Call Smart Flexibility– Your Smart Service Solution

Call Smart Flexibility– Your Smart Service Solution

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In the last blog, we discussed the problem with service tickets.  All too often they can be sloppy, and the information they convey is often insufficient both for office and customer use.  Worst of all, they can potentially be booby-traps which cause your customer to become very upset.  We finished that blog with a discussion about a solution called Call Smart, a revolutionary point of sale, mobile system from Callahan Roach Business Solutions.  We also finished that blog by asking you to look through your service tickets.  Did you identify any of the problems that we talked about?  I’ll bet a number of you did, so let’s begin to look at the flexibility of the Call Smart program.
Call Smart is an electronic program that runs on both Droid and iPad.  It features a unique and secure logon for each tech, and can be customized with your graphics and information.  Once a tech logs on to the system, they are positioned to capture the customer’s complete information – and it only has to be entered once.  In the event you have integrated with a service dispatch software or QuickBooks, you can look up the customers information from there.  Once this information is in front of the technician, they select the correct call type, the diagnostic fee and any discounts or taxes which may apply.  From there they press the start call button.
It is important to note that Call Smart is extremely customizable.  From any web portal you can change parameters ranging from call types to diagnostic fees and discounts.  You can also input your own customized service agreement program, as well as marketing brochures and videos.

Get more info on Call Smart

In the next blog we will walk through a typical service call using Call Smart.  Following this blog, you will likely begin to wonder how you ever made it using paper forms!

We’re from the Government – And We’re Here to Help You… Part II

The first 100 years of central heating in America featured 0 lawsuits relative to furnace efficiency.  That changed however when the Department of Energy began regulating the energy efficiency level residential furnaces and boilers in 1987.  Not that the implementation of efficiency levels is a bad thing in its own right, but consider the latest turn of events.

Did DOE take the 2014 settlement seriouslyIn 2011 the Department of Energy (DOE) issued a ruling that effectively established regional standards – calling for 90% AFUE in the North and 80% AFUE in warmer southern climates.  So far, so good.  The ruling however did not account for certain issues when upgrading to more efficient furnaces, at least according to an association of natural gas utilities and equipment distributors who challenged the rule in court.  In 2014 a settlement was announced that vacated DOE’s minimum efficiency standards and remanded the procedure back for further rulemaking.  It certainly didn’t take them long to conclude their further rulemaking!

On February 10 the DOE issued a pre-publication notice of a proposed rule which would raise the national minimum energy efficiency standard for residential non-weatherized gas furnaces from 78% AFUE to 92%, while also setting new efficiency standards for electrical consumption in the standby mode!

So, if raising minimum efficiency standards under certain installation conditions doesn’t make sense in northern climates, how on earth can raising minimum efficiency standards to 92% everywhere possibly make sense?  Perhaps only in Washington.  Needless to say, industry officials are watching this closely.  Stephen Yurek, president and CEO AHRI was quoted in a recent Refrigeration News article saying… “Even though natural gas and oil prices are lower than they were three years ago, DOE now feels a 92% nationwide standard is appropriate.  How can that be?  What’s changed?”  In the same publication, John Metchi, vice president of government affairs and business development for HARDI said, “Anecdotally, I can tell you I’ve heard concerns from members regarding the potential cost to homeowners who would require a significant retrofit and the cost benefit to those residing in warm weather climates.”  Charlie McCrudden, senior vice president of government relations for ACCA said he was surprised by DOE’s proposed 92% AFUE standard.  “It’s very aggressive,” he said in the publication.  “It effectively eliminates noncondensing furnaces starting in 2021.”

Did DOE take the 2014 settlement seriously?  You be the judge.

Part 1 : We’re from the Government – And We’re Here to Help You

We’re from the Government – And We’re Here to Help You

Ronald Reagan once said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help. That language might be used to describe the department of energy today as it regards furnace efficiency standards. For about 100 years American homes were heated by central heating systems, and not one lawsuit was filed relative to their efficiency. Market advances improved both the comfort and efficiency of these central appliances, and the consumer decided what would go into their home.

We're from the Government - And We're Here to Help You

No Efficiency Standards on This Baby

That changed in 1987 when the Department of Energy (DOE) began regulating the energy efficiency level of residential furnaces and boilers. Residential furnaces are defined as those having a heat input rate of less than 225,000 BTU per hour. These furnaces are rated in terms of annual fuel utilization efficiency, (AFU E) a measure of dynamic operating conditions as performed in a laboratory using a DOE test procedure. In 1992, the DOE standard specified that residential gas furnaces would feature a minimum of 78% efficiency. At that time, DOE estimated the standards would result in energy savings of $46.2 billion for product shipped between 1992 and 2021. While technology was certainly capable of producing furnaces with higher efficiency levels, market forces were allowed to drive the consumer toward the furnace of their choice.

