Air Conditioning Contractors and the Department of Energy
Are miscreant air conditioning contractors the weak link in energy efficiency? I was informed of a Department of Energy (DOE) webinar in December that was most informative. If nothing changes (there is scheduled to be a national election in November), then the DOE will expand its control over the efficiency of HVAC equipment in a dramatic new way… Regional Efficiencies. There are eight climate zones in the continental US, and Florida is home to two of them. Zone 1 includes Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties and Zone 2 houses the rest of the state. This division is why heat pumps are becoming more popular in Naples, as they are in Zone 2 just like Jacksonville; and a heat pump may be necessary to pass the Energy Code.
Remember the 13-SEER mandate? Manufacturers shall not make equipment that is less than 13-SEER after January 26, 2003. Well that may soon be a thing of the past as the DOE minimum efficiency will be determined as to where the units will be installed, not some national standard. This regional efficiency business is just in the start up stages, but make no mistake, unless something remarkable happens this is where the DOE train is headed even though the entire track isn’t laid as yet. What does it mean? They are talking about a 17-SEER minimum for Zone 1 and 16-SEER for Zone 2, etc. If you think just installing matched equipment was a challenge, think about those minimum efficiencies! Do you suppose this will raise or lower the installed price of A/C? Yes, I am joking. If the MINIMUM is 16 or 17-SEER this will have a dramatic effect on prices.
This brings me to the webinar, which included speakers and listeners. I was a listener, and it was a good thing I couldn’t speak as ignorance abounded. The DOE knows that tracking the final installation ADDRESS is key to compliance under their proposed new rules, but they did not know how our products are sold and installed. Speaking participants rightly identified the HVAC food chain as follows: Manufacturer a Distributors a Contractors a Consumers. One speaker opined that the answer was simple; to register each system purchased by a contractor before they pick it up then compel the contractor to verify equipment information a second time and register the installation date with the DOE at startup. Brilliant, problem solved. However, someone commented that many contractors purchase the units and place them in inventory to be sold at a later date. Air conditioning contractors in the mountain west must do this, as the distributor could be hundreds of miles away or where it snows in winter. In southern states, contractors tend to be larger in size, bring into play the ability to buy in bulk at times when manufacturers are eager to sell at a volume discount. The DOE response was along the lines of… OH?
The DOE did identify that the MAJOR problem would be that lower efficiency equipment would cross the lines of regional efficiency and be installed for consumers by contractors illegally. This is already happening in California and Oregon, where California has an ultra-high efficiency requirement for furnaces, and Oregon has a much higher requirement than California for A/C efficiency. The DOE said they were not surprised that contractors and many consumers were violating state law by installing bootleg equipment across state lines. What a revelation! Then the comment was made by a lady from DOE that they NEVER EVER punish the consumer. Therefore, all enforcement attention, fines, and penalties must be directed to the manufacturers, distributors and the contractors. Then in a piling on, some man spoke and said something to the effect, “Yes, those miscreant air conditioning contractors are the weak link in all they are trying to accomplish.”
According to Webster Miscreant means: 1. INFIDEL, HERETIC 2. One who behaves criminally or viciously.
I know several things for certain: One, central planning is not necessarily the best way to assure compliance (think “Prohibition” in the 1920’s-30’s). Two, with demand from consumers, there will be thousands of consumers that will purchase equipment on the Internet and get someone (not necessarily licensed air conditioning contractors) to install it – obviously without a permit or inspection. See, I am getting old and perhaps somewhat forgetful, but I will NEVER forget that comment about “those miscreant contractors.” It just gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling for those that will be regulating our contracting activities.
This certainly was an informative webinar, and I sincerely look forward to the next exciting chapter to see what new plans our government has for us.
Looking out for you,
Guest column written by Bob Cochell, a FRACCA Board member and member of the Energy Technical Advisory Committee of the Florida Building Commission. If you have questions or have feedback to give on this article, contact your local chapter office, or contact the FRACCA executive office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727-576-3225.