Those Dirty Grilles

A grill + a damper = a register!

My pastor writes a weekly blog, and recently he mentioned a life experience where he was completing the wiring of a new Nest thermostat as part of a DYI project to make his home more energy efficient.  He said he was feeling self-assured as he connected the power wire to the thermostat from “the heater,” but later that night awoke to a cold house.  While I found it interesting how he made the connection between an HVAC project and the Almighty, that is not the subject of this blog.  I did find a part of it worth discussing however, and that is the topic of terminology.

I responded to my pastor that it was a great article, but that as a member of the HVAC community, I had to let him know that from a terminology perspective, the wire was actually coming from his furnace, not the heater.  Similarly, have you ever had someone walk into a room, look up at the ceiling and say something like, “Wow, those grills are really dirty.  They need to change them.”  That statement is just wrong on many levels.


Let’s first address the term “grilles.”  A grill is something you cook on and a grille is an air outlet or inlet device.  You would not want to cook on a grille, as it would leave funny looking sear (not to be confused with seer) marks and likely impart the taste of cooked paint to your food.  While we are on the topic of grilles, let’s clarify once and for all what the differences are are between air inlet and outlet devices.  (ASHRAE’s term)  Grilles can be used on both the supply and return air side of the system, and are technically described as a device whereby the inlet and outlet area, size and shape are generally the same.  In general, a grille is also a device where the general direction of the air coming from the ductwork is not changed after passing through the grille.  Adding a damper to a supply air grille makes it a register.


A diffuser is a supply air (only) device that is used to achieve specific objectives related to airflow patterns and mixing.  More specifically, a diffuser is an air outlet device in which the inlet and outlet area size and shape are generally not equal.  In addition, the direction of air leaving a diffuser usually changes from the direction in which it is traveling when it leaves the ductwork.


Whew, I’m glad we cleared all that up.  What about the comment related to dirty grilles and the need to change them?  Read next week’s blog and we will tackle that statement.  Meanwhile, I need to go check the setting on that automatic ambient air setpoint control device!


Picture courtesy of homeandgardenware.com

The HVAC Gateway Drug

Typical Sources of Air Leaks in the Home

Typical Sources of Air Leaks in the Home

A gateway drug is one that is habit-forming, and while not addictive in and of itself, it may lead to the use of other addictive drugs.  For example, many have maintained that marijuana is a gateway drug leading to other illicit and more harmful substances.  For HVAC contractors, could adding insulation be a gateway drug toward full involvement in home performance contracting?


Adding insulation is one of the most beneficial things you can do to make a home more energy efficient.  Take a look at a Manual J calculation from one of your recent retrofit jobs.  (You do run load calculations on your homes, don’t you?)  Run some simple calculations to see what the addition of insulation would do for the homes total heat loss/gain?  This additional service in your company could provide an ideal way to increase your labor productivity, (billed versus paid hours) or to increase capacity by adding new people to perform this function.  Before making this plunge however, you need to do your homework.


The first thing to realize is that you are not just getting into the insulation business, you are getting into the business of making the home perform better.  That means finding and sealing leaks in addition to insulating.  Sealing air leaks means stopping air that comes through your homes envelope – outer walls, windows, doors and other openings.  This will lessen the pollen, dust and insects entering the home, while reducing outside noise and providing better humidity control.  According to Energy Star, most homes in the US do not have enough insulation and have significant air leaks.  They maintain that a typical home has leaks that average the equivalent of having a window open every day of the year!  When your customers understand this, they are incentivized to do something about it.


You also have to prepare the employees within your company for this new capability.  Sales staff need to be trained on how to offer insulation and air sealing, while getting their buy-in to do so.  Simply mandating that they attend training and start offering these new services will not get the job done.  Once they understand the benefits to both their customers and themselves however, they will be more inclined to seek out these opportunities on every sales call.


Similarly, your technicians need to be trained on the proper techniques and tools to be used when sealing and insulating a home.  Organizations such as Everblue offer a BPI Weatherization Certification Course where students can learn in a certified environment.  Learning about the types of insulation to be used in a given application will depend on each homes individual needs and climate/location.  Finally, your scheduling staff must be trained on what is required in order to properly stage insulation/air sealing with equipment installation.


