For those who do not know, not that I would expect any of us should, Benjamin was a British Statesman and two-time Prime Minister for the United Kingdom. This quote, taken from his biography can take so many meanings, in any of the trades, particularly in the current day.
When the economy of this great nation came to a crashing halt just a few years ago, unemployment and rising natural resource prices forced many homeowners to take a long look at how we are consuming energy. Gone were the purchases of gas guzzling vehicles, and everyone wanted to change the world one Toyota Prius at a time! Enter high tax incentives for energy improvements to homes, with some even making it to today. Utility Rebate Programs continued to "chug along" with business as usual, just a significant growth regarding consumer awareness and genuine participation. Now, I am not blaming any sort of economic collapse on our stubborn waste of natural resources in America, or even the recovery being tied to efficiency measures. What will happen if we see gas prices fall again, or Tax Credits reduced to $0? Can there be an economy recovery without efficiency in the forefront? Now that we have reached a level of awareness, doesn't this now become the status quo?
In the HVAC trade, we see changes in efficiency come in cycles. They almost always align to the mandates coming down from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Over the last few decades, an increase in minimum efficiencies have brought forth great strides in technology. Long gone are the days of high efficiency being 10 or 13 SEER, yes I am old enough to remember this! The 13 SEER model marks the economy choice on the industry's job proposals now. I am glad to see the push on the heating side as well, with minimum efficiencies hitting the 90%+ point for most heating dominated states. The increase in the minimum efficiency makes the current "high-efficient" choice just the economy model. What will be next in innovations? Variable Capacity equipment cannot alone be it...can it?
Let's take a look at Mr. Disraeli's entire quote:
"Economy does not exist in the reckless reduction of estimates. On the contrary such a course almost necessarily tends to increase expenditure. There can be no Economy where there is no Efficiency." - October 3, 1868
Does the year surprise you? I can actually think of a couple of more present day representations, mostly surrounding Government/Commercial work and their bid process!
Despite the passing of Regional Efficiency Standards, International Code requirements for Load Calculations and Equipment Selection, tighter homes and duct systems, I cannot see the likelihood of grossly over-sized equipment going down! The significant problem at hand is that HVAC Contractors are either going to use the system design process, or not.
In the meantime, Regional Standards are pushing Manufacturers into finding ways to make their systems more efficient. Other than variable refrigerant flow (VRF), I am not sure what a manufacturer can do to increase the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER). In fact, some manufacturers and distributors have reported their variable capacity systems have actually tested, in a laboratory, lower EER than their two-stage and even single-stage counterparts. We have seen the increased use of Electronic Expansion Valves (EEV) to maintain the lowest possible superheats in the industry. Even increasing the physical size of Evaporator and Condenser coils in attempts to pick up/reject more heat. This is all putting the burden on the contractor to find the room for installation, as well as finding systems that can deliver the latent capacity needed in the replacement market.
So, I propose this: Why don't we require any 4 or 5 ton system be multiple stage or variable capacity? This can address the significant over-sizing issue so often seen in the HVAC Industry. After all, a study completed in 2006 by the Florida Solar Energy Center: "Measured Impacts of Proper Air Conditioning Sizing..." found little electrical savings for homeowners when replacing systems 47 - 65% oversized. There is still significant peak energy savings to Electric Providers, hence the enforcement of proper sizing with most Utility Rebate Programs. I wonder what those savings to the homeowner would have been if they just installed a multi or variable capacity system? This code enhancement could change the industry significantly in future years, keeping the focus away from bigger coils and higher efficiency, but still pushing the contractor to proper sizing and equipment commissioning. Yes, two-stage equipment costs more! So you should size the equipment correctly to avoid these extra costs, increasing your bids. Trust me, I have inspected as much as hundreds of A/C installations a year, for almost five years now, in a local utility rebate program. Almost never do I see an installation or replacement system larger than a 3-ton. Less than 10% of my inspected systems are larger, and almost always multi or variable capacity. Customers still report increased comfort and reduced energy use. Let's push efficiency using correctly sized, multiple capacity for the 4 or 5 ton systems, not physically larger units!
