Audience members look on at SMACNA’s HVAC Contractors Forum in Maui, Hawaii, as Matthew Smith invites contractors to comment on the problems associated with early system startup.
Now is the time for all good contractors - and manufacturers - to come to the aid of the industry.

The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) is trying to educate owners and general contractors concerning the dangers involved with starting up an HVAC system during construction. Matthew Smith, owner of Smith Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Stockton, Calif., is leading the association toward its goal of producing a white paper on the subject.

Smith wants to compile a document that will verify that an HVAC system should not be started during the construction of a building. He wants to have this ammunition in hand on every one of his projects. The California contractor admits he was caught off guard recently when he tried to convince an owner and general contractor that an HVAC system could be damaged if started prior to the completion of a building. The doubting Thomases wanted proof, but Smith could not provide definitive material.

"What is important is that there be a clear understanding - both on the contractor's side as well as the general contractor's owner - of the complications and issues that can affect our systems that we are ultimately responsible for," said Smith.

"I think we, as contractors, maybe have made the mistake and let this go a little bit too far in trying to work together with the contractors, in trying to accommodate some of these needs, but I think we've compromised a lot of our liability."

Hard To Say No

It's not easy to say no to the man holding the checkbook. After all, if an owner wants the heat or air conditioning fired up in his building before all walls are painted or carpeting put down, he is going to order it. Unless a contractor can address the issue before construction even begins - in other words, unless he educates the owner and/or general contractor of the potential downfalls with such requests - chances are he's going to lose that battle. Without understanding the possible circumstances, who knows what may happen with the system.

"If you start your HVAC equipment during the construction process, I don't care how many times you change filters, you don't have control over that project," said Smith. "I've gone back on projects where filters have been removed. I've seen so many different circumstances to where these systems are being operated with colder than normal return air temperatures, which can contribute to premature heat exchanger failure. We ultimately are responsible for these systems, not only responsible until accepted by the owner, but after that point."

Tell Us Your Story

In addition to this white paper, Smith agreed the association needs to provide warranty disclaimer language, as well as contractual permission language.

"That could be a part of our bid package, whereby we can state that these are contractor provisions in order to incorporate that in with the contractor signing. That is part of what we are trying to develop here," he said.

"Most of the time when this request comes up, it is a crisis situation. There is not a lot of planning. Most of the time, at least in my experience, I get a call today that says, ‘By the way, I have cabinetry work coming in and their laminates won't set up unless the area is maintained at 72 degrees and 35 percent humidity. I need someone to get here and start it up.'

"We need to be aware of these things with better planning. We need to have everyone aware and have a better understanding of what it takes."

The News wants to know your thoughts on the subject of early startup of equipment during construction.

How often are you asked to provide early startup of HVAC systems? Do you have a standard form that you use, which includes a disclaimer for early startup? Does your HVAC supplier disclaim warranties for early startup? Have you had a bad experience with early startup of HVAC systems, including a breakdown of equipment, refusal to honor warranties, complications in construction, and/or lawsuits or arbitrations? What sort of additional costs does the early startup of an HVAC system impose upon you? When the need for early startup of HVAC arises, is it usually a crisis situation or did you know it was coming?

Please answer the survey on our Web site's home page. We will forward your input to Smith and SMACNA, who are looking for all of the help they can get.

Mark Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 618-239-0288 or

Publication date: 11/29/2004