Are you one of those people who walk around with an idea tucked off to one side of your brain? Sometimes we don’t pursue them because we don’t have the expertise, or maybe the idea seems too far-fetched.
Then again, someone used to have a business called Smash Shack. People could go and pay to receive a stack of plates or other breakable objects, get dressed in appropriate safety gear, and then enter a room where they would throw and/or smash the plates.
OK, as you surmised, Smash Shack didn’t make it. I’m guessing a decent percentage of its customers got back home and realized that spending good money to break stuff for five minutes had, in fact, managed to leave them at least as discontented as they were before.
EURO HEAT IS NO VACATION
Todd Washam, ACCA’s vice president for public policy and industry relations, is one of those people (with a notion he’s been nurturing, not a receipt from Smash Shack). His own idea happens to tie into his work experience, and he mentioned it in passing while I was in Washington with the ACCA team for the Pledge To American Workers event at the White House.
Basically, Washam wants to export American HVAC contractor expertise and the industry’s organizational advantages to other countries, with an eye toward taking the idea to Europe first.
I thought, “Huh, that’s interesting,” and we went on with lunch. However, Europe made headlines for a brutal heat wave the very next week. With air conditioning not nearly as prevalent on that continent, the occasional heat surge leaves the most vulnerable populations even more so. People died, some power plants had to shut down … it was a serious event.
With world events making Washam’s idea increasingly pertinent, I called him to discuss.
“It’s been on my mind ever since I started working on ACCA quality installation programs and trying to help policymakers in the U.S. understand the importance of the contractor when consumers are considering replacing their equipment,” he said.
The concept also draws on his time as a congressional staffer, where he collaborated occasionally with the National Rural Electric Cooperative.
“They have a program where they send linemen overseas to help developing countries run power lines and do it safely,” he recalled, citing Electrify Africa as an example.
More than a battalion of American HVAC technicians doing ride-alongs with tools and passports in tow, Washam sees the initial volley in this effort as focusing more on words and organization.
“I’d like to see if our members could teach other countries about how to set up associations and develop standards and programs,” he said, noting that that idea was warmly received in a conversation with the Saudi embassy.
Of course, the mini split phenomenon of recent years in the U.S. has deep roots in Europe and Asia, where the strategy has been common for many years.
“If [the mini split] is in a living room, that mini split may also be trying to feed the kitchen area as well. So how do you balance the air and get the air mixing enough so that there’s even comfort throughout the house?”
Washam sees the skills to deliver solutions for this kind of scenario — and the corresponding manuals on air balancing, equipment sizing, etc. — as transferable and valuable, especially with some association infrastructure in place to give them support and continuity.
ASSISTANCE AND RESISTANCE
It isn’t difficult to imagine the administrative hurdles in setting up something like this. Washam has his sights on connecting with other embassies, with the United States Agency for International Development, and with a corresponding United Nations foundation.
Washam understands it would be years before the idea would start to really come to fruition. The bureaucratic obstacles aren’t the only ones, either, as evidenced by a conversation he had with a manufacturer contact in Greece.
“Well,” his colleague told him, “people in Greece think that air conditioning causes colds and respiratory problems. They walk in from the hot street and into a cold house, and it’s a shock, and they think that it causes problems.”
(For what it’s worth, I interviewed legendary singer Emmylou Harris many years ago. We were talking about the challenges of touring in summer, and she cited this very phenomenon as the biggest challenge to her as a traveling singer.)
That said, the phenomenon of people dying unnecessarily from a lack of adequate climate control looms quite a bit larger. With some patience and execution — and with such heat waves predicted to only increase in frequency — Washam’s idea might foster better conditions for many who could use it, transforming regional skepticism to become a smash hit with lasting appeal.
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