So, you’ve been thinking about starting your own HVACR contracting business. Or, perhaps you vowed HVACR success as a New Year’s resolution. But where do you begin?The NEWSrecently connected with a handful of HVACR professionals and asked them: “If you were just breaking into the industry, which tools would be most important to success, and why?”

Hand Tools

Frank Alexander, president, Alexander Heating and Air Conditioning, Holly Springs, N.C., said, for starters, you need a tool bag and a number of hand tools to fill it. “The first essential tools you’ll need are a multimeter, a set of sheet metal cutters, a box knife, and a set of wire strippers,” he said. “Also essential are a set of magnetic nut drivers, in both ¼- and 5/8-inch sizes; I carry two handle lengths for different-sized spaces.

“I also encourage technicians to have a good pressure-temperature chart and a slider card to help calculate the required superheat, using wet bulb temperatures for the indoor vents,” he said. “Other important tools include a flashlight, multiple screwdrivers, a socket wrench, an adjustable wrench, and various pliers. Also, while not a requirement, a good cordless driver is nice to have. As you progress, some other must-haves include a sling psychrometer which helps measure wet bulb temperatures, and an infrared temperature gauge, which helps a technician get a measurement in hard-to-reach vents.”

Richard Reed, owner of Richard Reed Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Watson, Ill., and web content facilitator for, said the number of hand tools varies from job to job based on the scope of the job. He said an entry-level HVACR employee should expect to spend more than $500 on his first tool set.

“As an entry-level service mechanic, you’ll need some general hand tools such as a set of screwdrivers, a set of nut drivers, a tape measure, channel lock pliers, a small crescent wrench, a torpedo level, an Allen wrench set, and a utility knife,” he said. “You’ll also require some basic electrical tools such as a pair of lineman’s pliers, needle-nose pliers, diagonal wire cutters, and a pair of wire strippers. Finally, you’ll need a small flashlight to perform inspections on equipment, a pocket thermometer to measure air temperatures, and a service-valve wrench.”

However, an installer’s toolset will vary from a mechanic’s, Reed said. “The basic installation tool bag contains right- and left-handed snips, a tinner’s hammer, seaming tongs, hand crimpers, hand notchers, and a snap-lock punch,” said Reed. “Other specialized needs will include an offset duct stretcher and various lengths of hand-folding tools to prepare metal ducts for joining after they have been cut off.”

Technology Is a Tool

Adam Gloss, vice president, Bel Red Energy Solutions, Mukilteo, Wash., said technology is a tool that can’t be overlooked. “In today’s society, I can’t imagine trying to build a successful business without a dynamic web presence, which includes a well-designed website with strong content, easy navigation, and good flow-through to generate calls and appointments. Ongoing search engine optimization and search engine marketing — and a regular social media presence, including a blog and a presence on Facebook and Twitter — is also very important.

“This can be hard for a small contractor to do, especially one who is just starting out. But if you are going to place your advertising dollars anywhere, this is the place to do it,” Gloss said. “And if you feel it is over your head, there are companies that specialize in doing this for contractors, all of whom offer basic packages that are relatively inexpensive.”

Gloss said every aspiring contractor should equip his fleet with smartphones or tablets, which will encourage technicians to share photos with customers, communicate with the office, and research solutions in the field.

“These devices can help generate revenue by making repairs or new equipment easier to explain and sell to customers,” he said. “They can save time — which is money — by reducing follow-up trips or callbacks, and allow technicians to calculate heat loads, offer presentations and proposals, review job histories, and display tickets.”

Gloss also recommends growing companies consider adding a capable, visible-defect heat-exchanger inspection system, static-pressure probes for digital manometers, and access to the Adtek Software Suite. “The visible-defect system has allowed us to diagnose many cracked heat exchangers that we would have missed otherwise. Providing our technicians with static-pressure probes for their digital manometers, and teaching them how to evaluate the system for potential static-pressure issues, has yielded great results,” Gloss said. “And, while some software programs offer the ability to do ACCA-approved Manual J heat-load calculations, create uniform field pricing, generate professional looking proposals, and perform in-depth analysis of HVAC energy use and projected savings individually, Adtek performs all those functions in an integrated package that is easy to use.”

Business Tools

To some contractors, including Chris Martin, general manager, Raleigh Heating and Air, Raleigh, N.C., the only tool that matters is the one that creates dollars and cents. “You have to have a business plan,” he said. “Almost every failed contractor I meet did not have a short- or long-term plan for success. This sort of planning will help a company stay focused on the vision and help keep activity from drifting away from established targets.”

Other common-sense tools include financial discipline and executing proper training, Martin said. “A contractor that pays his bills and does quality work is very valuable to every wholesaler in town,” he said. “And, always be on the lookout for talented people to add to your team. Most jobs lose profitability due to labor issues, so, managing your labor is a very valuable — and often overlooked — tool.”

Martin also said that if you are interested in starting an HVACR company, it’s crucial to have some knowledge of just how an HVACR system works. “Most startups don’t have a problem with technical knowledge, but as you hire and expand, be sure your staff has a similar level of knowledge,” he said.

Publication date: 1/21/2013