Voice Technology: Science Fiction & The Future

Voice technology has always been part of our imagination.  Back in the 40s, Dick Tracy had his watch, and voice operated computers were what made Star Trek and 2001 A Space Odyssey possible.  In large part however, voice technology remained the domain of science fiction.

Voice Technology: Science Fiction & The Future
How soon will it be before we see this ad in the classified section of our trade pubs?

In 1997, Dragon Systems released NaturallySpeaking 1.0 as their first continuous dictation product.  At that time, the error rate for speech recognition was over 43%.  Technology rapidly advanced however, and by 2001 that was down to 20%.  Speech recognition was still being treated more as science fiction than mainstream communication however, and over the next decade the error rate only declined to about 15%.  It was only when speech recognition was “disassembled” into its three major components did improvement accelerate.  There are three models that work together relative to speech recognition: the acoustic model, the pronunciation model and the language model.  The acoustic model takes the waveform of speech and chops it up in the small fragments, and figures out each sound that the person is speaking.  The pronunciation model takes the sounds and strings them together to make words, and the language model takes the words and strings them together to make sentences.  By 2016, a Microsoft research team got the error rate down to 5.9% – which matched the human error rate when a professional was hired to transcribe data.  Further advancements since then have the error rate down to about 4.9 %.  It is these most recent advances which have brought voice technology into the mainstream with products such as Amazon Alexa and Apple’s Siri.  The pace of voice technology innovation is accelerating once again as auto manufacturers and others are engaging in joint research projects to figure out how to make their products simpler and easier to use.  Once driverless technology goes mainstream, Honda envisions that their vehicles will completely change our notion of transportation.  According to one company spokesman, in the not too distant future the car is going to be an arcade, a theater, a classroom or an office – all by using your voice.  So, what does that mean for the HVAC/construction trades industry?

The trades industry have long suffered from a shortage of new talent, and that squeeze is only going to be exacerbated in coming years.  Might the advance in voice (and other) technology completely change your business and be part of the solution to this vexing problem?  Consider the following scenario in 2025.  (Six short years away)

A homeowner gets into his self driving vehicle and buckles up for the ride to work.  He grabs his tablet to check on the news, while using his voice to call his local HVAC contractor to check on the status of the technicians arrival.  Overnight, a component in his air-conditioning system had sent out an SOS because the system was no longer able to maintain the desired setpoint.  Having already queried the air-conditioning systems diagnostics panel remotely, the technician confirms her time of arrival to correct the deficiency.  Now, let’s repeat that call in 2030.  (Just 11 years away)

The air-conditioning system experiences a problem overnight which no longer allows it to maintain the homeowners desired setpoint of 0.5°F in each zone of the house.  The air-conditioning system automatically contacts its preassigned robotic technician, who queries the components and system operation diagnostics using AI technology to figure out the problem.  Within seven minutes, the problem is correctly diagnosed as a malfunctioning component, and the robotic technician scans the shops inventory only to find out the part is not in stock.  Two minutes later, the robotic technician places an online order with the local HVAC parts and supplies center to have the part delivered via drone to the homeowners residence by 9 AM the next morning.  At 9:30 AM the robotic technician arrives in a driverless vehicle and picks up the part from the secure storage unit on the homeowners porch.  The robotic technician lets itself into the house by accessing the home security system, which already knew the technician was coming.  Within 36 minutes the faulty component has been replaced, and proper operation sequence is confirmed within 10 minutes after that.  Forty-seven minutes after arriving at the homeowners residence, the robotic technician is already on its way to the next call.

Science fiction?  Perhaps, but likely only in the timeline before this becomes a reality.

For Small Firms, A Cybersecurity Plan Need Not Be Complex to Be Effective


Image Courtesy of Bay Area Council

Staying current with events going on in your industry is crucial if you want to keep your business on the front line of progress.  You wouldn’t think of walling yourself off from news about your community, our country or the world.  Similarly, you should stay abreast about news events, product development, business development and more within your industry.


A couple of years ago there was an article in Contracting Business Magazine by Dominic Guarino about the need to have a cybersecurity plan for your business.  If you run a medium to large size business, you almost certainly do.  But what if you run a small business, a “mom-and-pop shop?”  You may not.  If so, this article represents a good place for you to start in developing a plan for your business.


The article cites research by the National Cyber Security Alliance which says that two thirds of small businesses say they are dependent on the Internet for day-to-day operations.  The research indicates that 69% of such businesses handle sensitive information, including customer data, while 49% have financial records and reports.  The research also indicates that 77% of small business respondents to their surveys do not have a formal written Internet security policy for employees.  What would you do if your information was lost or hacked?  How would that affect your company and its operations?  The article suggests that there are seven key areas to address in such a plan.  They are listed below.