By successfully adding this capability to your business, you will have opened the door toward becoming a true home performance contractor, as opposed to a company that merely installs heating and air conditioning equipment.


Typical Sources of Air Leaks in the Home ~ courtesy of Energystar.gov

Image courtesy of Energystar.gov


What Are You Doing about It?

When will my house be finished?For years now we have all read about the shortage of qualified personnel coming into the HVAC industry.  In fact, that shortage extends to virtually all the construction trades.  According to an affiliate Of the National Association of Manufacturers, the average age of a trade person today is 56.  In addition, they estimate at present there are 600,000 skilled jobs going unfilled, and that by 2020, there will be a need for 10 million new skilled workers.  If nothing is done to meet these needs, construction costs of all types will increase and wait times for consumers will increase.  Without better training programs for those entering the trades, the quality of construction could decrease as well.


This has attracted the attention of everyone from Congress to Mike Rowe (host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs) to the creators of This Old House.  In fact, This Old House Ventures, LLC very recently announced the launch of a new charitable campaign, Generation Next, which has the goal of encouraging and empowering young people to join the skilled trades.  All funds raised by the Generation Next campaign will be given to mikeroweWORKS, a 501©(3) foundation that rewards people with a passion to get trained for skilled jobs that actually exist.  (http://profoundlydisconnected.com/)


This should give you a feeling for the magnitude of this issue.  It should also create within you an urgency to become part of the solution!  It’s not enough to rail about the problem or to applaud efforts like those discussed above.  It’s time to stand in front of the mirror and ask yourself, as a veteran member of the construction trades, what are you doing about it.  “But I’m just a small guy,” you say.  “What can I do to make a difference?”  We’re glad you asked, consider the following.

  1. Support efforts to increase education. This means volunteering to speak at local high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools about the value of the construction trades and the great careers that reside there.  Partner with local vocational technical schools that are committed to turning out qualified students.  Participate in trade or other organizations at the local or national level that promote the recruitment, hiring and training of young people for the construction trades.
  2. Look to hire individuals from displaced sectors of the economy who have a proven work ethic. This can range from workers in the oil and gas field to veterans transitioning back to civilian life.  In addition, don’t overlook the opportunity for adding women to your workforce.  The technical trades can represent a great opportunity for young women with a STEM (science, technology engineering and math) background coming out of college.  For example, career pay ranges for a college-educated individual with a math degree range from $30,000-$50,000, whereas opportunities for these individuals in the construction trades could easily lead them to earn a six-figure salary.
  3. Make sure your own training programs are up to date, comprehensive and forever! Lunging at training by offering a few employees a class here and a class there won’t get it.
  4. Make sure your pay and benefits reflect the professionalism that you expect of these employees. You can’t recruit on the basis of industry opportunity on the one hand and expect results if you are only willing to offer starting pay of $20,000-$30,000 a year with no opportunities for upward mobility.


In short, solving this monumental problem in the construction trades isn’t someone else’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem.  Get on board and become part of the solution!


When will my house be finished?

Are You Taking Advantage of Peripheral Opportunities?

The Elements Of A True Home Comfort System!It’s winter, what’s going on in your office?  Are the phones ringing?  Are your service technicians getting 40 hours a week?  If so, what are you doing about it?  Are you in the heating and air-conditioning business – or are you in the home comfort business?  Consider the following.


An increasing number of home and building owners are choosing to install ultraviolet (UV) products that improve indoor air quality.  They understand the potential harm caused by airborne particles, and they are willing to eradicate the problem in increasing numbers.  The UV market has experienced growth in recent years, largely due to technological improvements and shrinking costs.  The residential market has the highest sales volume opportunities, even though it has been around for more than 20 years.  A couple of decades ago, there were only a handful of companies making products for this market, now there are dozens.  According to a market report by LEDinside, a division of TrendForce, the value of the worldwide market is expected to grow from $166 million in 2016 to $555 million in 2021.  (USD) That is a staggering number!  Are you ready for it?


