Whether you like them or not, rules provide boundaries. And staying within the boundaries helps you know what to expect. This makes planning and adapting much easier. You have rules for both your personal and professional life, although you might not always call them that. They are the principles that guide you and determine your decisions.

In this third article in the “Defining Duct Renovation” series, we’ll look at five rules you should remember. These rules are simple but not always easy to apply. If they were, everyone in our industry would follow them and repair poorly performing duct systems. As you read, consider how these rules might prevent some of your common headaches and help better serve customers.


1. Don’t Renovate Ducts on Oversized Equipment

We know oversized equipment and undersized ducts are a recipe for disaster. If you want to get stuck eating a disaster you created, even with good intentions, combine oversized equipment and a newly renovated duct system. It’s the easiest mistake to make with duct renovations.

Many in our industry lean toward oversizing because they don’t understand the duct system or the building that the HVAC system heats and cools. They’re scared to death of getting a call on the hottest or coldest day of the year from an upset customer complaining that their system can’t keep up. Unfortunately, that same customer is usually uncomfortable most other days of the year but believes it’s normal because their system cycles on and off.

In cooling mode, the system doesn’t run long enough to remove moisture and pumps humid air into the living space. In heating mode, it’s just as bad. The furnace kicks on, delivers a blast of scorching hot air, and then shuts off. This rollercoaster effect compounds when you renovate the ducts because the system delivers more Btus to the living space.

You’ll want to address oversized equipment in the discovery phase of a duct renovation (we’ll talk more about this next month). You and your customer notice it at the same time.


2. Involve Your Customers

Unless you get your customer involved in the discovery phase of a duct renovation, it’s hard to progress past an equipment replacement quote. Our industry conditions more than buildings — we condition people. HVAC has always been about people first; specifically, your customers.

The foundation of customer involvement is communication. It builds understanding, which leads to trust and then grows into relationships. Keep your communication simple. Complicated technical terms and acronyms only get in the way and make it harder for you and a customer to connect.

There is a foreign language most of us in HVAC speak that those outside our industry don’t understand. Most customers won’t comprehend airflow or CFM (cubic feet per minute), but they will understand boxes or buckets of air needed to fill a room with comfort.

For this reason, you’ll want to ask questions to discover customer expectations and identify potential obstacles.


3. Focus on One Thing

There’s an old Russian proverb that says if you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither one. Focusing on one thing helps you and your customer make connections one piece at a time. It’s like putting Lego blocks together. Your job is to figure out what piece of information is important and then figure out how to relate it to duct renovation (if applicable) as the remedy.

Btus, which consist of both airflow and temperature, are the product delivered by the HVAC system into the living space. When you involve your customer, you can pick one of these properties and let your customers chase it to uncover their comfort problems. The two easiest ways to help customers in that chase are to allow them access to a balancing hood for airflow and a thermal imaging camera for temperature. With these tools, customers can discover the source of their comfort problems while you identify potential solutions.

By focusing on one thing, you empower customers to process the essential information they need to make an educated decision. Avoid the urge to identify everything else you see at this point and end up chasing another rabbit. Less is more in the beginning.

“In the medical field, there are practitioners, and there are specialists. … If you want to get paid for your designs, this is a powerful model to adapt.”

4. Get Paid for Your Designs

The level of expertise it takes to properly apply tools like the ACCA design suite isn’t appreciated enough in our business. Most contractors perform a Manual J load calculation and call it a day. Unfortunately, they miss a few steps in the process.

In the medical field, there are practitioners, and there are specialists. Each has specific skills and applications. Medical practitioners use vital signs like blood pressure and weight to make general observations, while specialists use more advanced tests like an EKG or MRI. There are times and places for both, but almost always, a practitioner will refer a patient to a specialist when the need arises. If you want to get paid for your designs, this is a powerful model to adapt.

An HVAC practitioner uses HVAC vital signs like static pressure and temperatures to identify general HVAC issues. From this data, they may refer the customer to an in-house HVAC specialist. That specialist will use advanced diagnostic testing and design work to look deeper into the HVAC system and recommend solutions. As with any specialist, there is an additional fee for their services and expertise.

It might sound odd to include testing as part of the design process. However, without it, you can’t establish a baseline for the existing system. Instead, you’ll convince yourself to remove everything and start from scratch instead of making surgical upgrades based on test results. Some customers will not want the services of a specialist — and that’s okay. That doesn’t change the fact that specialists get paid to be specialists.


5. Use All the Ingredients

Every meal you eat has a set of ingredients that a cook assembles to achieve a desired outcome. HVAC systems are similar. No cook would ever consider leaving out ingredients because they know the resulting taste would poorly reflect upon their expertise. They use all the necessary ingredients. I suggest you follow this advice with your duct renovations.

HVAC system ingredients needed for a successful duct renovation include proper design, testing, installation, and verification. Your customer decides how much of an investment they are willing to make for the outcome they want. They determine the quality and quantity of ingredients. Your responsibility is to offer the best ingredients assembled the right way based on your customer’s level of investment.

Ultimately, the customer decides and should then own their decision. But remember, few customers order a hamburger with fries and expect a filet mignon with grilled asparagus. They know what to expect when ordering a meal. Likewise, you must make sure they understand the intended outcome of your work before you deliver any results. Using all the ingredients and keeping them in context prevents you from overpromising and underdelivering.


Know When to Break the Rules

Rules are not absolute and sometimes need to be bent a bit. They are guidelines to keep you safe but should be flexible enough to adapt. As you perform more renovations, you’ll create more customized rules that fit your company and customer base.

The important takeaway is to set limits so you know how to handle duct renovations. Use what works and avoid what doesn’t. I believe you’ll find they help in your transition from practitioner to specialist.