  1. The type of data you collect, as well as where and how you store it. This includes customer data, company business and financial data, and personal employee data.
  2. Who has access to your data, your company network, Wi-Fi as well as protections you have in place.
  3. Employee password protection and use of company computers and devices. You should also address social media policy.
  4. Cataloging company hardware including computers, smart devices, external hard drives and backup media. You should also have a policy to address the proper disposal of such devices.
  5. Protecting company computers with antivirus and malware protection software, along with physical security of critical computers and servers.
  6. Protection of your data on the Internet, including your website, online databases, information stored in the cloud and credit card processors.
  7. A response plan in the event of theft or loss of data as well as the catastrophic failure of your company’s computer systems or network.


This is an excellent article in giving you an actionable starting point for addressing this critical aspect of your business.  If you would like more or more in depth information, you might check out the Cybersecurity Planning Guide published by the FCC.  You can find this article at the link below.



Will You Be among the 65,000?

If it exists in the HVACR industry, you’ll find it here!

If it exists in the HVACR industry, you’ll find it here!

Will you be among the 65,000 attendees that are expected to attend the upcoming AHR Expo in Chicago?  The world’s largest HVACR marketplace got its start 86 years ago as a heating and ventilation show, but it has grown over the years into the event of the year for the industry.  Attending industry professionals will come from every state in the union and 165 countries worldwide.  They will be joined by more than 2000 exhibitors, who will come together to share new products, technologies and ideas.  What kinds of new technologies?  Take a look at the end of this article for just a sampling.


This year’s event will once again be held at McCormick Place in Chicago, from January 22-24.  Most people in the industry are familiar with this Expo, commonly called “The ASHRAE Show,” but if you have never been it is hard to imagine the sheer size of this event.  When we mentioned 2000 exhibitors above, we didn’t mean 2000 people.  We meant 2000 different organizations, each coming to exhibit their company’s product offerings!  That is why this international show, held only once every four years, exhibits at the nation’s largest convention center which has over 2,600,000 ft.² of exhibition space.  Fortunately for the attendee, only about 500,000 ft.² of exhibition space will be needed for the HVACR show!  If you are looking for new product lines to boost your company’s sales, or if you’re looking to change product suppliers, or just want to do some first-hand competitive and new product research, there simply is no other opportunity like this show.  This is the granddaddy of them all.


Many people do not realize there is much more to this show than just the exposition.  The AHR Expo is also a major educational symposium as well.  There are over 50 free seminars offered on a wide range of topics, most lasting only 1 to 2 hours.  In addition, The ASHRAE Learning Institute will offer continuing education courses where you can choose from half day to full day professional development seminars that offer professional development hour and continuing education unit credits.


Finally, if you have never been to Chicago this provides a great excuse to visit a truly world-class city.  Take a stroll along the Magnificent Mile, one of the great avenues of the world, a 13 block stretch of North Michigan Ave. that runs from the Chicago River north to Oak St.  Along the way you will see the famous Chicago Water Tower, one of the few structures to survive the great Chicago fire of 1871.  From world-class museums (i.e. The Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Field Museum Of Natural History) to iconic sports stadiums (Wrigley Field) to taking in unprecedented views from atop the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, (Willis Tower) the “City of Big Shoulders” will quickly become your kind of town.


Giordano’s Deep Dish Pizza

Did we mention that you can find nearly every type of food there is in Chicago, ranging from affordable to world-class cuisine?  If you are not familiar with Chicago however, we will pass on a contractor’s tip which you will only find here.  If you are looking for genuine deep dish Chicago pizza, there is only one place to go –Giordanos Pizzeria!  Fortunately, you are not limited to just one location, as there are 18 scattered around the city and even more in the suburbs.  The secret is for you, but just remember, you heard it here first!


Sample of Innovations To Be Seen at the AHR Expo


  • A digitally controlled mixing valve that provides precise temperature control for domestic hot water applications
  • A self contained HVAC system for hazardous locations, designed to prevent an explosion
  • New bionic impeller technology with a special blade designed to ensure optimized airflow angles and reduced flow separation
  • An oscilloscope for testing motor shaft voltages, allowing contractors to determine if motors are at risk of premature bearing failure


For more information, see September 14, 2017 ACHR news article.

