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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.

Five Prestigious Reasons to Become an HVACR Apprentice

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

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

As National Apprenticeship Week (March 4–8, 2019) once again approaches, the critical shortage of qualified HVACR technicians within the U.S. continues with an estimated industry shortfall of 118,000 technicians by the year 2022. Recruiting apprentice HVACR techs remains as challenging as ever, because students with an aptitude for technical trades are not being encouraged to pursue vocational or technical training. Students need to be convinced that an HVACR career path is a viable alternative to a four-year college degree, offering them a chance to work on new and emerging technologies in meaningful careers that contribute to society.

What’s stopping them? One is the perception among American high school students that a college degree is more valuable and prestigious than an apprenticeship and a fast track to a career. The other is that we collectively as an industry are not adequately presenting them options. Here are five great reasons for a high school student to consider becoming an HVACR apprentice.

  1. College is more popular — and more expensive — than ever.

At least two-thirds of the high school class of 2020 intend to go to college; this represents the highest rate of secondary education attendance in U.S. history. They and their parents know that college is getting more expensive, while financial aid is shrinking. The average student graduates with an average of $40,000 in student loan debt just as they’re about to begin looking for an entry-level job. What isn’t as well-known is that about half of all college students drop out without earning a degree — and with no real job skills. Yet schools, guidance counselors and peers continue to push students straight to college.

  1. There is an alternative: A fast start — with no debt.

When many “traditional” students are just starting their sophomore year in college, some of their high school friends will be beginning their careers as HVACR apprentices with average entry-level salaries ranging from $47,000–$60,000 a year, depending on skill set. It’s a matter of supply and demand, and being an HVACR tech is a vocation in extremely high demand. It’s time high school guidance counselors had information about alternative apprenticeships on hand.

  1. An apprenticeship is a wise path for students who can use their heads — and their hands.

A bright student with some high school courses in math and/or physics can learn to read a blueprint and earn an HVACR apprentice certificate at a community college in six months to a year, at little or no cost and with no student debt. Others can even start straight out of high school, getting paid while earning their certificate on the job. In an industry that needs 118,000 new HVACR apprentice technicians, their certificates mean they are almost certain to get job offers from almost any company to which they apply. As an apprentice, their future career tracks are limited only by their ambition and drive (or lack thereof).

  1. An apprenticeship is a top-notch education.

An HVACR tech certificate may not sound as glamorous as a college degree. But four years of on-the-job training in a technical field are easily the equivalent of a four-year academic degree. HVACR techs are responsible for maintaining healthy environments at major medical centers. They work in the aerospace industry and in high-tech corporations. HVACR techs know how to maintain and repair 12-ton coolers, heat pumps, furnaces, ultralow-temperature freezers and refrigerators; they can manage the electronic systems that connect them; and they can run the software and internet programs that monitor and control them. HVACR techs work with advanced technologies, doing essential work that significantly affects people’s lives.

  1. They’re wanted.

The HVACR industry is working with educators, unions and contractor organizations to make it even easier to earn apprentice certification, with more online courses, night classes and technically advanced curriculums to create valuable on-the-job training. Even the federal government has stepped in, with the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act providing funds for students who are looking for more career-oriented education after high school.

 

Refrigerant Management: How Changes to Section 608 Impact Our Industry

JohnWallace_Blog_Image John Wallace | Director of Innovation, Retail Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

I was recently interviewed for an article in ACHR’s The News magazine, “EPA’s Proposed Changes to Section 608 Cause Concern in the Industry,” where I provided my perspective on the current state of leak detection, repair and other provisions.

Refrigerant leak response and repair regulations have placed our industry in uncertain waters. As you may know, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a new rule that rescinds some provisions of its Section 608 mandate, affecting equipment with 50 lbs. or more of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) or other substitute refrigerants. These best practices were developed in consultation with the HVACR industry to ensure safety, establish proper reclaim and recycling processes, and of course, reduce carbon emissions.

In November 2016, the EPA extended the scope of Section 608 — from refrigerants containing ozone-depleting substances (ODS) to nonexempt substitute refrigerants such as HFCs. Because the Court of Appeals ruled in 2017 that the EPA could not ban HFCs, the agency has decided that it also did not have the authority to regulate these refrigerants under Section 608.

Establishing best practices

Awareness of the importance of leak detection has grown exponentially in recent years. Today, most companies understand that implementing a leak response and repair program is simply a best practice. And for those companies that have already taken steps to comply with Section 608, the vacating of this rule will have little impact.

