National Signing Day

Countering a Major Threat to the HVAC Industry

National Signing Day, or National Letter of Intent Day as it is known in some circles, is a noteworthy one.  Not only is it noteworthy for the student athlete, but it is also a big day for their parents, their coaches, and anyone else who has played a significant role in helping the student athlete with this achievement.  For those who may not be familiar with what this is, National Signing Day is the day when high school sports players publicly pledge their allegiance to specific universities.  What does this have to do with the HVAC industry?


I refer you to the ACH&R news article in the June 19 edition, written by Nick Kostora.  Nick’s article highlights the brainchild of Clark Coco, Dean of Washburn University Institute of Technology in Topeka, Kansas.  Clark was looking for an “out-of-the-box” way to get kids interested in the skilled trades that had not been tried before.  Now in its fourth year, National Technical Letter of Intent Signing Day is helping thousands of students achieve their moments of glory in more than 40 schools across the country.  National Signing Day events have been held at schools in Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida, Alabama, Minnesota, and Oklahoma.


National Signing Day had a remarkable impact on Washburn.  According to Coco, “When I got here, we were referred to as a tired and outdated facility.  We didn’t wear uniforms, we weren’t associated with NC3, (National Coalition of Certification Centers) there were weeds in the sidewalks etc.  Luckily, people really bought into what we were doing.  The school has seen 45% growth in enrollment over the past five years.”


Numerous articles have been, and continue to be written about the need for new talent coming into the industry.  This seems to represent an idea that you can latch onto in your local community.  Local ACCA chapters could set this up with local high schools and trade schools for example.  It is often said the HVAC industry is not very glamorous, but this is certainly an idea that can help it seem more so in the eyes of a young person.  It can help elevate the idea of going into the trades as a realistic alternative to college.  The shortage of skilled workers could very well become the biggest impediment to growth for companies in the HVAC industry in the very near future.  A recent article in BISNOW stated that 74% of construction companies in Texas say they are having a hard time hiring carpenters, electricians or plumbers.  Not only that, the HVAC industry is aging far more than other industries, meaning the average age of HVAC trade workers is older than the national average for other industries.  Ideas like this could very well represent part of the solution to this growing threat.


Countering a Major Threat to the HVAC Industry

Photo courtesy of The Topeka Capital Journal

Could Energy Star Be Eliminated?

Could Energy Star Be Eliminated?Unless you have been living under a rock, you have almost surely heard of a program called Energy Star.  A recent industry publication cited a statistic that as of 2016, 91% of US households recognize the Energy Star label.  Beyond mere recognition however, what is Energy Star and how does it work?  Energy Star is a program established by the EPA in 1992, and it sets energy efficiency standards for appliances, electronics, houses and buildings.  It’s not a regulation however, as businesses decide on their own whether or not to design products that comply with the standards.  So, what’s my point?  Early reports indicate that the 2018 budget of the Trump administration may reduce the EPA’s budget by 31%, eliminating nearly 4000 jobs.  One of the programs rumored to be cut as part of this reduction is the Energy Star program.  Is that a good idea?


There is much agreement that the rate and volume of rule promulgation by the EPA in recent years has added cost and questionable benefit for consumers as regards the development of HVAC equipment.  Energy Star is different however.  Instead of compelling business to adopt specific energy efficiency standards, it seeks to encourage by promising recognition and consumer support.  The theory is that consumers seeking to purchase energy efficient products will rely on labels such as Energy Star to help guide their choices.  According to Energy Star, the program has been extremely successful.  They report that since its inception, Energy Star has helped families and businesses save $362 billion on utility bills while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 billion metric tons.  In addition, about 1.8 million Energy Star certified new homes have been built.  What do HVAC companies have to say about all this?


Two HVAC contractors recently interviewed by the ACH & R News didn’t believe that their businesses would be hurt much if the program was to go away.  On the other hand, one felt its disappearance would negatively impact the HVACR industry.  Steve Lauten of Total Air and Heat in Plano said, “It gives incentives to provide air-conditioning systems that deliver installed efficiencies versus rated efficiencies… particularly in residential and new home construction.  Energy Star means the duct system is sized and sealed like it should be and it means that equipment is checked out and charged like it should be.  Energy Star provides some level of confidence for consumers and ensures they are making good decisions.”  Conversations with contractors in the article seemed to imply that the more your company talks to the consumer in terms of total building efficiency and installed versus rated efficiency, the less they might be impacted by the elimination of this program.  For the tens of thousands of contractors however who sell on the basis of rated efficiency and labels like Energy Star, the programs elimination could prove harmful.  What about manufacturers?  According to the article, a recent Associated Press report stated that more than 1000 US companies, including United Technologies and Ingersoll-Rand have urged government officials to preserve the program, stating it should be strengthened, not weakened, to encourage energy conservation.  One of the contractors in the article summed up his feelings this way.  “Cutting out something like Energy Star simply to save money is not doing the right thing for the country.”


Information cited from May 15, 2017 ACH R news and March 23 Washington Post

Individualized Comfort

Have you ever walked into an office building and seen electric heaters on the floor by people’s desks?  Even worse, have you walked by an office and noticed cloth or cardboard stuffed into the diffuser?  That’s a clear indication of comfort problems.  A person is thermally comfortable when their bodies heat loss equals their heat production.  People vary, so what is comfortable for one individual is not for another.  What’s the solution?  Oftentimes a contractor will recommend installing airflow dampers in or rerouting ductwork.  More times than not, this results in an unsatisfactory solution.  How else can you correct the problem?  One way is with a VAV diffuser.