Not too long ago, the HVAC Service Technician took great pride in representing the company he or she worked for. They would arrive to work early, enthusiastic for the day ahead; helping the elderly without heat first after the big snow storm. They would answer their emergency calls within minutes following the noise of the dreadful beeper, and later cell phone. It only took about five minutes, but shining their boots before heading out the door felt like an eternity. Removing them when entering the front door of a home was a nuisance, but leaving a house almost cleaner than when they showed up was rewarding in itself.
To a large percentage of today's HVAC service personnel, this all sounds old fashioned and likely comical. Believe it or not, this is how I was taught by most of the old timers when I first started in the industry - fresh out of trade school. I know of very few companies that worry about their perception when it comes to their service department. The service technician is the face of your business! They provide the first taste of your company, and perception by the homeowner is everything. They are the expert, the trusted professional that was invited into a home to fix the comfort problem. Because of this trust, the service technician can provide the highest quantity of leads, sales, and even growth of the company. If you want to succeed as a service technician, there is more to it than just knowing the equipment...
1. Clean your Van, inside and out!
There is nothing more embarrassing than opening the door and having your most recent coffee cup or dirty air filter fall out into the customer's driveway. You may not care too much, but your company does! Make it a habit to clean out your trash daily, and restock your van at the same time. You likely do not have to wash your vehicle as often, but create a schedule and just be mindful - would you want an expert showing up to your house in that vehicle?
2. Dress like it's a uniform.
Not to be taken to the extreme, but have some pride in the way you dress. Of course, nothing matches the pride I had when wearing the uniform for the greatest fighting force in the world. Clean, unwrinkled shirts, pants, and even shorts (if applicable) go a long way for the perception of a quality product. I do not care how much a technician knows, if they look like they just woke up, wearing the same old, stained "boiler pants" their credibility goes out the window!
Keep a spare shirt, pants, and if possible shoes in your van. You may only use these once a month, but it will ensure you can keep the perception of quality at all times. For those really bad attic crawls, through a foot of cellulose, consider investing in a good pair of coveralls...
3. Organize your tools
Very few technicians use tool belts anymore. In fact, when I did, I just carried it on my shoulder. I did not do this for any other reason than a homeowners perception. By carrying the few common tools always required, it kept my hands free to shake, hold/open the door, and even wave to neighbors. I never left tools at a job site because in just a glance I could see if I was missing anything. Many times I have met technicians at a job, asked for a tool, and they dump their five gallon bucket of goodies on the basement floor. Why do they carry every tool from their van in such a rusty pile? To avoid a walk back to the van for a tool not used every day? This walk could present another opportunity to talk with your customer, a good thing!
4. Use the right tools for the job
Just because I am talking about the "good old days" does not mean you should be using tools circa then. Long gone are the sets of manifold gauges, Fyrite combustion kits, and incline manometers. Yes, I have some of the mentioned as back-ups in case my Digital Refrigeration Analyzer, Combustion Analyzer, and digital manometer are out for repairs. I would not want a doctor or dentist not using the most up to date tools, think about it!
5. Ask questions and listen to the homeowner
By the time I made it to the basement, I would likely know what was wrong with the furnace, boiler, heat pump, etc. This is because I asked the homeowner some key questions. For instance, what does the equipment seem to be doing now? Have you heard any noises out of the ordinary? Talk with the homeowner, they are paying your bill and expect it. After all, they invited you into their home, to not do so would just be rude. Speaking of rude, recognize cultural differences in the area you are working (i.e. wearing of shoes indoors, looking the woman of the house in the eyes, shaking hands, etc.). Just merely asking if it is ok to wear your boots for safety will break down this tension.
