While the HVACR industry awaits a final ruling from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on future allocations of refrigerant R22, Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International’s (HARDI’s) Refrigeration and Refrigerants Council is focused on the here and now. Its leadership is doing all it can to provide oversight for HARDI members, in areas related to other important commercial refrigeration market trends. In a time of uncertainty, they’re doing what they can, where they can.

HARDI formed the original Refrigeration and Refrigerants Council to address the concerns of HVACR industry manufacturers, distributors, and their contractor customers, in areas related to refrigerant products and applications. Since 1962 (when it was known as the Refrigeration Specialist Committee), the Council has provided a forum for the exchange of ideas, enabling HARDI to guide and direct future business endeavors for the mutual benefit of all HARDI members.

From One to Three
During the last HARDI Annual Conference, in October of 2011, the Council was reorganized into three sub-councils— Refrigerants; Refrigeration Equipment; and Recovery and Reclamation. This was done to better address issues and trends related to those key industry segments. Moving forward, each Council will continue to focus on education, benchmarking, advocacy, and networking/idea sharing.

“We realized we couldn’t tackle as much as we wanted to with only one national conference for all segments. We rewrote our mission statements to better meet those needs,” says Bill Bergamini, president of ILLCO, Inc., Countryside, IL. Bergamini serves on the Refrigeration and Refrigerants Council with its recently-appointed chairman, Troy Meachum, president, ACR Supply, Durham, NC, and Frank Meier, president/CEO, Meier Supply, Johnson City, NY — in directing the newly-formed subcouncils.

Waiting Game Affects Priorities
Future developments related to refrigerants have been shifted into neutral. The industry now awaits a new ruling from the EPA on the allocations of refrigerant R22 it will ultimately allow to be produce, prior to a total phaseout of the gas for new systems in 2020. However, neither Meachum, Bergamini, Meier, nor anyone else knows what that number will be. They and the industry can only guess. The allocation decision, however, will have a definitive, rippling effect on refrigerant pricing, inventories, and ultimately, on the cost of HVAC system service and installations.

“As far as our priorities and direction, so much hinges on the final EPA ruling regarding R22 allocation,” explains Bergamini. “We’re in a state of flux. Whatever decisions we would make now — either as individuals or as a Council — could be negated, depending on the EPA’s final ruling. There’s no doubt they’ll reduce the R22 allocation. The question is, by how much? It could be anywhere from an 11% to a 47% cutback. One of the things we do know is that R22 is on its way out.”

“The biggest worry for many business owners across the U.S. is an uncertainty in the economy in general,” Bergamini continues. “This R22 issue is a smaller version of that. We don’t know what the EPA will do, which makes it difficult to plan for your business, and for us as a Council in advising people what to do.” “It’s especially frustrating,” adds Meier, “because people are accustomed to looking to HARDI for answers.”

Conference News
One thing HARDI members can look forward to with certainty is the quality of the next HARDI Annual Conference, to be held in October of this year, in Orlando, FL. Bergamini reports that Rajan Rajendran — vice president, engineering services and sustainability, Emerson Climate Technologies — will be the keynote speaker at the Refrigerant Council’s meeting during the HARDI Annual Conference.

“Rajan is a brilliant speaker. His main focus will be on how to reduce the use of R22, and the most viable replacements,” Bergamini explains.

At the top of the Refrigeration Equipment Subcouncil’s list, is action related to influencing a rumored Department of Energy efficiency rating for refrigeration equipment.

“We want to make sure we’re a part of that,” Bergamini says. “Refrigeration systems are built-up, which means there isn’t a typical “package,” with a condensing unit and matched coil. If the Department of Energy is involved, we want to be a part of helping them make sure it’s done right.”

Another looming equipment related issue concerns the applicability of European refrigeration systems to U.S. markets, and the use of carbon dioxide (CO2) as a heat transfer fluid.

Contractor Refrigerant Concerns
When asked to describe what issues concern HVACR contractors the most regarding new refrigerant choices, Frank Meier says they want to be comfortable with higher pressure gases, and that they do the job. “Some of the new refrigerants operate at higher pressures, so that much of their equipment —vacuum pumps, vacuum gauges, hoses, manifolds — wasn’t capable of working with R410A. Many of them were very uncomfortable when R410A was brought in,” Meier recalls. “When it comes to refrigeration uses — such as walk-in coolers and freezers — contractors want assurance that, if they’re using an alternative refrigerant as a substitute, those systems will work for the customer.”

