Picture courtesy of Downs Energy Limited
Contractors have found a number of tried and true ways to grow their businesses, including bringing in-house allied divisions of work like plumbing. As the focus on home performance contracting grows however, more companies are adding insulation work to that list according to a News article written by Kimberly Schwartz.
"Insulation is one of the biggest drivers to make a home perform," said Rob Minnick, CEO of Minnick's Heating and Cooling in Laurel, Maryland. Rich Morgan, President of Magic Touch Mechanical found that bringing the insulation work in-house allowed him to be in complete control of both the customer experience and job quality. "Our HVAC installation crews learn and do the insulation installation as they are at the home doing other tasks," he said. However, insulation is a brave new world for many HVAC contractors, and they must be willing to make the commitment through education, training, and tools.
According to Michael Goater, an authorized training partner for Comfort Institute Inc., the most basic principle that contractors must understand is that insulation is ineffective without air sealing. One problem frequently encountered is that many companies are simply blowing insulation into attics without properly sealing the homes. Michael Rodgers, president of Omstout Consulting urges contractors to learn how to do it right. Doing it right involves an investment in training and equipment. Magic Touch Mechanical estimates they have done about 150 hours of training about insulation best practices, estimating classes and hands-on demonstrations. He estimates this investment in equipment and training is in the $30,000 range, and in addition, he requires his installers be BPI (Building Performance Institute) certified. Morgan believes the most important tool is an infrared camera, which helps estimators and consumers see where insulation is insufficient or nonexistent.
That's not to say all this comes without its challenges. Minnick noted that some of the biggest challenges include finding the right insulation product and training the sales staff on how to sell. Morgan added that scheduling and staging the work at a customer's home can also present hurdles. Rogers advises contractors to use specialized crews along with cross training your installation crew to assist with HVAC. According to both Morgan and Minnick, the opportunities for growth and profits are there and contractors who learn about insulation and offer superior installation to customers can bypass their competition. According to Goater, "Testing the home prior to performing any work and educating the customer allows contractors to differentiate themselves from those who do the low margin blow and go work, ultimately leading to higher margin work."
Source: Contractors Boast the Benefits of Adding Insulation Services by Kimberly Schwartz in The News, May 19, 2014
Source: the VAC store.com
New homes are being built tighter than ever while contractors are helping their customers identify and remedy sources of energy loss in their homes, all in the name of energy efficiency. That is a good thing, unless proper ventilation becomes a casualty as a result.
Drake Erbe, chair of Ashrae Standard 90.1 said that while mechanical ventilation is mandated in most commercial building codes in the United States, it is rarely required on the residential side. That means many tightly built or sealed homes aren't bringing in enough fresh air to ensure occupant health and safety.
"Humans aren't the only things that need fresh air in a home," said Brian McDonald, general manager at Outer Banks Heating and Cooling in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. "Older gas appliances that use combustion air from within the structure need to breathe also," he said. Dominick DeLeo, department manager at Isaac Home Energy in Rochester, New York agreed. "Back drafting of natural draft appliances can be an issue in a home without proper ventilation," he said.
Home performance contractors have their preferred methods and tools for conducting energy audits. "I like the blower door most, since the homeowners can see the air leaks when they're using the smoke pencil," McDonald said, adding that he uses Retrotec products to perform the testing and Flir thermal imagers to identify hot and cold spots. "The infrared is pretty cool, especially when the homeowner is the one finding the problems." DeLeo uses blower doors and Fluke thermal imagers.
The kind of ventilation equipment they use depends on how much ventilation is needed as well as where the home is located. Dehumidifiers are common solutions in hot and human climates, while DeLeo uses energy recovery ventilators, heat recovery ventilators, and dampers to increase outside air intake, depending on how much is needed. McDonald added that it is best to bring in fresh air from a controlled location, rather than relying on the house to breathe on its own. "If it's not controlled and filtered, it can be coming in from anywhere like the attic or crawl space," which are subject rodent and animal issues. DeLeo said testing, sealing and properly ventilating a home can save customers up to 25% on their utility bills. "We feel home performance is the future of our industry," he said. "It takes the guesswork out of home improvement and gives our customers a list of prioritized solutions based on efficiency, comfort, and most importantly, safety."
Source: Balancing Home Performance Demands With Ventilation Needs by Jen Anesi, ACH & R news, April 21
On April 29 there was a wide ranging educational conference held in, Detroit, entitled the 2014 Affordable Home Performance Conference. An interesting study was presented based on 200,000 existing HVAC systems, (see numbers below) and educational sessions were held regarding home performance contracting.
In his session, "Helping Homeowners Understand Home Performance," Drew Cameron, president HVAC Sellutions said homeowners want new perspectives and ideas. He also said homeowners are willing to collaborate, to listen and to understand if you make it easy and convenient to collaborate. "When it comes to comfort, customers want even temperatures, controlled humidity, elimination of odors, set it and forget it, and a contractor you can trust," he said.
