Under the Same Umbrella

I was somewhat offended that John R. Hall referred to maintenance work and hvacr as two separate fields [“Sarah’s Not Smilin’ – Yet,” June 4].

I graduated from an hvacr trade school in 1975 where I attended classes four hours per night for a year. After graduating from trade school, I was offered a “maintenance” job by the employer I was working for at the time. This was a manufacturing company that had a large number of rooftop units and needed someone to take care of this equipment.

I got a lot of good, hands-on experience, and I also did a bit of residential work on the side. I worked there until 1982 when I took a job with a petroleum conglomerate that had a lot of boilers, chillers, and other large commercial equipment. After 15 years at this job, I learned a great deal about not only centrifugal chillers and boilers but also ddc controls, refrigeration, and more equipment than I can list.

I am currently a licensed journeyman hvac technician and I have a universal EPA certification and am employed with a printing company. I am still doing “maintenance” and am earning excellent wages and benefits.

I consider myself to be an hvac technician just as much as any other technician who works out of a service truck. I have had plenty of opportunities to join my fellow tradesmen in the “traveling” side of our trade, but I prefer to stay put. I have found it to be a rewarding and enjoyable career, as well as being lucrative.

Mr. Hall, going into the maintenance field does not always mean that one has “dropped out of the hvacr trade.” Let Sarah know that there is plenty of room in the “maintenance” trade for her and lots of others, and that they need not feel like second-class technicians because they do not drive a service truck.

Mike Jefferson

Hvac Technician

Wichita Printing Division

Wichita, KS

Customers Should Get What They Pay For

I just finished reading Steve Howard’s article [“Balancing Comfort and Energy Prices,” June 18] where still another study indicates that the majority of installed air conditioning systems don’t work as designed. The reasons given were leaking ducts, insufficient airflow, incorrect refrigerant charge, and virtually all of them were oversized. He then tells us how much business is to be had by correcting these conditions. Have you ever told a homeowner that his problem is not an equipment problem, but rather his basic installation was wrong and that the installation will virtually have to be redone? Then, when you try to blame it on a fly-by-night contractor, you find out that the original installer is the chapter president of your local contractors association? Think about it. All 75% of these installations can’t have been done by shady contractors or unlicensed moonlighters; they are being installed by legitimate contractors.

Are we to believe that these installers did a bad job deliberately? If you are going to charge a unit, what do you gain by overcharging it? No, I think the installers just didn’t know how to perform the individual tasks required to do a correct installation. They didn’t know how to size the ducts or how to properly connect the duct to the plenums and registers so they wouldn’t pull loose and leak. How many install a 1-in. filter rack that is roughly the same size as the footprint of an up/down flow, furnace/air handler? Do they know that only a new filter can allow enough airflow, and after a few weeks of dust the unit is starved for air? How many technicians have both the proper tools and the know-how to charge a unit to 10ºF subcooling?

If the installer had the profit from the equipment markup to help him defray his labor costs, how can we come up with a cost that seems reasonable to the homeowner and still make a profit?

Every spring I get at least two or three coupons in the mail offering a three-ton upflow system installed for $2,995. The only catch is “normal installation,” which means in an equipment closet, using existing wiring, line sets, thermostats, etc. The cost for the condensing unit, coil, and furnace is around $1,000. The average time for two men to install the unit is about two hours. So why complain that the market prices are too low to hire decent help? One thousand dollars per hour seems enough to do the job right the first time.

I disagree about the oversizing problem. This could be true in other parts of the country, but in Dallas, TX, my experience has been to the contrary. When the hot weather sets in, you can hear units running all night long. Some cycle on and off until about three in the afternoon and then cycle on and run continuously until two in the morning. Customers complain that if they set a programmable thermostat to 85º for the day and have it go down to 77º at 3:00 p.m., it won’t pull the temperature down until it’s time to go to bed. A lot of the oversized humidity problems could be solved by using a thermostatic expansion valve in place of an orifice. But you will have the same problem finding someone to set superheat as you do with subcooling.

Most “energy surveys” are a sham. Take a look at their worksheets and compare them with the measurements required with a legitimate analysis such as the ACCA Manual J. Half of the required measurements are not taken and the other half are guesses. Do you really think that a homeowner who can’t tell you if he has too much or too little air-conditioning can tell you the “R” ratings of his walls?

What is going to happen? Perhaps the answer will be through the enforcement of SEER ratings. Perhaps we will face performance contracts. If a homeowner pays for a 12-SEER unit, he is entitled to get what he pays for. If he found out that that his unit was performing at only a 6.4 SEER level due to an installation error, the contractor would have to correct the problem at his expense. If the problem is poor maintenance, the owner pays for it. Can’t happen? No way to enforce it? Well, look at the air conditioning permitting regulations in California. What about the federal laws that require a 5-year, 50,000-mile warranty on auto emission equipment? There is an unwritten consumer law. If you don’t fix consumer problems in your industry, some government agency will.

Henry D. Adams

Vice President

The Electromotive Corporation

Milwaukee, WI

Nothing New or Improved

I think that there were a couple of problems with the approach of some websites in the hvacr trade.

This is a general comment on dot-coms. First, there is the basic premise that you can start a business, design it to lose money, and then expect to turn it around. Many different sites started up with a free service or product, signed up hundreds of subscribers, and then decided that they would charge. People who sign up for a free service do not like the idea of paying for it afterward.

Second, a dot-com must bring something to a user that is not readily or easily available. The successful sites are ones that bridge a gap. For example, Expedia.com brought travel to the people who use it. With this service you eliminate the need to call a travel agent. It places you in control of the arrangements. Why would I go to an online service to purchase materials for my hvac business when I can pick up the phone and speak with the counter person at my local wholesaler — a person that I’ve known for many years and has helped me out of some jams?

Take a typical scenario. A contractor is in the field and needs a part for a rooftop unit. It is much easier to pick up the phone and call the supplier on the spot than it is to go online and search a database, place an order, wait for confirmation, and then gamble that it’s the wrong part anyway.

Most of the contractors out there are still small shops where the owner is in the field most of the day. They are not sitting behind a computer looking for suppliers.

Third, each of these sites tried to create a community as well. They all have discussion boards, forums, and the like. The problem is that they made contractors jump through hoops in order to get to them. All required some form of registration procedure and login. There were many complaints about having to establish a login ID, even though there is no prequalification required.

This industry is just not at the point, and may never be, where sites that want to do B2B can make money. There is, however, a market for the B2C business — that is a different story.

Darren Parsons

Ackray Communications

Ottawa, ON, Canada

Publication date: 07/09/2001