Exceeding Expectations

I believe that John R. Hall’s comments regarding the Sears clean and check he had performed on his furnace [“Sears Service Deal Makes a Good Impression,” Oct. 29] were objective and pertinent. To me they clearly illustrate how little a contractor must do to garner repeat business. Show up when you are supposed to, perform your duties, communicate what you did, and be on your way. Enough to make John, in his undercover role of Mr. Joe Homeowner, call them back if he had to.

If I am not mistaken though, the service rendered was not outstanding enough for John to tell all of his neighbors how great Sears is. And therein lies the opportunity for contractors up against Sears or the guy down the block.

For starters, a contractor must show up on time, perform the duties correctly, and communicate to the customer. Customers expect that. What they do not expect are your technicians wearing shoe protectors. They do not expect your technicians to educate them on how a humidifier will protect their baby grand piano. They do not expect your technicians to ask about allergies in the household and how your company can help. They do not expect your technician to ask if the battery in the smoke detector has been changed lately.

Quite frankly, they do not expect your company to exceed their expectations. Do this on each and every call, and your customers will not think of your company as “the company that came out, didn’t screw anything up, so I guess I’ll probably call them back” type of company. They may even tell their neighbors about you.

Now John, for your next assignment, if you decide to accept it, infiltrate the state high school guidance counselor association and place the term hvac in their dictionary.

David E. Rothacker Area51hvac.com

Preseason Checks

I enjoyed John R. Hall’s article about Sears Service. It brings up a point I often make when talking to people about preheating season checks on heating systems. It has been my experience that typically gas heating systems do not need a check every year. In fact, about every five years is good enough.

Now I am sure that a lot of people will find a hundred reasons to disagree with me. A real check on a gas heating system, if it is done at all, should include the following:

1. Remove and clean the gas pilot. Adjust the pilot to envelop the upper 1/4 to 3/4 of the thermocouple. The pilot should be a soft blue flame causing the tip of the thermocouple to glow “dull” red.

2. While the pilot is out, it is a good idea to change the thermocouple.

3. A new filter should be installed with instructions to the customer on how to change it. The filter should be changed monthly.

4. Oil the motor if it is the type that needs oil, instruct the customer on how to do this; it will need to be done once again in the middle of the season.

5. Adjust the belt tension on the fan motor if it is the indirect-drive style. It should have a 1-in. depression. If the belt is worn, replace it.

6. Check the output of the transformer; it should be between 20 to 27 vac. Check again with a full load (the furnace running); it should not vary.

7. Check to make sure the furnace shuts off on high limit.

8. Check calibration and level the thermostat (if mercury-bulb type). Make sure the anticipator is set to match the amperage draw of the primary control; this will affect the cycle of the system. If it is programmable, make sure the correct program is set.

9. Check the temperature rise through the furnace; it should match the recommended rise on the furnace rating plate. Adjust the fan temp-erature on and off settings. Make sure that the fan is not running with a supply duct temperature below 100 degrees F.

10. Check for proper draft on the chimney at the draft hood of the furnace.

11. Ask the customer if they are satisfied with the operation of the system.

This is just on a 24-volt standing pilot thermocouple-operated system. If it is a boiler, the checks are different. If it has an intermittent pilot or direct burner ignition, also use a different set of checks.

It is my experience that most seasonal checks on systems are simply a way to keep techs busy when things are slow, and also a way for the company to make money. If really done to give the customer their money’s worth, it is a time-consuming process.

I will not deny that some customers need the assurance that the system is OK for the season. The worst thing that happens is that it is not done correctly and then during the season a “no heat” occurs. That is embarrassing, to say the least.

My recommendation is to teach the customer what they can do to keep their system running with some simple checks. Everything else should be done by a qualified gas technician, at least in the case of gas heating. I am not sure that all service companies could meet that criteria.

Tim McElwain President Gas Appliance Service Training and Consulting Riverside, RI

Publication date: 11/19/2001