UV-C products were first utilized in the 1950s during tuberculosis outbreaks.  In the 1960s, hospitals began using UV-C along with HEPA filtration in isolation rooms.  Today, notable UV-C applications include the Pentagon, the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University Hospital – where recent victims infected with Ebola were taken to recover.  Recognition from the technical side of the industry  has driven demand as well, starting when UV was introduced into the ASHRAE Handbook in 2008.  Upcoming ASHRAE standards such as SPC 185.1 and SPC 185.2 are only enhancing that.


Emily Zimmerman, product manager for air handlers and coils at Johnson Controls said adding UV to an existing system has numerous benefits.  “Multiple studies show the lamp reduces airborne disease transmission,” she said.  Kevin Lyons, IAQ product manager for Lennox residential said if they are installed in the correct location and are sufficiently powerful, UV lamps inhibit fungal and bacterial growth and contribute to improved indoor air quality.  “The immediate benefit is better air quality,” agreed Aaron Engel, vice president of marketing and communication for Sanuvox Technologies Inc.  “By incorporating UV systems into the ductwork, we are bringing the same natural process that cleans our atmosphere into the building.”  Overall, UBC can be a good and often inexpensive option for consumers looking to improve their homes indoor air quality.


Before launching this product into your company first educate yourself about the technology so you are convinced of its viability.  Talk to suppliers to learn about the product and decide on an offering.  Train your technicians and salespeople. Develop and implement a sales and marketing plan – and don’t forget about the continuing service opportunities associated with lamp replacements.


Doesn’t that beat sitting around and waiting on the weather to make your phone ring!

Article courtesy of ACH & R news, UV-C Shines a Light on System Health, Jen Anesi, October 20, 2014
Picture courtesy of thegasconnectionHVAC.com

Proper System Design Is Just the First Step

Image courtesy of buildingdoctors.com

The Key to Proper Performance is System Verification

If you have been around this industry very long, you are familiar with rules of thumb.  In the residential system design world, rules of thumb included X #of BTU per square foot or per cubic foot.  Of course, the cubic foot rule was more accurate because it could take into account air changes!  If you were in a hurry you could just use the 2-35 method of sizing.  (2 windows down as you drove by the home to be designed at 35 mph) Easiest of all, you could assume the original designer did their job properly and simply replace the unit with a like sized one.

Those days are gone, or at least they should be!  Today there are a plethora of software to help a contractor run the heat loss/gain calculations, make the proper equipment selection and run the duct design calculations.  The millennial generation wouldn’t know any other way, as they grew up on computers.  Yet even with today’s sophistication, you can have multiple designers come up with different calculations for the same structure.  The reasons for that are no different than when running paper-based Manual J calculations in the old days.  You remember the expression GIGO?  Garbage in garbage out.  The accuracy of the software is dependent on the user entering the correct data.  Does that mitigate the value of computer-driven software?  Absolutely not, as always it simply mandates that the designer enter the proper values.

In order to have proper operation, is it then simply sufficient to have a competent designer properly load the software with the correct calculations?  Many contractors might say no, but in real life the answer is most often yes.  What is the difference?  Verification.  After a properly designed system has been installed, it should be verified through airflow measurements, static pressure readings, duct loss calculations, BTU and other verification calculations.  How often is this done?  Typically never.  By adding this one step, you can add real value for your customers while separating yourself from your competition in a way that you can charge for.  Not everyone will be willing to pay for this, but by offering the service to your customers you set yourself apart as the right professional to do the work on their home!

For more information, see “Does Proper Design Guarantee HVAC System Performance” by David Richardson in the October 20, 2014 ACH&R news.Image courtesy of buildingdoctors.com


Start off the Year with a Vow to Improve Customer Service Skills

Start off the Year with a Vow to Improve Customer Service SkillsWhenever there is a discussion about customer service, your first thought likely gravitates to an interaction between your service technician and the customer.  While that is not the only interaction, it is the obvious one.


Don’t forget about the exterior of your building.  If a customer who is in the market for your products and services were to drive past your business, would they be more, much more, less or much less inclined to call you because of that interaction?  The same can be said for a customer who comes across one of your company’s service trucks, as well as one who calls your office or visits your website.  All of these have the power to bring potential customers closer…or push them away.


