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HVAC Demand Spikes During the Pandemic

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The global coronavirus pandemic has affected most industries in the United States, including the field of HVAC equipment service and repair. Because of complications from COVID-19, the HVAC industry has experienced manufacturing delays and equipment and skilled labor shortages, coupled with residential demand.1,2,3

Get a closer look at the situation in this article.

Manufacturing Delays

HVAC equipment manufacturers have experienced delays since the beginning of the pandemic due to factories shutting down.1 During the summer, there was a huge backlog of production across the country. Many large HVAC manufacturers were closed down for weeks.2

Then, even after facilities opened up again, there were staffing shortages due to CDC guidelines.2 The number of employees not working contributed to the general slowdown in the industry, from manufacturing to wholesalers. For example, some employees have not been willing to work, and some have had childcare constraints.3 This, in turn, has reduced the supply of HVAC equipment available to distributors, and therefore businesses.1

How have the shortages affected consumers? In places like Phoenix, Arizona, which experienced record-breaking heat this summer, some people had to wait days or even weeks for a new air conditioning unit.1 In Silver Spring, Maryland, the wait time was sometimes as long as four weeks.2

Equipment Shortages

Manufacturing delays can cause equipment shortages. In addition to the limited supply of finished air conditioning units, the HVAC industry has seen shortages of water heaters.3

Coils, motors, compressors and other replacement parts have been hard to come by. For some HVAC products, such as UV bulbs, manufacturers have been unable to get the materials used to produce the parts due to outsourcing complications.3

Equipment shortages can make it more difficult for contractors and businesses to keep up with demand when it comes to installing new units or replacing broken parts. Last June, 78% of HARDI (Heating, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International) members reported having trouble finding supplies. Many products were on backorder and had estimated delivery delays of several weeks.3

Residential Demand

The manufacturing delays and resulting equipment shortages occurred alongside a spike in residential demand for HVAC, specifically air conditioners, last summer.1

Under normal circumstances, a working adult may be outside of the home for most of the day and may not rely as much on a residential air conditioner. But, with more people working from home or staying at home all day, a fully functional air conditioner was often important. This increased demand for HVAC during a time of short supply.3

Many HVAC businesses throughout the country experienced increased service calls despite COVID-19.1,4 Reasons for the spike included a July heat wave in Eastern North Carolina.4 Peak season calls for repairs or maintenance to air conditioning units.4 Federal stimulus checks that drove household income up 13%, contributing to consumer spending in the summer months.3

Worker Shortages

In general, the HVAC industry is experiencing a worker shortage. In some places, such as Las Vegas, the demand for skilled HVAC workers outpaces the number of qualified applicants.5

One reason for the worker shortage is skilled trades workers exiting the labor market, for example, Baby Boomers retiring. Another reason could be our society’s emphasis on going to a four-year college over pursuing a skilled trades path, which deters some people from attending HVAC and refrigeration classes like the Refrigeration Technologies program at RSI, despite good pay and respectable work.5

The worker shortage has caused some businesses to operate overtime to meet the high demand. Unlike many sectors that have suffered since the start of the pandemic, air conditioning repair is thriving in many areas. One company in Las Vegas, for example, has increased its hiring of technicians by more than 20% since the beginning of 2020, and was at maximum capacity for six weeks.5

HVAC Technician Demand

hvac technician wearing face mask

Pandemic or no pandemic, air conditioning technicians will likely always be in demand in places like Las Vegas, which can reach temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. More trained HVAC technicians are needed in places like these to meet the demand for heating and cooling services, which tends to spike during heat waves and other extreme conditions.5

While the HVAC industry has experienced some delays and shortages due to the coronavirus, it has become clear that HVAC and refrigeration technicians are still needed and perhaps in even higher demand in some places.5,6

Trained HVAC technicians are the ones responsible for servicing, repairing, replacing and installing the cooling and heating units that consumers rely on—which is especially important when working or staying at home. HVAC technicians have proven to be an essential part of society during this time of coronavirus.5

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