How to Become an HVACR Expert

Published by The News

I was on the witness stand being questioned by a $260,000-per-year attorney. “Mr. Koop, how much do you think your time is worth?”

I was an electrical, plumbing, and HVAC contractor so I replied, “My time is worth $125 per hour.” I happened to know this particular attorney was billing his client $125 per hour.

I said, “Do you think that is too much to charge for expertise?”

 I tried hard to keep a straight face as he hesitated. It was quite funny, but guess what? He didn’t try to contest my value. He agreed that expertise, at least his and mine, should easily be worth $125 per hour.

 

AS AN HVAC CONTRACTOR, WHAT ARE YOU WORTH?

So, what is your expertise worth? Expertise can only come from experience. You must work in or on something long enough to learn more than the average person. A man I greatly admire once said to me, “Rodney, there is something to be said about apprenticeship and paying your dues to the profession. Experience comes from time.”

 

For example, running a backhoe for a year will allow you to be good at running a backhoe, But to be an excavation expert, one sould have 10 years or more of experience. Why? Because you can’t possibly come across enough problems and situations in a short period of time to learn all you need to know. I’m talking experiences that require you  to dig down into your subconscious and pull from your personal reservoir.

 

DO YOU KNOW MORE THAN THE OTHER GUY?

An expert is a person who has solid solutions to tough problems, and that ability takes time to develop. To move forward, though, you must have passion for what you do. You have to want to know more than the other guy. If you want to be the best in your field, you are going to have to work harder. But not just work harder, you have to dedicate the time. I knew a guy years ago who was a backhoe operator, but because of the amount of years he had operated one, he was truly an expert. On the job site, he was operating the machinery, and his father was in the hole they were digging. Out of nowhere, one of the sides of the hole collapsed, covering his father entirely. He had only seconds to act. Without hesitation, he scooped out a portion of the dirt on one side to relieve pressure and allow his father to be uncovered. He was inches away from gas lines, electrical lines, and not to mention his father’s head. Because of his expertise and his confidence in working in his trade, he not only saved his dad’s life but he did no extra damage to the job site. I’m sure he would have if he had too, but he knew exactly what to do under extreme pressure because he was an expert.

 

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL OPPORTUNITIES IN THE HVAC INDUSTRY

Opportunity brings reward but opportunity will only continue to present itself with much persistence. This means it will not always be the one in pursuit. You must seek it out. Success does not come overnight More without some difficulties and struggles. It is only in overcoming difficulties and struggles that we begin to fine tune our skills. In the HVAC industry, contractors have chosen this career path for many reasons, such as they grew up in the family business, they were guaranteed employment, or they discovered a love for finding solutions and solving problems. With our customers, confidence increases when we are considered to be the experts. When we are valued for our knowledge and time invested in our trade, it feels great. Where we struggle is when we walk out feeling like we just gave away our expertise for free. How do we change that? How do we fuse our actual worth with bottom-line results? First, we must make a decision to be the best we can be. Non-experts will rarely contest or devalue individuals who know their stuff. How do you become an expert?

  • Time– It’s the most important piece in building expertise. Not years, necessarily, but intentional time in study, preparation and work.
  • Passion– You must desperately desire to know more. This usually springs from solving problems on the job.
  • Persistence– Once around the block isn’t enough. The more you do something, the more likely it becomes second nature, which builds your skill.
  • Opportunity– This is your reward for your time, passion, and persistence. Don’t pass this up.

HVAC is a multi-layered industry. Surely, not one person can be the expert on everything. Choose a niche and give that your focus until years have passed and the knowledge you have acquired becomes second nature.

Half-hearted work never pays what true expertise has the potential to pay you. Be the expert and beat the other guy every time

Thermostat Manufacturers Work to Keep User Data Safe

Cybersecurity is top of mind for makers of internet-connected HVAC thermostats and controls

SMART DATA STORAGE:
SMART DATA STORAGE: “For the Bosch CT100, all user data are stored on the unit itself and never transferred or sent out,” said Joey Sung, product manager of controls and connectivity, Bosch Thermotechnology Corp. “In addition to user data, all data connections are fully encrypted.”

As more devices are connecting to the Internet of Things (IoT) each day, it comes as no surprise that data breaches are becoming an all-too-common occurrence. In fact, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that supports victims of identity theft and broadens public education and awareness in understanding identity theft, data breaches, cyber security, scams, fraud, and privacy issues, there have been 708 reported data breaches affecting 28,816,859 people in 2016 so far.

 

These numbers are not lost on industry manufacturers that continue to bring to market new and innovative Wi-Fi-enabled devices meant to increase comfort, save energy, prolong equipment life, and keep homeowners and contractors connected to their equipment and each other. That is why many of these manufacturers have been actively working to ensure customer data are safe and secure.

INITIAL CONCERNS

Once connected thermostats began to gain a major foothold just a few years ago, thermostat manufacturers suddenly faced new concerns regarding data storage and connectivity. These concerns required immediate attention.

Honeywell Intl. Inc. began offering its Total Connect Comfort (TCC) in 2010, which was the company’s first internet-connected thermostat, though Honeywell has offered internet-connected home security systems for a much longer period of time, said Kevin Staggs, an engineering fellow, Honeywell.

“Honeywell takes data privacy and security issues very seriously, and we understand these matters are top concerns to our customers,” Staggs said. “We have designed our connected thermostats with security in mind. The devices are designed to only communicate with certain Honeywell servers, and we use a variety of security technologies and procedures to help protect customer personal information and data from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure.”

