Take Care When Hiring Ex-Convicts

[Editor's note: This letter is in response to Mark Skaer's column titled, "Reader Mailbag: Prisoners, Certification," Aug. 23.]

I had to write about your column on certification issues and ex-felons. As for hiring ex-felons, I know all about that. I am an ex-felon because of drugs. Being arrested and put in prison was the best thing that could have happened to my life. Today I own my own A/C and heating company, and since I was licensed in Texas six years ago, my business is growing fast. The only drawback is finding good techs. I have in the past tried [employing] ex-felons, but most of them go back to their old ways and become unproductive.

But I have a way to screen for a good ex-con. I hope this helps someone out there. When prisoners return to society, they have a choice on which road to take. At an intersection, they can turn right and live a good productive life - join a church of their choice and stay involved, make new friends - and, in time, the blessings will come, but not overnight.

The road to the left - this is the most popular road and will guarantee you a trip back to prison. It includes going back to your old friends that put you in prison in the first place. The hard part is finding out the truth about the person who is applying for the job, so be careful. We are only allowed to ask certain questions of those applying. I've been burned by a good liar before. Ex-cons are just like the average Joe on the street - some good and some bad - but if you do run into a good one, they are as loyal as your coonhound.

Borger, Texas

Readying Students For The Real World

I am writing this letter in response to the Sept. 6 letter to the editor titled "All In The Same Basket." The letter was about training schools not offering proper training. I took this as a slap in the face.

I am a licensed contractor and an HVAC instructor for a local community college. I teach inmates and high school students. In order for a student to complete my classes, he has to be able to completely rewire a unit with and without using a schematic, and troubleshoot all controls on heat pumps and air conditioners. Also, they have to be able to figure superheat and subcooling, do mechanical and electrical checks for reversing valves, and do compressor electrical and mechanical checks. These are just a few of the things we do to try and make the students ready for the real world of HVAC.

We offer a lot of hands-on training and would do more if we had the equipment, but we make do with what we have. I would put a lot of my students up against half of the service techs out there doing work now. The industry is having a hard enough time trying to get young people interested in it without contractors criticizing formal training.

Ed Hinson
Ed Hinson Heating and Air
Candor, N.C.

You Get What You Pay For

[Editor's note: This letter is in response to John R. Hall's column, "Lashing Out Over The Bad Installation," Sept. 6.]

I've been on a crusade to educate customers that there is more to a successful system installation than the "box." So many customers assume that buying a system is like buying a car - a Toyota is a Toyota is a Toyota, a Trane is a Trane is a Trane, a Carrier is a Carrier, etc. What they don't realize is the contractor chooses how to design, install, and commission the system, not the equipment manufacturer. Here is a portion of a letter I send customers:

Judging a Fair Value - The formula for a successful system installation is not just the final price. The heating-cooling business is complicated, and you usually get what you pay for. The formula is:

Intelligent Design + Top-Notch System + Expert Installation + Quality Assurance = Customer Satisfaction.

If any one of these four factors is lacking, then your long-term customer satisfaction is at risk. This heating-cooling decision only occurs about every 15 years, yet it is one of the most costly; the system will consume many times its original purchase price in energy and potential repairs. The wrong decision not only affects your bottom line, but can cause significant customer and employee complaints, loss of business and goodwill, and increased administration time dealing with a system meant to be invisible and trouble-free. Where comfort is concerned, people become impassioned.

I follow this communication with a pictorial comparison of our installations versus others in such critical areas as installing condenser thermostat wiring in Sealtite (nobody does in this market), running condensate piping beyond the foundation so it doesn't pool and damage the foundation, insulate and support refrigerant piping, install a condenser disconnect (yes, sir, some don't), clean the work area of debris, seal building penetrations, install gas drip legs correctly, insulate duct boots, support the duct, level the condenser, properly trap the condensate piping at the evaporator coil, run the auxiliary pan piping separate from the primary and install a cooling shut-off switch, use double-wall flues, introduce minimum outside air ... I could go on.

The book I use has over 35 different, documented pictures of installation practices we follow that the lowballers don't, either because they hire know-nothing kids or worse, they don't frankly care.

This industry desperately needs a facelift, yet I see very little in the trade press on installation standards.

Oh yeah, why doesn't the building authority catch the code violations? It never happens in most markets, and the customer usually doesn't know it. And the customer wonders why his compressor fails after three years due to the frequent freeze-ups, accepts that that area of the house is "at the end of the run," has those gas smells from time to time, doesn't link the ceiling water stain to the poor HVAC install, etc. It is for real and with every lowball install, it is propagated.

Bob Blanchard
Busby's Inc.
Commercial Services Division
Augusta, Ga.

Send letters to Reader Mail, The News, P.O. Box 2600,Troy, MI 48007; fax to 248-362-0317; or e-mail to chrisking@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 10/04/2004