Updated September 10, 2021 - 8:38 pm
Shortages on raw materials and a skilled workforce have hit an industry that’s much needed in the Las Vegas summer heat: air conditioning.
With multiple heat waves this season, the problem can be hard to ignore, some HVAC contractors said.
“It’s very bad,” said Vern Rettig, owner of Windy City Air in Las Vegas. “Right now, I’ve got a customer that wants to replace simple air conditioners in her apartment complex. I can’t do the job because I can’t get the material.”
Rettig, the president of the Southern Nevada Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Contractors Association, said it’s an issue everywhere. Raw material shortages throughout 2020 and 2021 have led to suppliers raising prices on everything from full A/C units to small parts, according to trade publications.
Rettig’s suppliers have increased various materials twice this summer by more than 15 percent, he said. Other suppliers could provide him with similar parts or systems — but at a $1,000 per unit premium he’d have to pass onto his customer.
“(Customers) have to wait a long time if they want equipment,” he said. “They have to pay a higher price, because we have to pass that cost on otherwise we’ll be out of business. It’s a bad situation. Unfortunately, that’s the same old story.”
Adding to the challenge is an ongoing labor shortage, especially for the skilled trade. Licensed contractors have to be certified and often need several years of experience. The shortage has led to more overtime for crews and longer waits for customers, business owners said.
“We don’t want to send someone out to someone’s house who doesn’t know what they’re doing,” said Kyra Pemberton, an office manager at Black Mountain Air in Henderson. “But that requires a lot of knowledge. You have to be able to deal with knowing exactly how the refrigerant (is) going to react to the system, you have to know electric work, mechanically how your system’s going to operate, and often you have to troubleshoot control boards — that gets more into the computer, technical side of things. It requires a lot.”
The shortages have led to most contractors recommending repairs instead of replacement and other deferred maintenance.
“Normally where we’d recommend replacement here, we’re going to start seeing more repairs being pushed towards consumers as equipment shrinks, as there’s no more availability left over,” Daniel Ibara, director of operations for Snow Frosty Heating and Air Conditioning Inc., told the Review-Journal in July. “It best translates to higher costs once more to the consumer, repairing because they’re these units that need to be replaced as temporary fixes and then having to replace once they come back in stock.”
Contractors recommend consumers conduct regular maintenance and upkeep on their A/C units to catch some problems before they start and keep it running efficiently.
“You would not believe how many people have killed their A/C units for not changing their filters for a year,” Pemberton said. “That kind of stuff is important. It can save you money, it can save you headaches, it can preserve your comfort and your home. Maintenance is important.”
McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.