Some time in my jaded past, I’ve written about this issue before. Though we are all very busy with our lives and careers, and don’t always have time to carefully read every piece of literature that comes our way, it is important to read some things - like installation instructions. You know this to be true if you’ve ever destroyed a bag of microwave popcorn.

I’m the first to admit that it is certainly more challenging and entertaining to delve headfirst into a project such as the backyard swimming pool or a trampoline. However, as the law of do-it-yourselfism already states: Everything costs twice as much and takes three times longer than you expected. So, why do we constantly seek ways to confound the process, e.g., not reading the instructions? Pardon the gender bias here, but, it’s what men do.

DIY projects are one thing, but life-saving or life-threatening scenarios are another. We always just assume that a cardiology surgeon has taken the time to read the instructions or watch the video about implanting a new model surgical stent in a blocked artery. (You know someone had to finish last in the class, even if it was Harvard Medical School.) It wouldn’t be acceptable for a surgeon to contend that he or she had “installed hundreds of these” stents and didn’t bother to read the instructions on the new model.

Is an HVAC installation any less important?


I recently spent a couple of hours with a fire inspection expert. She travels nationally for an HVAC manufacturer to determine the cause of building fires when an appliance is suspected to be the culprit. Very few fires that she inspects are the result of faulty appliances. Most are due to faulty installations. She told me that many of the problems would be solved if contractors actually read the installation instructions.

According to Karen Marchand, the technical support specialist with a leading manufacturer of chimney and gas venting products, using incorrect vent pipe with tankless water heaters is an installation problem that her company has encountered in the field. And, yes, most tankless water heater’s installation instructions warn of the dangers of escaping flue gases if existing B-vent piping is not replaced with proper vent.

On another note: Some furnace installation instructions will tell you to switch from Schedule 40 PVC to Schedule 80 if exceeding 180° venting temperatures. I wonder if that little note has ever been overlooked?


If all of the right answers are so easily found in the installation instructions, why do so many of us choose to ignore them? One argument is the one that you’ve heard some time in your career - maybe you have espoused this belief yourself - “My father did it this way for 35 years and this is the way he taught me. It’s always worked before.”

Another old standby is “I’ve installed hundreds of these.” Uh, remember the surgeon and the new stent?

According to Jim Davis, of the National Comfort Institute training company, who often pours over installation instructions looking for guidance, there may be another reason most contractors ignore them.

“Many of the instructions don’t actually tell us what to do, or they are intentionally evasive,” said Davis, an expert on carbon monoxide (CO). “The most I’ve ever found in a gas furnace instruction manual is to tell you to ‘look for a blue flame,’ but it doesn’t say anything about CO levels or proper testing.”

A search for a blue flame is hardly enough guidance to ensure that an installer or diagnostic technician knows how to measure for dangerous CO levels in a building.

Davis gives rise to an interesting thought: Maybe we now know why perhaps fewer than 20 percent of contractors actually read the instructions. However, shame on anyone for not reading the instructions even if they are spewing pablum after being rendered useless by corporate legal teams. Shame on the manufacturers even more if they are purposely being evasive by avoiding some topics, or by referring readers to other sources, only to keep their own feet out of the fire.

This is dangerous territory. Somewhere buried in the fine print, or between the lines, may be tiny nuggets of information that might make the difference between you sitting in front of a jury or sitting in your office readingThe NEWSone Monday morning.

Publication date:04/09/2007