Additionally, Honeywell doesn’t share its customers’ data without express consent and is committed to protecting the security of customer data, Staggs added. “The security of the data flowing between the thermostat and the cloud is a primary concern, and we address that by using secure and encrypted communications between the thermostat and the cloud. It’s important to note that thermostat communication with the cloud is limited to information about controlling the thermostat — current temperature, desired temperature, and mode, such as cooling or heating — and contains no information about location of the thermostat or any other personal information. Registering a thermostat with our cloud service does require users to provide contact information, but that information is not made available outside of the cloud.”

When Bosch Thermotechnology Corp. introduced the CT100 Smart Room Thermostat a year ago, engineers kept security in mind and also designed the product to store all its user data locally within the thermostat itself — not on remote servers in the cloud — which helps increase security, said Joey Sung, product manager of controls and connectivity, Bosch Thermotechnology Corp. “For the Bosch CT100, all user data is stored on the unit itself and never transferred or sent out,” he said. “In addition to user data, all data connections are fully encrypted.”

Like Honeywell and Bosch, Lennox Intl. Inc. has followed industry protocol for protecting user data, said John Whinery, vice president of product management, residential HVAC, Lennox Intl. Inc. “Lennox introduced the iComfort Wi-Fi Thermostat in 2012 and followed it with the introduction of the iComfort S30 Thermostat in 2015,” he said. “Lennox has always maintained a focus on the privacy of its customer data and the potential for it to be compromised. Lennox follows industry standards with regard to the areas of authentication, encryption, and trusted firmware updates.”

Overall, security has to be the foundation on which any IoT solution is built, and this is all-encompassing, said Kerry Sylvester, chief information officer and director of information technology, WaterFurnace Intl. Inc. “Security is more than firewalls and SSL certificates — it has to be built into the application software, IoT hardware and firmware design, and communication protocols. WaterFurnace did this when designing and implementing our Symphony offering.”

Symphony is a web-enabled home comfort platform specifically designed for WaterFurnace’s geothermal heat pumps. It provides detailed feedback on a unit and the tools to control it from any smartphone, tablet, or computer in real time.

“WaterFurnace’s top priority has been and always will be protecting the end consumer from identity theft or other financial loss,” Sylvester continued. “The simplest way to mitigate this risk is to limit the amount of personally identifiable information [PII] we require to establish an account. We do not collect high-value PII that hackers seek for resale, such as social security numbers or credit card information. This measure alone makes our Symphony IoT offering a low-value target to would-be cyber thieves.”

Johnson Controls Inc. offers two connected thermostats that grant users exceptional access to their HVAC systems. Aside from being connected remotely, these thermostats feature two-way connectivity with the equipment itself, which is unique and important to provide customers with tailored control of their systems. Because of their focus on proper and efficient system control, these thermostats ensure systems are operating optimally.

“We first launched our cloud solution in 2014 for our residential products,” said Jedidiah Bentz, director, advanced systems, controls and technology, unitary products group, Johnson Controls. “It was the next step in our strategy to not only provide acute system knowledge in the home but also share this knowledge on the go. Connectivity offers so much flexibility and educational opportunities for our customer base. Our newest thermostat, the YORK® touchscreen thermostat with proprietary hexagon interface, is engineered and designed to integrate with any conventionally wired HVAC system, which seamlessly connects homeowners to their HVAC systems via their smartphones, tablets, or computers.”

A CHANGING LANDSCAPE

Over the past few years, hacking has become more of a concern for thermostat and controls manufacturers, who have been working proactively to ward off such attacks.

“While we believe Bosch products are still safe due to their secure connections, we are keeping this concern top of mind,” Sung said, adding that with the CT100, everything is stored on the control itself; therefore, the homeowner owns their data and has full control over them.”

At Lennox, cybersecurity practices are ongoing to address potential issues as new types of attackers are discovered. “Currently, with our cloud-based solutions, we have a key focus on protecting customer data and reducing risks for unauthenticated access,” Whinery said. “Lennox engages with top security leaders in the industry to perform third-party audits of our cloud and device configuration settings, product codebase, and data to help identify opportunities to reduce risks.”

Honeywell uses a variety of security technologies and procedures to help protect customers’ personal information from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure, including limiting customer data exposure in the cloud. Additionally, they “regularly assess [their] cybersecurity practices and make improvements as a result of those assessments,” Staggs said.

“We use a variety of security technologies and procedures to help protect customers’ personal information,” he said. “For example, we store the personal information customers provide on computer systems with limited access that are located in facilities to which access is restricted. In addition, we do regular assessments of our systems, including our cloud-based systems, and are continually making improvements as a result of these assessments.”

Although the security concerns for Mitsubishi are the same as they were in 2002, when the company began offering its first connected control, their importance has become increasingly elevated as the propensity for cyber attacks has become more prevalent, said Matt Smithson, director of hardware and software engineering, Mitsubishi Electric US Inc. Cooling & Heating Division.

“This month, we are releasing the PAC-USWHS002-WF-1 wireless interface, which will replace our current Wi-Fi adapter,” Smithson said. “The interface [was] designed and developed out of our headquarters and engineering center in Suwanee, Georgia, and improves the user experience through super low-latency cloud communication while also introducing features, such as secure boot and secure device authentication. These new security features are made possible through the inclusion of embedded security chips.”

Security is always top of mind for Johnson Controls as the company designs new products. Bentz said the company has made tremendous strides in the area of security and has, in fact, devoted many resources to developing a world-class organization focused solely on the secure execution of its products. “It’s an interesting topic because of the complexity of making it simple,” said Bentz. “First and foremost, we do our best to keep customers’ personal information personal. A lot of security comes by just keeping customer data private to the customer. We recognize that, ultimately, customers and their homes need to be protected, and we will always make sure customers own control of their homes.”

