Documentation is becoming more and more critical in daily HVAC contracting.

Many of us don't think in terms of defending ourselves every moment, but, unfortunately, there may come a day when a company's survival depends on it.

Documenting the system performance by measuring airflow, pressures, combustion air properties, and Btu delivery can deflect the most aggressive attorneys. But technical reports that contain data proving a system defect may not be sufficient to protect you. When it gets down to it, you may be at risk when a liability arises unless you can prove that you have communicated the potential danger and a solution to your customers.

One goal of diagnostic testing is to find system defects and to get paid to repair the problem. The proposal is the document that should summarize the results of the testing, present options, and list prices for your customers. This allows them to decide how to proceed to get the problems corrected. Presenting a thorough proposal increases our chances of getting the work by a multiple of four to five times, compared to a simple verbal delivery of the information.

Transfer The Liability

When we arrive at a job, the system defects and the liabilities attached to those defects belong to our customer. When we find the problem, the problem becomes ours. Right or wrong, we also own the liability that the problem could produce. When we offer our services through a written proposal, we transfer the problem off of our shoulders and back onto our customer's, where it belongs.

Let's say there is a gas water heater operating with no draft pressure in a laundry room. The potential of CO poisoning is a clear and present danger. If we talk with our customer about the problem, but no action is taken, then someone dies of CO poisoning in the future, oddly enough the courts will often find us liable.

What We Should Do

If we immediately tag the appliance and deliver a written proposal for work that corrects the defect and eliminates the hazard, the liability transfers away from us and back to our customer. We're clean again.

Now, the customer has to take some action. Here's what's supposed to happen: The service tech carefully reviews the proposal with the customer, which he or she approves. Barometric dampers are installed and all other repairs are completed; the system is tested and a written report documents the safe and improved operation of the system. The work is paid for and the hazard is eliminated. End of story. That's how it's supposed to work.

Here's What Could Happen

But let's say the customer disregards a verbal offer to fix the system. The husband comes home that night, jury-rigs the water heater back into operation, and the homeowners continue on like nothing happened.

This action repeats itself across the country every day. A week later, they end up in the hospital with CO poisoning. An aggressive attorney, looking for work and opportunity, reads the story in the paper and informs his new clients of a get-rich-quick opportunity.

To avoid the liability that may appear from customers forgetting your counsel and recommendations, resolve to deliver written proposals. In legal terms, allow written proposals to "extinguish your liability," and close the case before it can ever get started.

Incorporate on-the-spot proposal writing in your daily service offerings to increase sales and reduce your liabilities.

For a no-cost, half-page, on-the-spot proposal that your company can incorporate into service procedures, contact Rob "Doc" Falke at or call him at 800-633-7058.

Publication date: 04/25/2005