Every HVAC contractor and technician has their personal favorite tools, from the level they’ve been using for more than 20 years to the 6-in-1 set of pliers that can do a little bit of everything to the shiny new tablet that houses essential apps for the most technologically advanced tools in their possession.
So, which of these tools and gadgets are needed most often, which are absolutely critical to performing job site functions each and every day, and what are the most important tools in an HVAC industry professional’s tool bag?
We asked a few members of The NEWS’ Advisory Panel to highlight some of the tools they deem essential and to explain what makes them so important. The contractors who took part were Steve Moon, owner of Moon Air Inc. in Elkton, Maryland; Rob Minnick, president and CEO of Minnick’s Inc. in Laurel, Maryland; and Ricky Kepley, mission critical team leader at AirTight FaciliTech in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Anemometers measure airflow.
Minnick’s take: “An anemometer is important because it shows the homeowner the airflow, or lack thereof, in the rooms that are causing an issue.”
CLAMP-ON ELECTRIC METER
A clamp meter combines a digital multimeter with a current sensor to test for electricity. It allows the user to clamp around wire, cables, or another conductor of electricity.
Moon’s take: “Most of the troubleshooting that is done in the field is due to electrical problems. A good clamp-on meter covers virtually every parameter for electrical and thermal testing needed in our industry.”
Kepley’s take: “Safety is first and foremost. You should always check and confirm the presence or non-presence of power, because this aids in ensuring that you go home the same way you arrived to work. Most issues that can be picked up on by the meter are electrical- or control-related. The multimeter can provide so much information from the system, including volts, amps, ohms from components, and more.”
A combustion analyzer measures ambient carbon monoxide (CO) levels and CO AirFree (COAF) levels of furnaces and boilers.
Minnick’s take: “A quality combustion analyzer will confirm that a house is safe with no carbon monoxide present, and it will show how well a unit is working.”
A digital manifold provides digital refrigerant readouts.
Moon’s take: “With the complexity of today’s systems and massive choices of refrigerants, it is imperative that the modern technician knows exactly what is going on inside the system. The newer digital manifolds will do subcooling and superheat, plus they have built-in micrometers. Some even troubleshoot for you, so having a digital manifold is a must.”
A dual-port manometer measures gas pressure, static pressure, and pressure differential.
Moon’s Take: “The professional technician always wants what is best for the client. Knowing the static pressure of the HVAC system is like knowing its blood pressure. It will tell how long it will live.”
A gauge manifold allows a technician to see the pressure of various liquids and gases in a cooling system.
Kepley’s take: “Temperature relationships are crucial to understanding a system. Knowing and understanding what the refrigerant is doing at each stage of operation within the circuit will reveal that the system is operating as it should. Pressure-temperature [PT] charts go hand in hand with gauge readings as well.”
INFRARED REFRIGERANT DETECTOR
An infrared refrigerant detector identifies refrigerant leaks through equipment coils, joints, and evaporators.
Moon’s take: “More than 60 percent of systems 10 years old or older have refrigerant leaks in the evaporators. Locating these leaks and dealing with them is a very important part of every tuneup. Clients want optimum performance, which requires constant charge in the system all season.”
An inspection camera makes hard-to-reach places and locations not visible to the naked eye discernible.
Moon’s take: “This is my No. 1 go-to tool for every call. It makes our company more money on a daily basis than most others put together. With an HD camera, we can see areas of concern on heat exchangers that other cameras will never pick up. With video and audio recording capabilities, I can inspect how my technicians are doing on communication with the clients by watching my recordings. I also use the recordings as backup data in case a client thinks he’s been treated unfairly. All the facts are there for everyone to see and hear. It also works great to check blower wheels and hard-to-reach evaporators for cleanliness.”
A computer/laptop can have a variety of important functions for field technicians — from analyzing data to communicating with customers to emailing others within the company.
Kepley’s take: “Computer skills are key and almost necessary for each and every tech in this day and time. Everyone should have, at the very minimum, basic computer skills and comprehension. Uploading, downloading, revising, and overall unit/system communication are all functions top technicians are familiar with. Having all the necessary information at your fingertips is oftentimes extremely helpful. Manuals and various searches can lead you in the right direction when all else fails.
A temperature probe measures things like relative humidity, dewpoint, absolute humidity, specific humidity, wetbulb temperature, and drybulb temperature.
Kepley’s take: “Recording air temperatures along with refrigerant line/water temperatures can provide much needed information. Obtaining proper Delta T readings is essential to proper diagnosis and operation of a system. Every technician should know and understand the proper terms and meanings, such as Delta T, superheat, subcooling, ambient, and approach.”
SIDEBAR: The Essential Tools of HVAC Ownership
Looking beyond job site necessities, Matt Bergstrom, owner of Thornton and Grooms in Farmington Hills, Michigan, provides some insight into the most important tools inside of an HVAC company owner’s “tool bag.”
DAILY AND WEEKLY DASHBOARD
“These dashboards tell us the score, as in how we are doing, what we need to do more of, and what in-game adjustments we need to make. Plus, these dashboards tell us what training we need to do.”
WEEKLY & QUARTERLY LEADERSHIP MEETINGS
“This provides a rhythm for me and our team. The meeting is 90 minutes each week (no longer) and one full day every quarter. We review results, discuss progress for our quarterly goals, and examine the most important issues facing our team and our success.”
REGULAR TIME WITH OTHER BUSINESS LEADERS
“It might just be me, but I find running a business to be hard and lonely when I try to do it on my own. Spending time with others helps me to realize I am not alone. Other business owners battle the same things, and spending time with them allows me to realize the challenges we all face when running a business. Sure, there is some loneliness, but I would not change anything because I love what I get to do and bring to our team.”
TIME WITH FAMILY
“It helps me to remember one of the reasons why I do what I do and also helps remind me that business is not everything.”
Publication date: 5/30/2016