"Contractors however tend to focus on the equipment," Cameron said. "You have to solve the customer’s comfort and energy problems. Don't sell what it is, sell what it does. Make the customer aware of issues in the home, and then say "you may want to consider" instead of "I recommend".
Cameron went on to list the elements of home performance including an energy audit, load calculation, and airflow analysis. "As a contractor, you need to illustrate what you can do for the customer and tie the benefits to their homes shortcomings. You also need to emphasize your quality in your service after the sale."
A study presented by Tom Downey, chief technical officer of Product Engineering Group showed some startling information. Downey's company has collected system performance data for more than 200,000 existing HVAC systems. 79% of the systems have a non-TXV metering device, 96% use R 22, average system size is 3 ton and 73% are split systems. The average system was 16 years old. The study found that refrigerant charge problems are widespread with 58% operating on an incorrect refrigerant charge. More systems are under charged then overcharged, almost twice as many. Airflow problems were also prevalent with 52% of the systems showing low airflow. In addition, the duct systems averaged 37% leakage of nominal system flow.
Those numbers are staggering, think of the implications relative to the systems in your service area. All of these were reasons why the Home Performance Coalition was introduced at the conference and could be a game changer. To see more information about this organization just follow this link.
article courtesy of Greg Mazurkiewicz, ACH & R news, June 16, 2014 ~Getting Schooled on Home Performance
As homes and buildings continue to be built tighter and tighter, and as awareness of the negative health effects of poor indoor air quality grows, it's time to move beyond the old standard of one-inch throwaway filters. Referred to some circles as a 4B filter, they are shown known primarily for their ability to filter out birds, bees, bats and butterflies.
"In recent years, much research has been done that links allergy, asthma and other lung related illnesses to poor air quality." Says Marty Brinton, Leed AP and senior applications engineer at LG Electronics. "Medical doctors are just beginning to understand the negative impact airborne submicron particles have on human health."
Mike Holscher, Senior product engineer and Jackson systems LLC agrees. "It has become more than just filtration, with more of a focus on the whole home, so products like humidifiers, UV lights, fresh air ventilators, and air cleaners are being installed as part of a whole home iaq use system, " he said.
While some technologies are emerging, UV technology has been around for decades. According to Dan Jones, vice president of marketing at UV Resources, "Ashrae has published three UV chapters in its handbooks over the past four years, and from an engineering standpoint, that has given UV a lot of traction. We are seeing more and more UV specified by engineers." Jones added that the technology now costs roughly half what it did a decade ago, making it a more affordable option for consumers. "UV will be as ubiquitous as air filters in the future and no one will knowingly want to operate their air conditioning equipment without it, "he said.
New products to the scene include multi-cluster ionization probes and cold plasma generators. The latter product is manufactured by Top Product Innovations, and it is now being used in nearly half of Georgia's public schools where officials are noticing a reduction in absenteeism. "These types of products are changing the way people look at IAQ devices," said Ken Hallo, director of sales and science at Top Product Innovations.
Also emerging are smart products such as Clean Alerts filters scan Wi-Fi air filter monitor and notification system. "The future of air purification won't be relegated to just the technology itself, but rather in how that technology communicates with the rest of the building as well as with the end-user," predicted Terry Reavis, vice president of sales and marketing for Clean Alert LLC.
For more information, see Jen Anesi's March 10 article on cleaner, smarter IAQ in the ACH & R news.
Source: Cleaner, Smarter IAQ On the Horizon by Jen Anesi.
Picture courtesy of danscartoons.com
Given the current upheaval in healthcare, employers face more questions than ever. As employers wrestle with the new landscape they find themselves in, some have decided to link their employee’s lifestyle with premiums. Some have implemented premiums for employees who smoke or who are overweight. Others however have doubled down on investing in their employee’s health and welfare in a variety of creative ways. Matt Bishop discusses some of these in a recent ACH & R article.
BP air conditioning in Glendale, New York opened a 3000 ft. gym for employees, free of charge, in mid-2013. "So far, its paid dividends as participation has remained constant," John Fannin, BP group president said. The total investment thus far was $78,000, but according to Fannin, "we went all in."
TD industries in Dallas has long considered employee wellness a big priority. In 2003, the company started reimbursing employees for activities or purchases that aided in a healthy lifestyle. In 2007 it started a wellness committee, and in 2009 the company engaged a wellness provider to help monitor and provide structure to the program. "As partners get more involved in activities, they can earn points that allow them to have reduced insurance premium rates or use those points to purchase items such as hotel discounts, electronics and iTunes gift cards," said Maureen Underwood, EVP, people department.