WaterFurnace has also made major security changes over the past few years. “In 2014, the SSL/TLS Heartbleed vulnerability really shook the security community as OpenSSL implementation of SSL/TLS was believed to be secure,” Sylvester said. “Since Heartbleed, a number of other SSL/TLS vulnerabilities have been discovered.

“In 2013, WaterFurnace began building out a next-generation network infrastructure with the specific intent of filtering and blocking attempts to break into servers,” he continued. “At that time, it was clear that a standard firewall and SSL/TLS-secured websites and services were not going to be good enough; 2014 and 2015 certainly proved that.”

CONSUMER EDUCATION

While manufacturers are doing what they can to keep customer data secure on their end, much of it comes down to the users, how much they know and understand about cybersecurity, and how careful they are with their own data. Manufacturers realize this and have made consumer education a priority in recent years.

“There are some basic things users can do to minimize their risk of attack, some of which includes recognizing spear-phishing emails and avoiding password reuse,” Smithson said. “I think secure password managers are great tools for encouraging the use of complex, unique passwords. However, even the most vigilant of users are still largely reliant upon the systems they interact with to protect their data. To that end, users should select and use products from companies they trust.”

Like Smithson, Sung also recommended users secure their wireless networks, create strong passwords, and refrain from sharing those passwords with others.

Staggs outlined the importance of adopting strong home network security protocols with appropriate security configurations and the use of strong passwords.

He added: “The majority of a user’s data is not on IoT devices but resides primarily on the user’s home computers and personal devices, such as cell phones and tablets. This underscores the importance of users adopting strong security protocols.”

Whinery said customers should protect their physical equipment and only provide access to authorized personnel using two-factor authentication. They also recommend that customers install the Lennox Apps from the official Apple App store and Google Play store.

He also cautioned against using weak passwords.

“According to the Verizon Data Breach Incident Response Report, more than 60 percent of data breaches occur due to weak passwords,” he said. “We believe having no less than annual reviews of password configuration settings is important to reduce these risks.”

Johnson Controls is working with top agencies and cutting-edge organizations to develop secure, reliable, and functional products. “We conduct ‘hack-a-thons’ and exercise our systems to ensure our products are operating in a manner that is conducive to privacy,” said Bentz. “Comfort is our business, and we know security is a big part of comfort. It’s the cornerstone of our products. We pay close attention to how the definition of comfort is changing for our customers and are adapting our processes, products, and services to align with our customers’ values.”

Sylvester said WaterFurnace is engaged in “vigilant monitoring” and plans to increase the capabilities of its IoT devices as the need arises. In the meantime, company reps “recommend that Symphony users follow the standard recommended best practices for personal information protection, including using strong passwords.”

THE NEXT STEPS

As the IoT continues to grow, new devices enter the market, and new gateways to customer information are created, manufacturers will be working to ensure their products are on the cutting edge of cybersecurity.

“When designing a new product, usability concerns often clash with security concerns,” Smithson explained. “Today’s customers demand a great user experience from their mobile applications. Companies must find ways to offer superior user experiences without shortcutting best security practices. Mitsubishi Electric will continue to develop products with both great user experiences and tight security by involving security architects and user experience designers early in the design process.”

Sung predicts data breaches and hacking will only continue to increase as the number of potential targets become larger. “To mitigate some of these risks, Bosch has taken the proactive approach of ensuring that all of our products meet and exceed the security standard from the development stage of the product,” he said.

The high level of commitment from manufacturers to protect their customers’ information is evident in their products already, and they only plan to continue to ramp-up efforts to ensure user data are kept safe now and into the future.

“We know our customers will continue to take this issue very seriously,” Staggs said. “Our commitment to protecting their data won’t change, and we will continue to design our connected thermostats with security in mind.”

Bentz encouraged contractors to carefully consider which items they choose to sell to consumers. “Anyone can launch a connected solution and many are making the thermostat the hub of the home,” he said. “Be wary of fly-by-night offerings. When shortcuts are made in design, launches can be quicker and perceived value can be mistaken. This is where a majority of risks lie.”

Continue reading Thermostat Manufacturers Work to Keep User Data Safe

Is Preventive Maintenance Truly Preventive?

The term draws ire from some, but the benefits of maintenance are highly regarded

Preventive maintenance has become a popular term for HVAC contractors. In essence, preventive maintenance allows contractors to perform routine checkups on equipment, which ensures fewer breakdowns and longer equipment life cycles.

While this proactive approach is almost universally accepted in HVAC contracting circles, others in the industry believe the word “preventive” actually does the industry a great disservice.

THE BENEFITS

Greg Crumpton, president and founder of AirTight FaciliTech in Charlotte, North Carolina, said educating consumers on the total cost of ownership of a piece of air conditioning equipment and how routine maintenance is comparable in price to running it until it breaks is essential.

“Our companies go from a simple physical check all the way through full coverage,” he said. “If anything breaks, it is covered, much like a car warranty. It’s a budgetable item, and, over time, we have proven there isn’t that much difference between the cost of maintenance versus waiting until it breaks. You spend the same over the lifetime of a unit.”

For Travis Smith, owner of Sky Heating & Air Conditioning in Portland, Oregon, the biggest benefit to preventive maintenance is the actual lack of breakdowns that occur as a result.

