Duct Dynasty: Defining the ‘Real’ HVAC System
Equipment is a Component, Not the System Itself
An innocent assumption made by many is that the HVAC equipment is the HVAC system. This has unknowingly turned the specialized skills required to perform HVAC into a commodity in the eyes of many.
If you don’t think this is an issue, think back to the last time you tried to convince a homeowner or building contractor that you are different. Consider how well that is working out for you when you’re selling the exact same piece of equipment as your competition.
System as a Whole
The average homeowner or building contractor often looks at the equipment as the system due to the majority of marketing pieces that specifically use the term “system.” They have been conditioned to focus on this portion of an HVAC system instead of other variables that make up the “real” HVAC system, which don’t get as much attention.
This mentality is compounded as attempts are made to sell on values that anyone can use, such as SEER, AFUE, and other equipment-related ratings. You end up looking like everyone else who is offering identical equipment. The end factor that typically becomes the differentiation for a homeowner then becomes lowest price, or who was the nicest guy.
Service techs aren’t immune to this viewpoint either. I have seen good technicians trying to solve issues ranging from freezing coils to safety switches tripped by focusing on the equipment when the real issues were beyond the box.
Moving Beyond the Box
Once the realization is made that the HVAC equipment is a component of the HVAC system and not the HVAC system itself, a contractor and homeowner can start to address the real issues. This realization can empower you to get back to your roots of providing comfort solutions, instead of strictly swapping equipment out.
Many hidden issues that your customers have, and are looking to have corrected, are missed if you focus solely on equipment instead of the “real” systems. The line of thinking that the equipment can fix the variables it is attached to has to be changed.
One instance where this was brought to light many years ago was with the introduction of variable-speed fans. They were touted as a correction for undersized duct systems until the motors started failing and the increased noise from excessive static pressure drove contractors nuts with callbacks.
Keep in mind, once a piece of equipment is removed from a laboratory environment and placed in your customer’s home, every variable the equipment was rated under just changed. If these variables aren’t compensated for, the promises that are made to the customer will typically be unfulfilled.
The Components of a ‘Real’ HVAC System
While the equipment is a vital piece of the HVAC system, there are additional components that need to be accounted for. Here are several for you to consider:
• Properly sized and installed duct system;
• Duct insulation values;
• Duct tightness levels;
• Grille and register selection;
• Thermostat wiring and controls;
• Refrigerant piping;
• Electrical wiring;
• Purging and evacuation;
• Refrigerant charge; and
• Condensate drain and safeties.
When these other components of an HVAC system are not verified to perform as intended, the end results can be disastrous. A huge loss in the rated efficiency of the equipment and shortened lifetime operation of the equipment will almost always result when these components are assumed to function as designed. This doesn’t even factor the effect it has on the total system.
These additional components are field-built, designed, and selected by each individual contractor. This is what truly sets you apart and establishes your brand. That is quite a bit of differentiation for you to capitalize on.
The Btu Network
My friend Paul Wieboldt uses a retail comparison to keep the “real” HVAC system explanation simple. He has guys think of the HVAC equipment as a Btu factory. This is the heart of the Btu production process, as the thermal energy is the product the factory is producing. As with any factory, there has to be systems in place to ensure the factory is running at 100 percent of its capable output or it would be considered inefficient and wasteful. The same can be said of the HVAC equipment.
It doesn’t end there. Any factory that produces a product has to have a distribution system in place to deliver that product to its retail outlets. This is the role of the duct system and associated piping for the HVAC equipment. This would be the distribution system that the Btu factory is using to deliver its product to the retail outlets. The retail outlets would be considered as the supply registers as they deliver conditioned air to the building.
There will always be losses in the distribution system from the factory to the retail outlets. Whether it is by misplacement, theft, or lack of tracking the product, there will be a loss to some degree. When contractors move beyond just addressing the factory, they start to see how the entire network is affected. If the product never makes it to the retail outlets, the factory will eventually go out of business and shut down prematurely.
Trust, but Verify
There is only one way to ensure the HVAC equipment is doing its part of what the entire system needs: performance testing. Commissioning the equipment, duct leakage testing, system performance testing to quantify delivered Btu, and air balancing are all needed to verify that not only the equipment works, but the real system does too.
Make sure you see the entire system for what it really is. If you’ve been focusing on the equipment only, it might be time to broaden your views of what the HVAC system really is. Take advantage of the opportunity that is out there to give your customers a “real” HVAC system.
Publication date: 9/1/2014