Regulations will force quality to the top

Opportunities and issues for refrigeration and air-conditioning contractors — Graeme Fox.
Refrigeration and air-conditioning contractors should welcome the mass of new regulations facing the sector, according to GRAEME FOXThe welter of legislative restrictions which have been, or are about to be, imposed on the refrigeration and air-conditioning (ACR) sector should not intimidate good engineers. This is a great business opportunity for quality firms to demonstrate their skills and competence to existing and potential customers. The phase out of HCFC refrigerants, the mandatory handling scheme for ozone-depleting substances imposed by the Government this year, the European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and the Waste Electronic & Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Directive all have implications for the ACR sector and its customers. There is an obvious crossover between the F-Gas Regulation [F-Gases are refrigerants containing fluorine, such as HFCs and HCFCs] and the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). The necessity to meet new and tougher energy-efficiency targets under the latter will be party achieved by compliance with the former. This should lead to an increased revenue stream for those RAC engineers capable of doing the work and is also good news for firms that have suffered in the past from seasonal downturns in workload. The requirement for annual equipment inspections is an opportunity for the skilled people in our sector. The ideal time to do that work would be in the winter when things tend to be quieter. There is still considerable confusion about what impact the WEEE Directive will have on the air-conditioning sector, as the definition of who the ‘supplier’ of the equipment is lies at the heart of who takes responsibility for its recycling at the end of its operational life. The DTI agrees with the industry that fixed air conditioning should not be affected as it forms part of the fabric of the building. However, the EU has still not accepted that, and we are working closely with AREA (the European industry association) to get clarification. Expert guidance One result of all these changes is the growing need for more expert guidance, and many engineers are turning to the HVCA’s design ‘bible’ ‘RAC80: Design specification for DX packaged air conditioning equipment in buildings’ {DX is direct-expansion].* The latest version includes chapters on energy efficiency and indoor air quality. It took almost four years of hard graft to prepare this revised edition, but it was worth it as it will be invaluable to designers working hard to meet all the new demands we face. RAC80 is a high-level design specification for DX packaged air-conditioning systems in buildings written by the RAC group’s technical committee. It has 12 sections covering topics that include system evaluation, selection criteria and the design and sizing of electrical wiring — as well as advice on design criteria for human comfort. Using RAC80’s standards, air-conditioning designers can correctly size the equipment needed for UK projects with individual cooling systems of up to 70 kW cooling capacity; many of the principles described also relate to systems above 70 kW. The guide advises on the best product for the application and stipulates best-practice standards. By using RAC80, system designers can be sure they are compliant with all current legislation, in adherence to recognised best practice standards, and in line with the competencies required by the HVCA’s criteria for inspection and assessment. Warranty issue So we can be confident about tackling the technical issues involved in delivering a robust and future-proofed service to end users, but there is still a business issue to be resolved. The industry cannot be certain of providing the best possible service until the existing confusion and misunderstanding over manufacturers’ warranties are sorted out. The way these warranties are implemented is a source of considerable irritation for contractors — not to mention the damage to their profits. The system is manifestly unfair. The rates paid by a number of manufacturers for warranty work are wholly inadequate. Contractors’ costs have gone up as professional standards have been raised to meet the regulatory requirements we now face and in line with what manufacturers are asking us to do. This means it is more expensive for contractors to send people to site to sort out problems with equipment that is still under warranty, as those operatives will often have to evacuate the system, recycle the refrigerant and recharge. All that work takes time and money, but in many cases manufacturers’ rates do not get close to covering it. Reputable companies which have taken the trouble to invest in their people and join voluntary refrigerant-handling schemes like REFCOM deserve a full and equitable allowance. On top of that, end users often hold retentions against contractors to cover them while the equipment is under warranty. Add that to the fact that contractors are often left waiting 90 days or more for their money from the manufacturer after they have carried out the repairs and you can see why many of them are not happy. Contractors will simply not be able to carry on subsidising warranty work, and distributors — who have the legal obligation to get the repairs done — could end up with a situation where contractors will walk away from warranty work. Reputable contractors would hate to get to that point as they have professional pride and do not want unhappy customers left with no cooling — but contractors cannot go on subsidising manufacturers and distributors at the expense of their own businesses. The many changes facing our sector represent an unprecedented opportunity to drive up standards and provide clients with a higher quality of service than they have ever received before. However, all parts of the industry — contractors, manufacturers and distributors — need to be pulling in the same direction to make it happen. Graeme Fox is chairman of the Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Group of the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association.
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