By Solutions Contributor Source: Solutions, Winter 2017
With new regulatory changes on efficiency standards and refrigerant management hitting HVAC contractors fast, it’s no surprise that it can be hard to keep up. To give members an overview of a few of the major changes coming to the industry – and the resulting impact – PHCC reached out to Emerson, whose business unit, InSinkErator, is a PHCC Corporate Partner. Below are some insights from Becky Hoelscher, director, AC aftermarket, Emerson Commercial and Residential Solutions, as well as from Emerson’s Matt Ricker, business development manager, AC aftermarket, who presented on this topic at CONNECT 2017.
PHCC: How do you see regulatory activities impacting residential and commercial markets?
EMERSON: Many of the changes have to do with U.S. regulations that will have a major impact on efficiency standards and the type of refrigerants used in commercial and residential HVAC equipment.
Under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program, current popular refrigerants R-410A, R-407C, R-134A and others will be delisted in chiller applications effective January 1, 2024. (Timeline on this may change depending on the outcome of a current lawsuit.) This is prompting the search for low-GWP (global warming potential) replacement refrigerants for use in commercial chiller applications. (For residential, any refrigerant delistings are currently much further away.)
Currently, the most viable, low-GWP replacements being reviewed by the EPA fall into the A2L safety classification. The main challenge with these A2Ls is that they are mildly flammable (although not as flammable as propane). As a result, there is an effort underway to update safety standards (e.g., UL standards) that would necessitate an update to building codes. The plan is for A2L standards to be in the 2021 building code update for both commercial and residential buildings.
Also on the commercial side, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) rooftop unit regulations will, in two phases beginning in 2018, require new energy efficiency levels. The first phase of the regulation is designed to deliver an 11- to 15-percent efficiency improvement in products. Five years later (2023), phase two requires an additional 16- to 17-percent increase in efficiency for new commercial units.
For the residential market, the big changes are with the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER).
One that has already occurred is the introduction of regional SEER ratings, which went into effect in 2015. Central air conditioners sold in the northern region must have a minimum SEER rating of 13, while those sold in the south and southwest regions must be at least 14 SEER. This is based primarily on the fact that units are typically run longer during the hotter summer months of the southern regions.
As a result, equipment rated in the different SEERs can only be sold in the appropriate region. OEMs have started labeling the equipment to help ensure the right SEER-rated equipment is installed in the correct region. It is important that contractors pay attention to these labels. If a contractor is found to have installed the wrong SEER rating in the wrong region, the contractor has to replace it for free, and fines can be assessed.
In 2023, DOE will implement new metrics for calculating SEER to better reflect changing field conditions, such as new HVAC technologies and practices used in home building. While there is plenty of information on the calculations, it basically means that SEER ratings will no longer be displayed in whole numbers.
PHCC: What market dynamics do you see affecting HVAC contractors?
EMERSON: These regulation changes are in addition to the more widely well-known changes currently occurring in the industry. Much has been written about the growing shortage of qualified technicians. This is happening across industries as baby boomers retire and millennials choose different career paths. We are also starting to see some slow down with new construction as it is still difficult for interested buyers to be qualified for home loans. This same credit crunch is also having an effect on HVAC upgrades with existing homes.
PHCC: What products is Emerson developing to address these industry trends?
EMERSON: In an effort to stay ahead of these changes, Emerson is developing a number of technologies to help contractors and end-users take advantage of the opportunities they will present.
For instance, our Copeland Scroll™ compressors enable more efficient, modulated systems that will benefit both commercial and residential buildings. Our Sensi™ Wi-Fi Thermostats allow homeowners to stay connected to the performance of their air conditioning unit and ensure that output matches needs to maintain optimal comfort and humidity levels.
Our Sensi Multiple Thermostat Manager software enables end users to manage and control multiple thermostats across HVAC systems. Coupled with our Sensi thermostats, it creates a powerful and affordable HVAC management system for many business applications that typically would have multiple HVAC systems spread across one or several commercial buildings or regions.
PHCC: At this stage, what should contractors do to prepare for these coming changes?
EMERSON: One of the best things you can do is stay informed and be aware that these changes are coming. Understand how standards, equipment and technology are evolving and the new opportunities this presents for you and your customers.
Lastly, realize that equipment manufacturers, such as Emerson, can be invaluable partners as you navigate these changes. We are working closely with industry experts, partners and contractors to help ensure that the industry’s transition through these changes are seamless and advantageous for everyone involved.