When summertime rolls round, everyone loves spending their days outside, enjoying the weather. But it becomes a problem when they can’t come back home to cool, fresh, air-conditioned homes. Storms are not the only thing that lead to power outages — as temperatures continue to rise, the nation’s power grid is only put under more strain.

Although HVAC contractors can’t map out exactly when a power outage will hit, they can still try to plan ahead. Chad Peterman, president of Peterman Brothers, said one of the simplest ways to prepare for an outage is to closely monitor the weather for any incoming storms or other extreme weather patterns. Being caught by surprise, he said, can be a major problem.

“Especially over a weekend or something like that, we should be prepared and be able to have the resources available for our customers, should they need us,” explained Peterman.

He added that communication is key when it comes to the staff on call. Peterman said some contractors might feel the need to overstaff during outages due to the high demand of calls they receive, however it’s not always necessary. By being made aware of a potential emergency situation, technicians can leave spaces in their schedule to address these more urgent jobs, should they arise. Some techs might even be willing to work longer hours.

“It’s as simple as, ‘Hey, we could be expecting some of this. It may be a little bit later night than the normal.’ We make sure we're communicating with our team,” said Peterman.


Push for Preventative Maintenance

In addition to staff members, communication is also important when it comes to customers. According to Peterman, one of the most crucial things to educate consumers on is generators. He said a well-maintained generator makes the difference between being slightly inconvenienced versus being completely out of service.

Ted Puzio, owner of Southern Trust Home Services, said many people think of their generators as reliable backups, but overlook the fact that these pieces of equipment also need to be looked after and maintained. Puzio said many consumers let their gas generators just sit all year until they need it, but the gas in the system doesn't stay well, especially without a stabilizer in the fuel system. He added that consumers should check their generators before the spring storm season because that’s when the demand starts to rise.

“The biggest thing with folks is they don't think of the preventive maintenance. Just when all of a sudden it's like, ‘Oh, shoot. Power's out. Let's get the generator we haven't used for a year and let's hope it works,” explained Puzio.

Although his company, like many others, offers service agreements and membership opportunities to help push preventive maintenance, Puzio said that some people just don’t understand the importance of being proactive about their HVAC systems — they would rather just fix something when it’s broken. He attributed some of this attitude to consumers believing that contractors are “basically another salesperson.”

“The biggest investment you have is your home. Do you run your car without changing oil? Might be a little late, but you change it,” said Puzio.

However, delaying repairs can be costly. Not only have fuel prices gone up, but lead times in the industry are only increasing. Puzio said although the company can always bring in a portable cooling system to loan to their customers while they wait, it’s only a temporary solution. By regularly checking their HVAC systems, consumers can avoid some of these bigger problems during power outage season.

“Whether it's a generator we installed or something that they put in themselves, we just want to be safe.”
Matt Marsiglio
Operations manager, Flame Heating, Cooling, and Electrical

Safety First

When dealing with power outages, there’s more to think about beyond simply fixing the problem — contractors and consumers must both approach these situations with safety in mind. Puzio said during storm season, older or decaying trees become a problem because the wind will blow their branches everywhere. To avoid this, he said his company tries to prep consumers and convince them to bring someone to remove the branches early on to avoid any potential electrical damage.

Beyond the consumer’s safety, Matt Marsiglio, operations manager at Flame Heating, Cooling, and Electrical, said one way to protect technicians on the job is to not overwork them, especially in extreme weather. He said all of the company’s delivery vehicles have a cooler filled with ice water in them, as well as hydration drinks and electrolyte tablets. The company also sends emails out to its technicians, reminding them to hydrate and report any signs of dehydration or heatstroke immediately.

“We'd rather send them home half a day and have them be healthy, than force them to work a full day,” explained Marsiglio.

Prioritizing jobs is also key. Although a power outage is unfortunate for everyone involved, some jobs are more urgent than others. For example, Marsiglio said the company’s commercial department will prioritize jobs that involve loss of product, while the residential side will likely service households with elderly and babies. Saying no can be difficult, Marsiglio said, but it’s necessary to address as many customers as possible while avoiding burnout.

Marsiglio also emphasized the importance of running generators outside of the home. He said it’s crucial to inform consumers that their generators should not be inside their houses or garages — they should be run outside, a fair distance from their homes, to avoid carbon monoxide.

“Whether it's a generator we installed or something that they put in themselves, we just want to be safe,” said Marsiglio.