I stated in the article: “These procedures not only benefit the environment but also help ensure HVACR equipment operates at peak efficiency, including at the lowest overall cost. One of the benefits of the existing regulations has been to raise the awareness of best practices related to HVACR maintenance. Increased awareness generally leads to broader adoption by those in the industry, regardless of whether regulations are in place.”

Simply put, leak detection and repair programs make good sense, regardless of the regulations in place or the type of refrigerant being used. However, with the reversal of Section 608, equipment operators will no longer be under federal mandate to follow these widely adopted refrigerant management best practices:

  • Conducting leak rate calculations when refrigerant is added to an appliance
  • Repairing an appliance that leaks above a threshold leak rate
  • Conducting verification tests on repairs
  • Conducting periodic leak inspections on appliances that exceed the threshold leak rate
  • Reporting to the EPA about chronically leaking appliances
  • Retrofitting or retiring appliances that are not repaired
  • Maintaining related records
  • Overseeing technicians’ use of certified equipment and the reclamation process

These procedures are already considered to be the optimal standard practice, and end users who are focused on operational excellence are likely doing many (or most) of them today.

Maintaining other key program elements

The absence of a federal mandate for responsible HFC management creates a quandary for our industry. Currently, the EPA is seeking comments about the remaining provisions of Section 608, raising concerns about the potential for overturning other benefits of programs — specifically, guidelines for refrigerant reclaim procedures and technician certification and training programs.

Proper refrigerant reclamation reduces the likelihood of introducing impurities, which could lead to premature failures and increased maintenance costs for owners of HVACR equipment. What’s more, the certification program provides the vital information on how to deal with the ever-growing number of refrigerants. As I stated in the article: “One benefit of certification is that wholesalers are able to sell refrigerants to technicians who have a sufficient background and understanding of their liability under the Clean Air Act.”

Path forward

Already, several states are adopting standards for leak detection and control. Again, as I noted in the article, “We are already seeing some states such as California enact regulations that adopt many of the requirements in Section 608. Other states will likely step in, which may create more headaches for the industry. This could create problems for the industry and lead to a patchwork of inconsistent regulations that would be challenging for manufacturers and service providers to navigate.”

As always, Emerson will help you stay informed about further changes to Section 608. Regardless of the regulatory decisions, we’ll continue to provide guidance and expertise on how to design and implement refrigerant management programs.

Copeland Scroll™ and Supervisory Controls Come out on Top

Phil Moeller | Vice President – Product Management, Refrigeration
Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

The 2019 AHR Expo (International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition) Innovation Awards winners have been announced, with Emerson taking home the hardware for its Copeland Scroll fractional-horsepower, low-temperature compressor in the Refrigeration category. Emerson’s Supervisory Controls were also recognized as finalists in the Building Automation category.

Copeland Scroll

Winners of the AHR Expo Innovation Awards were selected by a panel of third-party American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) member judges who evaluate all award entries based on innovative design, creativity, application, value and market impact. Award entry fees are donated to an organization in need of HVACR repairs, upgrades or installations, giving all competitors something to root for, whether they win or lose.

The Copeland Scroll fractional-horsepower, low-temperature compressors utilize liquid-injection technology and cooling discharge temperatures to help reduce compressor stress and meet federal regulatory requirements. Ensuring compliance with EPA and DOE regulations and granting compatibility with environmentally conscious refrigerants allow facility managers to meet energy and sustainability goals while simultaneously lowering their collective footprint without having to sacrifice productivity or efficiency.

The Supervisory Controls platform provides building and system management, control, power and simplified operation for refrigeration, HVAC, lighting and more. By collecting, analyzing, reporting and communicating performance history and metrics like energy usage, HVAC discharge and space temperatures, facility managers can quickly respond to issues that may impact customer experiences, food safety and operating costs — all from the convenience of their desktop computers or mobile devices.

Both products are geared toward helping customers stay ahead of the curve and adapt their operations in a rapidly changing industry without having to completely overhaul their operating structures and systems. High-efficiency equipment like the Copeland Scroll fractional-horsepower, low-temperature compressor and supervisory controls can help improve operations, mitigate risk, save money and further sustainability efforts.

Emerson will continue to develop new products to meet customer needs and strive to refine current products to help customers realize their most optimized and reliable operations to date, while still addressing compliance concerns and sustainability goals. Emerson is honored to be recognized by the AHR Expo panel of judges for our work and want to congratulate the other winners and finalists.

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