HVAC contractors are not above making mistakes. They are human just like us and deal with a myriad of equipment and very technical issues. Not all HVAC systems are the same and contractors must be proficient in repairing and maintaining all the current market has to offer. If they make a mistake and cause irreparable damage to your HVAC system, the cost could be exorbitant.
As in any field, HVAC contractors are defined by their ability to install a system, repair a problem, and then return the home in its original condition without the mess that is frequently left behind. A good contractor will be aware of sloppiness and will strive to please their customer. This will bring business back, and also provide a great word of mouth reference to friends of customers for future business.
The top 7 mistakes a contractor makes in dealing with HVAC systems are:
1. Not Understanding Combustion Safety
Within the furnace is located what is called a heat exchanger. When a customer is concerned about carbon monoxide, the contractor will probably check the heat exchanger for cracks. If it appears to be okay they may assume that it was just a false alarm. They will probably just charge the batteries in the CO alarm. As an expert in his field of combustion safety and air flow, David Richardson also a former HVAC contractor provided a guest post regarding this issue.
Combustion appliances have a tendency to backdraft, and most HVAC contractors are unaware of this process. They don’t often test for it. Flue gases can build up and cause devastating results to the occupants of the home. Contractors should always test for the back-drafting and CO issues.
2. Focusing on ‘the box’ and Ignoring Air Flow
Airflow is a common problem within many systems, and it is a result of HVAC contractors taking shortcuts with system installation. Airflow is a critical element of an effective HVAC system, and if HVAC contractors were aware of a duct opus or shortage of air into the system, more systems would work without problems that frequently develop down the road with systems that are not efficient. If the problem was truly understood, most duct systems would be larger. The problem is a very common one and can be solved very easily at the initial stages of installation.
Energy Docs’ Mike McFarland is an HVAC contractor located in California and has reported that he seldom performs a system change over without also doing a duct change over. He says that most duct systems are unable to handle their original equipment, let alone a new more efficient system. This error frequently made is very costly to system users especially when their new expensive system seems to be no better than the old system that was replaced.
3. Ignoring the Opportunities In-Home Performance
It’s one thing to go into a customer’s home and install an HVAC system, but if you are not looking for other issues that affect the comfort level of a home, you are doing a disservice to your customers. Insulation and air-sealing are just two critical parts of a total comfort system. A contractor who expends the extra effort of looking at existing insulation and draft potential is the professional that customers will continue to go back to. The best system on the market will not operate effectively with shoddy insulation and inefficient air sealing. It is incumbent upon the contractor to point out potential problems to the customer.
It isn’t just about the mechanics of a system. Many other issues can affect the operation of the system. The overall comfort of a home takes into consideration all the components that affect the operation of the HVAC system.
As a contractor, you should ask yourself if your end result will be a small contract for an ineffective system or a larger contract for a very satisfied and returning customer.
4. Forgetting the “V” in HVAC: Ventilation
As the adage goes, a contractor who overlooks the V in HVAC is considered a HAC. Ventilation is critical to the system, and the tightness of new homes today requires a more concentrated level of the sealing of air. Blower door tests should also be performed to confirm the airtightness of the home and then mechanical ventilation needs to be considered for spot ventilation for smaller areas such as kitchens and bathrooms.
Three strategies of mechanical ventilation are positive pressure, negative pressure, and balancing. ASHRAE 62.2 can provide insight into this process. It is important to measure airflow within the ventilation system.
5. Skipping the Math
Homes and HVAC systems have changed during the last few decades from being antiquated pieces of machinery to very technical ‘systems’ requiring an approach that includes a strong knowledge of the new homes that are being constructed and the systems needed to keep them comfortable. The approach of ‘the way it’s always been done’ is no longer an effective one. Former rules of thumb for contractors don’t apply anymore, and contractors must learn to change with the times.
Learn to time an existing system’s operation time during specific conditions. You can also refer to Manual J for detailed information. You will need to look at the heat loss rate, and heat gain in the home you are working with.
It is sometimes a very complex technology that requires some complex ideas and rules of thumb won’t work.
6. Trying to Be the Low Bidder
The bidding process is simple. Usually, the low bidder gets the contract, while the higher bidder suffers another contract loss. It is no secret that you get what you pay for, and often low bids will scrimp on properly performing the work. In the end when the low bid is accepted, the homeowner will suffer.
A true professional contractor unwilling to scrimp on the job needs to rely on his expertise to explain to the potential customer, what he is paying for, and what he is getting in return. The low bidders often use unqualified workers, substandard equipment, and will take shortcuts to come in under the total. There is always the potential that the most professional contractor can develop an understanding with the customer that cheaper isn’t always better.
7. Failure to Use House-as-a-System Thinking
The “house-as-a-system” philosophy will enable the contractor to address all the issues that affect the comfort level of the home. If you can get beyond the problems outlined in numbers 1, 2, and 4 shown above, you can focus on the entirety of the home. If you can project the potential problems and be a problem solver in the beginning you will be doing your customer great service. This can solve potential problems the family could face such as frequent colds, mildew and musty smells. Most contractors are aware of these facts.
The Bottom Line
As an HVAC contractor, do you want to repeat customers? Will your customers be satisfied? Will they refer their friends to you because your work was outstanding? All questions a true professional can answer with a very resounding yes. You can choose the path that can lead to many problems, and lose customers or the one that leads to a successful business, with happy customers. Even though your bids may come in at a higher level, customers are pretty smart and generally are not willing to sacrifice quality for a few dollars. It may take a little longer and a few more conversations, but your customers will know quality when they see it.