WINDSOR, Ontario — The economic health of those who attended HRAI’s annual convention here may have depended on their luck at the gambling tables and slot machines of the Caesars Windsor casino.

But for the country overall, experts who spoke at the Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Institute of Canada’s Aug. 26-28 event in Windsor, Ontario, say America’s northern neighbor is generally doing well.

However, the country’s HVAC market continues to grapple with environmental issues, ventilation challenges and regulatory concerns — just like the U.S., said HRAI President Warren Heeley and others who spoke at the association’s 47th annual convention.

Just how Canada and the rest of world will deal with the phasing out of hydrofluorocarbons is still being hashed out, Healy said.

The HVAC construction industry recently committed to cutting use of the HFC-using refrigerants 80 percent by 2050. Many are pushing for quicker action through government regulation in the U.S. and Canada.

“This is going to affect both countries and both countries are going to get there,” Heeley said.

Lucie Desforges, the director of the chemical production sector at Environment Canada — similar to the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. — said Canada would have preferred a global treaty to handle the issue, but the country is moving forward. They’re trying to align rules with the U.S. while acknowledging Canada’s unique concerns, she said.

“It is now really much more of a made-in-Canada solution,” Desforges said.

Steven Yurek, president of the U.S.-based Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, said it’s hard to find green HVAC refrigerants that can easily replace those currently in use and not present many of the same concerns regarding climate change.

“There’s not much out there,” he said, although the industry continues to study the issue.

Economics

Canada’s economy is not growing as fast as it may have in prior years, but the country healthy, according to an expert who spoke to conference attendees Aug. 27. 

“We’re in a pretty stable world right now. And that’s not bad,” said Peter Norman, chief economist at with the Toronto offices of research firm the Altus Group.

Norman gave an overview of Canada’s economy as part of a presentation on the country’s construction market.

He said Canada’s economy was growing at around 3 percent a year, and while that’s not spectacular, when coupled with low inflation, it’s good news. Mortgage interest rates are also fairly low and Norman expects them to stay there.

“I could put this (forecast) out five years and not see any change,” he said. “Most provinces are operating pretty steady.”

As for oil prices — the province of Alberta’s tar sands hold a large amount of very heavy crude oil — recent declines have more of a short-term effect on consumer behavior than the economy, Norman said. Oil production for the year is up 8 percent.

Canada’s housing market, outside of the hot areas such as greater Toronto, has been a 12-year-old contraction — although you may not have noticed it.

“It’s not very steep,” Norman said. “This has not been an extraordinary year one way or the other.”

Industry changes

The work of HVAC market groups such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers will change in the future as codes become more consolidated, the incoming president of the society told HRAI members during an Aug. 27 session on challenges for indoor comfort.

Tim Wentz said he sees the HVAC construction industry moving toward a single high-performance standard that will encompass many of the rules currently spelled out in numerous regulations.

As a former HVAC market contractor, it’s a change Wentz said he supports.

“We have made a commitment to lower the amount of energy that is consumed in a building,” he said. “We’re trying as hard as we can to drive our energy codes to (design) as low an energy-consuming building as possible.”

But the laws of physics, as well as the ventilation requirements needed to ensure human health, make that tough, he added.

Building information modeling is already revolutionizing construction, Wentz said. But BIM will be very different from what HVAC construction contractors typically think of today when they hear the phrase.

“It’s not going to be the BIM that we use currently or recognize,” he said.

It’s an exciting time to be in the industry, he said.

 “I think this is a golden age,” Wentz said. “We are on the cusp of a new renaissance in design and construction. And I really mean that.”