Not only are temperatures soaring during these dog days of summer, but demand and prices for HVAC services also are up. The only things going down for the industry? Labor and supply.
Kyle Brittingham, general manager at Level 9 Heating and Cooling, said the price increases and equipment shortages exist in the HVAC industry are a result of the same problems affecting the American economy in nearly every sector.
The pandemic sent manufacturing workers home, and factories have been slow to ramp production back up. Laborers are hard to hire back, and raw material prices like steel have gone up. Shipping from overseas is a slow process, and demand for new air conditioning has only increased during the summer.
Jerry Dyson, owner of J.D.’s Heating and Cooling Services, compared refrigerant prices to gasoline. Sometimes it goes up, and sometimes it goes down, but it’s unexpectedly higher this year, he said.
Marty Alferman said his company, Alferman Air Heating & Cooling, has had to pay 15 to 20 percent more for equipment and at least 150 to 250 percent more for refrigerant. Brittingham said Level 9 has had to pay as much as 450 percent more for refrigerant this year than in the past. Dan Mantle, too, is expecting a third price increase on equipment this year in September. He owns Washington-based Mantle Heating & Cooling.
Most of the companies’ customers have understood the rate increase because of how widespread the problems are in HVAC and other industries.
Outdated units also are causing problems for some customers. Older air conditioners use a refrigerant gas called R-22, sometimes known as Freon. After R-22 was found to deplete the ozone layer in the 1990s, manufacturers began to phase out production of R-22 units. R-410A replaced R-22 as the predominant refrigerant in the U.S., and since the beginning of 2020, R-22 became illegal to make or import to the U.S. The lifespan of air conditioners is about 15 to 20 years, according to Mantle, and many customers are having to spring for new units when their old one gives out.
“So between the phase out of refrigerant going on and the shortage of equipment and just shortages of manufacturing labor, those things all lead to us being backed up and busy,” Mantle said.
Alferman said his company’s new unit sales are up 8 percent from last year; he suspects it’s because clients are making the shift to units that use R-410A.
Brittingham said he thinks this is the new normal. Dyson said he thinks prices will reduce but only by a little. “(It will) come back down, maybe level out a little bit, but I don’t believe it’ll ever get back down to where it was a year ago before COVID hit, maybe,” he said.
In the meantime, there are some things that people can try to avoid having to call the repairman. The biggest measure consumers can take is to regularly check and replace their air filter. Most say the filters have a lifespan of three months, but Alferman said to check it every month or so, especially if pets are in the house or if your unit is running often. Air conditioning running all day can clog up a filter faster.
Rinsing out your outside units also is important, Dyson said. This time of year is especially bad with cottonwood clogging up the fins on the outside of air-conditioning units. A garden hose will do the trick, he said, but make sure not to bend the fins, which would make the problem worse.