6. Complete your paperwork, legibly!
One of the largest downfalls of technicians, the dreaded paperwork. Complete it on site, always capturing a signature after completion. This will force you to write them legibly as a customer will probably not sign something they cannot read. Also, asking for a signature is another opportunity to talk, recap work completed, and any recommendations.
7. Treat everyone with the same respect
Yes, the Service Technician is a valued commodity for any HVAC company. This does not mean you can be a rude, narcissistic person that argues and puts down others in your company. Many technicians think they are "holier than now" and everything revolves around them. You are wrong, and probably should not be representing your company! When things are busy, have some patience and treat your coworkers with at least the same respect you would like to receive. They are doing a job that they are good at, just like you. If they do not, you will not have any work scheduled, pay checks completed, or even a vehicle to drive. You all bring money into the company, not just the technician collecting the check.
Take a look at your company and think about how you would feel if any of them showed up at your door, demanding the highest rate for the highest quality. Will your customer's perception match said rate? If so, congratulations! Just remember, this is something we need to constantly work on. Perception can change on the blink of an eye!
There is nothing more frustrating to me than seeing needless deaths,
particularly in America. I thought I saw my share chasing down WMD's
that were never found in the Middle East. Does it sound that outrageous
to put Carbon Monoxide in the same class as these? Think about it: a
Colorless, Odorless Gas that poisons it's targets by being inhaled. The
only thing a ruthless Dictator is missing is a way to weaponize this.
Based on Consumer Reports, between 1999 and 2004, an average of 439
Americans perished each year. In 2011, Massachusetts saw Fire
Departments responded to 18,000 CO incidents, with over 5,500 confirmed homes contaminated with CO. With the rising numbers of reports each
year, it is apparent that people are becoming more aware of the deadly
gas. Yet we continue to see reports of CO Poisoning, so what can we do
as a society to combat this?
Enter the HVAC and Home Performance Companies! You are likely most
prepared and equipped to combat this silent evil. You need to
communicate with and educate your customers to keep them safe. Also,
companies need to equip their personnel with the necessary safety
devices. I happen to work for a company that puts safety at the
forefront and supplies field personnel with personal CO monitors. I
understand the cost to equip everyone, but think about the alternative!
Already this year I have been into a home that did not have heat, the
homeowner was operating the gas stove all night and my monitor
immediately hit 15 ppm CO. On the way home that day the local pizza
place did not have their make-up air unit on, noticeable by the
resistance in the door, and the meter read 10 ppm. Although these
numbers are far from immediate poisoning, over a long period of time the
homeowner and cooks will eventually be poisoned.
When it comes to testing the appliances, please do not put on blinders
and only peer at the furnace when you walk into a home. What about
that water heater sitting next to it, or the gas dryer, and even stoves.
I would not be able to go to sleep at night if I did not at least
recommend to a homeowner to have these appliances tested annually for
safety. Take a look at the BPI recommendations for allowed CO in the
flue. If the numbers are too high, you have incomplete combustion and
need to have the appliance repaired.
This weekend, when you set your clocks back for daylight savings time,
everyone has been taught from an early age to replace the batteries in
their smoke detectors. Why not add a CO monitor to that very short list?
Test your monitor and replace the batteries if applicable (some are
hard-wired only). If your monitors are over 5 years old, consider
replacement. Please do not scoff at the prices and cheap-out on a very
important safety device. Make sure you look for a UL label and go with
If you have any combustion appliances, you are required in most states
to have a CO detector. This means if you do not have one, make it a
point to purchase one this weekend. Just because you do not have a gas
furnace or water heater does not mean you should not have a CO Monitor
installed! Just recently a family of four died of CO due to a generator
operating in their garage, since the electricity in their new home was
not turned on by the electric company yet. New Hampshire has figured
this out, making November "Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month". Take a
look at their recommendations, and pass it on. Please do not let this
happen to anyone you know, educate and test!