HVAC Residential Market

Finding Home Performance Profitable

November 19, 2012
Trans

Home performance contracting is more than just an industry buzzword for the team at Minnick’s Heating, Cooling, Energy Solutions, and Insulation.

The three owners — brothers Rob, Rusty, and Randy — started focusing on the home performance market about six years ago, and it has paid off for the company. Minnick’s has been around since the brothers’ grandfather started the business in 1954. Serving the metro Baltimore and Washington, D.C., area, the company has 20 employees and does 95 percent residential work.

“We have been around the family business our entire lives,” Rob said. “We have been on board since we were able to get work permits.” They recently bought the company from their father.

Each of the three brothers handles a different aspect of the business. Rob was handling a lot of the mechanical engineering and load calculation side of the business when the Comfort Institute put on a local seminar about home performance contracting that the brothers attended.

“As soon as I went in and they started talking about it, the light bulb went on and it made total sense. Doing all the load calculations and the home performance energy audits gives the dashboard every bit of information to do a proper Manual J calculation,” Rob said.

Minnick’s technicians had been on too many service calls where the finger had been pointed at them for the HVAC system not heating or cooling the rooms properly. The techs would go in and agree the room was too hot or too cold, but after taking all the readings and measurements they would realize the system was working properly. They would subsequently find out that the house was not properly insulated or air sealed, so the air was being conditioned in the home but was escaping the home, which made the system run all the time and not allow it to keep up.

Energy Audits

Minnick’s performs what they call a Total Energy Solutions Audit, which is both an energy audit and an HVAC audit.

“This is a room-by-room Manual J calculation, which gives us the required load for each room and how much CFM needs to be delivered,” Rob said.

The technician creates a list of items that need to be done, and the company becomes the general contractor. They perform what they are capable of doing and subcontract the rest out. Because insulation and weatherization items are always at the top of the list, the company recently brought a department in house to handle this aspect of the solution.

Minnick’s has partnered with utility companies in the area to lower the cost of the home energy audit for the customer. If the customer gets the highly recommended home energy audit, they pay only $100 for the audit, and the utility company pays the difference. The audit takes about three to five hours to complete.

“When we first got into this about six years ago, the percentage of people who were interested in the complete audit was very low. They looked at us like we had three heads,” Rob said. “It has been an interesting road. It has definitely turned around, and we see it only improving.”

Rob and the entire Minnick’s crew believe this type of contracting is where the industry is going. Rob is on ACCA’s newly formed Building Performance Council as well as on the board with the local ACCA chapter.

“I hope more HVAC contractors get on board. They need to get on board with it. I have been preaching to HVAC contractors in our area for a long time,” Rob said.

“You don’t have to get trained and buy all the tools. There are plenty of energy auditors in our area that you can work with to understand it. They need you just as well as you need them. Find one you like and you can partner with. If you decide you want to learn and buy the tools, then you can do that later on. At least get your arms around it and work with these energy auditors. That won’t cost you a dime. Once the light bulb hopefully goes on, you will want to dive into it. How do you do a proper Manual J? You might say you are doing one on every home you go to. But if you are just entering in the standards I have not been to a house yet that met standards.”

Training

In order to do this type of work correctly, a contractor needs educated employees. The brothers do not leave anything to chance as they have a training facility — called Minnick U — on the grounds. They invest in all of their employees.

“We want all of our technicians to grow. We hire for willingness here,” Rob said. “If they are willing and want a career, they come on board and we train them. There is an apprentice program and it takes four years to become a journeyman. We are also a Building Performance Institute (BPI) Test Center and have all of our technicians get certified as a BPI Building Analyst. We teach the program here.”

The company also has an operations manual that covers every job at the company. It tells each employee what they need to do and how to do it. Everything from where to park to how to do a system check-up is included in the manual.

Every week during the department meetings they spend 15 minutes going through the manual and making sure everything is current. Each chapter is about 40 pages so they do not look at everything during one meeting, but this ensures the documents are staying fresh.

When the company took the new direction, there was some turnover because some of the older employees did not want to change. However, there is very low turnover now as the employees are staying and loving it. “We give our employees all the training they need and encourage them to grow in their jobs. We don’t like our technicians to stay stagnant,” Rob said.

Sidebar: No More Maintenance Agreements

In another example of thinking outside the box, Minnick’s got rid of maintenance agreements over the summer. Instead, they created a VIP club. “It is free to join, and it still gets you on the priority list,” Rob said.

However, it is a pay-as-you-go program. The company will contact the VIP member at the beginning of the heating and cooling season to schedule the check-up. The customer pays for service by using the Minnick’s Money on their VIP card. They get $25 for doing each of the following items: signing up for the VIP program, liking Minnick’s on Facebook, following the company on Twitter, and providing a referral that results in a purchase.

In addition, VIP members get 10 percent off all service and parts. “The biggest hassle on maintenance agreements was enforcing the fine print,” Rob said. “We would go out and perform the check-up and might find some other issue. When we would bring the issue up, the customer would think that was covered under the maintenance agreement and get angry. This eliminates that.”

The program started July 9.

Publication date: 11/19/2012

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