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The worlds of HVAC contractors and duct cleaning services perhaps need not be as disparate as they once were. Due to developments with duct cleaning equipment and technologies being more readily accessible, practical and appealing in that it can help generate more business by providing a new service to an existing client base, HVAC contractors making the foray into this realm are enjoying success, and are finding companies and national associations specializing in the field to help guide their practice.
In regard to HVAC contractors making the crossover into the cleaning side of the industry, John Schulte, executive director for National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), Washington, D.C., cautions that quality standards of the same caliber as the original practice be put into place.
“If they’re going to do it, then our interest is in having them do it well,” Schulte said, “and that’s the same way they look at their work in the HVAC sector.”
“As with NATE [North American Technician Excellence] certification, there is a lot with NADCA to ensure people are qualified. The worst thing in the world is when you get some yahoo who is unqualified - that just kills the market and ends in a lose-lose situation.”
Schulte said that NADCA runs a mentoring program, and can put contractors in touch with cleaning professionals regarding enlistment in this side of industry.
“Do it right,” Schulte said. “Find out about the equipment you need. Talk to others who are familiar with the needs. Learn about IAQ - go to training programs; NADCA offers courses on airborne particulates, including particles sizes and information - this type of information would be eye-opening for a lot of the HVAC contractors.”
“Be realistic - ask yourself ‘are you gonna be committed to it?’”
“And then be committed and stick with it,” Schulte said, “as with any other business venture.”
DUCT CLEANING OPPORTUNITYBased out of Ann Arbor, Mich., DUCTZ International, a national air duct cleaning and HVAC restoration franchise organization, began franchising in 2004, and now is home to more than 170 franchise locations in 32 states.
With the company experiencing quick growth, DUCTZ has developed a new sister brand, HOODZ, which is a franchise concept specializing in kitchen exhaust cleaning.
Tom Yacobellis, vice president of corporate and technical operations of DUCTZ International, said that the company began with a concept: bolt-on a franchise to an existing HVAC company.
“We put together quite a few offices - 30-plus - and really started to go from HVAC contractor to franchisor,” Yacobellis said.
Yacobellis met with company president, John Rotche, who had run a small franchise system.
The two shared a handshake agreement and joined forces, with Yacobellis as the technical facilitator and Rotche the guru for expansion. In a short period of time, DUCTZ went after the largest restoration companies involved with fire restoration work and ended up being bought by Belfour USA, a worldwide restoration company. Restoration is defined by DUCTZ as returning something to the best maintainable condition possible, which is done in compliance with national standards, Yacobellis said. Yacobellis, who describes himself as “a zealot when it comes to quality,” has been involved with numerous cleaning/restoration industry standards, including National Air Duct Cleaning Association (NADCA) standards as 2004.5 edition chairman, as well as a key drafter of ACCA’s Detecting Fire-Related Particulate in a System During a Fire Event standard, and the writing of several other national programs, including ACCA’s Restoring the Cleanliness of HVAC Systems proposed standard, referenced above.
Clint Harris, vice president of business services for Rotobrush International LLC, based out of Grapevine, Texas (a suburb of Dallas), said that Rotobrush helps customers engaged in residential and commercial projects, as well as heavy industrial applications dealing with the negative air side of things. The company’s customer base is split up between 50 percent HVAC contractors, and the other half made up of other industry service contractors and entrepreneurs starting their own businesses.
Since 1993, Rotobrush has been an Associate Member of NADCA, which, as an association, doesn’t specify equipment, but process standards. Steven Bock, president/ CEO of Rotobrush serves on NADCA’s Standards Committee. “We sell air duct cleaning equipment and train contractors how to use the equipment,” Harris said. “We don’t perform the service, but do provide the equipment.”
Pat Hyland, ASCS, CVI, senior vice president of sales, has been with Rotobrush since the company’s beginning. “Air duct cleaning is a tool for contractors,” Hyland said. “Sometimes, contractors feel threatened by it, when in reality, air duct cleaning is a tool to help grow the HVAC business.”
These words potentially help convey some important business lessons to the contractor; the main notion being that existing customers don’t have to go to a competitor to get this service done.
The steps and goals involved with making the foray into the duct cleaning side of the industry are described by Hyland as three-part, and include:
1. Keeping your arms around the customers
2. Converting more change outs
3. Growing their business and their base.
“Really, you don’t have to embark on a whole new service endeavor,” Hyland said. “You can use existing vehicles and technicians.” Looking at it from this standpoint, it makes sense to use this technology to meet duct cleaning needs that customers have.
TRAINING AND ADDRESSING CHALLENGESIn terms of challenges and potential obstacles regarding the effective cleaning of duct systems, Hyland said that it is essential to have the right agitation tools for the kind(s) of ductwork you’ll be cleaning. He cautions that technicians need to be careful with duct board and warns against being overly aggressive with flex, as it could collapse the ductwork. Hyland also advised not to use too stiff a bristle brush, citing the need to use nylon with flex duct.
