As the month of August quickly approaches, we find ourselves in a continued battle with COVD-19. Variants have spread to vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, some cities and towns have reinstituted mandates, and we find ourselves anxious about when we can “return to normalcy”. Far be it for me to be the bearer of bad news, but life as we know it will not return to “normalcy”. We will have a “new normal”. Similar to healthcare, we may soon have in-person, remote, and hybrid responses to our customers needs. Does this sound like a far-fetched idea? Maybe. That’s we thought about a visit to the doctor and then telehealth surged during the pandemic. What remains to be seen is how we incorporate transformation into our daily work schedules with our customers and staff. Stay tuned!
As always, stay safe. The Board of Directors and I look forward to seeing you at our fall line-up.
Indoor air quality, move to digital sped up by pandemic
Contributed by the ACHR News
It’s been more than a year of change and challenges for residential HVAC contractors. The coronavirus pandemic drove some of this, although in some cases, it only accelerated existing trends. And some of these issues come from trends beyond the pandemic. A panel of executives from three OEMs recently gathered online to discuss where the residential segment is at and where it’s headed.
The seminar was hosted via video conference by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). Panelists were Tom Overs, vice president of residential business for Mitsubishi Electric Trane US (METUS); Mike Branson, president of global air at Rheem Manufacturing; and Justin Keppy, president of residential and light commercial HVAC at Carrier.
Last March, Overs said, the entire economy came to a halt. It seemed like HVAC contractors would face a long struggle for business. But then, after Memorial Day, consumers started to take the money they had set aside for summer vacations and invest in the homes in which they were suddenly spending all their time. Meanwhile, HVAC technicians had been deemed essential workers, meaning they could respond to this need for improved indoor comfort.
“You saw the tidal wave from June until the end of the year, and really it’s continued into this year,” Overs said. “We’ve continued to see strong demand from our customers. We see it as a robust economy right now, and consumers continue to spend on products for their homes.”
The unexpected consumer demand strained the HVAC equipment supply chain. Manufacturers operated under the assumption of lower demand and scaled back production in the spring, Branson said. They then faced challenges from the pandemic with labor shortages, workers unable to come in due to either illness or exposure, and the demands for social distancing. This added to an ongoing lack of parts due to issues overseas.
“There were a lot of precautions we had to take that really slowed down the ability to provide product at certain times,” Branson said. “But we did the right things for employees of our companies.”
These issues continue even now. Keppy said it has shown the industry where its strengths were and exposed some opportunities going forward. It also demonstrated the need for good communication and ordering practices. Keppy said the fulfilment process needs to grow more visible and manufacturers need to work more with their customers to incorporate demand forecasts.
“These latest shocks really showed how concerning in some places the supply chains really were, and we’re taking those lessons to heart going forward,” he said.
Everyone learned new ways to communicate and interact during the pandemic. These practices provide a good example of how the extraordinary situation advanced technological adaptation. Now HVAC contractors need to look at how to interact earlier with consumers online, Branson said. For example, do they take down payments online?
Keppy recommends better websites that educate consumers and offer a variety of solutions for concerns such as IAQ. It seems as if the public suddenly became interested in IAQ due to increased attention to preventive measures overall, ranging from slathering themselves with hand sanitizer to scrubbing the groceries. But really, IAQ is another example of a trend that grew faster during the pandemic, Overs said.
“The pandemic just brought it out from consumers because of all the time we were spending in our homes,” he said.
One long-term challenge the pandemic made even more pressing for HVAC contractors is the ongoing labor shortage. Branson said he sees some positive movement in this area. He’s attended several high school awards ceremonies in recent years and noticed an increase in scholarships for HVAC schools. Branson said HVAC contractors need to make sure they engage with their local schools.
They should also look at people outside the field and consider training candidates themselves. One group ripe for recruiting, Branson said, is military veterans transitioning to civilian life. Keppy said manufacturers help HVAC contractors by providing recruiting material. He said the industry needs to look at ways of making the workforce more diverse.
“Our industry is still way underweighted from a gender standpoint as well as a diversity standpoint,” Keppy said. “The more that we can do to attract interest across other populations, [the more] it will help fill not only the technician shortage but also the leadership shortage that we’re facing with a number of retirements.”
More young people may be drawn to the HVAC business as it becomes more digital, Overs said. The move to smart thermostats has many people viewing HVAC as part of a forward-looking technology rather than an older mechanical system, he said.
“We’re becoming a little more sexy,” Overs said.
With the pandemic appearing to subside, attention now turns to other issues, such as the environment. For HVAC contractors, that means the move toward refrigerants with lower GWP. A major concern for contractors is many of the alternatives are flammable — unlike R-22, the refrigerant which they replace. Branson said while these new refrigerants do have a certain level of flammability, it’s lower than natural gas or propane, both of which HVAC contractors regularly work with now.
There are non-flammable alternatives, Branson said, but most have yet to reach the stage where they can be easily used in HVAC systems. That day will come, though, so HVAC contractors can expect another change some time in the future. Branson said future refrigerants will provide greater efficiency and heat transfer.
“I would put money on it that this is not the end,” he said. “It will never end. We continue to innovate.”
Change will remain a constant for HVAC contractors, the panel agreed.
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Simple mistakes during maintenance can lead to serious issues
By: Contributed by ACHR News
The old saying, “measure twice, cut once,” can definitely be applied to our trade. In that same vein, service technicians should also remember to “think twice, do once,” because there are many times that we can be our own worst enemy. Simple mistakes we make can lead to some serious issues for both us and our customers. Thinking before doing is the key to avoiding some of these costly mistakes.
When de-icing an evaporator coil, for example, think about the best way to handle the job without causing damage to the system. There are several ways to safely de-ice an evaporator, including using water, a heat gun, or simply de-energizing the compressor and leaving the evaporator fan running. Of course, never use an ice pick or a metal object to de-ice a coil. Although water is a good option, it may not always be the right choice. If there is no way to drain the water away, or if the water can cause damage to an electrical component, it becomes a poor option. A heat gun works well too, but if the heat will damage any plastic housing, any electrical wiring, or any other component, it also is not a good choice.
When drilling, always look carefully at what you are drilling into or through. One day, I was drilling through a floor joist to run an electrical line and did not look at the opposite side of the joist — and drilled right into a water line. Not a good day!
Working with older equipment involves working with older nuts, bolts, and flare nuts. When taking these items off and putting them back on, care should be taken not to force them as this could easily damage the threads. If the threads do not easily fit on by hand, find out why before taking a wrench to them. Once the threads are damaged, the piece will need to be replaced. This is especially important when working with the bolts on a compressor. If these bolts become damaged, you may be forced to change out the whole compressor to repair the problem.
When diagnosing a system problem, always look at the entire system. If you need to measure the system’s pressure, always measure both the high- and low-side pressure. Do not be a one gauge technician. Also always inspect the condition of the evaporator and condenser coil before determining a system problem based on an abnormal pressure reading. A dirty coil or iced evaporator will cause an abnormal operating pressure not caused by a lack of or an excessive amount of refrigerant.
If a voltage, amperage, temperature, or pressure measurement does not make sense, check your tool. A defective tool can cause you to spend a lot of excessive time looking for a problem that does not exist or lead you in the wrong direction as you try to determine the root cause of the problem. I generally carry two of my commonly used test tools, so I have a backup if I need it.
So remember to “think twice, do once,” and avoid making costly mistakes for you and your customers.