Monthly Archives: July 2012

One of the things I like about having a blog is that I can decide to write about anything I want to and post it where others can see it. Sure, it’s not like getting an article published in a magazine, or getting a book published, but it is, after all,  a form of publishing, and it can often lead to the same result that books and magazines can lead to….getting a diaglogue started among people, which, in the end, winds up creating some kind of change for the good.

With that thought in mind, the dialogue I want to get started with this post is, as the title states, “What should it cost to repair HVACR Equipment?”

The reason I’m raising this issue is because of an incident I became aware of regarding a request for a repair, and the price that was charged for a diagnosis and the price that was quoted to complete the repair. I’ll say up front that I wasn’t there when this situation unfolded, and I also understand that there may be details that I don’t know about, but I consider my source to be reliable, and I’m convinced that I have enough information to discuss this situation and give you my opinion on it.

This is about a package unit heat pump and a home in Phoenix, Arizona. The customer’s complaint was simply, “not cooling” and when the technician employed by an area service company arrived and checked the equipment, this is what I’m told happened:

The technician attached gauges to the system and then decided to pressurize with nitrogen to find a leak. He told the customer that the leak was in the pilot tubes of the reversing valve. The bill for the diagnosis was $440.00 after a $25 discount.

The quote to replace the reversing valve was $2,129.00.

If you’re good at arithmetic, or if you have your smart phone handy, you can quickly determine that the total cost for this repair would be $2,569.00, and, according to the information provided to me, this figure was arrived at by using a price guide of some sort.

And, now, I’m going to give you my opinion on this situation, because, after all, we are all entitled to our opinions about things, and after you read this, I welcome yours.

Ridiculous. Outrageous. Crazy. Beyond belief. Gives the entire HVACR industry a black eye.

I could go on, but I would just be saying the same thing over and over again with different words. And the reason I believe the way I do about this situation is because of my calculations of what it should cost in order to diagnose this problem, replace a reversing valve, install a drier, evacuate and re-charge the system, and monitor the operation to make sure the equipment is operating properly before I leave.

$860.00

Yes, that’s my number. And, to explain in simple terms how I arrived at that figure, I considered a service call and diagnostic fee, a marked-up price for the reversing valve and drier that I would purchase at wholesale, the necessary miscellaneous supplies, the labor to accomplish the repair, and a fair profit….all of this based on the concept of understanding my cost of doing business. (And, just to be sure that I didn’t miss something or suddenly get stupid because I was so incredibly astounded by what I was told about this situation, I went through this process with a colleague of mine that I trust implicitly.)

Again, employing simple arithmetic, I have to ask the question, where is the $1,709.00 difference in price coming from?

Now, I can understand how you may have some questions about this, like, “is there something you don’t know about this situation?”

Well, anything is possible, but, based on the facts presented, I doubt it.

Or, maybe you’re wondering if the technician’s diagnosis was correct. Well, when you check the wiring diagram on this equipment, you’ll find that it employs a low-pressure safety switch that needs to be closed in order for the compressor and outdoor fan motor to operate, so it’s conceivable that the refrigerant had, in fact, leaked out, leading to a procedure in which nitrogen would be used to find the leak, and, of course, since nothing is impossible when it comes to HVACR equipment failure, a leaking pilot tube on the reversing valve could be the problem.

As I said, I welcome your comments (providing they are civil) on this situation, whatever they may be.

Learn from yesterday…..Live for today…..Look forward to tomorrow

Jim

 

 

 

I’ve talked about this subject before….that there is some confusion about what certification really is and really means to consumers, people who have decided that they want to learn how to repair air conditioning systems, and even among those that are already in the business. One area of confusion that is most common among those who are wanting to get into the business is the EPA-required refrigerant handling certification.

In a nutshell, this certification is broken down into one of three categories:

1. Type I Technician: One who works on small appliances such as refrigerators, freezers and room air conditioners….any equipment that the EPA catgorizes as “Hermetically sealed in a factory, and having a refrigerant charge of less than 5 lbs”.

2. Type II Technician: One who works on high-pressure refrigeration systems that contain more than 5 lbs of refrigerant, such as residential and some commercial HVACR systems that use common refrigerant such as R-22, R-410A, and others in the high pressure category.

3. Type III Technician: One who works on low-pressure equipment such as a chiller that normally operates with a high pressure of approximately 10 PSIG and a low pressure that is  in a vacuum.

When somebody pursues the certifications described above, and the complete the three sections of the test (25 questions each) that pertain to each type of certification, along with a core section of the test (another 25 questions, meaning the total is now 100 multiple-choice questions), and they get a passing grade on each section of the test, they are determined to be a “Universal Certified” technician since they are certified to work on all of the types of equipment listed above.

OK, with all that said, the question of ‘how do I go about taking the test’ is the next issue of confusion.

The bottom line on this issue is that many schools, colleges, an independent testing providers have designed and submitted an exam they developed to the EPA and had it approved. Then, that allows a school or college to administer (actually proctor the exam since the rules say that it has to be a closed-book exam) to anyone they choose to….students enrolled in their HVACR training program, for example, although, some may offer it to an ‘outsider’ who isn’t actually enrolled in their full-blown training program.

In the case of independent testing providers who have had their exams approved, many refrigeration supply houses and equipment distributors have someone on their staff registered to be a proctor, which means that a local proctor can administer the exam, then send it in to the testing provider to have it graded.

The next question, of course, is ‘how much does it cost to take the test?’ and the answer is, it depends.

In almost any case, the school college, or refrigeration supply house will offer, along with the certification testing fee, some kind of preparation for the exam….the fact is, nobody, even if they have been in the refrigeration business for decades, can pass the exam without preparation since the certification itself really says nothing about a person’s comptency in troubleshooting, evaluating and repairing refrigeration systems. It’s about safey, rules & regulations, fines, dates that rules went into effect, why they went into effect, etc…along with a very basic understanding of the components of a refrigeration system and what the state of the refrigerant is as it enters and exits those basic components.

