Year of change for HRAI

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Calgary hosts HVAC/R industry

By Simon Blake

It’s been a year of change for the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) and the industry, delegates heard at the group’s 48th Annual Conference, held in Calgary Aug. 24-26.

In refrigerants, for example, things are moving like never before, noted HRAI president Warren Heeley. “Things are really shifting quickly to flammable refrigerants, CO2, ammonia, etc. to meet pending low GWP (global warming potential) regulations for refrigerants.”

As equipment manufacturers move towards low GWP alternatives, trade training is just not keeping up, he added. With the very high pressures that some of these new refrigerants operate at, “you have to have people who understand what they are dealing with. The training needed for working with low GWP refrigerants is going to have to be significantly updated.”

Part of the problem in working through many of these issues is what appears to be a lack of communication between government building code officials and environmental ministries. “They just don’t seem to be talking.” So while there may be an environmental schedule for improved efficiencies or refrigerant changes, “it’s going to come to a dead stop if the codes don’t change,” he added. “A national strategy is needed. That’s the message we are trying to get across to the federal government and provinces.”

Setting priorities

One of HRAI’s key strategic priorities is to expand its membership across Canada and across all mechanical industry sectors, delegates heard.

This has resulted in changes to some long-term relationships with organizations whose members historically joined HRAI as a group, such as the Ontario Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Contractors Association (ORAC), the Corporation of Master Pipe Mechanics of Quebec (CMMTQ) and the Corporation des entrerprises de traitement de l’air du froid (CETAF), also in Quebec. HRAI has decided that these members would be better served by joining the association directly, reported HRAI Contractors Division chair (chairman) David Weishuhn. “It’s a short-term loss of members in exchange for the long-term acquisition of more engaged members,” he added.

Contractor John Bosanac, Bosanac Heating & Electric, Hamilton, Ont. expressed concern that drawing ICI contractors could bring unions into HRAI. “If they’re in, I’m out. In the small contractor world, they are hell to deal with.” Heeley noted that there are more non-union than union ICI contractors in Ontario and it is not within HRAI’s mandate to involve itself in union issues.

The new regional services initiative includes hiring full time staff in various regions to increase HRAI’s image and presence. HRAI will run a pilot project in Alberta or B.C. and expand to other provinces if the results justify it.

Another priority for the group is to improve communication with members. “We’ve found that e-mail is becoming an ineffective way to communicate with our members,” said Heeley, noting that HRAI will have to look at alternatives including print for getting critical information out.
Advocacy continues to be a major priority. HRAI will dedicate more time to lobbying provincial governments – as well as federal – and more time working with politicians in addition to bureaucrats.

Training program upgrade

HRAI receives about 25 percent of its revenue from technical training. It is currently examining its training materials, scope of programs and delivery methods to find improvements. And it recently moved to a new building with a state-of-the-art training centre. There will also be more online training where it makes sense.

Environmental responsibility is another key concern. HRAI currently operates three stewardship programs through its Environmental Services division: Refrigerant Management Canada, the Thermostat Recovery Program for mercury thermostats, and the British Columbia Stewardship Plan. The latter is an ongoing struggle as B.C. bureaucrats don’t seem to understand the difference between industry products and consumer products, noted Heeley.

The final major priority is career development. HRAI is looking at ways to implement clear and measurable paths for attracting people to the industry. “It’s easy to throw money at this,” noted Heeley, but pointless if the industry can’t measure the results.

Door knockers

A major concern for members at HRAI Contractors Division annual meeting was proposed anti-door knocker legislation in Ontario – Bill 193 – which looked like it might easily sail through the legislature. It would have banned contractors from signing a contract with a customer in their home.

Bill 193 was a private members bill by Liberal MPP Yvan Baker. “In proposing this legislation he is in effect putting our industry out of business,” remarked Martin Luymes, HRAI director of programs and relations. However, as it turned out, the Ontario Liberal government prorogued the legislature on Sept. 8 and the bill died with it.

A second major issue for contractors was that some building inspectors are wrongly demanding that intake air vent piping be the same ULC S636 pipe required for combustion venting, unless the manufacturer’s instructions clearly state otherwise. An Edmonton contractor reported 14 failed inspections in one week.

Weishuhn suggested submitting a “docket” to the CSA B149 gas code committee to have the code clarify what types of vent piping can be used for air intakes.

However, that wouldn’t occur until the 2020 code cycle; manufacturers could help by clarifying this in their instructions as the code requires installation as per those instructions.

Heat pump advances

There were many excellent speakers during the three-day conference. One that really caught the attention of delegates was Jeremy Sager, HVAC project manager at the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) CanmetENERGY test labs in Ottawa.

Its research is showing that air-to-air heat pumps are making significant strides and may soon challenge natural gas heating systems in the residential market. “We will soon see cold climate heat pumps that can compete with gas systems at similar cost,” said Sager.

At the same time, more and more builders are creating net zero energy homes – homes that consume no more energy than they create – he reported, so the HVAC load is being reduced significantly.

The Canmet labs – there are test facilities in Ottawa, Quebec and Devon, Alta. – are about to embark on a joint test project with B.C. Hydro, Hydro Quebec and CSA that will test air source heat pumps down to -30C.
He offered one technical tip – a 70 percent reduction in defrost energy use was achieved depending on how the dip-switch was set. And he had a criticism too. “Builders are constantly asking for information on zoning. There is often a disconnect between the building designer and the mechanical designer, where the mechanical designer really didn’t understand the concept,” he said.

New partnership

HRAI signed a memorandum of understanding with the Geothermal Exchange Organization, “the voice of the geothermal heat pump industry in the United States,” headquartered in Springfield, Illinois.

The goal is to co-operate in providing services to members involved in geothermal heating and cooling and “to help prepare the industry to respond pro-actively to the challenges and opportunities presented by the transition to a ‘low carbon economy.’”

New executive elected

HRAI members elected a new board of directors. Rick Ellul of Belimo Aircontrols, Mississauga, Ont. was elected chair. Peter Steffes, Ideal Heating and Cooling Ltd., Windsor, Ont. moves into the past chair’s role.
Bruce Passmore, Emco Corp., London, Ont. was elected vice chair and chair of the Wholesalers Division. John Bonus, Wolseley HVACR, Burlington, Ont. is wholesalers vice chair.

David Weishuhn, Blue Flame Heating and Air Conditioning, Toronto, was elected secretary/treasurer and chair of the Contractor’s Division. Robert Flipse, Gordon Latham Ltd, Vancouver, is contractors vice chair.
Dave McPherson, Rheem Canada, Brampton, Ont., was elected chair of the Manufacturers Division. Warren Heeley remains president.

The next HRAI Annual Conference will take place Aug. 16-18, 2017 at the Quebec Hilton in Quebec City. For more information, please visit www.hrai.ca.

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