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Technology is still progressing, and training is still critical
The health and safety practices of countless different industries changed when the pandemic hit. HVAC is no exception, and most of us have adjusted to life in the “new normal” of COVID-19 restrictions and concerns.
For some, this was also an excuse to put purposeful and necessary practices on hold. That’s not only a shame — it’s potentially damaging to both our businesses and the homes or businesses we serve.
At Fire & Ice, we’ve maintained a strict training regimen throughout the pandemic, and we’ve done so without outbreaks or unnecessary risks. While no plan is foolproof in the current environment, I believe it remains our duty to maintain training practices that enhance our service.
The ways this can be accomplished are a mix of practical and philosophical: committing to systemic training practices that aren’t remote, devoting resources and space to training, adhering to health and safety best practices, and creating training plans with customer end results in mind.
Remote and In-Person Training
Remote training has its place, but I’m here to tell you that it isn’t sufficient for your technicians.
The simple truth is that working with your hands in a live environment is the only reliable way to improve many skills that HVAC technicians need to be successful. Rare is the new trainee who knows everything they’ll need to immediately after their hire, or who can diagnose and fix the full range of issues after only school training and prior in-field experience.
Has the industry slowed down during COVID? Have innovations stopped being announced? Of course not. So if we don’t want to fall behind, proactive training remains necessary.
None of this should be news to business owners or installation and service managers. So how do you account for the pandemic?
Training Space and Materials
The first step is having a dedicated space for training and devoting the equipment and resources to building it out with a full array of equipment.
The Fire & Ice Training Center allows us to hold larger demonstrations, even in recent months. You may not have that luxury, but creating a dedicated space is still a priority.
The type of training you can perform may be limited by space — maybe only a few people can safely be in the room at the same time — but there is still a benefit.
The same is true of the time of year. When cooling season hits, we frankly don’t do much training unless it’s very specific and necessary. But the center is used quite a bit during slower months. Forming a long-term training plan, then sticking to it, is key.
A single training space can be the difference between relatively smooth operations and dozens of callbacks during the year’s most demanding months. How many thousands of dollars are being lost because there wasn’t a piece of equipment that allowed your technicians to understand the problem beforehand? Only you can answer that, but the idea that training opportunities pay dividends for your business should be obvious.
Safety and Health Precautions
How do you stay safe? Some safety recommendations are universal to all walks of society, but some can benefit from our industry expertise:
Stay distanced. Plan training around the available space, and stay distanced at all times.
Wear PPE. This is something HVAC professionals should be good at. We know the benefits of good filtration for your health, and personal protection equipment (PPE) is your own personal filter.
Filter your air. MERV 13+ filters have been shown to be effective at capturing COVID particles. If you’re not leveraging this knowledge into increased protection for your employees, you’re missing an opportunity.
Keep the air clean. Similarly, we know the benefit of air purifiers. The Reme Halo Air Purifier has been proven to be 99.9% effective at neutralizing COVID. We use these in our shared workspaces to decrease the risk of contracting the virus.
Provide safety resources. Do your employees have ready access to medical-quality masks? Hand sanitizer? If not, you’re leaving them to fend for themselves, which is a recipe for disaster.
Does this mean you’ll be risk-free? No. Nothing in life comes without risk these days. But you’ll be effectively limiting your risk, and thus limiting the risk your business faces from things like virus outbreaks and loss of customer trust around your health and safety practices.
This takes clear direction and leadership to instill the mentality company-wide.
What Customers Deserve
I firmly believe that what is best for our customers and employees is best for our business. Even if it takes time and effort to set up regular training practices, the long-term benefits are myriad.
Fewer callbacks, more empowered technicians, and a tool for recruiting (“Hey, check out our personalized training center!”) are just a few of the benefits. Several of our employees have told me what a boon our training center is, and it’s certainly reduced the number of callbacks we’ve had, which in turn reduces things like annoyed customers and bad reviews.
It’s possible to do on a variety of budgets, even amidst the pandemic. If you commit to training in a way that incorporates these elements, you’ll be able to build a successful plan that uplifts everything your technicians do.
