Are Consumer Protections in the Heating and Cooling Industry Working?
The intended purpose of consumer protection efforts is to provide the best possible service and support. That ranges from the quality of goods and services provided, offering information that consumers can use to make informed decisions, and ensuring consumers are aware of their rights as well as their responsibilities. All of these apply when it comes to cooling and heating industry.
The question in the minds of some is whether current consumer protections are working or if they need to be altered or added to in some manner. The best way to answer that question is to look at what's currently in place and get an idea of what protections and benefits those efforts offer consumers.
Current Laws and Regulations Designed to Protect Consumers
There are a number of federal and state laws that provide protection for HVAC customers. A good way to find out what applies in your area is to speak with an industry professional. Here are three examples of laws that are likely to be relevant if you are having issues with a system.
Protections for HVAC customers are sometimes bundled in with general protections for all consumers. A good example is the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975. While generally associated with providing protection in the event of defective automobiles, the Act has provisions that can also apply to heating and cooling systems. As a federal act, this can provide recourse if state laws won't provide the protection you need.
The American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, which was passed in 2020, directs the Environmental Protection Agency to structure and implement a gradual phasing out of the production of a list of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The idea is to minimize the impact on the environment and promote cleaner air. It's also intended to provide more incentive to develop newer technologies that are more energy-efficient than past and current technology.
This was followed by the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) in 2021. While a federal code, states are free to adopt it. The point of the code is to upgrade current HVAC efficiency standards used for new construction. Some of the requirements outlined in the code focus on improvements in testing and equipment efficacy for systems that are used in both residential and commercial structures. A representative of a local HVAC company can help you understand how the code would apply to your construction project.
Measures Taken by the Industry to Comply With Current Laws and Regulations
Those involved with the heating and cooling industry have mechanisms in place to ensure they operate in compliance with current federal and state laws and standards. Doing so is helpful in more ways than one. Along with avoiding potential fines and possibly being shut down, they have the benefit of being able to show customers that they are in compliance. Here are some examples of what's being done:
- Professional Training and Certification: many positions within the industry require training and certification. Along with programs provided by HVAC manufacturers, some states may require contractors and others to pass exams and obtain credentials for general HVAC work.
- Support of a State-Level Board: most states have some form of a heating and air conditioning board that provides some guidelines and support to businesses operating within the industry. Depending on the setup and any state laws involved, a board may have the authority to investigate HVAC businesses and take legal action if infringements of state or federal laws are confirmed.
- Local Regulations by Municipalities: Cities and towns may have regulations in place that impact how HVAC companies operate within their borders. When this is the case, all local laws must align with what has already been put in place by the state and the federal government.
How Do These Measures Apply in Retrofitting Situations?
While much of the attention is on new construction and the installation of fresh heating and cooling systems, there's another aspect to consider. That has to do with retrofitting older structures. This would include private residences as well as apartment buildings and various kinds of public, manufacturing, or commercial spaces.
The good news is that HVAC retrofits in most jurisdictions will be conducted in compliance with the same laws and regulations that apply to new construction. One exception is buildings that are on some type of state or federal historical register. With the latter, there may be additional regulations that narrow the range of options for retrofitting.
In general, building retrofit is not considered more difficult than installing an HVAC system in new construction. One difference is removing all elements of old heating and cooling systems, making sure the structure passes a safety inspection, then planning out how to run ducts, selecting a unit appropriate for the structure, and even paying close attention to the insulation that's added.
The goal of many energy retrofits is to reduce the amount of energy needed to keep the building's interior at a comfortable temperature. Doing so minimizes stress on the local power grid and also opens up the possibility of relying partly or solely on a system powered by an alternative energy source.
Observing Standards in Order to Receive Rebates
Legislation that has authorized the creation of rebate programs for consumers has also had a positive impact. Some of them have to do with installing HVAC systems that require energy efficiency ratings. Others are related to making other changes, such as replacing single-pane glass windows with double-pane glass or adding new insulation to existing structures.
Measures like home energy solutions program rebates for insulation upgrades are intended to reduce overall energy consumption. Along with freeing up more funds for households, this also makes the upgrades more affordable. When the changes are made by a certified professional, it's possible to submit a claim for the rebate.
Along with rebates, there are sometimes tax incentives that are intended to motivate consumers to make the upgrades. That has the effect of making the changes more affordable while also helping to ease the impact of energy consumption on the environment.
Actions That Consumers Can Use to Protect Themselves
There are several courses of action that consumers can use to protect themselves when upgrading an existing HVAC system. The effort actually begins prior to selecting the new system. Here are some examples of what can be done:
- Arrange for a professional energy audit. This must be conducted by an individual who has successfully completed energy efficiency auditor training. The auditor will evaluate the entire home and provide insight into what changes would lower consumption while ensuring the building is more comfortable in all types of weather.
- Work with a licensed and certified HVAC contractor. This is not the time to try saving money by hiring journeymen contractors or others who may or may not possess the proper training and credentials. Certification and licensing indicate that everything will be done in compliance with current laws and industry standards. Someone with certified home improvement contractor training will ensure you end up with the right system.
- Feel free to ask questions about the recommended system. Why a system with this particular energy rating? What sort of ratings has others given the system? What features are included, and how easy is the system to work? Whatever questions come to mind, a certified contractor is likely to have the answers.
- Confirm any type of guarantee the contractor provides for the system installation. You want to know how long the guarantee lasts, what it covers, and if the coverage will take care of expenses in full or in part.
- Go through the warranty terms and conditions thoroughly. Make sure there is no misunderstanding about the protections found in the terms and conditions. and what you would need to do in order to claim them. It's also a good idea to learn what actions on your part would invalidate all or part of the warranty protections.
- Do consider the idea of setting up a maintenance schedule with a professional. This provides the opportunity to ensure the system is checked regularly and could head off the development of a serious issue.
Additional Laws and Regulations on the Horizon
In an era when there's an increasing emphasis on protecting the environment and promoting the use of renewable sources of energy, there is every reason to expect older laws to be amended or replaced by newer legislation. That will mean a shift in how participants in the HVAC industry serve their clients.
If you are making sure to only work with professionals who have undergone the right type of training and operate squarely in line with current laws, you stand a good chance of having your consumer rights protected. You will also find that those same professionals will stay up to date on any new laws and how they impact their customers.
Remember that while there are protections in place, making use of them is often up to you. By taking the time to learn more about what is currently in everyday use and ensuring that you only work with HVAC professionals who have the best training and proper certification, you'll be in a better position to lay claim to all of those protective measures.