Bowling is a game that provides instant feedback. Within seconds, you know if your ball is in the gutter or how many pins you knocked over. A glance at the scoreboard shows you whether you’re winning or losing the game. Testing the airside of an HVAC system has some interesting similarities. Let’s look a little deeper at some light-hearted lessons bowling can teach us about airside testing.


1: Start Simple

On the surface, bowling is simple. You heave a heavy ball down the lane and knock down all the pins. However, under the surface, bowling is much more complicated. As you explore the techniques and skills of the sport, they can make your head spin.

Airflow is the same way — we often condense air distribution down to simple rules. Design the ducts right, install them straight, avoid sharp turns, and they work. Once again, it’s a little more complicated than that. The question is, how simple do you make it? The answer is: It depends.

When I was a kid, I often bowled with my cousins. The only instructions I could handle were “Throw the ball down the lane and knock down the pins.” Over time, as I practiced with my cousins (who were serious about the game), I picked up on their terms and understood them. If they had used those explanations on me my first time out, it would have been too much too soon.

Unfortunately, we often overwhelm newer technicians who want to learn airflow by giving them too much information too soon. Instead of starting with the basics, such as why ducts are important and should be installed straight, we tell them to read ACCA Manual D. They read a few pages and quit before they start. It’s too much too soon. Could this explain why our industry is so weak on airflow principles? How far ahead would we be if we started out simple?


2: Follow the Dots

Dots are markers on the bowling lane that help guide your ball alignment. They provide a target to aim for that’s easy to see. With airside testing, you also need a target — the desired outcome you’re aiming for.

Ten pins are the targets in bowling. Sometimes you knock all the pins over and other times you miss them all. The “ten pins” in airside testing you aim for are the manufacturer’s specifications. They include maximum external static pressure and required airflow. If you don’t test, you’ll never know how many “pins” you hit.

Remember, bowling is visual — you see the target. Since airflow and static pressure are invisible, you need test instruments to help you see them.


3: Avoid the Gutter

The gutter is where the ball goes if you release it wrong. It’s a sign you made a mistake and missed the target. Having the knowledge and gear to bowl doesn’t mean you’ll throw a strike every time. You realize this the first time you slide into the lane wearing those slick, multicolored shoes and fall on your rear as the ball heads for the gutter.

To avoid this painful reminder, you practice proper technique and learn from your mistakes. It helps to know that when you mess up and hit the gutter, you get a second chance. You can chuck the ball down the lane again. On the airside, you must measure using the proper technique to get a second chance or you won’t be able to adjust.

In bowling, you use the same gear (ball and shoes) on your second attempt. Follow the same principle in airside testing. Many technicians use different test methods and instruments between a test in and test out. Don’t do this! Instead, use the same testing techniques and instruments to assure consistency from one test to the next.


4: Keep Score

Bowling uses a scoreboard and scoring method that is easy to track and follow. Everyone can see it. They know their score and how they are doing. If you’re winning or losing, you know it. Airside testing should use the same concept. Technicians and installers need to understand how well they’re doing.

A simple scoreboard for technicians to start with is static pressure. They can measure the pressure drop across a filter or coil before and after they make repairs to see the difference they made. Installers also need to know if they’re hitting the mark and winning the game. They can start with external static pressure and fan airflow on an install. These tests give them a glimpse at the duct system’s effectiveness. There are various tests you can perform, but these provide a simple starting point.

Scoreboards also create accountability and friendly competition through testing. It doesn’t take long to identify the winners and losers. If you don’t have a scoreboard or a way to keep track of what’s happening, you’ll soon find your installations in the gutter.


Work Towards 300

In bowling, a 300 score is perfection. It is the best score you can achieve and the goal of all bowlers. Bowling 300 is hard to achieve and only happens with a lot of practice.

In the beginning, bowlers don’t expect to achieve 300. It’s a goal they build towards. They will miss a lot of pins before they earn that score. To master airside testing, you need to acknowledge you will miss some targets too. You won’t achieve perfection on your first attempt, but that’s no excuse not to start.

It’s OK if you miss a few pins and then adjust. That is how you learn and build your skills. Airside testing lets you see how well your systems perform. It helps you discover if you’re missing “pins” so you can make the right adjustments. Unless you start, you’ll never hit any pins. The only way to learn is to start and get in the game.