“I still remember the first year we really offered maintenance to all of our customers. During the cold and hot spells, we noticed fewer emergency calls than ever before, and I’m not talking about a drop of 10-15 percent,” he said. “We saw almost a 50 percent drop in emergency calls from existing customers, yet our service department was doing more work than ever. It’s a win for the customers because they don’t go without heat and their systems operate at peak efficiency, a win for our employees because they are busier in the slow months and not overworked in the busy months, and a win for the company because it evens out our service revenue.”

Scott Merritt, owner of Fire & Ice Heating & Air Conditioning in Columbus, Ohio, mentioned his company features a multi-tiered maintenance agreement program that offers discounts on repairs, credits toward new equipment, same-day service, and choice of technician. The program also offers no overtime fees, preseason scheduling, refrigerant incentives, accessory discounts, and monthly payment options.

HOW TO PHRASE IT

These are certainly great benefits to consider, however, there are two sides to every coin. The term “preventive maintenance” just doesn’t sit right with everybody.

Ruth King, profitability master and CEO, Profitability Revolution Paradigm, said, “No contractor can prevent anything,” she said. “I’ve had contractors get letters from maintenance clients who say they’re not paying because they had a ‘preventive maintenance agreement’ that should have prevented the breakdown.

“Contractors who use the word ‘preventive’ are potentially setting themselves up for a lawsuit,” she continued. “The terms routine maintenance or planned maintenance are much better than preventive maintenance.”

Rich Morgan, president of Magic Touch Mechanical in Mesa, Arizona, said, over the years, all contractors have been taught to use positive trigger words as opposed to negative words.

“A good example in our industry is calling a salesperson a comfort consultant or referring to the final price as the total investment,” he said. “I’ve read there is proof that these positive trigger words lead to an increase in sales. There are some people who laugh and scoff at these words and prefer a more pragmatic approach. No matter what name we put on it, the most important part, in my opinion, is to communicate the importance of it and let our clients know not only the poetential benefits, but what risk they assume without it.”

Crumpton takes what he refers to as an “old school” approach to the terminology. “The term is preventive maintenance,” he said. “It’s mechanical, and it will break. Let’s be adults and know things break eventually and mitigate that risk. A pulley will wear out, a compressor will get to the end of its useful life, and a car doesn’t last for a million miles. I think it’s largely semantics. I’m a consumer, and I know that maintenance is part of the program with just about anything I buy. No one really likes it, but with my car, for instance, I know the car is maintained, and that gives me peace of mind. By educating customers, you can bring them around to understand the value.”

King also used cars as an example of why routine maintenance or planned maintenance are better terms for contractors to use.

“It’s telling customers what an HVAC company is doing at their homes/offices and why it is necessary,” she said. “People don’t go without changing the oil in their cars [because] they understand the concept. Planned maintenance is the analogy for the HVAC industry.”

CUSTOMER FAMILIARITY

No matter what term contractors are using, the fact remains that raising customer awareness of the option is of paramount importance.

“I don’t think enough customers take advantage of it,” said Smith. “Imagine if only 20 percent of people who owned vehicles maintained them. There would be a lot of broken vehicles. An HVAC system can run around 2,000 hours per year, and if you imagine it’s working at the equivalent of 30 miles per hour, that means you put 60,000 miles per year on your furnace in between maintenance.”

Morgan sees customer awareness as a largely mixed bag, with one group of people who “get it” and actively make sure to keep their HVAC systems up to manufacturer specifications to avoid future problems and people who have the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset.

“There are some homeowners who seem to think if a unit is ‘new’ — I’ve heard many homeowners refer to a five-year or even 10-year old unit as ‘new’ — that it shouldn’t need preventive maintenance,” he said. “Whether they really believe that or not is up for debate. I think if you own a car, you understand the importance of maintenance, new or not.”

Along the same residential lines, Merritt said long-term homeowners are generally pretty familiar with maintenance agreements, but many have had bad experiences with services that are not consistent or not rendered at all, even though payment was made.

“Most first-time homeowners need to be educated on the whole process — the need for maintenance agreements and how maintenance affects a system’s life expectancy and level of efficiency,” he said. “We bring it to every client’s attention, just as an auto mechanic would bring to any auto owner’s attention that it needs oil changes and regular tuneups. There is no difference. Mechanical devices need maintenance or they will break down and have shorter lifespans.”

Commercially, Crumpton said intense market locations, such as data centers, hospitals, schools, etc., understand the value because they can’t afford for their systems to be down for any extended period of time.

“The No. 1 complaint in office spaces is the HVAC system,” he said. “When people are disrupted, hot, cold, or whatever, they are not productive. Setting up preventive maintenance agreements makes you a top priority to a customer and ensures quick treatment of issues.”

 

Summer Brings Hot Temperatures, Sales for HVAC Distributors

 

A late summer surge helped distributors have a sizzling busy season

The busy summer season has seen its fair share of ups and downs so far, but overall, HVACR distribution is in a good place.

According to Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), average monthly sales for HARDI distributor members increased 15.9 percent in June 2016, and the average annualized growth from June 2015 to June 2016 was 7.2 percent. This annual growth rate has generally remained within the 6-7 percent range for most of the past two years.

Nationwide, this summer has been one of the hottest in recorded history. Per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the June temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 71.8°F, or 3.3° above the 20th century average. This was the warmest June on record and surpassed the previous record of 71.6° set in 1933.

The NOAA also noted that 17 states across the West, Great Plains, and parts of the Southeast had June temperatures that were much above average.

Tom Perić, editor of Distribution Center magazine, believes the outlook for the rest of the summer, and into 2017, is bright.

