Shortcuts caused the worst nuclear accident in history. It occurred during a safety test on April 26, 1986, at Chernobyl, U.S.S.R. The test was performed to determine how long a reactor's turbines would continue to operate as a result of inertia in the event of an unplanned shutdown.

To prevent them from interfering with the experiment, automatic safety controls were disconnected. To try to speed up the process, power output was lowered too much at the start of the test.

In a rushed attempt to bring the power back up, too many control rods were removed. A minimum of 30 rods must be inserted at all times. By the time they finished yanking rods, just eight remained. The reactor began overheating dangerously; to compensate, all water circulation pumps were turned on at once, far exceeding recommended flow rates. A tremendous power surge caused the explosions, and the fire burned for 12 days.

Our industry is not immune to shortcuts. The most significant one is "hook-and-book" condenser change outs. For example, a compressor is found defective in a 17-year-old unit. The customer is given a price to change the compressor, and one to install a new condensing unit. The same tonnage unit is found and delivered. The new 10-SEER condensing unit is hooked to a 17-year-old line set, coil, and furnace. The entire job is complete in less than four hours.

The customer probably thinks they made out OK. They got a new 10-SEER air conditioner, warranty, and cold air is blowing again. The problem: Instead of getting a "new air conditioner" they only got one piece of the comfort system puzzle.

In fact, the piece they got is 23 percent lower than the lowest new standard that will be in place January 23, 2006. They also didn't get all the efficiency they thought they paid for. Worse, they didn't get a chance to improve the pleasure, health, and comfort of their home.

Obvious Flaws

Three major problems with the "hook-and-book" approach:

1. The "urgent-sale" model does not allow the level of communication needed to sell comfort.

2. Consumers may not be given all the facts. A large percentage of customers are left assuming they are getting a full 10 SEER in energy savings.

3. A 13-SEER condenser won't work with the existing coils! Refrigerant flow and heat transfer just won't balance.

Shortcuts become habits. There's a strong chance the crews installing "hook-and-book" today will be attempting to do it with 13 SEER tomorrow. The big difference - it won't work. After three or four trips trying to "balance the charge" or "adjust the airflow," they finally figure it out - the problem can't be solved.

During this nightmare, the customer hasn't been patiently sitting on the sidelines. They've probably talked to the manufacturer, the Better Business Bureau, and a dozen or so friends.

If you're a manufacturer or distributor, what could just one problem like this cost in time, paperwork, concessions, equipment, goodwill, and receivables? What if it were 10 jobs, or 100 jobs, or more?

HVAC equipment distributors hold the key to helping eliminate this potential catastrophe. The key is matching your dealers' past condensing unit and evaporator coil sales. If all sales match - congratulations. If not, consider helping your dealers gain the skills and tools they need to sell comfort instead of equipment.

1. To help participants understand why 13 SEER can't work with the wrong coil, review refrigerant flow characteristics and the psychrometric chart.

2. Review equipment selection, sizing, and heat loads. Discuss why it's easier for the installers and much better for consumers to replace the air handler with the coil.

3. Review all the reasons to sell comfort instead of equipment.

We've all worked long and hard to transform the air conditioning industry into the comfort industry, but the job isn't finished.

Let's all do what we can to help transform those taking shortcuts today into people that are selling and installing comfort tomorrow.

Steve Howard is the founder of The ACT Group. He can be reached at either 602-678-1055 or

Publication date: 02/21/2005