Neither BP Air Conditioning nor TD industries have seen reduce rates from health insurance companies, nor have they been able to correlate reduced healthcare costs with its wellness program. While that may come in the future, both have seen a lot of excitement and employee participation in their programs. Since its inception in 2009, TD industries has seen a 38% participation rate in its formal wellness program. "Successes from the program rewards and contests has motivated many to participate that would not have otherwise," said Underwood.
The investment in these various programs is worth it for the companies, because healthier employees have meant better, stronger, more energized workers. That's been the case at the BP group as the company's two owners are pleased with their return on investment. "Investing in the wellness of each TD partner is a great investment for our company," said Harold McDowell, CEO. "A healthy workforce increases productivity and enhances partner engagement and satisfaction, which in turn, translates into the high quality of work our clients expect from TD."
Source: ACH & R news, March 17, Matt Bishop
If you are under the age of about 50, I'm sure you are familiar with applications being run in the cloud, if you are over that age you probably have at least heard about it. The question is, what applicability does it have for contractors both now and in the future?
First, some basic definitions. Cloud computing involves being able to access services and store data over the Internet rather than on a local computing device such as a laptop, desktop or tablet, to both run the software and store the data. Many software providers now run their applications in the cloud, which allow end-users to access these applications from just about any device or location. Such software is known as cloudware, but users must be cautious when providers say their applications are cloud-based. In reality, some are really just traditional Windows-based software placed in a hosted environment. In short, software run in the cloud should be designed for the cloud.
One big benefit of using cloud-based applications is that they can be accessed from just about anywhere and are secure. Of perhaps more interest for contractors however is that accessing the cloud anywhere means there is never a need to invest in local hardware. Not having to support locally installed and managed solutions is very appealing to HVAC contractors. Less overhead can be achieved using cloudware because the burden of maintaining up-to-date hardware, operating systems, database software etc. is transferred from the contracting firm to the data center that provides hosting. In addition, contractors have the freedom to use less powerful, therefore less expensive devices to access and run cloud-based software.
Examples of current uses include Fleetmatics, a fleet management software and mobile app that tracks the real-time location of a company's mobile workforce and provides valuable business intelligence. Another is cloudware from RazorSync that streamlines business operations of a field service operations, allowing contractors to manage customers, schedule and dispatch workers, invoices etc. from any mobile device or desktop.
To read the full article by Joanna Turpen, see the ACH & R news, February 3 issue.
Image from Top Shelf Web Design
There are many factors involved in optimizing a website, according to Joanna Turpen in a recent article written for the ACH & R news. (The Complex World of Website Design, February 3, 2014) According to the article, having a functional website is no longer sufficient – for the customer or the contractor. Customers want websites that are organized, informational and easy to navigate, while contractors want websites that attract visitors and convert them into customers.
So how do you do that? It requires time, effort and possibly professional guidance. To attract customers to a website, contractors need to include some form of search engine optimization (SEO) in their marketing strategies. SEO is basically a website's ability to attract views and visitors through the use of unpaid keywords and content. This shouldn't be confused with search engine marketing (SEM) which is a paid search option through a vendor such as Google Ad Words that improves a website visibility.
"SEO is quickly becoming the more important of the two," says Brian Kraff, CEO and cofounder Market Hardware Incorporated. "This is because businesses are finding that over time, a relatively small investment (compared to a paid search) can deliver big returns." One of the goals for any website is to be on page 1 of any search that contains your keywords," said Adams Hudson, president, Hudson Ink. "All this matters because if your company is not on page 1 of your main or chosen search items, then your own mother can't find you. Over 90% of searchers never make it to page 2, and customers will not call you if you're on page 2." To move up to that page 1 status, Hudson suggests contractors follow these guidelines
- Get a local listing via Google, Bing, Yahoo or Yelp
- Title all webpages with pertinent keywords
- Title all photographs the same way
- Use search words in lead articles and headlines for those articles and reports
- Send e-mails that invite customers to consume good content, not sales junk
- Same with Facebook. Post good content such as advice, money-saving methods etc.
According to Ben Landers, president, Blue Corona, high-performing websites typically include the following features.
- Fast load time and accessibility
- Contact information
- Clear call to action
- Trust builders such as mentioning financing options, awards you've won, license numbers etc.
- Well-written comment
If all this seems a bit overwhelming, you should consider hiring a professional who has plenty of experience designing websites. According to Kraff, "a website is usually a contractors primary funnel for generating business. It's simply too big a risk to try designing it yourself. Seek the help of an expert with proven industry experience."
For more information, see February 3, 2014 article in ACH & R news.
Are you one of those consumers that keep a folder for all of the service tickets you have for work performed on your car... or your HVAC equipment? Have you ever looked back through these tickets to get some information about an earlier point of maintenance only to see this one word in the body of the ticket? Repaired. That's it, nothing more. Maybe there is more, but the handwriting is virtually illegible. Immediately, you feel a sense of frustration and anger toward the company and the technician who was so sloppy in their work.
