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Be The Expert Or Face The Consequences

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Reflecting back on 2013, Building Performance Contracting (BPC) has been a roller coaster ride full of many unforeseen twists, turns, obstacles, issues, and of course benefits. Hopefully you will learn something from our experience that saves you time and money.

As Vernon Law once said “Experience is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.”

Estes Heating & Air, Inc. has been serving metro Atlanta since 1949. I have 25 years of experience in the HVAC industry, the last 13 as the GM with Estes Heating & Air, now d/b/a Estes Services.

I was introduced to BPC with a lunch & learn, followed by a week-long certification course in Chicago in January of 2001. It should be noted that I am a Georgian, so getting me to Chicago in January took some salesmanship on the part of Comfort Institutes’ Ken Summers. I went to that class thinking I knew it all when it came to HVAC. However, by the end of day one I realized how wrong I was, just diligently writing notes of what was wrong with my own house. As the week progressed, it became abundantly clear that I “the professional” could not diagnose and resolve many of the issues that prevented my clients from living in true comfort. So the million dollar question became, how do we let our customers know we have the knowledge to fix their HVAC issues? (Shameless plug time). I won’t answer this question now, but save it for when I will be a speaker at the Nashville, ACCA conference March 17 – 20, 2014. But, I will tell you once that information is out there; more consumers will seek your company out to resolve issues that seemingly no one else can.

My favorite story is about a dentist’s house that had been using another HVAC contractor for years. The particular contractor was a patient and friend of the dentist. Therefore, the story begins:

I was sitting in my office one day when one of our older comfort consultants approached me and said “I need your help.” He had been called to look at a house, and short of total demolition and rebuilding the home from the ground up, he could not see a way to fix it.

Loving a good BPC challenge, I jumped at the chance, stating, “There is no such thing as an unfixable house.”

I then got a funny feeling, when he said, “How about I just turn this opportunity completely over to you?” He continued “By the way the wife is the one that called me, and her husband does not know she called, because every time she complains about being uncomfortable he calls his friend/patient and she has lost all faith in his abilities.” Talk about a set up!

I run a Manual J load calculation on this house and it carries a total cooling load of 3.78 tons. Seriously, this house had 5 systems totaling 15 ½ tons of cooling! The master bedroom and bath had vents conditioning it from 3 different systems, only 1 thermostat, along with a sitting room with no conditioning and no access. Upon further inspection, I found an attic that had been “sealed” with Icynene spray foam, except for the complete end of the house that included the garage and attic access, which both had zero insulation. All of the bath fans and stoves were venting into the “sealed” attic. There had been a zone system installed in the attic addressing the uneven temperatures, and there was ductwork everywhere (90% of which was installed incorrectly). There were undersized line sets, bedrooms that had supply vents on interior walls, and entire rooms missing returns. There were also supply-duct sizes that did not match boot sizes, which did not match register sizes. To say the least, this house was a mess, and a contractor who had no clue had poorly represented our industry. To make matters worse, he was my prospect’s friend.

Normally, as a contractor, I am not one to walk away, if a homeowner elects not to accept everything you recommend. I believe that as long as you inform and educate the customer, they should have the opportunity to select or decline your recommendations. In other words, you don’t walk away from a sale just because they exercise their right to purchase just equipment (shameless plug #2 that too is part of my presentation in Nashville).

In this particular case, though; I convinced both the husband and wife, that Estes was a true BP contractor. No holds barred, I said, “Here is a complete list of what it will take to fix your house.” I further explained, “Not one item on this list is negotiable. We do it all, or we do nothing. However, when we are done I guarantee you will be comfortable.”

In the end, we did it all. We ripped everything out! Fortunately one of the existing 5 systems was new and the right size. We re-installed it properly; line set and all. In addition, we routed new ductwork that was properly sized and sealed, and installed all new commercial grade supply registers with low-pressure drop, and wireless 3 zone system. We built, and spray foamed a wall in the attic separating it from the garage, and vented everything out of the attic. We also ran a new water heater vent from the basement that CAZ testing had revealed was not properly venting. As for that inaccessible bedroom area, we were able to address that with a ductless mini-split. Minus the mini-split, we completed this work with no equipment, minor amount of material, and a large amount of labor, but in the end, what the customer paid for was expertise.

BPC jobs are profitable. We have less competition, happier customers, more referrals, and make more money (what’s not to love?) While I and Estes love being recognized as the expert, none of this is possible without hours of training performed by some of our industries best and brightest. For example, in a Wes Davis course, I learned how to run a load on a house with a sealed attic, and I would have never known what level the impact of low pressure drop registers has on comfort and savings, if not for a course on Manual D, and reading a study by Pacific Gas & Electric. Everyone at Estes is required to attend Comfort Institute training with whom we remain a member of today.

As for some of the other consequences that arise when you become an “expert”. . . Shameless plug #3 see you in Nashville!

John Waldorf
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Posted In: Building Performance, Customer Service, Residential Buildings

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