In the wake of President Trump dissociating the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, many Americas are concerned that the U.S. will no longer make serious attempts to reduce our carbon footprint and ensure our homes and buildings are efficient.
As a heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) contractor, and National Chairman of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), I can tell you that, when it comes to my industry, public policy has fundamentally ignored a key energy efficiency issue for some time.
The HVACR industry has been a prominent target for efficiency regulations because the mechanical systems we install are among the largest consumers of energy. However, public policy under previous administrations led consumers to believe that increased efficiency is as simple as creating new regulations and exchanging older equipment for highly efficient units.
The singular focus on the equipment – the “box” in trade lingo – is misguided and short-sighted because HVACR systems are not “plug-and-play” appliances like refrigerators. ACCA routinely opposed efforts to increase equipment efficiencies because our 4,000 professional HVACR contractor members know firsthand that meaningful energy efficiency programs require everyone to think outside the “box” and take a holistic approach to energy conservation.
Energy efficiency programs that focus solely on the “box”, but ignore the necessary installation requirements of said equipment, have resulted in homes and buildings being less efficient than they should be. According to a 2014 study by the National Institute of Standards & Technology, new unitary air conditioning systems consume 30-40 percent more energy than they should if the equipment is not properly sized, the ducts are not designed to deliver precise airflow, or if the refrigerant level is inaccurate. If these basic installation elements are not followed, then the equipment will not function according to its lab-tested and labeled efficiency – a problem the Environmental Protection Agency believes affects most U.S. homes.
These basic installation elements are not being followed because consumers have been lead to believe that the “box” will address their efficiency goals. Tax credits, utility rebate programs, federal efficiency regulations, and fancy labels all contribute to this problem because they focus on a “box.” The individuals leading these programs do not educate consumers about the installation elements required to ensure the “box” functions as promised. Unscrupulous individuals in my industry also contribute to this problem by selling homeowners oversized and high efficiency products they may not need.
Improved energy efficiency is not an equipment issue; it’s a behavior issue. The longtime focus on the “box” is the behavior issue that needs to be addressed if we want to make meaningful strides to reduce our carbon footprint.
ACCA’s contractor members are serious about conserving energy and reducing our carbon footprint. We are leading the charge to change the behavior of policy makers, environmental groups, consumers, and other contractors. Our goal is to change the focus and mindset from the lab-tested efficiency of the “box” to the realized efficiency that consumers actually get.
Our association developed the nationally-recognized quality installation (QI) standard for residential and commercial HVACR systems. If followed, the ANSI/ACCA 5 QI Standard – the minimum design and installation requirements – will protect consumers by delivering the energy savings they were promised.
Not only did ACCA develop the QI Standard, we are also taking action in support of it. Our contractors are educating consumers about QI practices and engineering, installing, and maintaining HVACR systems to ensure they operate as promised.
Inside the Beltway, our Board of Directors held meetings with the Obama White House to address this issue and we are actively engaged with the Secretary of Energy’s staff seeking ways to promote QI practices. We are also working with Congress and the National Association of State Energy Officials to educate more policy makers about these all-too-common installation problems. ACCA has also reached out to several environmental groups and offered to work collaboratively on these efforts.
We take our role to protect the environment seriously and it is our duty to remind people that everyone can play an important role in reducing their carbon footprint and be good stewards of our planet.
As news of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris accord sinks in, it is a good time to encourage everyone to literally think outside the “box” if they want to make a difference. If consumers demand professionalism and quality installations from their HVACR contractors, then their complete systems will operate at optimal levels. Home and building owners will then be able to quantify the benefits of their investments in highly efficient HVACR equipment and be assured that they are using less energy than the majority of systems currently deployed around the country.
This is a great opportunity to improve the delivered efficiency of most residential and commercial HVAC systems. ACCA is up to the challenge, are you?