“Generally speaking, the economy looks positive for distributors and the industry, in general,” he said. “Gross domestic product is up, and we are going to see a better 2017 than 2016, according to one noted HVACR industry economist.”

Larry Trimbach, owner of 2-J Supply Co. in Dayton, Ohio, and HARDI’s regional director for the Great Lakes economic region, noted it has been a particularly topsy-turvy season in the Great Lakes region, but things have really picked up recently.

“Sales in May were down here in the Great Lakes region, but June flew up the charts,” he said. The staff at 2-J Supply and the region as a whole experienced a good July. It’s not quite as robust as June, but business was good.

“We are expecting 2016 to be a strong year and believe 2017 will be good, as well,” he continued. “We added a new location in Toledo, and we are kind of bullish on the economy right now. We also don’t feel like the election will put a damper on things too much, no matter the result.”

The results are consistent with other consumer, residential, and nonresidential building reports,” said Connor Lokar, senior economist, HARDI. “Existing and new home sales are doing well through the mid-point of the year. Housing starts overall are growing at a near-double digit pace, with single-family outperforming multifamily.”

REPAIRS AND TRENDS

Trimbach said customers are considering repairs and replacements, noting there is currently a good mix of both going on in the industry.

“As a distributor, we probably attract more repair-driven contractors,” he said. “Some of our competitors didn’t embrace repairs like we did, and it allows us to end up selling to people who aren’t regulars of ours in these times. To repair equipment doesn’t just include the cost of a coil and a condenser or whatever. It depends on how and where it is installed. It’s an important decision.”

According to Perić, a majority of distributors he has spoken with have said consumers are watching their dollars closely and leaning toward repairing systems.

In one such conversation, one distributor noted: “Dry-ship R-22 units are a very hot commodity. What does this mean? It implies that people are not installing new R-410a systems. This is probably why some OEMs are launching R-407c-rated condensing units, which allows them to replace R-22 condensing units and recharge the system with R-22. We are still repairing systems rather than replacing them.”

Perić also noted that replacement compressors are spiking upward, as well.

“As regulations continue to impact manufacturers, prices will continue to rise, which places a brake on replacement units for consumers,” he said.

Ductless technologies have certainly caught the interest of HVACR distributors.

“Mini splits have become a significant part of our business, and the same is true for our peers,” said Trimbach. “The trend has been to work toward higher SEER ratings. People have more knowledge now, and contractors are savvier in their sales approaches. Everyone is more knowledgeable overall.”

GOING DIGITAL

Contractors, distributors, manufacturers, customers, and everyone else associated with HVAC is becoming more technologically advanced and accepting that mobile devices are now a necessary part of doing business. Without a doubt, mobile applications are impacting every level of the HVAC supply chain, including the relationship between contractors and distributors.

“Mobile apps are certainly a differentiator right now,” said Brian Loftus, market research and benchmarking analyst, HARDI. “There is a lot of talk and concern about that.”

Perić believes it is just too early to tell what effect mobile applications are having, as there doesn’t seem to be enough data to make a factual assessment.

“What is true, however, is that distributors are aware that mobile access and the utility it provides is growing as contractors join the mainstream with their devices,” he said. “For example, more distributors have begun to make their websites mobile friendly. If they haven’t taken that step yet, they’re behind the curve.”

Trimbach said mobile applications can certainly make things less personal, but it’s imperative to stay ahead of what is happening in the industry.

“These apps help strengthen a distributor’s relationship with its contractors,” he said. “They also help a company get ahead of the trends, which reiterates that you’re doing what’s necessary to be successful.”

Continue reading Summer Brings Hot Temperatures, Sales for HVAC Distributors

Regular Maintenance Critical for VRF Systems

HVAC contractors share tips for servicing variable refrigerant flow systems

ULTRA IMPORTANT
ULTRA IMPORTANT: “Like any mechanical system, semiannual maintenance is very important to maintain the life cycle of any system,” said Matthew Kuntz, vice president of Jupiter-Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Electric Inc. in Tequesta, Florida.

As the American market becomes more familiar with variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems, it’s discovering firsthand the technology’s ability to deliver exceptional comfort with lower life cycle costs.

Additionally, contractors are touting the ability to perform maintenance on systems individually, allowing them to fix a problem without disrupting the comfort delivered to the remainder of the facility.

According to a study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the General Services Administration (GSA), regular maintenance on VRF systems consists of changing filters and cleaning coils for the fan coil units. Additionally, maintenance of the compressor unit is minimal, allowing significant maintenance savings for that part of the system compared to chilled water and hot water plant equipment.

“VRF systems don’t require service like competing technologies,” said Matthew Kuntz, vice president of Jupiter-Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Electric Inc. in Tequesta, Florida. “The time needed to perform maintenance on a VRF system versus the other options is far less from a labor and materials standpoint. If you’re only maintaining one or two condensing units versus one per traditional air handler, you can see how the time savings adds up fast.”

However, regular maintenance is still important, Kuntz noted. “Like any mechanical system, semiannual maintenance is very important to maintain the life cycle of any system. The main reasons systems fail is from lack of maintenance. So maintenance is ultra-important.”

Dominic Freschi, owner of Freschi Service Experts in Antioch, California, said periodic maintenance is necessary on all HVAC systems.

“It’s no more or less so with VRF systems,” he explained. “Maintenance helps ensure the longevity, efficiency, and reliability of the system.”

Rick Boucher, technical advisor at Comfort Supply Inc. in Pittsburgh, said regular maintenance is actually critical for VRF systems.

