Challenges mount for HVAC/R industry

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By Simon Blake

The HVAC/R industry faces many challenges these days – increasing government regulation, constantly changing refrigerant and energy efficiency rules, end-of-life stewardship for equipment, the ongoing struggle to attract young people to the industry, not to mention the every day challenges at all levels simply to do business in this constantly changing world.

“There are a whole lot of issues that are going to have to be dealt with and we’re going to be in the centre of it,” remarked HRAI president Warren Heeley at the 49th Annual Conference of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), held Aug. 16-18 in Quebec City.

Members make views known

In an open forum Town Hall meeting, HRAI asked its members to comment on some of the critical issues facing the industry. And they did.

In a discussion on HRAI’s “fuel neutral” position, several commented on a move by federal and provincial governments to limit natural gas, including a plan to ban the installation of natural gas appliances in new homes by 2030.

“The industry is evolving,” remarked Dave Weishuhn, Blue Flame Heating, Toronto. “The government is not going to bring any more incentives for (high efficiency) natural gas appliances.” He added that governments are pushing people towards heat pumps, electric cars and other things that depend on a secure supply of electricity. He questioned where that would come from, noting the Ontario government’s climate change plan would require three times the current capacity.

“Our goal, as much as I hate the concept, is to embrace these changes because they are happening anyway,” remarked contractor John Bosanac (Bosanac Heating & Electric, Hamilton, Ont.).

“We need to be at the leading edge,” said Heeley. However, he added that Canada is a relatively small player in the fight against climate change. The big countries, like the U.S., China and India, will set the agenda. “(Canada) is not going to be able to go too far away from what the majors are doing.”

Incoming HRAI chair Bruce Passmore (Emco HVAC) expressed concern that the industry is not being consulted on many changes that directly affect it. “Without consultation now, crazy things are happening,” he added, pointing to a $32-million dollar thermostat replacement program in Ontario that was conducted without industry input. “They are spending cash today; let’s make sure it’s going to the right places.”

Martin Luymes, HRAI director of programs and relations, noted that seven out of 10 government climate change initiatives are HVAC/R-related.

Making HVAC/R attractive

Attracting bright young people to the industry was also a key concern for town hall participants. One of the important things that everyone can do, noted Passmore, is to talk about it. “It’s up to all of us in the industry to tell people how great this industry is and what the opportunities look like.”

“We want the industry to be a career that people see, not something they fall into,” added Heeley.

Nancy McKeraghan (Canco ClimateCare Heating and AC, Newmarket, Ont.) remarked that contractors must step up and take on co-op students and apprentices. However, she acknowledged that it’s a struggle in Ontario where contractors are required by the College of Trades to have three journeymen for each apprentice.

Flammable refrigerants coming

Flammable refrigerants and the role for HRAI was also a topic of concern. The organization has long opposed the sale of DIY refrigerant kits to homeowners. However governments, in an effort to reduce the global warming potential (GWP) of refrigerants, are increasingly pushing the industry towards flammable refrigerants like propane (R290) and ammonia (R717). “It’s going to come and it’s going to come soon,” said Heeley.

Dave McPherson, Rheem Manufacturing, Brampton, Ont., noted that manufacturers must update their instructions and training for flammable refrigerants.

However they, along with the colleges, will have some time to do this, noted Dennis Kozina (Emerson Climate Technologies, Brantford, Ont.) because building codes will have to be changed.

However, he added, McDonald’s is pursuing the use of propane as the company moves to make its stores HFC-free and net-zero for energy use. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows R-290 up to a maximum charge of 150 grams in commercial applications.

Refrigerant management

Refrigerant Management Canada (RMC), a division of HRAI, held it’s annual meeting during the HRAI conference.

It’s been a year of change for the organization, which collects and disposes of used refrigerants. It went from a voluntary program to a mandatory one under the federal Environmental Protection Act that requires importers and manufacturers to have a stewardship program – a P2 plan – for halocarbon refrigerants. As well, HFCs have been brought into the program.

“It is an exciting and challenging time as we adapt to this new terrain,” remarked RMC chair Marie Li-Ying (Honeywell Fluorine Products)

Initiatives to phase down HFCs are perhaps moving too quickly, remarked Greg Scrivener, Cold Dynamics, Edmonton. “I think some of these decisions were made without understanding the technology required to meet these goals.” The P&HVAC refrigeration columnist was guest speaker at the RMC meeting.

Pot in the workplace

There were a number of excellent speakers and educational seminars at this year’s HRAI conference. One that really caught people’s attention covered Bill C-45, the new federal legislation that will make marijuana possession and use legal effective July 1, 2018.

It is extremely complicated, about half an inch thick and puts considerable onus on the employer, reported lawyer Peter Straszynski (Torkin Manes LLP, Toronto).

“I’m kind of surprised at how draconian it is on its face,” he added.

It makes employers responsible for the activities of employees and doesn’t allow due diligence as a defense. In other words, if an employee is selling pot to another employee on the job site, the employer can be charged.

That being said, non-medical marijuana is treated the same as alcohol on the job site and isn’t allowed. It gets trickier if a person claims to be addicted. Addiction is treated as a disability and has to be accommodated by an employer under human rights legislation. The same goes for medical marijuana; it’s up to the employer to clarify with the person’s doctor what they can and cannot do. Construction sites by nature are “safety sensitive.”

“It’s unlikely that a doctor will want to stick their neck out and sign off that it’s safe for a person to operate equipment while high,” said Straszynski.

And the courts have ruled that if someone claims to have an addiction, they must notify their employer as soon as they are aware of it. They can’t make the claim after an accident.

Employers should update drug and alcohol policies to address marijuana, educate staff, ensure employees know they must divulge any addiction or dependency, and introduce protocols to deal with medical marijuana. He suggested that contractors create a simple form that doctors can fill out to avoid confusion.

Rick Ellul, left, passed the chair’s gavel to Bruce Passmore.

Elections held

HRAI members elected a new board of directors at their annual general meeting. Bruce Passmore (Emco HVAC, Waterloo, Ont.) was elected HRAI chair. Previous chair Rick Ellul (Belimo Aircontrols, Mississauga, Ont.) moves into the past chair’s role. David Weishuhn (Blue Flame Heating and AC, Toronto) was elected HRAI vice-chair and chair of the Contractors Division. Dave McPherson (Rheem Canada, Brampton, Ont.) is now HRAI secretary/treasurer and chair of the Manufacturers Division. Sian Smith (Noble, Concord, Ont.) was elected chair of the Wholesalers Division and a director on the HRAI board, along with Rob Flipse (Gordon Latham Ltd. Vancouver, B.C.) and Dennis Kozina (Emerson Climate Technologies, Brantford Ont.)

Longtime HRAI president Warren Heeley, who has been with the organization for more than 35 years, announced that he will retire at the end of June, 2018.

It wasn’t all serious business at the conference, with evening entertainment and, on the final day, a winery/vineyard tour of the Island of Orleans that was well attended and enjoyed by all, despite unseasonably cool weather.

Next year, HRAI is going offshore for a big bash to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The 50th Annual Conference will take place Oct. 14-17, 2018 at the beautiful Paradisus Playa del Carmen in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

For more information, please visit www.hrai.ca.

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