North American Technician Excellence (NATE), Arlington, VA, is expanding its refrigeration testing with the development of a commercial refrigeration installation test, but it seeks feedback from industry professionals.

In 2007, NATE finalized a light commercial and commercial refrigeration service exam. Those exams cover knowledge related to the servicing of light commercial refrigeration (fractional hp to 7.5 hp) and commercial refrigeration (7.5 hp to 80 hp).

The installation exam will be the second installment in NATE’s efforts to fill the widely-recognized industry need for increased commercial refrigeration training. But as with the service exam, NATE needs test takers, industry technicians and other professionals who can evaluate the exam’s fairness, complexity, and completeness.

With accuracy in mind, the “beta” — or preliminary — evaluation of the exam, as it is designed, is currently underway. Individuals and organizations — including HVACR contractors, distributors, wholesalers, educational facilities, and manufacturers — may participate in the pilot exam.

“The validity of each NATE exam is assured by a process of methodical, stringent review and testing, including an extensive piloting process,” says Pat Murphy, NATE’s vice president of certifications.

Common Goal: Lower Leak Rates
In recent years, the HVACR industry has placed a stronger emphasis on the operational, environmental, and economic benefits derived from correct installation and service practices of HVACR equipment, and refrigerant stewardship.

One of the key parameters of system efficiency has been the percentage of refrigerant a system loses over time. According to data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the industry average is 25% — which means that on average, 25% of the refrigerant charge in U.S. supermarket systems is lost each year.

“When I was working for my father in supermarket refrigeration, if we ever had a 25% leak ratio, he’d have killed me,” Murphy says with a laugh.

“Thankfully, we were never at 25%.” The push to reduce leak rates, and improve refrigeration system efficiency overall is a priority for Keilly Witman, communication specialist in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. Witman is a key player in the EPA’s GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership, an EPA cooperative alliance with the supermarket industry and other stakeholders.

GreenChill’s goal is to promote advanced technologies, strategies, and practices that reduce refrigerant charges and emissions of ozonedepleting substances and greenhouse gases.

GreenChill’s supermarket members include Giant Eagle, Harris Teeter, Publix, and Food Lion. Refrigeration manufacturer members include Hussman, Zero Zone, Arkema, Honeywell, Hill Phoenix, and Kysor// Warren.

Improved leak rate statistics among GreenChill members are impressive, and speak to the indirect benefits of training, best practices, and innovation.

“While the average leak rate per store in the U.S. is about 25%, among our GreenChill partners the weighted average is 13.7%. While that can’t be attributed to any one technology or strategy, because every store in our Partnership employs a different mix, certainly superior technician training is a key factor in bringing down our partners’ leak rates.” Witman says.

“Some are doing pilot studies of secondary systems and CO2 systems. Others are working within the framework of their direct expansion (DX) systems. They’re doing all they can do reduce leaks and are making a lot of progress.”

Witman says GreenChill and NATE would like to incorporate questions related to “environmental best practices” into NATE refrigeration exams, which would qualify passing technicians for a “GreenChill Certification” in addition to their NATE-certified status.

“Our GreenChill supermarket partners would appreciate that,” Witman says. “They’re all struggling to make a difference in environmental protection, and refrigeration technology is one area that has room for improvement.

“GreenChill certified technicians could market themselves to stores and chains that are concerned about the environment. And the more leaks you can stop, the more improvement you see in the bottom line.”

Witman and Murphy agree that the importance of proper training —and the benefits of increased training opportunities for HVACR technicians — can’t be overstated, considering the number of them currently at work across the U.S.

“There are rough estimates of 1.6 million HVACR technicians in the U.S. today,” Murphy estimates. “How many of those do you think have come out of a qualified, industry-related educational system? On the other hand, The United Association (UA), Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA), Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), and many other organizations are producing highly knowledgeable technicians.

“Refrigeration certification is extremely necessary to keep refrigeration systems operating properly, especially for the related issue of food safety,” Murphy adds.

“Each time a refrigeration system goes down, you have a potential food safety issue, not to mention the fact that if the systems are undercharged, their operational efficiency declines rapidly,” Murphy says.

Certification works. New NATE data shows HVAC warranty claims have been reduced and productivity is up among NATE-certified technicians.

All beta test participants will be able to take the finalized exam at no charge. To learn more about participating in beta testing opportunities for NATE’s commercial refrigeration installation exam, contact Pat Murphy at 703/276-7247 or email pmurphy@natex.org.