In 2007, DOE proposed raising the minimum efficiency to 80 AFUE effective in 2015. This change however would have little impact, because almost all gas furnaces on the market already met or exceeded that level. Before that proposal could be acted on, a group of states and efficiency advocates challenged it in court, encouraging the DOE to arrive at a more stringent standard. In 2009, a group of efficiency advocates and equipment manufacturers prepared a consensus agreement to advocate for new efficiency standard levels for residential furnaces, heat pumps and central air-conditioners. The basis of this agreement was to establish separate regional standards, which represented a whole new concept in the implementation of energy efficiency levels. The concept seemed to make sense, because what is cost-effective for a furnace in Illinois may not be cost-effective in Texas. The DOE preceded to issue a ruling in 2011 that was scheduled to go into effect in 2013, which established a regional standard of 90% AFUE in colder climates and 80% AFUE in warmer climates.

Before the effective date however, an association of natural gas utilities and equipment distributors challenged the rule in court, arguing that the DOE had not accounted for certain issues when upgrading to more efficient furnaces. They argued that switching from a noncondensing to condensing gas furnace often requires modifying the furnace’s ventilation at additional expense. In March of 2014, the plaintiff group announced a settlement with the Department of Energy. The US Court of Appeals issued an order that among other things, vacated DOE’s minimum efficiency standards for residential gas furnaces and remanded the procedure back to DOE for further rulemaking. The settlement agreement included a provision that in the rulemaking, DOE would make available to the public the data gathered and analyzed by the agency prior to publication of a proposed rule in a timely manner.

Whew, glad that’s over. Well, tune into next week’s blog to see what the DOE did next!

The Problem with Service Departments

Does your service department suffer from the following symptoms:

  • Incomplete or sloppy service tickets
  • Low service ticket revenue
  • Customers who feel the need to shop the Internet after the diagnostic

Yes, but what do you do about it?
Call SmartYou train your technicians but you are still not achieving uniform results.  You talk with other owners and they have the same issues, so you resign yourself to live with it.  After all, you don’t receive that many customer complaints about it.  Not so fast.  Let’s examine this issue in a little more detail.

Let’s take the example of a service tech who went out on a no cooling call and found a bad capacitor.  After replacing it, he wrote the words “25 MFD Cap Bad” in the area of the ticket detailing the work performed.  Then he showed the price of the capacitor at $118 and labor at $69 for a total ticket invoice $187.  What might your customer do?  They might just get on the Internet and surf for 25 MFD Cap and correctly determine that a capacitor was replaced – only to discover that a 25 MFD capacitor can be purchased online for about five dollars.  Now they’re hot!  Obviously, they don’t understand your cost of doing business so what do they do?  Call you and complain?  Probably not.  In all likelihood, they simply stop using your services and tell everyone they know that your company is a ripoff.  Studies show that a satisfied customer will tell 2-3 people about their experience with your company, but a dissatisfied customer will tell 8-10 people about their experience.  The odds are not in your favor.  And the worst part about it?  You have no idea it’s going on!

So what is the solution?  Consider Call Smart

What is that, you ask?  Call Smart is a revolutionary point of sale, mobile system from Callahan Roach Business Solutions that runs on both Droid and iPad.  It features a unique and secure logon for each tech, and is customizable, utilizing your graphics and information.
Stay tuned for more blog posts on this subject.  In the meantime, take some time to go through recent invoices generated by your service technicians to see if you are fully satisfied – or if you think there is a better way to go.

Is Your Company Apathetic Towards Zoning?

If so, you’re not alone.  Dick Foster, president of Zone First recently talked with The News about the topic of zoning.  “Apathy is the biggest challenge facing my company right now.  Even with more players in the zoning market, zoning is still a very small percentage of the market.  Contractors are still focused on the box and do not take a system approach.  Most contractors are order takers and wait for the phone to ring to fix what is broken versus proactively selling systems.”  But it doesn’t have to be that way, and zoning manufacturers are taking the initiative to make zoning an attractive option for contractors.

