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HVACR Contractors Offer Practical Perspectives on Refrigerant Regulations

BobLabbett_Blog Bob Labbett | V.P. – Aftermarket Distribution, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

At a recent E360 Breakfast, Emerson hosted a panel of three Atlanta-area HVACR contractors to glean their firsthand insights into the biggest challenges and emerging trends impacting their businesses and customers. A recent article covers a wide range of topics and issues, including this discussion about the impacts of refrigerant regulations on contractors and their customers. You can read the full article here.

The service impacts of refrigerant regulations

Imagine showing up to a job site and not knowing which refrigerant is being used in the refrigeration or AC system. According to Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning in Atlanta, this has become an all too common scenario. “When pressures aren’t reading true, we have to start from scratch with a total refrigerant evacuation, recovery and recharge before even attempting a diagnosis,” he said. Hoover noted that the transition from legacy refrigerants to today’s lower-GWP options comes at a cost, even for those refrigerants that are considered “drop-in” replacements.

Michael Duffee, owner of Restaurant Equipment Services, Inc. of Tucker, Ga., added that customers are not happy to see recovery and disposal fees tacked onto their bill, and this is putting competitive pressures to use shortcuts on small contracting businesses. “Many companies may not be following proper recovery protocols to win business, which can put companies like ours at a disadvantage,” noted Duffee. “It is obviously counterproductive from an environmental standpoint.”

When asked if customers were even interested in the trend toward using lower-GWP refrigerants, Duffee said that in his experience, cost considerations are his customers’ first priority. Even if their legacy systems are leaking, customers are reluctant to invest in replacement equipment. They may be more open to discussing new refrigerants when that investment eventually becomes inevitable.

Presenting new refrigerants as an opportunity to add value

Jim Wharton, area vice president of Link Network, ABM in Atlanta, serves a much larger enterprise customer base. He said his customers have demonstrated more interest in making these investments, and his company is trying to frame the transition as an opportunity. “It’s challenging to align customers’ goals with the available equipment options, but there are some cases where federal and regional regulations are forcing a change.” Wharton added that change isn’t always good news for customers, but he helps them understand the real values of their investment, including total lifecycle costs, energy efficiency and performance advantages.

Too many options result in too much complexity

All three of the contractors said that refrigerant uncertainty is also adding complexity to the equipment decision-making process. Hoover noted his customers are concerned about the long-term viability of the changes. “The last thing they want after investing in a new system is for it to be phased out in four to five years due to a refrigerant change.” All three contractors agree that the industry would benefit by standardizing. Hoover added, “Preferably, we’d like to see one refrigerant, not five or six different options, to replace the old ones.” He pointed out that many contractors simply aren’t able to carry multiple varieties of refrigerants in their trucks at all times. And since these different refrigerants often have unique performance characteristics, variety only adds complexity to service calls.

At Emerson, we’ve seen the wide range of new refrigerant options as a technical challenge, developing equipment and retrofits to accommodate and optimize their performances. But it’s our interactions with contractors and customers that give us insights into how options ultimately impact end users. Their answers shed much-needed light on potential solutions — such as a press toward a single, standard and regulatory-compliant refrigerant.

HVACR Contractors Discuss the Potential of New Technologies

BobLabbett_Blog Bob Labbett | V.P. – Aftermarket Distribution, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

At a recent E360 Breakfast, Emerson hosted a panel discussion among HVACR contractors to glean their insights and opinions on the biggest challenges and emerging trends impacting their businesses. It was a valuable opportunity to get a working perspective on issues more often discussed by industry analysts. A recent article covers a wide range of topics, including talks of new, high-end technologies at a practical level. You can read the whole article here.

The new technologies, IoT and analytics in the field

In recent years, the HVACR industry has experienced an influx of new electronic controls, connected technologies and data analytics enabled by the internet of things (IoT). As these technologies have come online, each of the three contractors on the E360 panel, with companies and customer bases of different sizes, has had different degrees of experience and interaction with these technologies in the field — from working with component-level information to gathering insights on facility management.

Making better use of data and analytics in the enterprise

Jim Wharton, area vice president of Link Network, ABM in Atlanta, works with an enterprise-level customer base. He explained that while data collection capabilities have been available for decades in different forms of energy management systems (EMS), many operators don’t use them to their full potential. Many may glance at their facility dashboards, see multiple areas running in the red (out-of-tolerance conditions), and may simply ignore the potential problems. “Most operators know the way their building behaves, and if they see an alarm in a certain area, they also know whether it will go away or if they need to act on it,” he said. He added that advanced data analytics now offer more insights and the potential to add tangible operational value by helping to drive informed decision making, detecting performance trends and providing equipment diagnostics and troubleshooting.

Embracing new technologies at home

Residential consumers are also embracing whole-home automation, said Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning in Atlanta. He said that his customers love getting notified of routine maintenance items, such as when to change filters or fix a water clog or leak. But most importantly, homeowners are using these systems to diagnose problems. “They like the fact that their home automation systems can let us know if something’s broken, so we can fix it before it affects their comfort levels,” said Hoover. But from a contractor’s perspective, he stressed that a home system also helps properly trained and educated technicians perform their own diagnostics. “This doesn’t allow us to take someone straight out of high school and put them in the field, but it certainly makes it easier,” he added.

On-board compressor controls are also helping service contractors gain deeper insights into overall refrigeration system performance. Michael Duffee, owner of Restaurant Equipment Services, Inc. of Tucker, Ga., cautions that these advanced controls require trained technicians. “If they’re not familiar with the technology, then you have to train them to avoid misdiagnosis, as there’s still the potential for things to go wrong,” he said.

Developing new technology for the real world of refrigeration

Designing new sensor technologies to be resistant to the impacts of weather, water and humid conditions are also very important considerations for Duffee. For example, he said, “In walk-in cooler environments, where it’s wet and sometimes caustic with the food and so forth, we’ve seen issues with consistency and where sensors and microprocessors can cause problems.”

With our broad knowledge of the full range of commercial refrigeration applications, Emerson keeps these environmental considerations upfront as we develop and introduce next-generation sensors and controls. For applications as simple as automated residential controls or as the source of real-time data for enterprise and IoT analytics, Emerson continuously consults with end users on the real-world issues raised by new technology.

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