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

Image courtesy of


Call Smart – Invoice, Payments and Receipts Screen

Sample of invoice generated on a smart phone

Sample of invoice generated on a smart phone

After the customer has authorized the work to proceed with their signature, the system converts the estimate into an invoice. The invoice has been broken apart by system, so it is extremely detailed. We can accept payment by credit cards, cash, check or return to the office so the invoice can be handled another way. If we accept payment on the jobsite, it will be marked paid and the type of payment is recorded. Now we can mark the ticket complete – or incomplete if we have to order parts or need some type of follow-up. The technician can also add notes that can’t be seen by the customer and are only visible by the office. You can print an invoice for the customer at the jobsite if you are so equipped, have an invoice mailed from the office or e-mail the invoice to the customer, generated in a PDF format. Now the service tech can close the service call.

Summarizing Call Smart’s Best Features

  • It is highly customizable
  • It runs on multiple platforms
  • It comes with unlimited free support on Internet and phone as long as you own the product
  • It has extremely high visible impact which encourages interaction with the consumer
  • It tracks recommendations versus accepted repairs, allowing for same story to be told amongst varying service technicians
  • It incorporates an incredible tool called Total Performance Diagnostic, which calculates how the system is functioning without the need for putting gauges on the unit. If the Total Performance Diagnostic tool tells you the system is operating at 90-95%, there’s probably not much you can do to improve it. If in turn this allows you to avoid putting gauges on every unit and only on those which need it, that saves you time and the customer money. In addition, it provides third-party validation about operation of equipment to your customer. They can see both the capacity and efficiency that their unit is operating at, along with suggestions for how the operation of their system may be improved.


Call Smart – Estimate And Service Agreement Screen

Call SmartWhen we go to the estimate screen, the system has the ability to look back at previous calls. For example, in this case, the system looks back and sees that a contractor was recommended but declined by the customer on the last service call. The system provides the tech with the opportunity to again make this recommendation to the consumer. Regardless of which technician makes the call, the system allows them to be consistent in their conversation and recommendations to the homeowner, not only for the type of work that needs to be done but for the cost of the repair as well. Once the work is done, the repair is removed from the pending list. The estimate screen provides the customer with everything they need to make a good decision. If a recommendation is declined, it goes to the bottom of the page in a pending status until the next service call. It doesn’t simply languish on the service ticket somewhere sitting in a file cabinet.

Now the service technician is well positioned to present a service agreement. The service agreement screen shows the details of your customized program in a way that allows any technician to present the pertinent features and benefits succinctly, yet completely. It also means that no matter who the technician is on the call, they will present your service agreement program the same way to every customer. The system will automatically track the service agreement regardless of whether it was accepted or declined. If it was accepted and your program allows for a discount on the invoice, the system will automatically compute the correct amount.

At this point the customer has the opportunity to authorize the work by signing the invoice. They first accept the terms and conditions on the screen, then they provide their signature which converts the estimate into an invoice. A review of these two screens yields the following key opportunities for enhanced profit.

  • Previous work needed but declined by the customer is brought to the attention of the technician, regardless of which one is on the call, who can then present this again to the consumer
  • The service agreement screen will prompt every technician to offer your customized agreement in a way that will clearly and concisely allow the consumer to make a decision
  • If the consumer agrees to a service agreement, any potential discounts are automatically computed for the technician
  • Every invoice will have a recorded signature which also shows that the consumer has agreed to your terms and conditions

In the next Call Smart blog, we will discuss the invoice, payment and receipt screen.

Call Smart –Flat Rate Lookup Screen

Call Smart –Flat Rate Lookup ScreenThe first point to make about the flat rate lookup screen is that each component screen has a camera function that allows you to replace the cutaway illustration with a photo of the exact unit. That can help another tech from your company on a future service call to be sure they have identified the proper piece of equipment. On either side of the equipment picture is a list of component categories. (I.e. motor, electrical, valves, refrigerant circuit etc.) Let’s walk through an example for a motor. First we press on the red motor button and we are presented with a question screen. Bypassing the questions for a moment, let’s simply press the replace button and we are presented with a lookup screen which allows us to search for a specific OEM part or a generic part. Let’s say we don’t know the specific part number, so we select a 1075 RPM motor and are presented with a number of choices of different horsepower condenser fan motors that are all 1075 RPM. If we choose a 1/3 hp motor, we are presented with a picture of such a motor along with its associated price. Once we press the select repair button, the information immediately goes to our estimate page.


Call Smart serves as a point of sale system by making things easy for the customer to understand in a highly visual way that gets the point across quickly. All of this translates into the customer’s ability to more easily make a decision. Earlier in the service call as we were performing our diagnostic, we made notations about the condition of various components in the unit. Now as we look at the equipment picture with its list of component categories, the components are colored red, yellow or green. Red means dead, green means good and yellow is an area of concern. This is a highly visual and very simple way to translate our diagnostic for the consumer.


