HVAC Contractors' Tool Policies Require Tweaking
Small adjustments may be necessary to ensure rules work for everyone
Many technicians have strong feelings about the tools they use. They like certain brands and dislike others, which is why most contractors leave the tool buying to the technicians themselves. That way, they can buy what they want, and they tend to take better care of tools they actually own.
To make sure technicians have the right tools for the job, contractors usually provide a list of required items they must own, such as screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, refrigerant gauges, and the like, and they may offer a monthly allowance to help with those purchases. But tool policies vary from one company to the next, and most evolve over time, based on the needs of the particular business as well as the input from the technicians who work there.
Six years ago, when The NEWS talked with James Gallet, president of Envirotech Heating and Cooling in Shawnee, Kansas, he had recently changed his tool policy so that technicians no longer had to purchase their own vacuum pumps and refrigerant scales, and the company had just established a personal tool account for employees. Catching up with him recently, Gallet said that since then, he has adjusted the policy a little bit, but overall, it has been working well.
“Our seven technicians must have their own hand tools, but we provide them with a carbon monoxide detector, digital refrigerant scale, reclaim machine, vacuum pump, digital manometer, and oxygen and acetylene bottles along with nitrogen tanks and regulators,” he said. “We also have some larger items that are not used daily but are available for check out, such as a flow hood, combustion analyzer, and a blower door.”
Envirotech also increased the spending limit for personal tool accounts from $300 to $500, which offers technicians the ability to purchase tools through the company’s vendors.
“Each technician can put up to $500 on their account, and through payroll, we deduct $30 to $50 per week to pay down their balance,” said Gallet. “This is interest free, and they can purchase tools that they need or want without paying upfront for a large item. The payroll deduction is also a great way for them to track what they spent each year on tools, and in some instances, they can use tool purchases as a tax deduction.”
This is also a great benefit for new technicians, who may not have all the tools they need when they first start working. But unfortunately, new technicians often need more than what the $500 will cover.
“In those instances, we will work with them, and from time to time, we will extend that allowance,” said Gallet. “I also have personal tools that I will loan out for a short time to get someone through a few months if need be.”
Overall, the technicians at Envirotech seem to enjoy the ability to purchase through company vendors and have the tools deducted through payroll.
“It’s also a bonus because if technicians have a broken tool and need an invoice located for a warranty exchange, it is easier for them to ask us for it than to dig through their personal files,” Gallet added.
Hybrid Air Heating & Air-conditioning in Virginia Beach, Virginia, which specializes in residential retrofit, installation, and service, has four installation crews and five service technicians. The company requires technicians to have all the major tools necessary to do their jobs when they are hired. However, that is not usually an issue, because new hires are typically seasoned, qualified technicians who already have most of their own tools, said company CEO, Ben Young.
“If there is a particular tool they need, we allow them to open an account and purchase it at the supply house, and then we deduct the amount from their paychecks,” he said. “If they cannot afford it right away or do not want to make that purchase, we will find the tool for them from another technician or offer a company-provided tool.”
Before technicians are allowed to make a tool purchase, they must be employed by the company for at least 30 days. Young found out the hard way that when employees purchase tools that are not covered by their first paycheck, he would get stuck with the bill if they decided to leave suddenly. Employees must also pay off the balance in full within 30 days.
“Suppliers usually want their money within 30 days, so I make my employees pay it back within 30 days as well,” said Young. “It’s basically a loan.”
Young’s tool policy has evolved over time, mainly due to instances where employees left before paying off tool purchases. Now he requires a specific purchase order for each tool purchase, which goes directly to the human resources department.
Aside from prearranged special circumstances, half of the purchase is deducted from the employees’ first paycheck of the month, and the remainder of the balance is deducted from the second paycheck at the end of the month.
“We’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way, and this is what we’ve come up with that works best for our company,” he said.
Progressive Heating and Air in Newnan, Georgia, specializes in residential service and replacement and also does work in the commercial and new construction markets. The company’s 13 service and installation technicians are required to have certain tools that are needed to do their jobs at the time of hire, but they are welcome to supplement these with any tools they like. The company supplies torches, vacuum pumps, recovery machines, combustion analyzers, leak detectors, and other required tools that are expensive, said Samantha Brazie, sales and operations manager.
“If they need something, we can purchase it for them and then they can have the amount split up and deducted weekly from their checks,” she said. “Since our installers work in pairs, it is easier for a helper to start with minimal tools, since each truck has what it needs to get the job done.”
The company has tried various tool policies, said Brazie, but over the last year, they have found that giving technicians total freedom to buy what they want has worked the best. To help them with their purchases, technicians earn $25 per month for tool replacements, and this can accrue over time.
“The idea is to help with excessive replacements on some tools and also make it easier for those who take care of their tools to get more tools for free,” she said.
So far, Progressive’s current tool policy has worked out better than the ones it has had in the past, and technicians are happy with it, said Brazie. Even so, she plans to review it periodically to make sure it is still working for everyone.
“Once we have a policy in place consistently for six to 12 months, we revisit it and see if it needs to be tweaked or revised in some way,” she said.
One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning in Laurinburg, North Carolina, which specializes in residential service and replacement, has had the same tool policy for years, and it has worked well, said Derek Cole, general manager. Basically, the company provides vacuum pumps, recovery machines, and cylinders, but technicians are responsible for all other tools. Any tools that are broken must be replaced by the technicians, although the company will replace its own equipment if it is broken.
“We have found that this works best for both parties,” said Cole. “The policy is clearly outlined, and we explain why it is that way. We have just found that individuals seem to take better care of the items they own versus items they only use.”
Most new hires at One Hour come from trade schools, and they already have a lot of the tools needed to do their jobs, said Cole. But the company does have a tool program that is available for all its employees.
“We buy the tools, then technicians reimburse us through a deduction that they agree will be taken out of their paychecks,” he said. “The payment and terms depend on the situation and the amount.”
And, according to Cole, technicians seem to be happy with the arrangement.
“There’s nothing I would change about our policy,” he said.
Publication date: 6/4/2018