Wheeler On HVACR: An Industry Unready For Change
It always surprises me to see which of the articles I write arouses the greatest interest among you, our readers. The amazing thing is that they are usually the ones that I consider simple topics (maybe that should tell me something). For example, the column that attracted the most letters so far this year was one that I wrote about electronic air cleaners (“The Ionic Breeze: Their Success, Our Failure,” page 54, February 2004 SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES). Nobody disagreed; everyone just wanted to say amen.
However, the reluctance that contractors show when it comes to promoting such things as electronic air cleaners, electronic thermostats, humidifiers, high-efficiency air conditioners, etc., indicates that there is an industry-wide problem when it comes to accepting new ideas - and that worries me.
Let me explain. When I was a young boy, I looked at the world and figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up. I thought about it hard and decided that the industry with the brightest growth potential was in the field of electronics. After all, television was something new at the time, and I knew that this field would grow. So I set my sights on that as a goal and dedicated my younger years to training to excel in the TV/electronics business. My goofy future brother-in-law studied computer technology. Hah! Where would that lead? Remember Univacs and their paper punch cards?
Well, it all worked out. One of my first full-time jobs was as a foreman over final testing and troubleshooting of the television assembly lines at RCA. I had reached my goal, or so I thought. Within 10 years, all television production had moved overseas, and I had to learn a new profession (HVACR). Oh, and my rich brother-in-law now lives in a tri-level mansion on a lake northwest of Chicago.
What did I learn from this experience? That you have to be ready for change, and that whoever banks his life around existing technology isn't going to make it in the long run.
I guess that I got my first hard look at worrisome new technology in this industry when I saw the type of air conditioners Japanese manufacturers started importing back in the late 1980s. Then I became even more concerned when I went to Japan and saw how they were being sold to consumers - at department stores.
Oh, what we call “minisplits” and their zoned air conditioners haven't really caught on here yet, as they have in the entire rest of the world, because of the initially higher costs and the reluctance of American contractors to sell, install and service them. But, believe it or not, they are truly the future, because they make the most energy sense.
I guess what caused me to start writing this column was that I was surfing the Web and noted an HVAC manufacturer that I've never noticed before in nearby Lakeland, Fla., at www.ecrtech.com. I was interested, because we don't have many industry manufacturers here. This company's primary product is a residential heat pump that uses ground-looped refrigerant piping as the outdoor coil. Oh, this takes some installation, but not having an outdoor fan and the advantages of taking heating and cooling from the soil are huge energy savers, as is the fact that there are no losses from secondary transfer mediums. So, the efficiencies are far beyond anything you can get from a fan-powered coil and stay higher longer because there is little coil deterioration.
But I thought, “It will never sell. Contractors just aren't ready for such an innovative and good-sense idea.” Probably not now, but the successes of such energy-saving (and healthful) products as those things I've mentioned above are inevitable as energy and health costs continue to climb.
Remember that trying to fight good ideas and progress is something that will eventually come back to bite us, both as individuals and as an industry. Do you see how other marketers have already stolen business from us (that we rejected) with their small, inefficient air cleaners? And do you remember how many of us fought against the introduction of high-efficiency residential furnaces - or the phaseout of R-12? But the changes have come despite us, and there's nothing we can do about it now. That's the way technology is: it's inevitable. And those who embrace it are the ones who will eventually survive and thrive. I hope our industry changes before we force our way into obsolescence. <<