“In the face of industry change, one thing remains true of contractors: they’re all out there doing their best to make a living, and HARDI wants to be there for them,” says Meachum. And, in a difficult business atmosphere of the past few years, Bergamini says the best contractors and wholesalers who accept change will be the ones to survive and thrive.

“If everything remained stagnant, what would we do?” he asks. “You have to look at change as an opportunity…you can choose to fight it or embrace it.”

The Value of Training
To improve service in an industry facing declining numbers of technicians, Meachum, Bergamini, and Meier are unanimous in their belief in the value of technician training and empowerment. “You can’t rely on anyone else to do your training for you,” Meier says. “At Meier Supply, we put a strong focus on customer/contractor training. Five years ago we stopped complaining about it, and decided to do something about it. We added a full time trainer on staff. Last year alone, he trained over 1,500 contractors.

“We see many contractors who could improve their business skills. There are things that could help them acquire and keep technicians, such as providing health benefits, profit sharing, 401k plans, etc. In many cases, they’ll lose a good technician for 50 cents an hour because they’re not making them feel financially secure. When contractors become more profitable, they can afford more training, pay more for their people, and hire higher caliber employees,” Meier asserts.

“Anyone can learn the technical. But it’s also important to take the next step up toward becoming a better business person.”

Meachum says all HVACR-related businesses will reap many benefits when they improve to a point that they empower their employees.

“It’s about creating a culture in which people feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and get up in the morning, want to come to work where they’re treated like people,” Meachum says.

Bergamini wants HARDI members to know that the organization is always interested in finding volunteers to sit on the various Councils. For information on serving, visit THIS LINK, or call 614/345-4328.

About the Council
The HARDI Refrigeration and Refrigerants Council addresses the concerns of manufacturers, distributors, and their customers with regards to refrigerant products and applications. The council provides a forum for the exchange of ideas enabling them to guide and direct future business endeavors for mutual benefit. Subcouncils focus on refrigerants, refrigeration equipment, and recovery & reclamation.

Oversight:
Commercial refrigeration market trends
Work Products:
Refrigeration Cycle Workbook
Refrigerant Retrofit Resources
Information Sharing:
Refrigerant issues
Recruitment

Council Leadership:
Troy Meachum, ACR Supply, Chair
Frank A. Meier, Jr., Meier Supply Co., Inc., Co-Vice Chair
Bill Bergamini, ILLCO, Inc. Co-Vice Chair

Refrigerants Subcouncil:
Addresses industry issues and trends specifically relating to existing and future refrigerants/heat transfer fluids.
Chairpersons: Joe Bobzin, Young Supply Co.*
Rick Fine, Duncan Supply Co., Inc.*
Jim Bachman, DuPont Refrigerants
John Lawler, Nu-Calgon

Refrigeration Equipment Subcouncil:
Addresses industry issues and trends specifically relating to refrigeration equipment and components.
Chairpersons: Kevin Parsley, ACR Supply Company, Inc.*
Larry Brown, Johnstone Supply*
Don Chmura, Refrigeration & Electric Supply Co.*
Mark Walczyk, Emerson Climate Technologies
Matt McGrath, Sporlan Valve
Grady McAdams, Heatcraft
Joe Shukys, BTU Reps LLC
John Hill, Hill & Associates
Tim McDonald, Honeywell

Recovery and Reclamation Subcouncil:
Examines the processes involved with refrigerant after it is removed from a working system.
Chairpersons: George Giudici, Crescent Parts & Equipment*
Dan Hinchman, Aireco Supply*
Deb Goodge, DuPont Refrigerants
David Diggs, Honeywell
Chuck Harkins, Hudson Technologies, Inc.
Walt Baker, Polar Refrigerant Technology, LLC
Patti Ellingson, Remtec International

*denotes Wholesale Distributor

Alliance Partnerships:
AHRI, The Alliance, EPA, RSES