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No Shortcuts To Quality

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Don’t cut any corners. That’s Rule Number 1 for a quality contractor, reports Rick Carbaugh, engineering design manager, Schmitt Inc., Hudson, FL. “A lot of guys still think the square footage of the house equals a certain tonnage. In today’s world, with the new low-E windows and all the insulation factors, you really have to dig deep into the load, case by case, looking at the direction the house faces and make sure the load is the right size for that house and the situation.”

Carbaugh, who specializes in new homes, adheres to the ACCA standards for the Quality Assured (QA)  New Homes Program because “they have been tested and proven correct.” He also wants to protect his family’s reputation in the HVAC business. “My father started in this business several decades ago with the goal to produce the best quality product he could. He instilled good values in me, which I have transferred to my current company. I want to do the best job I can do and have people be proud of what they produce and customers happy with the result.”

Although he found the standards a bit overwhelming at first, Ed Santon decided to pursue ACCA’s quality contractor accreditation program to set his company apart from the competition. “The average guy isn’t going to do it,” says the owner of Santon Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc., Millbury, MA. “We’ve separated ourselves, and we’ve learned a lot. When we do a job, we follow all the steps that have been laid out.”

Santon has discovered that his customers, about 90 percent of whom are buying new homes, are willing  to pay the price of a quality installation. “The customers that I want are willing to pay more,” he says. “The customers that don’t want to hear about it aren’t really the customers I want to begin with. This puts you into a better clientele.”

Jesse H. Burd somewhat agrees, adding that some of his customers need more persuasion than others. “It’s been a rough industry and economy, as everyone knows,” says the vice president of sales and operations of

Air Flow Designs, Inc., in Orlando, FL. “There are always folks who want cheap, regardless if they lose money in the long run by having poor quality work done. Others you can help educate and win over. Most folks want quality work and will pay the difference once they understand what they are getting. It’s part of our jobs as contractors to help them understand the benefits.”

Paying for Quality

Steve Wierzbicki, president, Nutmeg Mechanical Services, Inc., Manchester, CT, admits it’s tough to compete against a run-of-the-mill contractor who doesn’t perform the same tests and follow the procedures of quality-designated contractors. “We try to roll this right into the price of the job, but we get the price pushback from customers who ask, ‘Why are you doing that? Why are you more money?’ We explain to them exactly what we will do. Then, of course, they say, ‘The other guy says he going to do the same thing for a lot less money.’

“All you can do at that point is say, ‘You have to look at our reputation. You have to look at our ratings through the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List. You can talk to our customers to see exactly what you’re getting.’ To be honest, we probably make less money than those other guys, because we give so  much more as part of our installation,” he continues.

For example, he explains that a quality contractor does not quote a project out of a book to replace equipment. “A quality contractor will start with a heat-loss and heat-gain calculation to be sure the correct equipment is installed in each application,” he says. “Duct work is sized correctly using a Manual D sizing program to make sure the air flows are correct. We use the heat loss and heat gain to give us an idea how much air is required in each room and to make sure the ducts are as tight as possible so air gets into rooms. We also start and test the equipment according to the manufacturer’s recommendations to make sure it’s running efficiently.”

Sizing the equipment correctly is essential, he points out. “The number one step is making sure you perform a Manual J load calculation on the house. There are so many people that won’t do that. They say, ‘You got a four-ton unit. We’re going to give you a price on a four-ton unit.’ There are a lot of times we take out a four-ton and put in a three-ton, because it was oversized to begin with. We’re really trying to make sure the equipment is sized right. We do our testing. We as a contractor do the design the right way.”

In 2012, some Nutmeg customers received a rebate through the Quality Installation and Verification (QIV) program supported by the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund in partnership with state utility companies. “If you want to do the quality installation verification through the utility then you have additional paperwork,” Wierzbicki explains. “That’s another added cost. But, there is a $500 rebate through the utilities if it passes muster.”

He assumes the rebate will still be available in 2013 because “it is one way for the utilities to cut down on their transmission.”

Also an ENERGY STAR contractor, Nutmeg got involved in the state’s QIV program because “we were already a quality contractor,” he says. “We do a lot of geothermal work, solar thermal work, and conventional heating and cooling. We offer quite a few products to our customers. This was just something that would add to our credentials when we talk to our customers. We tell them what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it, and it’s all backed up with the utility company agreeing with us and saying, ‘Yes, this passes the test. You do have a system that is sized correctly and running to the manufacturer’s recommendations. You should be extremely comfortable and efficient.’”

Secrets of Success

If you want to improve the quality of your work and your company’s reputation, HVAC professionals share a number of tips:

Network with your HVAC peers. “We like to share information with other quality contractors,” Santon says, “because we know they are spending the same amount of time on a job as we are. They’re not skipping any steps.”

Believe in your numbers. Santon indicates that it’s never a good idea to manipulate the load calculations and put in bigger equipment because you are worried that the smaller-load equipment won’t do the job adequately. “Everybody is so afraid of undersizing systems and having them fail,” he says, “but once you do all your steps, you can know it’s going to work and the fuel bill will be as low as it can be.”

Find a partner. “If you don’t want to invest in duct leakage testing, align yourself with a home performance contractor who will do your testing,” recommends Wierzbicki, who has partnered with several home energy survey contractors that change light bulbs, find ways to save water, and investigate insulation measures in customer homes.

Take the time to learn. “You’re going to need more training,” Wierzbicki. “It takes time to learn how to use these programs. Most are all done on computer nowadays. You’ll have to invest in software to do Manual J heat-loss calculation, Manual D duct design calculation, Manual S equipment sizing. Granted they can all be done by hand, but that can be time prohibitive. Learn how to design a system and invest in software.”

Pursue quality. “You’re either going to move your company in one direction or another,” Santon says. “The energy codes are only getting harder. Get on board, and get it done.”

Margo Vanover Porter
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Management, Residential Buildings

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