faith in the government.

Publication date: 7/9/2012