Let’s go back to that obvious one – your company’s service technicians.  Perhaps like no other, they have the ability to bind your company to the consumer in a way that will bring them back for many years if done correctly.  However, good customer service is a discipline that is regularly practiced and backed up with ongoing training and accountability.


Treating the customer equitably and with understanding and empathy is a given.  If your technicians are not going to do that, they should not be working for you.  This is the cornerstone of building trust in a long-term relationship.  Beyond that, they need to look and sound trustworthy.  It goes without saying, but your techs need to have a neat and clean appearance, and providing company issued clothing sends the message that you deem this important.  What about piercings and tattoos?  Feelings about that vary by owner, but remember – the customer is whom it matters to, not the service technician.  Good communication skills should also go without saying, but part of that means training your techs on how you want them to present problems and opportunities to the customer – and how to handle irate customers.  We all like to use technical terms and industry jargon when talking with each other, but the customer likely won’t understand any of it – and may be too embarrassed to let you know it.  By the same token, don’t talk down to your customer either, they may know more about the subject then they let on.  Make sure to pick up on cues for lack of or understanding, and take the time to answer their questions completely.  Rushing through an explanation or looking at your phone will let them know that the schedule is more important than they are.  Finally, treat the customers property with the same respect as you would your own.


By re-dedicating your company to these core behaviors, you can create a competitive advantage that customers will pay for!


Picture courtesy of SteveDiGioiacom

The Impact of Government Regulations On The HVAC Industry

The Impact of Government Regulations On The HVAC IndustryWe have all heard about how Donald Trump will reduce government regulations and the stranglehold it has on business.  While this article will not express a political opinion, we thought it would be worthwhile to point out the impact of such regulation in recent years on our industry.


Only last week we heard that the Department of Energy (DOE) has decided they were unwilling to moderate their stance on the 92% furnace efficiency mandate.  That standard, which was announced to the industry in March, 2015, raised minimum efficiency levels for residential, non-weatherized gas furnaces from the current 80% AFUE to 92%, which would effectively eliminate noncondensing furnaces everywhere in the U. S.  They did make a small exception for furnaces of 55,000 BTU or less, but all furnaces above that level would have to be condensing furnaces starting five years after the rule is finalized.  As anyone who lives in a southern state knows, these regulations mean that consumers in these areas will be forced to pay for larger, ultraefficient furnaces even though the monthly savings on their heating bills will not justify the higher purchase and installation costs.  Once again, this mandate, like many other poorly thought out directives from DOE, will very likely end up being settled in the courts.


Recently, a political think tank called the American Action Forum published a study entitled “Discounting Consumers: How The DOE’s Wishful Thinking Leads To Higher Costs And Fewer Jobs.”  This study examined 15 DOE rulemaking issued between 2010 and 2015, and found that one in eight consumers will pay higher costs on products due to DOE standards that they will be unable to recoup in lower energy savings.  Additionally, they found that the cumulative result of past DOE rules has shrunk employment in the HVAC industry by 19,200 jobs from 2003-2013.  Furthermore, the AAF has has catalogued multiple times how regulators routinely play with data in a way that justifies more regulation, leading to higher, unjustified costs for consumers.  This is done by using discount rates other than those recommended by the Office of Management and Budget.  One such example are the claimed benefits by the DOE on the 15 rules mentioned above.  At a 3% discount rate, claimed benefits from these rules are approximately $5.6 billion.  At a 5% rate, those benefits shrink to $1.5 billion and they declined even further as you approach the 7% recommended rate.  That means a hypothetical consumer who purchases a refrigerator, furnace fan, or water heater could face a higher cumulative purchase price of $620 because of these new rules!


As a member of the HVAC industry, this affects YOU so don’t just sit on the sidelines thinking this election has corrected the problem.  Educate yourself by becoming knowledgeable on what is going on in the industry.  Read trade publications, join industry associations and become part of the conversation.  As John F. Kennedy once said, “The greater our knowledge increases the more our ignorance unfolds.”  For more information, please reference : https://www.americanactionforum.org/research/discounting-consumers-wishful-thinking-leads-higher-costs-fewer-jobs/#ixzz4IgX7RHXu


Sources: Discounting Consumers by Sam Batkins and Curtis Arndt.  The Dark Side of Government Regulation article in the ACH & R news, November 21 and DOE Breaks Its Silence on Furnace Rule article in the ACH & R news, November 28.




