While new HVAC technologies offer a wealth of contracting opportunities, technicians are challenged to learn new terminologies, methodologies, design techniques, installation best practices, and service and maintenance skills before presenting the equipment in the field.
And, not only must techs learn about the technology, but they must also strive to be the authority.
“From the standpoint of installing a traditional split system, a ductless system has some nuances that make it slightly different,” said Nick Conklin, senior manager, product strategy, ductless and VRF systems, Carrier Corp. “This is especially true when you look at the multi-zone systems that can have up to nine zones or up to five different home runs that go back to the same outdoor unit. So, ensuring all of those control wires and refrigerant pipes are properly run and insulated helps to ensure the system operates correctly and provides the best solution for the homeowner or building owner.”
Carrier recently launched a plethora of training programs in conjunction with its new ductless lineup.
“We have training programs for our high- and mid-tier systems that take contractors through installation best practices as well as troubleshooting best practices and common errors they would find in the field to ensure they are properly trained to support our product,” Conklin said. “We’ve been able to implement the best of Carrier’s training programs and integrate our own team’s core ductless knowledge to really improve the training programs available today. We targeted the right amount of information, and we’re offering the details people are looking for with these ductless systems. We recognize the contractors installing our standard systems are of a high level.”
Jeff Peters, ductless portfolio leader, Trane, an Ingersoll Rand brand, said training contractors on ductless products is of the utmost importance.
“There should be no bad jobs, and Trane ensures this with a complete and comprehensive training offering,” Peters said. “Throughout the sales cycle and job commissioning, all associates must be competent and comfortable. Properly installed and commissioned jobs require relatively minor support. However, shortcuts by uncertified contractors may lead to unplanned technical support with significant expenses.”
Because ductless technology is still relatively new in the U.S., Trane is aggressively creating awareness including the importance of training, said Peters.
Trane offers a variety of pre- and post-sale online and instructor-led training modules, including Introduction to Ductless Technology, Installation, Controls, Troubleshooting, and other courses.
LG Electronics boasts four company-owned LG Academies and 14 Partner Academies across the U.S.
“Ductless products are much more efficient than conventional products. The proper installation, application, startup, and maintenance of the equipment — while it’s important on all HVAC equipment — is even more important for the ductless products,” said Tom Pivovar, senior national training and aftermarket manager, commercial air conditioning division, LG Electronics USA.
“In order to be able to reap the benefits of the technology, the equipment must be installed, started, and serviced properly. And, if it isn’t, the gains you have by purchasing a more expensive ductless system are lost to some extent due to poor application or installation.”
Many manufacturers are utilizing unconventional learning tools, such as posting training modules, videos, and other resources online.
“Our LMS — Learning Management System — is used for multiple things, including publishing and advertising all of our classes in our LG and partner academies,” Pivovar said. “It’s used for registration and tracking of student activity, and, lastly, we have online on-demand classes on our LMS ranging from short PowerPoint presentations with some knowledge testing to videos for different subjects related to installation and servicing of our Multi V and Duct-Free Split (DFS) equipment.”
LG also features its SIMs 2.0 tool, a maintenance and troubleshooting tool for duct-free split (DFS) air conditioning systems. It consists of a wireless communications module and a free smartphone application (app). The app is available for Android and iOS (Apple) smartphones. The wireless module connects to the outdoor unit and sends system data to the SIMs smartphone app. The app displays real-time numerical data for the outdoor unit and each indoor unit. Data can be displayed as a graph to help evaluate operating trends over time. The SIMs app also displays system error codes and a troubleshooting guide.
“It allows us to connect to the DFS product through a mobile device, tablet, or phone and actually see the operations parameters of the equipment,” Pivovar said. “Without it, you’re relying on using older technology, like using standard refrigerant manifold gauges and standard temperature measuring devices in order to get your readings. Where, with the SIMs tool, by simply connecting it to the product and using the app, we have a virtual look into the operating parameters of the equipment rather than having all these other pieces of test equipment.”
Tom Grunstra, national trainer, Fujitsu General America Inc., also made note of the company’s online resources. “Our online training material is available to registered contractors 24/7 from our website. Once registered, contractors receive access to our Dealer Toolbox, where they’re able to receive online training at no charge. They can see national facility trainings as well as regional trainings being held nearby. After completing training, registered contractors receive training points that appear by their names when consumers search on our website for an educated and experienced contractor.”
Fujitsu’s Dealer Toolbox features online tools including a troubleshooting guide and a sizing support for determining which unit size is best suited to the space. It also features an efficiency calculator to allow contractors to enter details of an existing fossil fuel system to show the possible savings by converting to a high-efficiency Fujitsu mini-split heat pump.
“With a good working knowledge, a mini-split system can be installed that provides more comfort for occupants while using significantly less energy, therefore lowering utility costs for both homes and businesses,” Grunstra noted.
Tom Tuohy, director of HVAC operations, Universe Appliance, Seaford, New York, has sent all 25 of his service technicians and lead technicians through ductless training.
“Ductless products are unique — they’re not like conventional air conditioning. It’s a whole different animal,” he said. “Everything is set up differently, from sizing to installation to servicing.”
Tuohy said ductless applications are more sensitive to installation mistakes than other systems.
“It’s critical to do it right because there’s a much greater margin for failure. If you put a conventional system in and it’s not done perfectly, or you make a mistake here or there, it’s likely no one will ever notice. If you make even the slightest mistake on a ductless installation, it’s not going to work from the get-go, or, two or three years from now you’re going to have substantial damage to the unit.
“With conventional air conditioning, you can work on a Carrier unit, a York unit, a Trane unit, or a Lennox unit, and they’re all similar in nature. But, with ductless units, they’re all very different, to some degree. The average technician can’t just walk in and fix it. He needs to be very familiar with it or have access to technical services.”
Kenny Wardlaw, owner, Cool Care Heating & Air Inc., Columbia, South Carolina, is a big advocate of ductless systems. “We’ve already sold more of those units this year than we did last year, and it’s just April.”
According to Wardlaw, the most important aspect of ductless contracting is to make sure the systems are designed and set up right. “If you do that, they work great. We’ve had very little trouble with them.”
Half of Wardlaw’s employees have been through ductless training.
“These units have the expansion valve in the outdoor unit, so you have to be really careful with the piping on it, even more so than on a traditional system,” he said. “It’s super important to keep the refrigerant line clean.”
Wardlaw likes ductless systems so much, he installed a mini-split system in his own house. “I’ve seen my energy bill cut almost in half, and it’s definitely more comfortable. I’m sure this is where the whole industry is heading.”
Publication date: 4/27/2015