HVAC Industry Crossroads

The residential HVAC industry has seen no real regulation of forced air systems until recently, and the commercial industry has also faced challenges with inspections of commercial HVAC. As a business owner who focuses on the residential industry, as well as a Refrigeration Instructor, I have witnessed problems with plumbers, electricians, and sheet metal workers who install our equipment. They may have the physical skills to connect and turn the components on, but most lack the expertise to address complicated installs or system failures. In this white paper, I will discuss the issues that arise when unqualified personnel install split systems, loopholes in regulations, and lack of enforcing authorities.

The majority of our suppliers have policies that require a refrigeration mechanic on staff before selling equipment or equipment needed for the proper installation of split systems. However, this policy is not always enforced, especially in smaller companies that are willing to pay a technician to use their license to purchase equipment. Additionally, many people can buy ductless split equipment off Amazon, including Senville brand, with no requirement for a certified technician to install it.

The problem with installing equipment incorrectly is that it can lead to premature failure of compressors, higher equipment operating costs, and the release of refrigerant with a high Global Warming Potential. In BC, there are very few regulating authorities that inspect commercial installations other than large refrigeration plants, and the inspection of refrigeration and ductwork has primarily fallen on the engineers signing off at the end of commercial and industrial projects. In the residential industry, there is no one to enforce the installation of any refrigeration equipment or ducting.

The lack of regulating authorities is partly due to the fact that most training facilities that teach the refrigeration apprenticeship program do not have a proper training facility for commercial HVAC or the residential HVAC market. Their strengths lie in the Refrigeration theory, as well as commerical refrigeration systems used in restaurants, commerical and industrial buildings. This type of training has generally fallen on the major distributors of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment. Most tend to teach students to pass exams rather than provide actual hands-on training.

City of Vancouver's Agenda:
The City of Vancouver has its agenda of allowing gas fitters, plumbers, and electricians to install refrigeration equipment called split systems. Despite many industry leaders' attempts to sound the alarm bells to the COV, they have not addressed this issue. Their perception of the industry is that it only focuses on commercial, and as mentioned above, they are not entirely wrong.

The lack of clear regulations in the refrigeration industry has allowed other industries to take advantage of the push for greener technology. For instance, the Ozone Depleting Substances certification, which is mainly focused on the effects of releasing refrigerants and how to mitigate them, is being used by individuals in the automotive industry to purchase refrigerants. Some suppliers are even selling refrigerated HVAC equipment to those with this certification alone, despite its limited focus.

However, all regulations governing the refrigeration trade, including the Skilled Trades Act of BC, The Safety Standards Act and Power Engineers, Boilers, Pressure Vessel and Refrigeration Safety Regulations, and the CSA B52 Mechanical Refrigeration code, indicate that only licensed refrigeration mechanics should install, service, alter, or repair any refrigeration plants. A refrigeration plant refers to a refrigeration system over 5KW of prime mover or 1.5 tons of refrigeration.

While all regulations point back to the B52 code that enforces the residential and commercial industries, some plumbers, electricians, gas fitters, and sheet metal workers are trying to exploit a loophole in section 1.2.3d, which states that the standard does not apply to refrigeration systems used for air conditioning in private residences. Updating and better enforcing this regulation can significantly improve the quality of installs in the residential market.

Having identified the key challenges facing the refrigeration industry, it is imperative to explore practical solutions that can be adopted to address these issues and pave the way for a more sustainable and profitable future.

Improved regulation and enforcement: One of the major causes of poorly installed split system HVAC equipment is the lack of regulation in the residential industry. To address this issue, it's essential to establish better regulation and enforcement of regulations for the installation of refrigerated HVAC equipment. This could involve the creation of a regulatory body that oversees the installation and maintenance of split systems. The regulatory body should have the power to ensure that only licensed professionals install the equipment to ensure that it's done correctly and to the highest standard. As well as updating the B52 Code book to include private residences.

Enhanced training programs: It's also necessary to enhance training programs for refrigeration apprenticeships to provide them with the necessary skills and knowledge required to install split systems correctly. This could include the development of training programs that focus specifically on residential HVAC installations. With improved training, professionals can install the equipment correctly, minimizing the risk of malfunctions, and reducing the cost of operation and maintenance.

Collaboration with manufacturers: HVAC manufacturers can play an active role in addressing the issue by collaborating with industry stakeholders to establish policies that prohibit the sale of split system equipment to unlicensed professionals. They can also provide training and support to licensed professionals to ensure they have the skills and knowledge required to install the equipment correctly. Through this collaboration, the industry can establish best practices for equipment installation and reduce the number of poorly installed systems.

Public awareness: Educating the public about the importance of having licensed professionals install split systems is critical. This can help to raise awareness about the issue and encourage homeowners to only hire licensed professionals to perform the installation work. It's essential to educate homeowners that licensed professionals have the necessary skills and knowledge to install the equipment correctly, minimizing the risk of malfunction and reducing the cost of operation and maintenance.

Increased enforcement: Government agencies should increase enforcement of existing regulations to deter unqualified professionals from installing split systems. This could involve conducting more frequent inspections and imposing stricter penalties for non-compliance. Increased enforcement can discourage unlicensed professionals from installing the equipment and further ensure that only licensed professionals carry out installations.

Improved industry standards: The development of industry standards for the installation of split systems can help to ensure that installations are done correctly and consistently across the industry. These standards could be developed through collaboration with industry stakeholders and regulatory bodies. The industry standards can establish a consistent approach to the installation of split systems, and ensure that all installations meet the necessary requirements.

Development of a certification program: Developing a certification program that meets all industry regulations, environmental agencies, and the Professional Code Of Practice can help to reduce the number of poorly installed split systems. This certification can be used to increase the trainining of the apprentice program or be a standalone certification that will act as specialty training certification to refrigeration mechanics that have already completed their red seal certification in Refrigeration. It can ensure that professionals have the necessary skills and knowledge to install split systems correctly, minimizing the risk of malfunction, and reducing the cost of operation and maintenance

Overall, it's clear that the refrigeration industry is facing some significant challenges. However, by working together and implementing these solutions, we can help ensure that the industry is better equipped to meet the needs of both residential and commercial customers, while also improving energy efficiency and reducing environmental impact.

In conclusion, the industry is at a crossroads. The new harmonization has shifted its focus to a mix between HVAC, Hydronics, GAS, and Refrigeration with a touch on sheet metal. However, the industry still focuses primarily on commercial HVAC and Refrigeration. The harmonized curriculum will shift the industry's teaching material to this broader direction over time, but it still focuses on the commercial side of our industry. To avoid the issues discussed in this paper, the industry needs better regulation and enforcement, proper training facilities, and clear regulations that apply to all industries that handle refrigerants.

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