Can You Hear Me Now?

cr-cyhmnThis was the recent slogan of a telecom companies ad that touted their phone coverage.  That question could be asked of today’s EPA.


Starting in 2024, three HFC refrigerants will be deemed unacceptable in new liquid chillers under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program.  This despite the objection of AHRI, The National Resources Defense Council, Johnson Controls and other industry organizations including mechanical contractors.  What’s the issue?


The EPA ruling will phase out the use of  R-134A, R-410A and R-407C in new liquid chillers as of January 1, 2024.  The industry wanted the proposed date to be one year later.  What’s the big deal, you ask?  According to Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of AHRI, “Making compliance a year sooner has a negligible benefit for the environment, but it does create an economic burden for the industry that provides comfort cooling and heating, commercial refrigeration technologies, and hot water for every American.”


Why is that?  According to Francis Dietz, VP public affairs AHRI, “The ruling gives manufacturers one less year to do the research, development, demonstration, testing and evaluation of new equipment along with the retooling of assembly lines to manufacture the new product.  The research that is about to begin will provide the information that code developers need to decide what changes they need to make to safety standards and building codes.  Only then could these refrigerants be used, which further compresses the equipment development process.  Besides that, many if not all of the replacement refrigerants are currently classified as mildly flammable or flammable.  Thus, they cannot be used in the vast majority of applications in the US because of building code restrictions.”


Brian Smith, director of global marketing for Johnson Controls added another key point.  “The greatest impact chillers have on global warming potential (GWP) is their efficiency, not the GWP value of the refrigerant.  Ninety-five percent or more of the emissions associated with chillers are the result of the energy produced to operate the chillers,” Smith said.  “As a result, efforts to regulate the use of a refrigerant without considering a chillers energy efficiency misses the mark.”


What is EPA’s response to all this?  Basically, they said they had reviewed refrigeration substitutes, current knowledge about the substitutes and held multiple meetings before mandating the January 1, 2024 date.  Notice, that did not say they had considered the impact on both the industry and consumers in making this ruling.  Hopefully the next administration will have an EPA that is more willing to work with the industry on these kinds of initiatives than the current one.  Toward that end, the upcoming election could be a very positive one for the industry.


For more information on the subject, read the article “HVAC Industry Disappointed in US EPA Chiller HPC Phaseout Plan” by Ron Rajecki in the November 7 ACHR news.


Article courtesy of ACHR News

Comparing Flat Rate With Time & Material

Comparing Flat Rate With Time & MaterialAre you still using time and material pricing?  Have you ever thought, really thought about how your pricing looks to your customers?  Chances are, they are a bit terrified.  All they know is there equipment doesn’t work and you are going to be sending out a technician bearing a large bill.  Why not remove that fear right up front?


How about your technicians?  Do you think they have ever felt pressure to finish up a job quickly because of that homeowners concern about the cost of the repair?  Do you think that has ever led to mistakes or callbacks?


Have you ever wondered about how you can make your company look more professional in the eyes of the consumer?  Consider the following characteristics from the points of view of your customer and your technicians.  Isn’t it time to get serious about flat rate pricing?


Basic Characteristics Flat Rate Time & Material
Quote Presented to Customer Fixed Price Open Ended Price
#Prices/Each Repair One Two
How Is Material Treated Bundled W/labor Priced Separately
Labor Standard Natl Standard No Standard
Co. Investment Required Thousands of  $ None
Frequency of Price Changes Every 6 Months At Will


Customer Perceptions Flat Rate Time & Material
Homeowners Preferring* 91% 9%
% Used on All Jobs* 44% 56%
Tech Credibility Presenting Price High W/Book Highly Variable
Perception of Risk When Repairs Take Longer Than Expected Company Risk Customer Risk
Homeowner Stress as Repair Time Lengthens None Increases


