Since 1968, the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) has served as the unified voice of the entire heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) industry and supply chain.
This partnership of various industry players offers a unique breadth of services that is unlike any other industry organization. The association provides knowledge, training and representation at all levels of government to serve its members, the industry and the community.
“HRAI is unique in that we have the whole supply chain: the manufacturers, the distributors, the installers and service contractors all in the same organization,” President Warren Heeley explained. “One of the things that evolved within the association was local groups – we call them chapters – that were more locally-focused because the majority of our members, particularly contractors, work in a localized area.”
Its advocacy, representation and service stems back to its founding. HRAI was established when the National Warm Air Association and the Canadian Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Association came together to better apply economies of scale.
“There were sort of two sides to our industry,” said Heeley. “One was the heating side and the other was the refrigeration and air conditioning side. In 1968, because the industry in Canada isn’t that large, they felt that there was no need to duplicate services at two smaller organizations, so they brought the two organizations together.”
HRAI is driven by the needs of its membership, a cross-section of nearly 1,400 member companies, including manufacturers and suppliers, wholesalers, contractors and non-voting associate members, who are active stakeholders in the industry. Members are regularly surveyed to ensure their needs are understood and are being met.
This year, HRAI is celebrating its milestone fiftieth anniversary and will be holding a special meeting and conference at the Paradisus Playa Del Carmen in Mexico. There will be some work and likely much fun, as it has many reasons to celebrate.
HRAI’s success has been built upon four ideals: advocacy and relations, communications, skills and career development and environmental responsibility. Each of these represents the channels through which the interests of its members are advanced.
“Whether it’s federal or provincial, it’s our job to advocate for our members in these discussions and make sure things come out as a ‘win-win-win’ for the government, as well as the public and ourselves,” Heeley noted. As HVACR is a highly regulated industry, HRAI wants to ensure it is actively involved in creating regulations, as well as educating its members and the public on new policies and their implications.
“Whether the regulations are in energy, environmental, trade regulations or other industry related areas, it’s a very important part of what our members look for in advocacy, as they are governed by so many different regulations and codes that have to be met while they do business,” said Heeley.
Heeley cited the environmental and energy ministries as the greatest challenges facing HRAI. As energy and environment are under provincial jurisdiction, and import and export of products fall to the federal government, much effort is dedicated toward reaching an agreement between the various levels of government to avoid what he referred to as “a patchwork quilt of different regulations.”
By finding balance amongst the regulating entities and making the regulatory environment simpler, it also makes it easier for HRAI to communicate with its membership and the public, especially as best practices and regulations are in a constant state of advancement.
To stay up to date on best practices, new products available in the market, new technologies, processes and installation methods, HRAI holds regular meetings, training and events, and distributes newsletters to its membership. It also publishes, twice annually, Insight magazine, a publication dedicated to HVACR industry news.
Education and training is a huge component of what HRAI does. The organization also offers the Orvil L. Davie Memorial Fund, a bursary that assists students who are striving towards a career in the HVACR industry.
“Our training – which has been in place since about 1977 – teaches designers and installers the proper methods of installing HVAC equipment and meeting the requirements of the building code. Our training leads to certification that is recognized by many municipalities across the country,” explained Heeley.
Not only does it give municipalities assurance of a standard of quality, safety and service, but it also provides a channel through which complaints can be filed and due process can be practiced, protecting its members and maintaining a benchmark standard for HVAC installations.
Environmental responsibility is not something that is simply a legislative requirement; it is an industry commitment for HRAI. The association has environmental programs that are dedicated to refrigerant management, which involves the recovery and destruction of surplus ozone-depleting and global warming refrigerants, and recovery and recycling of mercury and other components from thermostats.
HRAI also provides timely information to its members and the public about available incentive programs related to heating and cooling equipment, technology transfer and training. By understanding and communicating how the incentive programs work, both the consumer, the industry and the environment benefit through lowered emissions and maximized energy efficiency.
As Heeley explained, “We’re seeing a number of different HVAC incentives and other programs coming forward that are going to be available to the consumers, whether they be homeowners or building managers, as a part of government climate change policies. We are heavily involved in discussions on these programs as well as administering certain programs to ensure the interests of consumers and the industry are included in the program design,” he said.
“The environmental portfolio, particularly at the government level, has expanded over the last thirty or forty years,” said Heeley, citing ozone depletion as the cause for this shift in policy and the need to reduce the use of certain ozone-depleting refrigerants.
“These refrigerants were made up of chemicals that were non-toxic and non-flammable for many years and then it was discovered that these chemicals were destroying the ozone layer because of the chlorine content in them,” noted Heeley.
“We’ve gone through a transition from the late-1980s to now, to non-ozone depleting refrigerants, and we’re working towards lower global warming potential refrigerants to meet the new climate change mandate that’s been given to countries around the world.”
Another way HRAI acts upon this mandate is by embracing higher energy-efficient HVACR equipment and systems. Heeley said that there comes a point where the energy efficiency potential is tapped out and the regulatory changes are too rapid and daunting for the organization to keep pace.
“We know where regulators are going, and we’re not arguing with the increase in efficiency. That’s necessary because about sixty percent of the energy that is being used in a home or a building comes from the HVAC system. So, we’re big players in the energy side,” Heeley explained.
A key strategic priority for HRAI going forward is to improve representation and advocacy at the provincial level. “We have a pretty good handle on the federal system, but we’re sort of sparse provincially,” Heeley said. “We do more work in Ontario than any of the other provinces because we are located here, and in many other outlying regions, we’d like to see our relations activity and membership grow in the future.”
The desired outcome, while improving regional representation and membership numbers outside the province is to synchronize the regulatory environments across the provinces and even across borders.
“What we’re trying to do is harmonize standards and codes with the understanding that products and systems available in Canada should not be different from those available in, for example, the United States,” explained Heeley.
“It’s evolving, but it’s a basic technology, and we’re trying to harmonize this issue on a North American, if not international, basis so that the market is accessible and competitive for manufacturers in Canada and from other countries.”
While HRAI is like many other industry associations that advocate for and represent its membership, it is unique in the way that it goes about doing this. It offers a unique value thanks to its scope as the voice of the entire supply chain.
Coming up in March 2018 is HRAI’s biannual trade show, the Canadian Mechanical and Plumbing Exposition (CMPX) 2018. This show will feature upwards of five hundred exhibitors and more than nine hundred booths in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. There will be networking, a learning forum for industry seminars, information sharing amongst the attendees and exhibitors about the latest equipment and processes and a chance for the HVACR industry to come together. The biannual gathering and trade show dates back to 1972 and is expected to sell out again this year, bringing in 13,000 or more attendees, reaffirming the importance of HRAI and its ability to unify the industry.