“Why didn’t you just do it right the first time?” Ever heard that question when you told a customer that it would now be necessary to rip out the drywall and ductwork because the airflow is not going where it needs to go?

Ever had your dentist tell you that your recent root canal wasn’t the solution and the crown on your tooth would now have to be drilled in order to repair a deep tooth fracture?

Neither one is very palatable, but sometimes the truth hurts as much as an unnecessary root canal.

Perhaps 15 years ago an installing contractor didn’t know much about airflow and sealing duct systems. Today, that same contractor might easily diagnose an air distribution problem. Maybe the dentist didn’t know there was a deep fracture because an X-ray couldn’t reveal the problem. After he isolated all other potential causes (root canal) he determined by the process of elimination that you had another problem. Not the best news in the world, but things happen.

Past ignorance shouldn’t preclude any of us from doing the right thing once we find out what needs to be done. A dentist who hid behind his honest mistake wouldn’t be doing his patient much good. Likewise, a contractor that didn’t reveal an installation related problem ... .

Many years ago a training colleague reminded me of a very noteworthy point. He assured me that the students “Don’t know what they don’t know, that’s why they come to class.”

In the HVAC business things have changed considerably. How could a residential contractor know 15 years ago that the average amount of leakage in a duct system would severely hinder the performance of a high-efficiency system? After all, that contractor didn’t have the measurement tools that are available today.

How could a commercial contractor know that the amount of carbon dioxide in a building was at such high levels as to hinder worker productivity? No one knew that was even a problem and how would someone measure that anyway?

The truth of the matter is that 15 years ago, both residential and commercial HVAC contractors could, in fact, have foreseen such problems, but most didn’t, even though the tools really were available. Why not? Because, most didn’t know what they didn’t know. Perhaps they skipped out on a class they could have attended.


The diagnostic tools that are available and the general knowledge about HVAC are much more advanced than 15 years ago. However, many people still do not adhere to the latest practices simply because they don’t know. But, is that an acceptable excuse in our industry? After all, a contractor can’t be held responsible for understanding all the new technologies - there are just too many new-fangled theories and gadgets to keep up with it all. That is one line of thought.

Another line of thought suggests that learning about new technology and acceptable practices is important in your business or career. That is one of the reasons that NATE certification and UA STAR certification are becoming accepted in HVAC.

Just so everyone is clear on this point, ignorance won’t get you very far with a judge and a jury, even if it’s 15 years after the initial installation. You can be held responsible for what you don’t know. An example: If you didn’t know that an increased amount of combustion and ventilation air may be required when installing certain gas furnaces in the same space with a water heater, the customer would not be any less dead from a buildup of carbon monoxide.


Finding the time to train all of your employees on everything there is to know about the HVAC business can seem like a daunting task. It may seem there just aren’t enough hours in the day. That’s where online training is making a big difference, not only in HVAC but also with the general populace. Founded in 1976, the University of Phoenix, known for its classes in fields ranging from information technology to business to health care, is primarily an online university and has the nation’s largest enrollment with more than 250,000 students.

If you want to find out more about online learning and how it can work in your HVAC business, tune in to a free Webinar on April 24, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. You can register for “How To Use Online Learning” at http://webinars.achrnews.com. I’ll be moderating the session, and some experts from the academic world will be on hand to describe online learning and give you some tips in your business.

Is it time for you to learn what you don’t know?

Publication date:04/02/2007