The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 2023 Smart Tools for Efficient HVAC Performance (STEP) Campaign recognized eight organizations for their commitment to performing quality residential heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) installations with smart diagnostic tools and/or adopting these tools in HVAC workforce training programs. The organizations were recognized on September 26, 2023, during an Energy Efficient Building Association (EEBA) webinar highlighting the benefits of smart diagnostic tools for Inflation Reduction Act-incentivized heat pump installations. 

Now in its second year, the STEP Campaign is part of DOE’s Residential Buildings Integration program. The campaign is designed to broaden adoption of smart diagnostic tools and to raise awareness of the use of these tools by HVAC technicians. Incorporating these tools in commissioning and diagnostics helps ensure that high-efficiency residential HVAC systems are performing as designed and without energy waste due to common installation and maintenance faults.

Recognized Organizations

Smart Local 265 is recognized for its commitment to keeping its HVAC training program ahead of the curve by ensuring students master the use of smart diagnostic tools for HVAC system performance verification. Smart Local 265’s on-site laboratory allows students to gain hands-on experience with different HVAC equipment. These smart tools give students the ability to watch equipment readings change in real time as test conditions change. When Smart Local 265 attends career fairs to raise awareness of HVAC career paths and its training program, staff bring smart tools with them to attract the next-generation HVAC workforce by demonstrating the organization’s commitment to cutting-edge technology and training.

“I definitely recommend that other training organizations use smart tools in their curricula,” said Joe Carone, Smart Local 265’s senior apprentice and journeyperson service instructor. “Because of these tools, students exit our program with the ability to really fine-tune a piece of HVAC equipment. We believe this skillset makes them higher-value recruits for hiring contractors.”

Johnstone Supply is recognized for its new smart diagnostic tool training program for HVAC technicians, offered in the company’s state-of-the-art training facility in Denver, Colorado. As a wholesale distributor of HVAC equipment and supplies that operates across the United States, Johnstone Supply knows that quality training is a win for all parties involved in HVAC projects. When technicians have the skills and tools they need to maximize an HVAC system’s capacity, performance, and longevity, the result is an improvement in customer satisfaction, contractor profitability, distributor sales, and manufacturer reputation. Johnstone Supply’s Denver facility is also offering a “train the trainer” program to help other Johnstone locations conduct similar training in their own markets.

“Smart diagnostic tools enable technicians to generate data and reports that clearly demonstrate the equipment is installed and performing according to manufacturer specifications,” said Johnstone Supply Sales Manager Dean Wolfe. “This is important for bringing peace of mind to all parties involved.”

Frontier Energy is recognized for its commitment to empowering HVAC technicians through the use of smart tools. Frontier helped develop DOE’s Career Pathways to Advance the Trades in HVAC Services (PATHS) program, which is piloting an HVAC training program in California’s Inland Empire. The pilot provides HVAC technicians with community college training and mentorship on smart tools, giving them the knowledge and skills to perform high-quality HVAC installation, maintenance, and service. It is designed to provide new opportunities for underemployed and nontraditional workers while also building the HVAC workforce needed to support a growing regional population. Another goal for the pilot is to serve as a template for other communities to launch HVAC workforce development programs.

PATHS makes significant use of the Visual Service tool as an educational platform. Developed in part by the Institute of Heating and Air Conditioning Industries (IHACI), Visual Service is a video-enabled field service technology that brings together the readings from Bluetooth-enabled instruments to allow them to be reviewed in context. It has not only been helpful in the field for PATHS trainees diagnosing issues and communicating options to customers, but also in the PATHS classroom for teaching foundational knowledge on how various HVAC systems work.

“The industry needs smart tools that enable smart technicians to become even smarter,” said Frontier Energy Engineering Manager Kristin Heinemeier. “These tools empower technicians to do what they do with excellence and provide them with live support when they need it.”

Portage Lakes Career Center (PLCC) in Uniontown, Ohio, is recognized for its commitment to quality smart diagnostic tool training as part of its adult HVAC curriculum. The 37-week night course contributes to growing and empowering the local HVAC workforce by offering an affordable, accredited education supplemented with $2,000 worth of tools (including smart tools). The suite of tools benefit students both in the classroom and in future HVAC-industry jobs. The program has earned a reputation among local contractors for the skill of its graduates, resulting in a 97% job placement rate for students who complete the program. With the skills and smart tools they receive and master through the program, graduates can commission and troubleshoot HVAC systems just as efficiently as their senior colleagues, often leading contractors to request smart tool training from PLCC for their other technicians.

“Smart tools have helped us flatten the HVAC learning curve and halve the amount of time it usually takes for a new technician to become proficient in the field,” said PLCC instructor Ben Chouinard. "Once you learn the analog diagnostic approaches and all the required math, then see how efficiently and accurately smart tools can do those calculations—there's no going back.”

In the Field

The following four professional HVAC businesses are recognized by the STEP Campaign for their use of smart diagnostic tools for commissioning and servicing residential HVAC systems. To realize the energy savings benefits of high-efficiency heat pumps and air conditioners, these systems must be properly installed from the start. Through the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA) Quality Installation certificate pilot program, these contractors are using smart diagnostic tools to commission HVAC systems for their customers, maximizing capacity, performance, and longevity of their HVAC systems: 

  • Jackson Comfort Services (OH)
  • Ray O. Cook Company (CA)
  • Simpson Salute Heating & Air (OH)
  • Eco Plumbers, Electricians, and HVAC Technicians (OH)