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Microchip shortage causing concern for HVAC contractors ahead of winter

The shortage means replacement parts and new furnaces are hard to get, so even urgent repairs could take weeks in dangerously cold temperatures.
Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 9:35 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A microchip shortage could impact how Wisconsinites heat and cool their homes. HVAC contractors started to see the shortage in early spring, but concern over the shortage is rising approaching the winter months. The shortage could make furnace repairs and replacements difficult when sufficient heat is critical.

Microchips are basically miniature computers that exist inside several appliances including furnaces, thermostats and hot water heaters. The chips sit on circuit boards.

“It’s amazing how something like that is putting so many things on hold right now,” said Bruce Perkins, logistics officer at Harker Heating & Cooling.

Perkins explained these chips are how thermostats and furnaces or air conditioning units communicate, keeping homes at a comfortable temperature.

“That’s dictating when the furnace comes on, when it shuts off, how the fans are operating,” he described.

However, manufacturers of these microchips are behind schedule because of shutdowns caused by the pandemic. Because of the backlog, HVAC contractors are having trouble getting the equipment they need.

“We had instances where...we’d have those air conditioners on order for two months, waiting on them,” Perkins said.

Kendall Richards, president of All Comfort Services, has faced the same issues.

“There’s furnaces and air conditioners that we’ve had really had to wait weeks for,” he said, adding, “Wholesalers would have them available next day. Now we’re looking at getting those 50-gallon...water heaters in seven or nine days.”

Richards and Perkins are both worried the chip shortage could make repairs difficult during the cold Wisconsin winter.

“As we get into those colder months where we can see sub-zero temperatures, there’s a serious concern of are we going to be able to get the parts we need to to fix any existing equipment, can we get the new equipment?” Perkins questioned.

Both contractors are taking action to try and prevent any delays. Perkins is stocking up on equipment and replacement parts.

“I just ordered, probably just today, $20,000 worth of service related parts,” he explained. Perkins added Harker is also stocking more furnaces than they ever have.

Richards is making sure he also has a short-term solution for customers experiencing issues with their furnace.

“We try to have enough inventory of portable heaters,” he explained.

Both men said the best thing people can do to avoid problems this winter is run their furnace now and get their annual maintenance done, before it is too late.

“Turn it on for 20 minutes, just make sure it’s kicking out heat and there’s no problems,” Richards recommended, adding people should listen for rattling or any other unusual noises.

Perkins added, “If there are any issues that have the potential to arise, [you] can usually catch some of those on the front end.”

Contractors are not sure how long the shortage will last. Richards said it depends on the pandemic—if plants have to keep shutting down because of COVID-19 outbreaks, the shortage will continue. He hopes the issue will start to clear up by next spring.

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