Over the next few days, North Texas will feel some of the hottest temperatures in a long time, making it about the worst time to have air-conditioning problems.
Local companies are warning that getting parts and setting appointments can take weeks due to supply chain issues and staffing problems.
The shortages have been ongoing since last year but local businesses said it’s only gotten worse for the HVAC industry.
Steve Stewart, owner of Southern Comfort Mechanical Heating and A/C Specialists in Lewisville has been trying his best to stay on top of it.
"Silicone, which gets used to seal around electrical components – three weeks ago there was only eight of these in the Metroplex. So we had to bring a supply in from Atlanta,” he said, as he went through his inventory on Wednesday. “This week, ball valves are in tight supply. So there's a very limited supply of these around the Metroplex."
Stewart’s team – like everyone else – has been dealing with a shortage of parts due to COVID-19 lockdowns in China, bottlenecks at ports throughout the country, and other problems.
Many businesses have been trying to stock up on parts since the shortages began last year. But it changes week to week.
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“So part of the challenge is trying to figure out what's gone on backorder. It's varied and moved from week to week on what the items are that are tight,” said Stewart.
Freon, the product that helps your system keep you cool, is another item that's been in and out of availability and supply.
“410A, which is the current refrigerant that things are supplied with, has gone through price increases probably weekly. It's steadily gone up just due to supply chain shortages,” said Stewart. “The other item is R22 which is in older systems. At times of the year, this has been in tight supply so this is in phase out at the moment. It's getting more expensive by the week. The availability of it is getting tighter and tighter. So potentially at end of this year, it'll be very difficult to get hold of.”
There are also staffing issues. Stewart said a lot of technicians are retiring and trade schools aren't pumping out as many skilled workers.
"Staffing has become tighter and tighter. So across the nation, the average age of HVAC technicians is in their late 40s. So a number of people are retiring from the industry,” he said. “There's a shortage of people and staffing. So just all of that combined has made things type tighter on the people front.”
Because of this, he said it can take two days or longer for many places to send a technician out to homes, depending on the issue.
But two days in this summer heat can feel so much longer.
“I know being in a home with no A/C is miserable. You can’t think, you can’t function. I've been there with my family myself, which is partly what got me into the industry,” said Stewart.
That’s why it’s important not to wait to call a professional if you’re having issues.
"Typically we see people wait about three days before they call in. Day one, you maybe think you’ve got an issue and shrug it off. On day two, you maybe start playing with the thermostat or do something to try and fix it. And then by day three, you realize you have an issue – then you start calling but you may have to wait to get a technician there."
While waiting for repairs, you should ask the business if you can borrow a portable unit. Some businesses have units available to customers.
But one of the biggest things you can do for yourself – and it's probably the most overlooked – is to just keep your air filter clean.
Change it out every three months max because if you don't, Stewart said it can clog up your system and cause problems.
“So this is one that got pulled out of someone's home yesterday, it's been more than three months since that's been changed,” said Stewart, holding up 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 struggles.”
Another important tip is to get maintenance done on your system, even if you’re not experiencing any glaring issues. Don't wait until it breaks.
Most systems are supposed to be checked a couple of times a year as a standard form of maintenance. If you call and schedule a maintenance appointment soon, you will be put on a lower priority list but at least you'll have the flexibility to wait.
Shortages are also expected to get worse toward the end of summer as demand and multiple triple-digit days continue to put a strain on systems.
“Last year, we had about four days over 100 degrees. This year, I've lost count of the number of days we have been over 100 degrees,” said Stewart. “So those systems are going to be running a lot longer run a lot harder to keep, keep homes cool."
But some industry leaders say these supply strains could last into 2024 or 2025 before we get back to where things were before the pandemic.