Technician Impact Flat Rate Time & Material
Technicians Emphasis Be Thorough Be Fast
Potential for Callbacks Less More
Complaints re-Time on Job None Moderate or Worse
Need to Justify Rate None High
Potential for Homeowner to Question & Compare Rate None Moderate to High
Potential for Math Errors Less More
Time to Complete Paperwork Less More


Fairness Flat Rate Time & Material
Price with Slow Technicians Same Higher
Price with Fast Technicians Same Lower
Profit with Slow Technicians Same Lower
Profit with Fast Technicians Same Higher
Odds that 2 Neighbors will Pay Different Price for Same Repair None Almost Certain


Miscellaneous Flat Rate Time & Material
Professionals using this Method Doctors Lawyers



*  Decision Analyst Research, courtesy of Callahan Roach Products & Publications

© 2006 Service Roundtable

Flat Rate Pricing Is So Easy A Caveman Can Do It (Part II) – by Mike Hajduk

cmeicdiIn last week’s blog we talked about a scenario where a contractor was losing money in their service department, and did not want to raise rates because customers were already complaining.  We ended that blog by saying while it might make sense to shed a department that was losing money, that may not be best for your firm in the long run.


The answer is not to shed service, but rather charge enough to make money in service, and the way to do that is by flat rate pricing the service rate.  This way it takes the focus of your company away from the “per minute” rate and puts it on the quality of your company.


Contractors have told me their customers want:


  • Prompt service
  • Thorough service
  • Things fixed right
  • The fix stays fixed
  • Fair Price


You cannot do the first four by undercharging your customer. And just what is deemed to be a fair price to the consumer? When you offer the customer a $65 or $70 per hour rate that is BELOW cost in many situations, they hoot and howl about the rate since THEY DO NOT MAKE THAT AMOUNT OF MONEY IN THEIR JOB!  And if they do, they sure don’t want their pool guy to make that amount!


The only way to charge your customer is by quoting them a single amount for the entire job that includes all labor, parts and expenses and do that before the repair is performed. In the construction or remodel part of your business it’s called a quotation. In the service department it’s called Flat Rate Pricing.


Flat Rate Pricing is advantageous because the customer doesn’t nit pick your hourly rate, what you’re charging for the part, your tech taking a call on his cell phone or having a smoke. Again, it’s the ability to focus your company on the quality delivered, not on the per hour rate that you are charging.


So now you can go up to an hourly rate that is ABOVE your breakeven. You can now make a profit on what you sell. But there are other financial benefits to flat rate pricing.


Each flat rate repair has a time allotment that is based upon what a journeyman tech would take to do a repair under normal working conditions, with a little time added for working conditions. If the tech finds 2 or 3 items that need work, there are economies of scale because the tech should be able to do all items in less time.


Let’s look at a service scenario. A tech goes to a home in response to a noisy pump.  The tech finds that the bearings on the motor are bad but also finds the burners on the heater need cleaning and the time clock mechanism has rusted to the point of  keeping the pump running continuously.   In a time and material scenario the tech goes to the house, changes the pump and then goes on to the next service call. At $75 per hour the contractor billed out $304 for the motor and $75 labor for an invoice total of $379.


In a flat rate scenario, the tech charges the customer a diagnostic fee, takes the time to thoroughly analyze the entire pool and spa system, and then makes recommendations for all repairs. Now the repair is thorough, professional and gives the customer options to buy repairs suggested because of the pool pro’s professional diagnostic. With finding the dirty burners and time clock mechanism, the repair is larger and done along with the original reason why he was there, the motor. Now the call went to $786, taken from the flat rate manual based upon $100 per hour (not a rate shared with the customer) which includes $391 for the motor, $100 for the burner cleaning and $246 for the time clock mechanism, PLUS the $49 for the diagnostic. This repair yields a significantly higher margin. Now the service company makes a profit!


Good news, right?  Well the better news is that the customer PREFERS the flat rate scenario because you gave them the option to accept or decline the repairs before the job was started and they fully knew how much the check amount was that they were going to write before they committed. This is far preferable to the open ended way that time and material contractors charge.