The next day a customer calls with a complaint about a circuit breaker that keeps tripping. Maybe the installer hooked up the wiring incorrectly. Maybe it was something unrelated to the installation. To be safe, you send the installer back and, sure enough, he made a mistake on the hookup.
He corrects the problem and the customer has a properly operating unit, but the damage is done. It cost your company a nonbillable service call and the customer was left wondering about your installer's competence.
This could have been prevented if the installer had a checklist of all the items related to a correct installation and had reviewed them with the customer before leaving the job. It seems like a simple and logical solution, but a system of double checks is often overlooked.
Contractors And ChecklistsNewsContractor Consultant Aaron York, of Aaron York's Quality Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., Indianapolis, said installers become know-it-alls and even if they start with a checklist, they eventually stop using it.
"Many manufacturers (not all) provide some type of startup test sheet for both heating and cooling equipment," York said. "Unfortunately, few of them are used by the installers because the list asks for far too much data, some of which is really not pertinent.
"There is the constant push to get things done as quickly as possible to make a buck; thus, after the installer has â€˜done a couple of these,' he now knows how and simply ditches the form."
There may be reasons why manufacturers try not to be too "specific" in their equipment checklists, according to News Contractor Consultant Vince DiFilippo, of DiFilippo's Service Co., Paoli, Pa. "In my opinion, I think they don't go into detail for two reasons:
"The instruction booklet would be the size of the 2003 Congressional Record - added cost. And I believe manufacturers want a little ambiguity so they have less liability exposure in case of a catastrophic failure (thus the reason for so many warning labels)."
He added, "If manufacturers created such detailed instructions any person could install the furnace. With the big-time push on do-it-yourselfers, I think manufacturers want their equipment installed by professionals so that they don't get massive warranty returns, irate clients, and in-creased liability issues."
Robin Boyd, a frequent contributor to the HVACR Forum at www.achrnews.com, commented, "Actually, the installation manual itself is a checklist. If the contractor checks off each section of the install and startup instructions, he or she will have checked themselves for proper installation."
He continued, "However, let's face it - after doing a couple of hundred installs of the same type of systems, techs get a little lax on the proper methods and can start getting a little sloppy. For this reason, it would be good for manufacturers to provide a startup data sheet like the oil burner manufacturers have.
"If outdoor ambient at the condenser/heat pump, liquid and suction pressures, and line temperatures and return air temperatures at the air handler/furnace were documented on every startup, there would be a lot of issues caught before they became actual problems."
Taking Matters In HandAnother contractor said he believes each business should take the basic checklist data from manufacturers and tweak it to their own needs.
"Carrier has good installation and startup information shipped with their products," said Pat Manning, of Air-Rite Heating & Cooling, North Aurora, Ill. "However, their list is too generic. We are going to bring our installers and salespeople together in a series of one-hour meetings to hammer out a checklist for each piece of equipment we install. This checklist will cover everyone's procedure from sale to cleanup after the installation.
"We want to streamline our efforts, clean up loose ends, and maintain quality."
John Boyce, of Airco Service Inc., Tulsa, Okla., noted, "Lennox does give you an installation checklist. However, it is an equipment startup checklist, not so much a true installation checklist.
"We have a signoff sheet that goes out on every job," Boyce said, "and asks things like vent clearances, gas leak checked, proper fuse sizes, filter sizes, trash picked up, and things like that. It would be helpful if they had a similar form for customer assurance of a job well done, besides a city inspection."
News Contractor Consultant Scott Getzschman, of Getzschman Heating & Sheet Metal, Fremont, Neb., said, "We provide our own checklist to our residential installers, which covers startup and check-out procedures. This is done on every installation. The customer also has a place to sign off, saying that the system has been explained.
"Commercially, most manufacturers do provide a startup checklist, but residentially there are no guidelines."
Customized checklists not only help installers avoid mistakes and callbacks, they can also serve as successful selling tools. News Contractor Consultant Kevin Comerford, of Service Champions, San Ramon, Calif., put together a detailed, 33-point checklist which serves more than one purpose. It is "for the installers when they are completing the job," Comerford said.
"They go over these 33 points and then have the client sign and they sign off. It is returned to our office and we reference it if we have any discrepancies in the future.
"It is also a huge selling tool for the salesman to use when they are on a presentation. It is a great way to differentiate us from our competition."
York concluded, "There is a need for a simple, noncomplex startup test sheet that can be completed rather quickly. We have developed some we use for our installations, but they are not designed with the factory in mind."
If you'd like a copy of Service Champion's 33-point checklist, contact Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: 08/30/2004