“Some people tend to neglect regular maintenance because VRF systems tend to be very reliable,” Boucher said. “System performance and energy efficiency are the first to go without regular maintenance. This affects the customers’ bottom lines and their perception of the product and the contractor.”

COMMON PROBLEMS

According to Freschi, a common problem he observes with VRF systems stems from installation errors.

“The most common issue we see is contractors not following standard industry practices during the installation process. It’s important for consumers to hire reputable contractors. There are no specific common failure points of VRF equipment. They are as reliable as any HVAC system, provided the equipment is installed and maintained properly.”

Kuntz agreed, saying he runs into very few problems with VRF systems.

“Power surges cause the most issues,” he explained. “Probably the most common cause of failure on a VRF system occurs on the circuit boards.”

Boucher said a lack of filter maintenance is “probably the single most common maintenance-related problem on VRF systems.”

“The total static pressure on these systems is typically less than that of a traditional system,” Boucher continued. “This leads to greater performance issues and loss of energy efficiency. Refrigerant leaks in the system are probably a close second. Mechanical failures are also common causes of failure. All of these issues are absolutely preventable when caught early on through regular maintenance. It starts with proper installation techniques. With regular maintenance, refrigerant leaks can be identified and repairs can be made before system efficiency is affected greatly. Our most successful contractors make use of our tools, like the Mitsubishi Maintenance Tool, for logging and checking system performance. This helps identify issues before they become critical.”

BEST PRACTICES

So, what are some best practices when it comes to VRF maintenance?

Freschi noted it is imperative for contractors to follow manufacturers’ installation guidelines. “They also need to pressure-test and evacuate the refrigerant system to ensure the field-installed piping is sound,” he added.

Kuntz said his technicians follow a list of best practices that includes making sure all parts of the system are free from dust and buildup. “We also make sure they are bonded for electrical surges to prevent issues during storms.”

“The most successful contractors we work with offer regular maintenance to their customers from day one,” Boucher added. “Communicating the benefits to the customer is a skill that can and should be taught to all contractors.”

DOE Prepares to Regulate Circulator Pumps

Stakeholders working to negotiate energy conservation guidelines

GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION
GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION: JP Sullivan, vice president of J.J. Sullivan Oil & Propane Inc., installs a Taco 007e circulator on an existing hydronic system. The DOE is currently developing regulations designed to improve the performance of HVAC circulators.PHOTO COURTESY OF TACO 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced the formation of a working group to establish energy conservation standards for circulator pumps, which are commonly used in residential and light commercial hydronic heating applications. Under the Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee (ASRAC), the Circulator Pumps Working Group will spend the next several months in public meetings to negotiate the standards and test procedures.

WORKING GROUP

The Circulator Pumps Working Group is an offshoot of the Commercial/Industrial Pumps Working Group, which convened two years ago to set standards on larger pumps.

“During the scope discussions for the Commercial/Industrial Pumps Working Group, they decided circulator pumps would be better served to have separate regulations,” explained Laura G. Petrillo-Groh, senior engineering manager, regulatory affairs, Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). “All the right people were not in the room during that rulemaking, and the test procedure needed to be refined a bit for the products.”

“Circulator pumps were carved out as kind of a subset of pumps,” said Chuck White, vice president of code and technical services, Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association (PHCC). “Circulators have never been a regulated product, and the industrial pump manufacturers and others in the industry wanted to have some time to evaluate what the possibilities are and the current conditions and then decide how to move forward. Now, it’s 2016, and the industry has come forth and said, we think we can work on crafting a program and try to establish some baseline standards and work on improving the energy efficiency of these products. So, kind of in a nutshell, this is an attempt to improve the efficiency of these products that have never been regulated before.”

Several industry manufacturers, two trade associations, representatives from the DOE, DOE consultants, energy advocates, environmental advocates, and consulting scientists make up the roster of working group participants, said Mark Chaffee, vice president of governmental relations and sustainability, Taco Comfort Solutions. “The move to a formal ASRAC puts us on an accelerated pace and brings together greater resources in order to get a rule in place,” he added.

 

CIRCLING BACK

The DOE addressed commercial and industrial pumps first because of the significant energy savings potential, and now that those standards are complete, the regulatory body is approaching the smaller pumps used most often on the residential side, explained Brent Ross, director of core/hydronics products at Armstrong Fluid Technology.

“It was debatable whether they wanted to address a smaller energy-savings potential, such as circulators,” Ross said. “Obviously, the potential in a 30-W [circulator] is the same as a 30-W lightbulb. So, there’s a lot less energy consumed, especially when compared to pumps that go 100-200 hp. But, the DOE chose to address [circulators].”

The industry organization representing manufacturers, the Hydraulic Institute Inc. (HI), was an active participant in the Commercial/Industrial Pumps Working Group and is again participating in the circulators working group, said Peter Gaydon, director of technical affairs for HI.

“There’s been a lot of work done over the last two years, informally, leading up to this between pump manufacturers and energy advocates,” Gaydon said. “We’ve gone into this formal rulemaking with lots of ideas and thoughts and a general understanding of different viewpoints. I’d say that’s kind of a unique part of this rulemaking, and it’s helped the process so far.”

While it’s impossible to know what the standards will look like this early into the rulemaking process, energy-efficiency advocates are pushing to eliminate standard, permanent split-capacitor (PSC)-motor-driven circulators, Taco’s Chaffee said. “This is chiefly the trickle-down effect of what began in Europe years ago, prompted by much higher energy costs. The change to ECM [electronically commutated motor] technology [in Europe] is sweeping and complete, including a series of rulemakings to eliminate less efficient circulators from the market. As happens so often, we are following in their tracks. This is driving [Taco’s] research-and-development spending on new, greatly more-efficient technologies, while pumps like Taco’s seminal 007 Series circulator workhorse will most likely be eliminated by the DOE’s rulemaking.”

