Canadian contractors are ready to embrace electrification, but simply don’t know how to act on them. This is one of the highlights of the Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada’s (HRAI) recent report titled, “Overcoming Implementation Barriers to HVAC Contractor-Led Building Retrofits.” The report received funding from The Atmospheric Fund and was led by Climate Action Services Inc. It surveyed almost 100 contractors, featured a dozen interviews, and a series of focus groups.
“The goal was to hear from contractors about the real and perceived barriers that block them from expanding their product and service offering to include envelope (insulation) upgrades and other home energy upgrades, to better align their businesses to the emerging market that is being fostered through energy efficiency and carbon reduction programs,” reports HRAI.
Two key findings of the report, according to HRAI, was that contractors are far more prepared to move into this space than expected and the barriers are mostly psychological; and the path to acknowledging “readiness” only came from a process of guided self-discovery.
There is a sense of skepticism about the need to change, but when those self-defined barriers came into play, contractors realized that it was easier to overcome than originally thought. A shift in business culture might be needed, along with additional training, if the industry is to meet the challenge.
“HVAC/R contractors have long been in the business of helping customers solve problems relating to comfort, managing costs, and managing health risks,” reports HRAI. “Going forward, the new challenge contractors will face – driven by Canada’s commitment to transition to a net zero carbon economy by 2050 – will be how to help their customers lower carbon emissions in their homes and buildings.”
According to the report, 83 per cent of survey respondents expressed the view that the industry should have a leadership role in addressing climate change and 87 per cent were looking forward to programs that will drive uptake.
A total of 82 per cent, of those polled, reported having regular energy-efficiency conversations with customers; however, only 50 per cent felt comfortable talking about carbon emission reduction and only 60 per cent about fuel choices.
When asked about current service offerings, just over 50 per cent of participants said they offer heat-loss calculations as an in-house service, while fewer than 15 per cent offered any in-house envelope upgrade services. Of those surveyed, 38 per cent thought the HVAC/R contractor would be best suited to support customers through major energy-carbon retrofit projects. Slightly trailing the HVAC/R contractor sits an energy auditor with 35 per cent of the votes. Additionally, 14 per cent argued a general contractor, six per cent a utility agent, and only three per cent picked an engineer for whom should be responsible for supporting customers through retrofit projects.
Findings from the report will be compiled to guide program development and to make recommendations to the government on how to provide relevant supports to aid in the transition. Most of those in the focus group sessions have a background with the “house-as-a-system” or integrated design analysis, but seldom used this knowledge in-field, so they were hesitant to offer this analysis to customers without a refresher course and some support tools, reports HRAI.