That’s all there is to it. We knew the condenser fan motor was bad and we knew that it was a 1/3 hp motor. Following the easy steps outlined above we were quickly able to communicate this information along with the price to our customer in a highly visual way. We were also able to communicate areas of concern that can be addressed via a maintenance agreement or during a future service call. In the next Call Smart blog we will discuss the estimate screen.

Are You Prepared for What’s Coming?

Are You Prepared for What's Coming?The June 8, 2015 ACH & R News featured an opinion article by Kyle Gargaro which asked the question, is your organization changing? If not the opine stated, it should be. The article quoted former NFL coach John Gruden who said, “When talking about teams and players: you never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse.” What about your organization? Are you prepared for the changes coming in this industry? Consider the following.

Another article in the same publication talked about the changes coming to condensing units. In an article by Ron Rajecki, he stated that if you are like most consumers, the condensing unit represents the “face” of your system – but big changes are coming to that face. While multistage condensing units have been around for some time now, variable speed compressors offer the ability to better match equipment performance with the needs of a changing load, according to Tom Archer, product manager for Carrier Corporation. Variable speed condensing units have enabled manufacturers to make drastic reductions in the overall size and weight of condensing units, sometimes by as much as 50% with the same efficiency rating is a traditional single speed unit. Archer also noted that communicating HVAC systems are becoming increasingly prevalent.

According to Farook Mohamad, director of product management for Rheem Manufacturing, US manufacturers have traditionally used the air side of the system to gain higher efficiencies. Therefore the size of heat exchanger surfaces have increased and more efficient fans and motors are being used. “We’ve kind of come to a crossroads in that the size of the equipment continues to increase, and the cost of materials goes up,” said Mohamad. “So, we are increasingly turning our focus to the refrigerant side of the system and going with variable speed compressors and drives to increase efficiency. On the air side, we are beginning to run into the law of diminishing returns.”

What does that mean for contractors? According to Mohamad, “Contractors are going to need to understand the technology and diagnostics the equipment is providing them. Training is going to be very important. ” Looking down the road, Mohamad said he expects consumer demand to drive more high-end products. Traditionally, the bulk of the industry has been built on minimum feature, minimum efficiency products but Mohamad thinks that’s going to change in the next five years because society is becoming more informed and tech savvy. “Everything is moving at breakneck speed,” he said. “Products are becoming more sophisticated and there is a general expectation that people want to be able to control and communicate with their appliances, and our industry is just catching up with it.”

For more information, see Giving HVAC’s Face a Tech Lift in the June 8, 2015 ACH & R News.

Call Smart – Your Smart Service Call

In the last blog, we talked about what Call Smart is and how easy it is to customize.  In this blog, we will walk through the preauthorization and marketing portion of a typical service call using Call Smart.

Call Smart - Your Smart Service CallThe first screen the service technician will utilize is a preauthorization screen.  Using this screen, the service tech will ask for the customer’s permission to conduct a diagnostic check on the equipment, while letting them know they will be charged a diagnostic fee for this service.  Both the verbiage and the screen are customizable, and can be turned off if so desired.  Following the preauthorization comes a marketing questions screen.  Companies often ask their technicians to gather this information, but the information garnered is typically nonexistent or insufficient.  The reason companies want this information is so that they can better target solutions for their customers.  These questions can be customized and this screen encourages your technician to gather the information that you want.  For example, you can ask questions about areas that are too hot or cold, whether the customer feels their energy bills are too high etc.  This information allows for subsequent messages which are highly targeted to your consumers.  If a home has multiple or unique components, the next screen allows you to set up a service history by each system or component.  Once the tech clicks on the icon for the type of unit, (furnace, condensing unit etc.) a screen comes up that allows them to input specific information pertinent to that unit.  For example, they can input information such as unit location, make, model/serial number, capacity, age, physical condition, type of refrigerant used and so on.  If that information already exists, the tech can simply bypass that screen.

What comes next is the fastest and easiest flat rate lookup in the industry!  In the next blog, we will talk specifically about the flat rate lookup screen and show you exactly why we say this.  In the meantime, look through your service tickets over the past six months and see how many of them reveal marketing information that allow you to target specific products and services to individual customers.  I’ll bet you will find you are missing opportunities to more precisely assist your customers, thereby helping to distance yourself from those companies who market themselves strictly on price.

Get more info on Call Smart

Call Smart Flexibility– Your Smart Service Solution

Call Smart Flexibility– Your Smart Service Solution

Image courtesy of

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!