TIMELINE

So far, the working group is still early into the process of developing a consensus standard, Gaydon said. “We’ve only gone through the introductory meeting where we go over the ground rules, and now we’re into the scope discussion leading into performance and evaluating data.”

“At the beginning stage, you have to define your terms — especially in this case, where they have never been regulated before,” White said. “The circulator market is pretty broad, and there are a lot of different products in there. To come up with a generic one-line description for those products is kind of difficult.”

The working group will most likely divide circulators into three or four subsets, White said. “They would likely be your wet-rotor, close-coupled-inline, three-piece, and small vertical-inline pumps. That last one is kind of a blend; those types of pumps might run into commercial and industrial sizing bracket or could be more of a circulator, and they’re probably the hardest to define. It’s a work in progress, so there’s nothing that is official yet.”

The working group has until the end of September to submit its recommendation, also called a “term sheet,” to ASRAC. “This will serve as the foundation for the development of a DOE NOPR [notice of proposed rulemaking],” Chaffee said. “After the publication of the NOPR, the DOE will accept comments and then integrate those comments into a final rule, which should be published later in 2017.”

There is also a chance the DOE may decide to issue a direct final rule (DFR) for the energy conservation standard instead of releasing a NOPR, Gaydon said. The test procedure for the circulators will still be published as a NOPR, which will be available for comment from stakeholders, but, before then, there is a lot of work that needs to be done, he added.

“The biggest workload is going to be the surveying of performance data,” Gaydon said. “There’s a big effort from the manufacturers to actually gather those data, and there’s a lot of burden associated with that — getting the data and submitting them to the consultant teams for evaluation. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work. That’s probably the biggest hurdle to getting this done — having the data on paper so we can all look at it fairly.”

An overarching goal of the working group is to try to align the standards with those already in place in Europe, where the market for hydronic heating products is well-established.

“I think we want standards to be consistent nationally and internationally so manufacturers don’t have multiple standards to comply with,” Gaydon said. “However, my understanding of the markets in Europe compared to the U.S., as far as system design goes and especially for residential housing, is different. There are more types of circulators inclusive of CP1, CP2, and CP3 types sold in North America, where in Europe, the CP1 type is primarily used.”

Despite the difficult task at hand, industry participants in the working group are confident the negotiated rulemaking process will be completed fairly and on schedule.
“This whole process is relatively new to me; however, I must say, I was impressed that the [commercial/industrial pump working group] operated on schedule,” Ross said. “They said they were going to complete it by a certain date, and [they did]. So, I have every belief that it has been run effectively and efficiently and will be complete in September.”

REGULATORY BURDEN

As with most new energy conservation standards, there will be a cost to comply that could affect the entire supply chain. And while it’s difficult to estimate what that cost will be, Gaydon noted there’s certainly a burden associated with the standards.

“Just testing the equipment, for anyone who’s not already tied into the commercial/industrial rulemaking, is going to be a burden — getting their test labs and personnel up to speed with current practices to make sure they can comply,” Gaydon continued. “We imagine it will reference HI 40.6-2014: ‘Standard for Methods for Rotodynamic Pump Efficiency Testing,’ and the same power conditioning and other testing requirements in the pumps rule. As far as the cost to comply, I don’t know if we can comment too much because we’re not a manufacturer of the product, and we don’t know where it’s going to go. But, certainly, depending on where the line is drawn, there could be a significant cost to comply for not only the manufacturers but for consumers, as well.”

Any time the government decides to enact regulations that eliminate a class of products, it’s certainly disruptive, Chaffee said, though he admitted the DOE’s goals were admirable.

“There’s no question the implications of this legislation; when it takes effect, it will impact a lot of lives — even, and some may say especially, installers of this technology,” he said. “Taco is very strongly positioned to help with this, too, through the company’s broad training programs, expertise, and customer outreach, both personally and online.”

Chaffee also pointed out that 47 new regulations have been passed in the last two years, all of which impact the HVAC industry. “Some have pertained to items like large compressor units, and others were directed at walk-in coolers. Then, of course, the commercial pump rule, among a wide range of other facets of our industry. It just so happens that attention has now shifted to small pumps and circulators.”

While larger companies are often able to absorb the cost to comply with new regulations, smaller companies may struggle, Ross added. “[Armstrong has] no problem investing appropriately, but small companies? Yes, it could hurt them. Larger companies? No, not as long as there’s a guaranteed market.”

While manufacturers are gearing up to comply with the new standard, whatever it may be, industry associations are advocating for their respective members’ best interests.

“We have interest in [the rule] from the perspective of water heater, boiler, and geothermal products, where the pumps are integrated into the equipment,” Petrillo-Groh said. “So, for us, making sure the efficiency increases while maintaining the same size and utility for the product is very important. That’s something we’ve been keeping an eye out for.”

“PHCC is interested in helping improve the efficiency of these products and offering any installed advice,” White said. “While we are not manufacturers, a lot of questions may arise based on application installations. And while the DOE doesn’t regulate applications, the application of the pumps may have some bearing on what is or isn’t a circulator, or what is or isn’t a good idea. PHCC is really looking to help improve the efficiency levels of these products and offer any input and wisdom we might have.”

Raising awareness of the standards throughout the entire supply chain is one of HI’s goals, Gaydon said.