“Rotobrush encompasses all these technologies and trains cleaning techs in their training center,” Hyland said. “The facility has built-in duct work, and is equipped with Plexiglas to see the dust as it is being eliminated.”
According to Hyland, RotoMastersSM Certified training is done to the company’s own standards, which closely follow NADCA guidelines, and encompasses both classroom and hands-on learning in a state-of-the-art air duct cleaning and energy efficiency lab, which is outfitted with the newest and most advanced systems technicians might encounter in the field. Air Duct Cleaning Master Training covers topics such as: IAQ, HVAC systems, equipment, tools, supplies, air duct cleaning process, crawlspace type in-floor radial perimeter duct system, complete extended plenum rectangular sheet metal duct system with furnace, flexible duct system with fiberboard junction boxes, marketing strategies, and more.
And, the company’s Energy Efficiency Master Training entails: energy efficiency overview and trends, home energy audits, duct sealing, radiant barrier, insulation, dryer vent cleaning, marketing techniques, and other information. Ongoing training and support is also available through Rotobrush’s RotoVantage, an exclusive club, which includes business coaching, a job quoting hotline, 24/7 tech support, and lifetime training opportunities.
DUCTZ’ national headquarters (Ann Arbor, Mich.,) is the site of the company’s 18,000-square-foot NADCA-approved national training center, which features a life-size model home, training stations and work areas allowing DUCTZ professionals hands-on experience with demonstration models.
According to Yacobellis, the DUCTZ training program is approved by NADCA, and DUCTZ franchise owners and their employees go through extensive training and certification programs at the innovative facility. Upon completion, they are considered professionals in the business and will be recognized as an Air Systems Cleaning Specialist (ASCS), a certification given by NADCA to trained and qualified professionals that ensures that all cleaning is performed in accordance with NADCA standards and guidelines.
According to the company, DUCTZ professionals are leading advocates for IAQ and strictly adhere to industry standards during HVAC system reconditioning and restoration projects. Proprietary techniques are passed on to ensure technicians provide superior service and maintenance of HVAC systems, improving the efficiency of the HVAC system and IAQ.
TIME TO CLEAN: VISUALIZE ITSo, with protocols in place for proper cleaning standards and practices, how easy is it to determine if duct systems do, in fact, need to be cleaned?
According to Robert “Buck” Sheppard, AAA Heating and Cooling, Portland, Ore., and president of NADCA, the organization has established a checklist - published on the association’s Website - concerning how to tell if duct work needs cleaning, as well as how to go about choosing a contractor.
“Visual inspection is the most powerful in all of my forty years in the business,” Sheppard said. “Visual inspection will go a long way to telling if you need duct work cleaned.”
More invasive measures include taking airflows across system, checking static pressure, making sure no obstructions are in it, e.g., plugged or clogged filter, and looking to see how the furnace is performing. All go into determining how to go about maintaining or repairing systems, Sheppard said.
Hyland said that video inspection systems provide the opportunity to look into the return and supply with equipment and even use it down the ductwork during cleaning. Using equipment like the company’s Roto-Vision video inspection system, technicians take digital video and snapshot photos so homeowners can see the before/during/after of the cleaning process.
By using this technology, a contractor or duct cleaning specialist can actually show the customer the problem, and effectively eliminate the need for a second opinion.
“From a credibility standpoint, this makes an HVAC contractor look that much more credible,” Hyland said. “You can show the need - or non-need - for cleaning.”
“More times than not, you end up getting a duct sealing or insulation job, or even a change-out or service agreement out of it, and you have gained credibility.”
And, with credibility comes repeat business, which as any successful HVAC operation knows is the cornerstone to growth and longevity.
DIVERSIFYING BUSINESSYacobellis offers the following advice to cleaning service startup companies:
• Systems need to be designed with more access given in future. “We see some engineers and architects doing this so they are more maintainable.”
• If diversifying into cleaning from the HVAC side, create a dedicated second division. “If not, quality often falters, and particulates get introduced to the environment. Partner with a good company in town that does it (cleaning) if you can’t dedicate a second division.”
And, possibly most important: You can not replace an air handler without cleaning the system. “As a mechanical system gets progressively dirtier/plugs up, the air flow decreases proportionately to the amount of contaminants.”
The future looks good, Yacobellis said. “The higher the efficiency of units, the amount of contaminants decreases efficiency and thus a need for more maintenance.”
“This is good for us, though - it guarantees more work down the long run.”
Hyland, whose company offers a Roto-Vantage business services mentoring platform to help contractors with business and marketing support, said that the bottom line comes down to what a contractor wants to do with their company. “Some just want to sit and weigh the economic environment. … But, a lot of these guys are looking at it from a completely different perspective.”
The good contractor is constantly looking at ways to diversify their services, Hyland said.
“This is a value-added service. Contractors are getting called for it - they can either say they don’t do it, and then they lose the call … or, are subbing it out, and then they are losing control of the quality of work issues, which can reflect poorly on them.”
“They could be out there generating the revenue themselves.”
Publication date: 10/05/2009