Marketing during this crisis calls for new and lean strategies. We’ve put together a list of steps you can take right now to foster customer engagement whether you’re currently open for business or not, as well as resources we’ve created for small businesses and examples from other pros.
On a recent cold afternoon, I received a call from a frantic service technician. He diagnosed a faulty gas valve in a gas furnace, arrived on the job site with a new gas valve, taken time to ensure the new valve was installed properly, and then observed in horror as the exact same failure to ignite happened with the new valve. Now, let us all be honest with ourselves … after all, nobody is watching … we have all been that technician. We have all experienced the horror of realizing our diagnosis is wrong. Not a good feeling … and far worse if the furnace is in a closet and the homeowner is standing over your shoulder.
After the technician took a few deep breaths and regained composure, we began to go back through the furnace together.
Power surges are commonly blamed when controls go bad on high-end units. I am not sure how often this is an accurate diagnosis versus how often this is just an easy scapegoat for unexplained parts failures. Plus … let us all be honest for a minute and acknowledge that as technicians we have all been guilty of condemning a control board because the system was operating abnormally and we did not understand what was happening … so therefore it must be that fancy looking control board.
The most important take away from this blog is change. your. oil.
The proper oil in a vacuum pump acts as a blotter and absorbs all of the moisture and non-condensables. As the oil becomes saturated with these contaminants, the efficiency of the pump is dramatically reduced.
Maintaining clean oil in the pump ensures that the pump will operate at peak efficiency and prolong its life.
When I was first starting out in the HVAC Industry as a new technician, it was a common joke at my first company that you could tell the longer a technician had been in the industry by looking at his tool bag. The joke was that while newbie technicians such as me had a tool bag loaded with tools, the veteran technicians had a mostly empty and worn bag that had a few things here and there in it. Granted, I learned a lot from the senior technicians at that company, but I did not carry that habit with me. If you want to do a job correctly, then you must have the correct tools.
Robert Frost once famously fretted over which two diverging roads in the woods to take. He presented the case of a traveler that has come to a crucial decision that must be made. The same theme often rings true in HVAC diagnosis. The technician finds themselves at a diagnostic crossroads, if you will, and a choice must be made:
The variable-speed blower motor will not run. Is it the board or is it the motor/module?
My invertersystem is throwing an error code. The service manual says it could be the compressor or the board.
My HVAC system will not communicate. Is it the indoor control board, the outdoor control board, or the wiring?
Today I am going to review troubleshooting an inverter compressor and the control that drives it. Often in analyzing service manuals you find flow charts that look like this:
A common service call that arrives in the latter days of summer is a clogged drain line. It is par for the course in the Southeastern United States; we have warm temperatures combined with high humidity. Air conditioning systems work to address both the temperature of the home (sensible heat) as well as the humidity of the home (latent heat). As the HVAC system runs it absorbs both heat and humidity from the home into the evaporator section of the unit. The heat is transferred outside via the refrigerant lines and superheated refrigerant while the humidity is transferred outside the home via the HVAC system drain line.
Slime in a drain is a universal problem. It occurs in shower drains, sink drains, and even appliance drains. There are many variables that can increase the likelihood and frequency in slime forming in the HVAC drain system. However, two key ingredients are always present: food and moisture. Food is provided by dust or dirt that manages to get into the HVAC system. This dust and/or dirt will contain some organic matter which will serve as a food source. This will combine with already present moisture from normal cooling operations and provide a moist environment with a food source. The result will be a slimy gunk that will easily clog the HVAC drain line. The drain lines in an HVAC system are not under any pressure, therefore it does not take a large amount of resistance to block the drainage of condensate.
HVAC technicians follow best practices to ensure contamination is contained.
If face masks protect the air that humans breathe, air filters are certainly the face masks of the HVAC realm — clearing particles from the airstream that a building “breathes” and transmits to those within. While there may not be a run on air filters the way there is on face masks, contractors and manufacturers alike report increased interest from their clients in IAQ since the outbreak of COVID-19.