“I just think it’s something that needs to be monitored, and general awareness to what’s going on needs to be brought to users of the equipment as well as installers and any manufacturers that don’t know about it. But, most manufacturers are certainly aware, if not all. So, I think it’s important to raise awareness so nobody gets left behind. The end users and installers of the product need to understand how the regulations might affect them, and they must comment if it’s going to adversely affect them. The DOE has a responsibility to make sure this is a sensible rule, but they need input from everybody.”

While working group participants agreed there are certainly challenges to overcome in this negotiated rulemaking, they also expressed confidence that the group will accomplish its goal.

“I think definitely everyone’s direction is in the right place, but there are some challenges that have to be overcome,” Ross said. “But, at the end of it, yes, we’ll overcome the challenges and issues and establish a reasonable and fair recommendation.”

To view the rulemaking webpage, visit http://bit.ly/CircWorkingGroup.

Continue reading DOE Prepares to Regulate Circulator Pumps

ASHRAE Research Outlines Net-zero Reach

30 specific energy-savings measures resultes in nearly 50 percent reduction in energy usage.

 

ATLANTA — According to results of newly approved research funded by ASHRAE, the application of 30 specific energy savings measures across all building types and climate zones resulted in a near 50 percent reduction in energy usage.

The national weighted change is 47.8 percent more energy efficient than Standard 90.1-2013 based on site energy and 47.8 percent more energy efficient than 90.1-2013 based on source energy.

The question of “How energy efficient can commercial and multifamily buildings become in the near future if first cost is not considered” was explored in ASHRAE 1651-Research Project, “Development of Maximum Technically Achievable Energy Targets for Commercial Buildings: Ultra-Low Energy Use Building Set.”

“The value of establishing such low energy targets for buildings is twofold,” said Jason Glazer, principal engineer for GARD Analytics, which oversaw the project. “These targets will indicate to building design professionals what may be achieved if first cost is not considered and challenge the creativity of those professionals to achieve similar results in actual designs with the real-world constraints of first costs. They also will help advance design guides, standards, and codes by providing an ultimate goal.”

For the project, researchers assembled a list of energy-efficiency measures that can be included in the design of nonresidential buildings. The list included both commonly used and cutting-edge energy-efficiency measures, according to Glazer.

From the resulting list of almost 400 measures, 30 were chosen for additional analysis. Sixteen prototype buildings that were consistent with Standard 90.1-2013, “Energy Efficiency Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential,” across 17 climate zones were used as baseline models. The 30 measures then were individually modeled. Each of the 30 measures, often with many options, was applied to each building and climate combination. In general, the measures were applied in the following order: reduce internal loads, reduce building envelope loads, reduce HVAC distribution system losses, decrease HVAC equipment energy consumption, and major HVAC reconfigurations.

After each measure was applied to each of the 272 building and climate combinations, if the energy consumption was reduced, it remained in the model. After all 30 measures were applied, the projected U.S. national weighted energy consumption for new buildings was nearly cut in half compared to Standard 90.1-2013.

To order ASHRAE 1651-RP, “Development of Maximum Technically Achievable Energy Targets for Commercial Buildings: Ultra-Low Energy Use Building Set,” visit www.ashrae.org/bookstore.

Professional Mold Prevention and Remediation Tips

Like it or not, mold is everywhere. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mold can cause a litany of health problems including nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing, and eye or skin irritation.

That’s why it’s important to proactively prepare for mold before it sprouts and be on the ready the second it makes an appearance. The NEWS recently polled a few industry professionals on what three steps they would take to avoid and remediate mold.

Humidity is Key

The key to controlling mold lies in a parallel ability to control humidity. “If the indoor humidity is above 70 percent, mold will tend to grow everywhere,” said Phillip Fry, a certified environmental hygienist, mold inspector, mold remediator, and author of five mold advice e-books. “The problem with air conditioning systems, when they are running, is humidity is below 70 percent, but often, especially in offices and commercial businesses, the air conditioning is turned off at night or during the weekends, and the humidity goes above 70 percent, causing mold problems inside the system, ducts, and the building. You have to monitor humidity readings in the building. Keeping the humidity low 24 hours a day is crucial.”

Mike White, CEO, Clean Air Systems of La. Inc., Shreveport, La., said in his home state of Louisiana he tends to see a lot of oversized air conditioners that don’t control humidity. “They control temperature, but they don’t control humidity. So, while temperature should remain around 74°, they turn the thermostat down because — due to the humidity in the air — they’re hot,” he said. “When that happens, the grille starts sweating. … When you keep the humidity low, you can have the same comfort effect with the temperature as high as 77°.”

And, according to Alan Wozniak, president, Pure Air Control Services, Clearwater, Fl, dehumidification must be maximized inside a building. “Obviously, any water intrusion events need to be handled expeditiously within hours of the event,” he said.

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Protecting History with VRF Zoning

New History Colorado Center Finds Way to Stay Cool

Established in 1879, just three years after Colorado became a state, the Colorado Historical Society has long served as the state’s memory keeper, occupying a number of buildings over the course of its 133-year history. By 2008, the society sought a new home and an opportunity to reinvent itself for audiences of the 21st century.

Changing its name to History Colorado, the organization began a monumental effort to imagine a new headquarters and a groundbreaking history museum in Denver’s Golden Triangle Museum District. In April 2012, the stunning 200,000-square-foot, $110 million History Colorado Center opened to the public with new exhibits and programs, blending artifacts, environments, media, and technology in immersive environments to showcase Colorado’s colorful stories.

Continue reading Protecting History with VRF Zoning