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.
An article by Court Cunningham in the ACH & R news recently revealed some interesting statistics about mobile marketing. In it, Court noted that many contractors remain skeptical about the importance of mobile marketing for their business. In it, she said the prevailing wisdom is that people only use mobile devices to search for restaurants, bars, movie theaters etc. However, according to Google's own data, every month there are several hundred thousand searches on mobile devices related to HVAC contractors, air conditioning or heating repair, and installation. The searches could mean a lot of new customers for your business. If a customer in your area were to conduct such a search, would they find you and your website?
Some tips to make sure you're optimizing the answer to this question include:
- Elect mobile distribution for search advertising campaigns. Many major search engine platforms allow advertisers to opt in to have their advertisements appear on mobile searches. Make sure you select this option.
- Verify business information on popular directories. Don't stop with popular search engines like Google or Bing, make sure you include in-app searches on mobile applications a popular mobile Internet brands like Yelp and City.
- Make sure your website renders properly on mobile devices. If you don't have a website, get one now. There is no excuse for today's HVAC contractor not to have a website. Make sure your website is mobile optimized, so that visitors viewing your site from a mobile device see a mobile friendly site. Studies have shown that sites from businesses which don't appear friendly or easy to use on mobile applications are less likely to be contacted.
- Get to the point. Make sure the mobile version of your website features your contact information prominently and doesn't feature a lot of unnecessary text.
Court Cunningham is CEO of yodel, a local online marketing company. For more information call 877-276-5104 or visit www.yodel.com.
By now, everyone in the HVAC industry is (or should be) aware of a rule issued by the Department Of Energy commonly known as regional standards. The standards would mandate minimum efficiencies for gas furnaces, air conditioners and heat pumps for various parts of the country. Various aspects of the industry have been at odds with this law for a variety of reasons, but on March 11 the parties in this case filed a joint settlement motion with the US Court of Appeals for the DC circuit. The settlement agreement now awaits court approval, and the agreement would vacate the regional furnace efficiency standards and restart the rulemaking process, giving stakeholders more opportunities to provide input throughout the rulemaking process. The settlement provides for the following.
The 90% AFUE standard for non-weatherized furnaces in the northern part of the US will be sent back to DOE to begin a new rulemaking process. Part of the problem the first time around was that the industry claimed it was not sufficiently involved and that the proposed law did not adequately address a number of key issues such as how it would be enforced and by whom. The current national 78% AFUE minimum efficiency will still go to 80% in November of 2015, but any new standard on furnaces won't be enforced until 2021 at the earliest.
As far as air conditioners and heat pumps the new regional standard of 14 SEER will go into effect on January 1, 2015 as previously ordered. However, distributors in the South and Southwest will now have an 18 month "sell through" period to purge any 13 SEER equipment manufactured before January 1, 2015. Under the original rule, the industry did not believe that DOE considered the cost of stranded inventory which is now remedied under this agreement.
Under the settlement DOE also agreed not to penalize distributors as part of the enforcement of regional standards. There was a strong feeling among certain aspects within the industry that distributors should not be part of the enforcement process, and under the original law they would have been subject to civil penalties.
Three key industry groups came together to make the settlement possible, HARDI (heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration distributors international) AHRI (air-conditioning, heating and refrigeration institute) and ACCA (air-conditioning contractors association) Now the hope is that the court approves the settlement so the industry can move forward with the process of writing new standards for furnace efficiency and developing and enforcement plan for central air conditioners.
Sources: ACH&R news and Emerson technologies website
A recent survey by Emerson climate technologies found that the majority of contractors participating are unaware of the upcoming standards for residential unitary air conditioning and heat pump systems. In addition to these standards, new part load efficiency requirements for light commercial split, package, and rooftop systems as well as new chiller standards for air and water cooled chillers will be coming into effect.
The survey, which was conducted by e-mail showed the majority of contractors were either unaware of the standards or had little idea of how the standards would affect their business. Very few had started training their technicians or had formulated an inventory or marketing plan.
Even though there are some legal challenges to the exact implementation date, the next round of efficiency standards for residential air conditioning is still expected to apply to air conditioners and heat pumps installed on or after January 1, 2015. Even if these challenges are successful in delaying enforcement date by a few months, contractors should still become familiar with the structure of the new regulation because that is not likely to change.
The last time the industry had an increase in standards was in 2006, there was a large build of 10 seer systems ahead of the implementation of 13 seer efficiency standards. That is unlikely to happen this time because the magnitude of the move from 13 seer to 14 seer is less dramatic and the cost increases driven by this change will be much smaller. The most significant product changes in 2015 will involve moving all split system heat pumps in all regions to the new national heat pump efficiency minimum of 14 seer and 8.2 HSPF. Depending on the outcome of the legal debate going on, contractors can expect to see the planned elimination of 13 seer heat pumps from OEM lines.
Although it is unclear what the specific roles and responsibilities of the contractor, distributor and manufacturer will be in enforcing these new regulations, it is likely all parties will be involved with some aspect of enforcement. In any case, contractors should be able to verify that the equipment they are installing meets the minimum standards provided by the new regulations, and one of the most useful tools to determine this is the AHRI directory which contains the database of all system performance certifications.
"Contractors cannot afford to be unprepared for these regulatory updates. They need to be researching the changes that are coming to their region, talking to OEMs, wholesalers and manufacturers to identify opportunities for their businesses," said Frank Landwehr, vice president air-conditioning marketing for Emerson Climate Technologies. "Now is the time for contractors to be actively seeking information from trustworthy sources."
Sources: ACH & R news; Emerson Climate Technologies website