2018 was the year we all started to see HVAC/R (refrigerant) regulations come into focus, with changes at the federal and state level impacting both maintenance requirements and record keeping.
What did not change in 2018 was the employment situation, there are simply not enough new people coming into the HVAC/R trades to support the work on the units and to handle the documentation and record keeping.
On January 1, 2019, new regulations that have been at the center of a recent review by the EPA, will go into effect.
The EPA has confirmed that they will not be making changes to the rules before the end of the year, so it’s time to understand the requirements and plan to understand what is required. Here are the three most significant changes:
The most sweeping changes to HVAC/R regulations in 2 decades go into effect in less than 30 days. Yes, you have less than 3 weeks because, on January 1st, the last of 3 changes to EPA (Federal) regulations go into effect
If you are wondering who this will affect? The Answer is every commercial HVAC/R owner in the USA.
We just completed a one-month review of more than 1000 service tickets, and it looks like no one is ready for the changes. After 50 phone interviews with the dispatch teams that review the tickets and then generate the invoices, it was apparent that work is still needed to be ready for the significant changes. An overwhelming number of people were unaware of the significance and details of the changes. So here are the three things that were missing from every service ticket:
1. None of the leak rate data (neither the compounded values (required) or the base leak rate) were on any tickets
2. Missing service dates (minimum of 4, repair and leak inspection are no longer acceptable) for each refrigerant addition, at most only 2 service event dates were recorded
3. Improper recording or listing of asset details – it’s not enough to say you worked on RTU1
In an industry that relies almost exclusively on invoices as the primary communication tool between service providers and system owners/manager, the invoice is not living up to the job needed for compliance. We have two choices:
1. Invoices need to change to accommodate the required data – the traditional invoice is no longer enough to meet regulatory requirements.
2. Maintenance teams need to a tool that guides their performance, so they operate within the compliance boundaries
Work Order management, CMMS or invoice products are not able to measure up, they lack.
1. Guidance that directs activity based on refrigerant type, the asset and the work being performed
2. Responsiveness to modify outcomes or provide alerts if an action or event occurs that can push you into violation
3. Structured data inputs that are rigid enough to deliver compliance but flexible enough to accommodate the work environment.
Recording labor and materials on an invoice is no longer adequate because you may record an event adequately only to learn later that the record you documented clearly thrusts you into violation of the regulation.
As an example. If you add gas to a system on June 1st and then again on September 1st, then the EPA expects you to reference the old leak rate from June 1 on the September 1 invoice and then between the two events, you would be expected to document at least 8 touch points on the asset to prove the leak was fixed and they want this to be accessible at all times.
New regulations clearly define who is responsible for providing the records, keeping the records and submitting the records to the EPA, so having a plan that meets these new requirements is key to success.
The EPA has steadily been releasing updates and modifications to requirements that affect the how, when, where as well as the reasons, reporting and record keeping for using refrigerant but they have never mandated that service techs return for new training. The skilled service workforce is struggling to keep pace with the repair needs in the market, but two issues are not helping this process:
1. No retraining is required when the EPA releases significant changes to the regulations. Even California does not require any training on regulations, they rely on the Federal government to provide guidance on the Training. Although your technician is skilled in maintenance, she/he likely doesn’t know anything about the new regulations.
2. EPA does not sponsor, suggest or even provide guidance on training for Equipment owners, managers or their staff. So, the only training available is the training needed to do field service work, and this does not directly apply to their jobs.
In the early days of compliance, the EPA had a straightforward set of regulations and an allowable leak rate that was so high that today refrigerant emissions are 300% higher (2018) than they were when the regulations first went into place (1994). System allowable leak rates vary by equipment type, but regardless of the type of system, the documentation is the same for most systems.
The changes that go into place in 3 weeks have been published for nearly 3 years, and they have been in development for about 10 years (we have been writing about them for 3 years). Our industry needs more people and talent to fill in the employment gap that exists all across the country, but we can work together and relieve some of the strain, reduce leaks which will ultimately lead to better performance. We just can’t do it the way we have been doing things for the last 5 decades, we need a new path forward, and the tools are available to all of us.