For many people, Dec. 31, 2014, was a time to bring in the new year with toasts and resolutions.
But for the HVAC construction industry, it was the day before new minimum-efficiency standards for central air conditioners were to take effect.
And for industry groups who long fought the new laws, the “countdown” to the New Year may have consisted of hand wringing rather than bell ringing.
Effective Jan. 1, the new efficiency standards, which apply to central air conditioners and heat pumps, removed uniform regulations governing HVAC sales. For the first time, each U.S. region — North, Southeast and Southwest — had its own set of minimum-efficiency standards for each equipment type. In the Southwest and Southeast, the minimum seasonal energy-efficiency ratio for air conditioners and heat pumps increased to 14, while the Northern region remains at 13 SEER (heat pumps must be 14 SEER).
Although manufacturers have until mid-2016 to sell existing stock with lower efficiency ratings, several surveys by Emerson Climate Technologies have found that many contractors were still unfamiliar with the changing efficiency regulations.
That didn’t include Paul Heimann, a controller at HVAC construction company Welsch Heating & Cooling. Heimann said the St. Louis-based company was well-prepared for the new efficiency standards — unlike many of those in Emerson’s surveys.
“We have been aware of the change since it was passed by Congress, and have been watching it to make sure that there were no last-minute items thrown in that would affect us,” he said.
Welsch did not experience a great deal of impact from the new regulations, Heimann added.
“Because of our location, the only issue affecting us is that heat pump SEERs have gone from 13 to 14,” he said. “We don’t use many heat pumps, but have already switched to using 14-SEER models.”
Jon Melchi, director of government affairs for the Heating, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International, said that although distributors were not the focus of Emerson’s surveys, his organization made sure its members were educated on the new regulations.
“I think it would be very difficult to have been a member of our association and not gotten information regarding the regional standards,” he said. “And further, I know that our counterparts on the OEM (original equipment manufacturers) side have done a good job of communicating what’s going on with their distributor partners. So I am not as concerned about distributors being unaware of the standards.”
And the association is still doing everything it can to ensure its members stay updated and informed about the changes, Melchi added.
“We try to send out information very regularly, and make it a focal point at conferences and talk about it wherever we can,” he said. “What I view our role is, is to give all of the information that we can to our distributor members, and we’re certainly there to advise them… but everybody is going to attack it differently. Some (distributors) decided to stock a lot of 13-SEER products and others did not. My job is to give them the information they need to make the best decisions for their company.”
Here and now
Now halfway into the year, industry officials say it’s still too early to determine the impact on HVAC sales and installation work.
Francis Dietz, vice president of public affairs for the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, which represents most major makers of HVAC equipment, said so far he has seen no issues, but it is all still very new. One concern is that some contractors would try to sell less expensive, less efficient equipment in an unauthorized region.
“We’ll be watching, and the contractors will be watching, and the distributors will be watching to see if there are any issues in terms of anybody trying to move product back and forth along the border between North and South,” Dietz said. “But we haven’t seen any of that so far. The only place where I would think that where there might be any kind of difficulty at all would be in the border states in terms of installations, but we haven’t seen anything like that yet, to my knowledge.”
Melchi said since it’s still early, the best thing to do right now is to wait everything out.
“I think our overall perspective is just waiting to see how a lot of this plays out because we’re not sure,” he said. “To my knowledge, there’s not been a single product like this that has been regionalized… There was no template for distributors to follow as far as how to stock inventory, and how to plan for anything like this. So a lot of this is going to be figured out through trial and error.”
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