I hate to be the bearer of bad news or play the devil's advocate. I enjoy playing the role as much as I enjoy adding overused clichés like "worst case scenario" to my articles. But all three clichés apply to this topic - which is - whether HVAC contractors are optimistic or pessimistic about 2006.

The answers vary between the contractors who historically do well (and let us know through their feedback) and the others who are in economically challenged areas of the United States and Canada (those who typically don't respond to The NEWS' requests for comments).

It's human nature to talk up the positives and play down the negatives, especially when one is talking about one's livelihood. Luckily for me, many of the hundreds of contractors I communicate with generously and readily give me feedback when I ask for it. That's how I get stories and story ideas.

In light of the news that HVAC manufacturers were reporting record shipments of HVAC equipment in 2005, I decided to listen to the doubting Thomas character on my left shoulder and find out if contractors shared in the good news - if they believed that the record shipments reflected an uptick in their own business.


My mini-poll involved a quick e-mail survey of several contractors. I'll have more on that in a future article. Although the sampling was small (18 replies), it gave me a good feel for what was going on in the minds of our readers.

Only one contractor expressed pessimism, one sat on the fence, and the other 16 were optimistic. Frankly, I was surprised. I can attribute my pessimism to the area I live and work in, southeast Michigan. Our area is in an economic slump. And to no surprise, my one respondent from Michigan cast the dissenting pessimistic viewpoint.

The optimists included a list of notable contractors, like former national chairman of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Skip Snyder, president of the Snyder Co. Inc., Upper Darby, Pa. Snyder said, "Looking forward, if the real estate bubble doesn't pop, if interest rates stop rising, and organizations like ACCA and PHCC [Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association] force legislation allowing association health care plans, we could have another good year."

Another familiar name is Bobby Ring Jr., president of Meyer & Depew Co., Kenilworth, N.J. Ring is a former winner of The NEWS' "Best Contractor To Work For" contest. He noted, "There's never been a better time to be in the HVAC business. Soaring energy costs and the onset of 13 SEER regulations have once again brought what we do to the spotlight. We're positive about the future at our company and the opportunities that are before us."


Like I said before, geography plays an important role in one's outlook. Art Grace, vice president of Krutsch Mechanical Services, Taylor, Mich., was the one who responded negatively to my poll. He said, "This is Michigan. We are being crushed between auto-maker layoffs, plant closings, bankruptcies from airlines and suppliers, and a generally shrinking economy. While the rest of the country heats up, Michigan continues to be depressed."

I posed the question at the discussion board at www.oiltechtalk.com. Most of the contractors who frequent the discussion board are based in the northeast United States. Here is what one New York contractor said.

"Things are pretty slow for most of the guys that I know," said "Moose."

"One of the problems in upstate New York is that there's little growth, and there's an overabundance of heating guys. Many guys are living week to week, and don't know if they'll still be in business next year. Customers have a death grip on their wallets when it comes to spending money on heating system service, installations, and upgrades."

It's a mixed bag on the 2006 outlook - and I'd be happy to hear your opinion.

John Hall, Business Management Editor, 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax), johnhall@achrnews.com

Publication date: 01/30/2006