So what makes for a well-written service ticket? According to Peter Powell, a well-written ticket completely describes the nature of the repair. In an article written for the ACH & R news, Peter writes that if the equipment fails within the warning period and document is unclear, it can lead to a dispute over a warranty claim. In his article Peter says it is also a good idea to go over the service ticket with customers to make sure they understand what was written. This is a great time to discuss with the consumer any recommendations for future concerns or repairs - items which should also be listed on the ticket. He notes that some service tickets will have a list of items that were checked, such as the systems suction and discharge pressures, suction and liquid temperatures, compressor amperage, condition of the evaporator and condenser, etc. Listing these values on the service ticket provides good verification that the equipment is operating properly - or provides an important point of reference in the future. During a future service call, a technician can compare values recorded then to those listed in a previous call, in order to give a consumer understanding about the need for service or repair.
So the next time you are filling out a service ticket for a consumer and you are tempted to rush through it in order to get to the next call, think about how you would like to be handled if you were the consumer of that call, and take the time to legibly record the specifics of what took place. It will go a long way toward building value with your customer.
When you mentioned social media to some contractors, they might think of Facebook, or Twitter or perhaps LinkedIn. While those are arguably the main ones, there are a host of others including Google Plus, Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest and Instagram to name just a few. Joanna Turpen explored this subject with contractors in a News article some time back, and her findings should cause every contractor to think about this topic.
Are you concerned about employees using these sites on company time, and perhaps posting damaging or inflammatory comments about the company, coworkers or customers? If so, you're not alone. According to the article, employers social media policies have also attracted the attention of the National Labor Relations Board, which is recently struck down several of these policies, stating that some of the provisions in the employer's policies are too broad and therefore unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act. That is why it is important that any policy you implement has been evaluated by a lawyer and/or HR professional.
Joanna found, as might be expected, a diversity of opinion on the subject. While most contractors who have a policy tell their employees they will not tolerate the posting of information detrimental to the company or its employees, restrictions beyond that vary. Some take more of a laissez-faire approach while others actively monitor their employees online activities. One thing is for sure however, your employees will be active on social media so as an organization, it is up to you to decide what your organization's approach will be. If you're not sure what your approach should be, seek the counsel of other contractors and other small businesses you know and respect for their ideas. Typically, the construct of a social media policy for your organization will not be in a vacuum, rather it will be in the context of an overall policy manual for your organization. There are many inputs for designing such a manual if you do not have one, the key is that any such document should reflect the values you have for your organization while simultaneously making sure it does not breach any ethical or legal barriers.
Source: ACH & R news
In this day and age of computerized load calculation programs and sophisticated measuring tools, why is it that so many contractors want to replace an existing furnace or air conditioner with one of the same size? To a homeowner, that would seem like the logical thing to do, and why would they think otherwise if they are not educated to the possibilities? An article in the ACH & R news by David Richardson Of the National Comfort Institute pointed out a simple way to show consumers the reasons for replacing a piece of equipment with the correct size instead of the same size.
The concept revolves around helping the consumer understand delivered capacity versus equipment capacity. What's the difference you ask? Equipment capacity is the BTU H output from the furnace or air conditioner, while delivered capacity is the BTU actually delivered into the conditioned space. Perhaps the largest consumption of non-delivered capacity involves duct loss and it can be huge. According to the article, a simple measurement allows the homeowner to see how duct system losses are impacting the performance of the HVAC system, and all you need is a dry bulb thermometer to do that.
The first step in this process is to obtain the delta T across the equipment. This can be done by measuring the return and supply Plenum temperatures and subtracting the difference. Next, an average supply register temperature will need to be obtained. Typically, three registers represent an average of the duct system and will work for this calculation. For example, take a heating supply Plenum temperature of 125° and a return Plenum temperature of 70°, the delta T = 55°. The next measurement we need to take are the three registers. For purposes of this calculation let's say those three temperatures are 100°, 95° and 95°, the average temperature = 97°. With this information we can calculate the efficiency of our delivered BTU versus capacity. The formula is as follows.
(Supply Plenum temperature - average register temperature)/Delta T = % BTU loss through the supply duct system. In our example, that would equate to the following. (125-97)/55 = 51%
That means the homeowner is losing 51% of their capacity through the supply duct system. If that doesn't get someone's attention, nothing will! The great thing about this formula is that it works for cooling as well. Simply switch the plenum and register temperatures.
That's just an example you say, that's not close to real life. If that's what you think, you would be wrong. According to the National Comfort Institute, the national average for an HVAC system's performance is 57%. That spells a lot of opportunity for a savvy contractor to help customers save money both on the cost of equipment and the cost of consumed energy. For more information, contact the National Comfort Institute at 800-633-7058.