At every opportunity, the federal government seems to make our jobs harder. What can contractors do about it? Simple. Pity your customers and recognize each change as an opportunity.

So how do the feds impact the industry? For starters, they use the power of government to jack up efficiency standards at every opportunity, reducing consumer choices and our product offerings. Then, the standards are regionalized so that what is legal in one location may be illegal across state lines. This is especially problematic for contractors with service territories straddling state lines.

As an industry, we have rolled with efficiency changes in the past, even when the bureaucrats making the rules lack on understanding of the impact on simple things like warehousing, transportation, and installations. Or maybe they do not care.

Apparently we managed past changes too well, so the feds decided to change cutoff dates from the date of manufacture to the date of installation, threatening less alert contractors with unsalable inventory. And to further pile on, a host of new record-keeping requirements were foisted on a group of people who picked the trades, in part, to be able to make a living without the need for a lot of paperwork.

If efficiency changes are not enough, now they have to jack around with refrigerants. This refrigerant is bad for the ozone layer, so it’s gotta go. Oh, sorry, the next one has too much global warming potential. Guess you need a different one; make that two. And make that four jugs of refrigerant for every truck. No chance a color-blind technician will get the colors mixed up.

At least gas furnaces are relatively unchanged, which means they must be next. And they are. There is a movement afoot to ban natural gas in residences. Today, it is mostly code-driven and community-specific for new construction. But the move is on to ban gas furnaces, water heaters, and cooking. Granted, they got a little ahead of themselves with gas cooking. It seems a lot of people have strong opinions about their cooktops and ovens, so the bureaucrats pushing those bans backed off — for now. Instead, they will just use regulations to ban half of the gas cooking appliances.

It is likely that the government will come for water heating and furnaces before too much longer because both products are out of sight and out of mind. If they try it, it is unlikely that homeowners will be forced to rip out their existing products to replace them with all-electric versions. They will just be unable to replace them with natural gas products.

California, the source of so many brilliant ideas, is already moving to ban gas-powered leaf blowers and gas mowers next year. Somehow, the California Air Resources Board concluded that using a gas leaf blower for an hour has the same environmental impact as driving 1,100 miles. Thus, no gas for you!

So when the ban comes, expect homeowners to try to extend the life of their gas furnaces to 50 years or more, assuming parts are available. All it will take is one of their neighbors complaining about the electric bill when it gets too cold for the heat pump to maintain temperature without supplemental resistance heat or for another neighbor to gripe about the supply air temperature heat pumps deliver.

If you think this is unlikely, it is already in the works. Writing for Grist, Siri Chilukuri announced, “Starting in 2027, The (San Francisco) Bay Area Air Quality Management District will require homeowners to replace any broken gas-powered heating units with heat pumps.”

Chilukuri describes heat pumps as “devices that use an advanced form of technology similar to refrigerators and air conditioners to cool and heat a home at the same time.” Hey, she said it, not me. I wonder if the bureaucrats are aware that according to the Energy Information Administration, 65% of electricity in 2021 was generated by fossil fuels and 19% by nuclear power.

Somehow the bureaucrats banning gas furnaces are certain, certain that this move will prevent 15,000 asthma attacks and 85 premature deaths. Well, it could have that impact. Could? Really? I could win the lottery by buying a ticket. Strangely, “could” never appears in their bans. Instead, they use more definitive and restrictive words like “shall,” “will,” and “must.” Of course, a cursory look at the national data that comprises the basis of the claim reveals a lot of modeling and estimating. It could be right, so you shall and must follow the associated mandates.

Does all of this seem a little over-the-top, ridiculous, and just plain stupid? Certainly. But as an industry, we suck at fighting stupidity, whether it arises from Washington, state capitols, or unelected bureaucracies. Contractors are too fiercely independent to come together to fight stupidity. Contractors are also too busy keeping people comfortable in their homes and businesses to assess threats coming down the road that arise from estimates and computer models of what could happen.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Contractors will make a lot of money retrofitting heat pumps to replace gas furnaces, raising average sales prices. This is good because fewer people will likely be able to afford the new comfort systems.

This is solely the opinion of the author, who mostly decries the lack of choice and corresponding loss of freedom that result from these government edicts. As contractors, you still have choices for your businesses. Choose profitability. Choose growth. Choose the Service Roundtable to help you get it. Learn more at www.serviceroundtable.com.



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