News’readers who participated online in the Mock Mold Trial have scored a great victory. Through your votes, you have shown that the standard of care in this industry has changed.

Moreover, we suspect there were more readers out there who would have voted fictional contractor XYZ Co. guilty of “contributory negligence” because the company didn’t take time to perform a load calculation before replacing fictional customer Johnson’s heat pump, but they didn’t get around to voting on The News website (

Quick recap: In the trial conducted by the South Carolina Association of Heating and Air Conditioning Contractors (SCAHACC), part of XYZ’s defense was that the contractor replaced a 3-ton unit with another 3-ton unit — the old like-for-like type of sizing.

In an early stage of the trial, the defense attorney asked Mr. Jones, owner of XYZ, if his company had performed a cooling load calculation before recommending that the customer buy a new, 3-ton system. The contractor said his company “had been in business 25 years and had an excellent reputation for accurately sizing heating and air conditioning systems.” Under cross-examination, the contractor admitted XYZ had not performed a load calculation; they replaced the Johnsons’ old unit with one of approximately equal capacity.

The defense lawyer found another fictional contractor (Mr. Roberts, owner of PDQ Heating and Cooling), who affirmed that it is standard practice for residential firms to replace equipment with units of equal capacity. “If the customers were happy with their last system before it needed replacing, it is acceptable to install a new system of equal capacity.”

No it’s not. News readers said so.

More than three-fourths of those who voted guilty commented that the contractor failed to perform a Manual J load calculation on the Johnsons’ home. Even among those who voted not guilty, several mentioned the missing load calculation.

News readers, you let your voices be heard: It is not standard practice to swap like for like. It is standard practice to run a load calculation.


Still, when it gets hot and business gets crazy, how many contractors can honestly say that they’ve never taken a shortcut or two? Do you always have time for customer education?

Since the background material for the trial was created by SCAHACC’s education coordinator Jim Herritage, we will pay him homage by imagining part of the fictional sales calls.

ABC: “I’ve run a load calculation, and you need 2.5-ton system. Part of the return duct needs to be replaced, but we can do that when we replace the heat pump. It’ll cost about $400 more.”

What Mr. Johnson hears: “Blah blah, blah 2.5 tons. Blah blah, blah. It’ll cost about $400 more.”

Mr. Johnson: “Thanks. I’ll call you back later.”

XYZ: “Were you folks comfortable last summer?”

Mr. Johnson: “Oh yes.”

XYZ: “Fine.” (Scribbles “3-ton hp” on sheet.)

Mr. Johnson: “Someone from another company said there was a problem with the, uh (looks at ABC’s sheet), return duct.”

XYZ (sees ABC’s logo): “Oh yeah, I saw that too. I can patch that with duct tape for free. It’s all you need.”

Mr. Johnson: “Really! They were gonna charge me $400!”

XYZ: “Yeah well…I’ve never heard of them. You never know.”

Mr. Johnson signs with XYZ, feeling like a shrewd consumer.

ABC performed the better estimation, but the guy probably used words the customer didn’t use conversationally. Showing Mr. Johnson the duct problems would have been best, as long as there was no immediate mold risk. We can assume most consumers are aware of the dangers of mold.

The ABC estimator also should have explained what a load calculation was. He could have explain-ed the savings the Johnsons would enjoy. Having literature on energy savings and IAQ would have left Mr. Johnson with something to digest.

Even if Mr. Johnson didn’t sign with ABC that day, he would have had enough information so that he could listen to XYZ’s proposal with healthy mistrust.

The defense attorney did an excellent job pointing out Mr. Johnson’s role in his own problems. It was good enough to sway the mock jury’s verdict. Now, qualified hvac contractors need to take an active role promoting their generally excellent standard of care.

Checket-Hanks is service/maintenance & troubleshooting editor. She can be reached at 313-368-5856; 313-368-5857 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 03/25/2002