HVAC Excellence recently concluded its 2021 National HVACR Educators and Trainers Conference, which was held online this year, and the event did not disappoint. The annual train-the-trainer event is designed for anyone involved in the training of current or future HVACR professionals, and this year’s program covered just about every aspect of the industry, from best practices to emerging technologies to new refrigerants and their accompanying regulations.
While all the sessions I attended were very interesting, there was one that really stood out: Transitioning From Comfort Cooling to Refrigeration: Not As Easy As One Might Think, led by Bryan Orr. Readers may recognize Bryan from the pages of The NEWS, where he has written a number of outstanding articles. He is also a contractor in Orlando, Florida, as well as the founder of HVACRSchool.com and the HVAC School Podcast.
In this particular session, he and his brother, Nathan, talked about some of the major differences between servicing air conditioning and refrigeration equipment. Bryan noted that his contracting firm, Kalos, had always been involved with refrigeration to a certain degree, but four or five years ago, they decided to make that more of their core business. His brother, Nathan, led those efforts, and he discussed some of the challenges of transitioning from comfort cooling to refrigeration.
“I went from 98% comfort cooling – mostly residential – to customers who had an expectation that I was not going to destroy their food,” he said. “That’s pretty much what refrigeration is all about – stopping food from going bad.”
Nathan said he figured he was a smart guy and could figure it out, but overall, it was a humbling experience, because there were things he didn’t know. Having to ask more experienced people for help was very difficult, but necessary, he said, because there is no figuring it out as you go.
“If you do that, there's an opportunity for things to go really bad,” said Nathan. “Everything is preparation, and everything is urgent. There's no like, ‘oh, this didn't go quite the way I planned, but we adapted as we went and it worked out fine and everybody was happy.’ That doesn’t happen. There's more technical accuracy than in comfort cooling. But even sort of more than that is just the urgency and ability to get done whatever it was that you planned on doing right now.”
While a sense of urgency is definitely needed for refrigeration work, patience is also key. Bryan noted that when he was in school, his instructor said that refrigeration is a job for old men, because it requires patience. He agrees with that to a certain extent, because patience is needed throughout the entire process of repairing refrigeration equipment.
“Patience is needed on the front end, because you don’t just forge ahead and make it work,” he said. “You don't move ahead until you have the correct people there and the correct stuff there, and you've counted it and double counted it, and everything's there and good to go. And then on the back end, there's a lot of patience. And then there's this small window of absolute urgency. I still kind of feel like refrigeration is not necessarily for old men, but for people who have that mentality -- I'll say mature or deliberate. It requires a level of being deliberate that doesn't necessarily exist in comfort cooling.”
The sense of urgency is definitely more extreme with refrigeration, said Nathan, as restaurants or grocery stores have the potential to lose their perishable inventories if their equipment breaks down.
“The constant on-call is different in refrigeration,” he said. “When you're on call for air conditioning, do you ever really get a call in the middle of the night? Where it's so urgent that you don't shower, you roll out of bed, and you’re out the door in five minutes? Not usually. And even keeping your truck stocked appropriately, so you can make any temporary or emergency repair. There’s no waiting until Monday to get a part. In refrigeration, that simply doesn't exist.”
For those who want to make the switch from servicing comfort cooling equipment to refrigeration equipment, Nathan said it’s also important to remember that customers are in the business of selling food. And refrigeration technicians are there to help them achieve their goals and make money.
“You are supporting people selling food, and that's the end. There's no other magic to it,” he said. “That's why we do this -- because we love equipment. We love the technical side of machines, we love tools. We love the puzzle of it. But when making decisions, you have to understand that you are in the business of helping good delicious food get sold, so people can make money. Because when they make money, they can afford to pay you money.”
So if you love the technical side of the HVACR industry and are patient and deliberate, then servicing refrigeration equipment may be just the right job for you.