Individualized Comfort

Titus model T3SQ shown above, providing a view “above the ceiling.” The black device is the wax filled actuator. When the wax heats up, it causes the arms to rise, thereby listing the damper and allowing more airflow. When it cools down, the arms relax thereby lowering the damper. The minimum airflow adjustment ring can be seen in the center of the actuator, and the heating and cooling setpoint adjustment rings are found in the top half of the actuator.


What is that you ask?  Simply put, a VAV (variable air volume) diffuser is one which modifies airflow to the space based on a thermostat controlled by the user.  In other words, in a space heated and cooled by a rooftop unit, individual offices or spaces can have their own diffuser and their own thermostat.  If more than one third of the load is controlled by these diffusers however, a dump zone must be maintained in order to avoid damage to the compressor.  So for example, on a 5 ton unit, (2000 CFM) a dump zone must be maintained if more than 600 CFM is being controlled by VAV diffusers.  How do they work?


Using an architectural Square plaque ceiling diffuser, manufacturers incorporate a wax filled thermal element attached to the top side of the plaque.  (See picture) There are no wires involved.  This thermal element gets its room air temperature reading via a sensor mounted in the center of the diffuser.  The sensor allows for no more than a 1°F dead band between the induced room air temperature measured by the sensor and that of the zone air being supplied to the diffuser.  If the space begins to heat up in the cooling mode, wax in the thermal element also begins to heat up, thereby raising up the damper in the diffuser and allowing more airflow into the space.  As the room sensor become satisfied, the wax in the thermal element begins to cool down and the actuator assembly lowers, thereby reducing airflow to the space.  At least one manufacturers design allows the user to adjust the minimum airflow of a satisfied diffuser anywhere between 0-30%.  This capability allows the control necessary to meet Ashrae Standard 62.  Furthermore, these diffusers are listed by AHRI, so their rated performance has been tested by a certified lab.


What does this mean for the astute contractor?  Simply put, opportunity!  Consider the following statistics.

  • Thermal comfort is the most often cited complaint in office buildings today
  • Studies have linked improved comfort to reduced absenteeism, and thereby improved productivity
    • Labor costs are typically 10 times that of a property, so an improvement in comfort is rewarded with large returns in productivity


In a commercial building setting, awareness of the technologies that have a measurable impact on personal comfort and therefore productivity can help your company become the contractor of choice for problematic applications.


Picture courtesy of Titus

Those Dirty Grilles – Part 2

In the previous article, we talked about terminology and the difference between a diffuser, a grille and a register.  In this article, we are going to talk about dirt streaks on the ceiling, their causes and solutions.


The Titus TMS diffuser – the world’s 1st anti-smudge diffuser! Invented by Titus in 1955 to accommodate the trend toward acoustical lay in ceilings needing a square diffuser with a radial air pattern.


We have all seen restaurants or office buildings where the ceiling has become smudged and dingy with dirt streaks running across the ceiling next clearly coming from the air outlet device.  Most people assume the cause is dirty filters or dirty air within the space.  While they are contributing factors, there are several others which most contractors will not think about.  Fixing this problem when other contractors have not been able to could bring you a long-term customer!  So what are those other factors?


The first thing to look at are the air outlets (assume they are diffusers) themselves.  Have they been properly chosen for the application?  Believe it or not, diffusers are more than just “hole covers.”  Perhaps future articles will tackle the discussion of air inlets/outlets and their general applications, because the scope of this discussion is beyond this article.  You would be well served however as a contractor to take an application class from a trusted industry source such Hart & Cooley or Titus.  Bear in mind, proper diffuser selection cannot only impact dirt streaks but also sound levels within the space.


The second thing to keep in mind is the duct system leading to the diffuser.  Are the duct air velocities appropriate or is there a restriction somewhere?  It is not uncommon for example to find a situation where the round duct is kinked as it enters the top of the diffuser.  If there are restrictions, outlet velocities will be much lower than they should be, causing induction with room air as soon as it leaves the diffuser.  If you find this to be the case, there are companies that offer a brace designed to shape flexible ducts into highly efficient 90° elbows at the diffuser inlet.  When room air mixes with supply air at the outlet of a diffuser, not only will the system perform inadequately but you could also smudge the ceiling.


The third thing to keep in mind are the jet characteristics in the four zones of expansion for a diffuser.  As air leaves an outlet device, four distinct zones of expansion define the jet of air.  Jet velocities from a ceiling diffuser can be measured outward from the discharge point of the device.  The first zone which is closest to the outlet of the diffuser extends approximately 1 ½ duct diameters from the face of the diffuser, and is characterized by a constant velocity with minimal mixing of supply and room air.  In other words, a properly designed air distribution system will not induce room air within 1 ½ duct diameters.  For example, if the diffuser is being fed by a 7 inch round duct, there should be no room air mixing with the supply air within the first 10-12 inches.  In the second zone, the jet of air begins to mix with room air, and the resultant induction causes the jet of air to expand.  Velocities may well exceed 150 ft./m in this zone, depending on the design and application.  The third zone is where most of the induction occurs, and is the most important zone because it has the most effect on room air velocities and room induction.  Velocities at the edge of this zone may run between 50 ft./m(considered terminal velocity) and 100 ft./m.  The fourth zone is the one with relatively low air velocities.  Typically, air will reach terminal velocity in this zone.


Understanding the science and principles of air distribution can be a point of marketable differentiation between you and your competitors!


Photo courtesy of Titus.

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