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Preacher or Partner – You Decide

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What do pascals, stack effect, latent load, sensible load, enthalpy, static pressure, CFM, AFUE, delta t, building science, air infiltration rate, Manual J, and BTUs have in common? They are words that mean “something” to many of us, but sound like nothing more than gobbledygook to our clients.

Unfortunately, our industry is overly reliant on complex terms to describe simple concepts. This approach can alienate clients and shut down their consideration of our solutions. When this happens, we fail twice. First, because we do not provide the safety, health, comfort, and efficiency solutions our clients need, want, and deserve. Second, because they often fall prey to someone, without a clue, who sells them even bigger problems than the ones they already had.

There is a Time and Place for Industry-Speak
Compliance often requires standardization. It is appropriate for our blower door and fancy software to spit out a ton of numbers and words in a report that are meaningless to any lay person for compliance, certification, funds, or all of the above. However, sharing that a pascal is a unit of pressure equal to one newton per square meter does nothing to further the connection with our clients. Talking about 20 MPH winds doesn’t get us any closer.

We also must have standardized ways of communicating, teaching, and evaluating things like airflow. There is no substitute for measuring static pressure in inches of water column. How else are we going to plot the fan airflow on the equipment manufacturer’s fan tables without it? However, telling a client that he is uncomfortable upstairs, especially when the bedroom door is closed, because his static pressure is .9” WC is unlikely to forge a positive connection.

Industry-Speak is Preaching to the Choir
We follow the ACCA protocols, so we believe if you don’t measure you are only guessing. Our tools will stand up to your tools any day! Use your blower door, static pressure meter, thermal camera, combustion analyzer, manometer, and airflow capture hood. You can keep on measuring as you always have. However, if we don’t find a way to listen better and translate our knowledge, we’re only preaching at our clients. They aren’t the choir.

Partners Discover Things Together
To connect with our clients, we have to speak a common language. Showing off about how much smarter we are than the rest of the kids in the class is about as popular now as it was back then. Who is smarter about their experience of their homes? To successfully help the people we serve, we must be partners in this process. We should invite them to play a role in discovering problems and solutions together.

Keep What You Already Know to Yourself
Fortunately, HP and measured HVAC performance give us countless opportunities to make fun discoveries together. You already know from a visual inspection some issues that will light up the thermal camera or blow the smoke stick smoke the farthest with the blower door on. When you saw the equipment in the attic, you noticed there was only 2 tons of ductwork on the 4 ton system. The air infiltration in the attic was obvious due to the discoloration of the insulation. Keep it to yourself!

HP Tools Are Fun for Everyone
Forget about the blower-door-fancy-program-report. Put the blower door on like you always do and go on a fun journey together to see what the home has to say. Let the client hold the thermal camera and go from place to place. Show him how to take the picture and let him snap it. Let him ask questions about what the different colors mean. Do the same with the smoke stick. If it is a couple, they can both help. You may be surprised to hear how often the client is the one to say first: “that must be why it is always cold over there” or “no wonder we are so hot in that room.”

Air flow capture hoods SHOW ductwork issues. You hold the hood while the client writes the numbers down. He does not have to know about CFMs to know75 is more than 48 and that if the reading is 0, something is wrong. You don’t have to explain it. It is enough to say his system should add up to 1200, but he is only getting 550 for him to understand why he is uncomfortable.

Discovering problems together leads to better solutions and a happier client.

Which path will you choose, preacher or partner? Think about this as you are deciding: if you start a conversation with your client by highlighting the problems with the envelope, don’t be surprised if he says he has a spare one he can give you.

Kathe Stewart

Posted In: ACCA Now, Building Performance

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