“Education is a key component in making zoning more attractive to contractors.  One of the big things manufacturers need to do is show contractors zoning is not as hard as they think, “Foster said.  His words were echoed by Ken Barton of Arzel Zoning Technology.  “By making contractors more comfortable in the knowledge of zoning, airflow, static pressure and when to use bypass, we can make them more confident that what they are selling is something that will work, not harm the equipment and deliver what they have promised customers,” Barton said.

Is Your Company Apathetic Towards Zoning

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Equipment manufacturers are responding as well.  Kyle Golden of Lennox Industries said it’s iHarmony Zoning System was developed with the installer in mind.  Golden said, “It can be so difficult to get the system set up right the first time.  This causes many dealers to build in multiple callbacks for zoning installations.  With iHarmony, we simplified the entire set up and configuration process.  Technicians can configure the heating, cooling, and blower CFM; see how much CFM is available for the system; see how much is assigned for each zone; and start or stop testing all on one screen.”  Kevin Graebel of Honeywell said his company continues to develop innovative solutions that improve the installation process to make it faster and reduce callbacks.  “Last year, we released the True ZONE Bypass Damper, which dramatically simplifies the setup and provides much more consistent performance compared to the old, weighted arm style bypass damper.

Thomas Jackson of Jackson systems LLC said offering zoning can be a highly profitable option for contractors, which can provide a competitive edge over nearby contractors who don’t offer it.  According to Kyle Golden, “homeowners wouldn’t be happy if they were unable to turn the lights off in an unoccupied room or if the lights failed to adequately illuminate certain spaces.  HVAC systems account for a much greater portion of residential electricity used in lighting, and as the average home size continues to increase, problems like wasted energy from heating or cooling unused rooms and discomfort from hot or cold spots is becoming more common.  With zoning, contractors can offer the perfect solution to these and other problems.  And up selling zoning on a system replacement call is a great way to add to the bottom line,” he said.

For more information, see The News May 19 article by Matt Bishop, Knowledge Is Power in HVAC Zoning.

Do You Believe in Indoor Air Quality?

If you are an HVAC contractor, the answer is probably not. According to Eric Andrews, cofounder of Success-4Others, “it’s estimated that HVAC contractors only sell about 10% of the total market.” The other 90% of the market is going through retail channels. My customers don’t want IAQ products, and if they do, they can get them cheaper at Home Depot you say. Besides, the market can’t be that big. Well, consider this. A recent report From Navigant Research states that worldwide revenue from IAQ systems will grow from $3.3 billion in 2014 to nearly $5.6 billion in 2020.

Indoor Air Quality

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“Oftentimes, we let our own personal objections get in the way of offering our products and services to clients. If you don’t have the money to be able to afford these products, don’t automatically assume that your customers don’t either. Or, if you don’t suffer from bad allergies, asthma, or other respiratory issues, don’t assume that your customers don’t either,” said Andrews. In Andrew’s opinion, the majority of customers are not even aware their contractors can offer them IAQ options. “Instead, homeowners buy them online and in the big-box stores because that’s where they see them,” he said.

Matthew Kuntz, vice president of a Jupiter Florida contracting business said the key to closing sales lies in solving customer’s problems. “We install whatever product solves the client’s issues,” he said. “Closing the sale comes from giving the client a solution to the problem, educating the client on the correct product to fix or eliminate the issue, and giving him or her options for investing in the product.” According to Andrews, it’s really very simple. “Offer them to every customer on every call and you’ll be surprised at what you will sell,” he said.

Huntington Heating and Cooling in Huntington, Indiana is one contractor who uses this approach. “We developed an accessory sheet with 24 items, ranging in price from $35-$1964 that technicians give to the homeowner during the service or maintenance agreement call,” explained Bob Zahm, president. Zahm said the accessory sheet includes four air cleaner options, UV lights, odor killers, humidifiers, ventilation items, dehumidifiers, carbon monoxide/gas detectors and more. He added that his techs are trained every week on “offering solutions, not selling.”

Andrews added one last tip for how contractors can learn about IAQ products and improve sales. “The best way to sell any product is to be a customer yourself. That’s right, put these products in your home.” he said. “Sales is nothing more than the successful transfer of belief, and experiencing what these products do for you is the best way to become a believer yourself.”

Article courtesy of Kimberly Swartz, “Capitalizing on a Surging IAQ Market, The News, July 14, 2014

Warming to the Idea Of Adding Insulation Services

Warming to the Idea Of Adding Insulation Services
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

Energy Savings Versus Ventilation

Energy Savings Versus Ventilation
Source: the VAC

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

Home Performance Contracting

Home Performance Contracting

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

Moving beyond the Four B’s

Moving beyond the Four B's

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.

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