Over the next few days, North Texas will feel some of the hottest temperatures in a long time, making it the worst time to have air conditioning problems.
Local businesses warn that getting parts and scheduling appointments could take weeks due to supply chain and staffing issues.
The shortages have been ongoing since last year, but local companies said it has only gotten worse for the HVAC industry.
Steve Stewart, owner of Southern Comfort Mechanical Heating and A/C Specialists in Louisville, is doing his best to stay on top of it.
“Silicon, which is used to shut off electrical components — three weeks ago there were only eight of them in Metroplex. So we had to bring in supplies from Atlanta,” he said, while checking his inventory on Wednesday. “This week, ball valves are in short supply.” So, there is a very limited supply of these valves around Metroplex.”
Stewart’s team – like everyone else – has been dealing with parts shortages due to the COVID-19 lockdown in China, jams at ports across the country, and other problems.
Many companies have been trying to stockpile spare parts since the shortage began last year. But it changes from week to week.
“So part of the challenge is trying to figure out what happened in the hindsight. It’s varied and moves from week to week depending on the tight elements,” Stewart said.
Freon, the product that helps your system keep you calm, is another ingredient that has been on and off.
“The 410A, which is the current refrigerant that things are supplied with, has seen price increases maybe weekly. They’ve only gone up steadily because of a supply chain shortage,” Stewart said. At times of the year this offer was limited so it has been phased out for now. It is getting more expensive every week. Its availability becomes more compact and tight. So probably at the end of this year, it will be very difficult to get it.”
There are also staffing issues. Stewart said a lot of technicians are retiring and trade schools aren’t pumping out a lot of skilled workers.
He said, “Employment is getting tighter and more compact. So across the country, the average age for HVAC technicians is in their late forties. So a number of people are retiring from this industry. There is a shortage of people and staff. All this together has made Writing things more tightly in the people interface.”
Because of this, he said, it could take two days or more for many places to send a technician home, depending on the problem.
But a couple of days in this hot summer can feel much longer.
“I know being in a house without AC is miserable. You can’t think, you can’t work. I’ve been there with my family, and that’s partly what got me into this industry,” Stewart said.
That’s why it’s important not to wait to contact a professional if you’re having problems.
“We usually see people waiting about three days before they call. On the first day, you probably think you have a problem and ignore it. On the second day, you probably start playing with the thermostat or do something to try to fix it. And then, by the third day, you realize that You have a problem – then you start calling but you may have to wait to get a technician there.”
While you wait for repairs, you should ask the company if you can borrow a portable unit. Some companies have units available to customers.
But one of the biggest things you can do for yourself—and perhaps the most overlooked—is to keep your air filter clean.
Change it every three months max because if you don’t, Stewart said it can clog your system and cause problems.
“This one was pulled from someone’s house yesterday, and it’s been over three months since it was changed,” Stewart said, clutching a dirty filter. “But what this does to the system, it’s like putting on multiple face masks, and then trying to run a marathon. It’s not fun. The system is suffering.”
Another important tip is to perform maintenance on your system, even if you are not experiencing any glaring issues. Don’t wait for it to break.
Most systems are supposed to be checked several times a year as a standard form of maintenance. If you call and schedule a maintenance appointment soon, you’ll be put on a lower priority list but at least you’ll have the flexibility to wait.
The shortage is also expected to worsen at the end of the summer as demand and multiple three-digit days continue to put pressure on systems.
Last year, we had about four days above 100 degrees. “I’ve missed out on the number of days we’ve crossed 100 degrees this year,” Stewart said. “So these systems are going to run longer and are more difficult to maintain, and to keep homes cool.”
But some industry leaders say these supply strains could last into 2024 or 2025 before we go back to where things were before the pandemic.