So, it could be that the school or college offers a workshop, class or seminar prior to the testing. In the case of the independent testing providers, a manual may (or certainly should) be available for self study. What that boils down to if you’re going the wholesaler route to EPA certification is that you have to first contact a company to find out if they offer the certification testing, find out and purchase whatever manual you’ll be able to get from them in order to prepare for the exam, then set a date to show up and be proctored while you sit for the exam.

Another element to this EPA certification process is that you could go through a trade association that offers the preparation and testing, such as RSES or ACCA. Whatever route you take, the overall procedure is as described above…..study for and take the exam, and when you pass any section along with the core section of the exam, you’re be certified in refrigerant handling for that type (or all types) of equipment.

Learn from yesterday…..Live for today……Look forward to tomorrow

Jim

 

Technicians may not realilze it, but the concept of inductive and deductive reasoning is part of our job when we’re working with customers. The difference between the two types of reasoning is simply this:

Deductive reasoning, in its simplest form, is defined as the process of applying certain given premises or experiences to a definite conclusion. An example of this could be a child’s first encounter with a billiard ball that is blue with a number inside a circle. If that’s the only billiard ball the child has ever seen, then he or she could make the assumption that all billiard balls are blue with a number inside the circle. Of course, those of us who have seen a complete pool table know that all the balls are not the same color and employ the same numbering style, so we would not ‘deduce’ that all billiard balls are the same, but, you get my point. Without experience and exposure to information, deductive reasoning can allow someone to arrive at an incorrect conclusion.

Inductive reasoning, on the other hand, allows for the possibility that the conclusion can be false, even if the premises all appear to be true.

How does this apply to our job and dealing with customers? Well, even though technicians have a good understanding of the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, it’s possible for them to be influenced by a given number of instances (premises) that they may enounter on a given day, along with exposure to information from others that isn’t necessarily correct. And, these experiences and false information causes people to lean toward deductive reasoning even though they know intellectually that inductive reasoning should be applied.

“People only care about getting the lowest possible price for a repair,” for example, is false deductive reasoning….reasoning that comes about and creeps into a technician’s belief system because they encounter people who, do, in fact, want nothing more than the lowest price they can get, and then if they hear it enough times from other technicians at the supply house, intellect and common sense (which is really the foundation of inductive reasoning) starts to fade.

Of course, we can’t draw the conclusion that all customers want nothing but a low price just because there are some out there that fit that description. It just doesn’t make sense. But, like I said, a few experiences in a row piled on with false information from peers, can cause anyone to lean toward a false conclusion if they don’t stop and consciously think about it.

You can apply this concept to anything we encounter in life……like traffic fines, for example.

Often, people are of the opinion that all traffic fines are about nothing but revenue (especially after they’re just been busted for speeding), and have nothing to do with public safety. Well, that’s deductive reasoning at work there. While it’s likely true that some traffic fine situations are essentially about revenue rather than public safety, inductive reasoning allows us  to understand that an idiot could be doing 100 MPH in a 35-mile zone, and in that case, of course, it would be about public saftey rather than just revenue, so not all traffic fines are levied just to pay for the operation of vehicles, salaries for law-enforcement officers, etc….but of course inductive reasoning also allows us to understand that some of them are levied because every agency has bills to pay.

If you have some suggestions on other areas in which deductive reasoning sends people down the wrong path of thinking, let me know, and we can add your comments to this post.

Learn from yesterday….Live for today…..Look forward to tomorrow

Jim

 

It’s clear to me that in this day and age, the question “can I get a better price” is pretty much automatic in people’s minds when they get to the bottom line of a buying decision and see their number for the first time. And, you can’t blame them for that. After all, in the web world, shopping on-line means that the number is going to be a certain percentage off of ‘retail’ 99.9999% of the time….it’s not just a pleasant surprise anymore, it’s expected. The advent of outlet malls, along with the evolution of our large, chain, brick-and-mortar stores have also contributed to this automatic mind switch flip the very second that the number is presented. Big box stores move seamlessly from one sale to the next, to the next, to the next, no matter what the season, which holiday is at hand, which event (the Olympics, for example) is in the news, etc….etc….etc…and, c’mon….nobody walks into an automotive dealership, looks at the sticker price, and says, “OK, that’ll do. Let’s get the paperwork done so I can drive this one out of here”, (unless it’s one of those specialty cars that are scarce and will wind up being collectible).

So, here we are, HVACR technicians providing a customer with a repair price estimate after we’ve made our diagnosis, and….wait for it…..the question is asked. Perhaps in a polite manner, or, perhaps from what feels to us at the moment to be an almost combative approach on the customer’s part, but it’s there.

“Can I get a better price?”

“Is that the best you can do?”

“Can I get a discount?”

“What! Are you kidding? That can’t be right!”

“Holy Toledo! You people don’t need a gun!”

What we, as technicians, need to understand about this situation is that the customer is comparing an apple to an orange. They are conditioned by the factors and types of businesses mentioned above that the way the world works on pricing is that the ‘real’ price isn’t the first one presented. To them, it’s just a number to get things started. Their thinking is that nobody really pays retail anymore.

And, when we find ourselves dealing with this kind of situiation, we need to remember two things:

1. Hiding behind the “….well, yeah, I know it’s outrageous, but that’s the price my boss makes me charge….” schtick is just flat-out ugly and wrong.

2. There are only two reasons that somebody thinks a price is too high. Either they don’t have that much money, or they don’t believe that the product or service they’re in the process of purchasing is worth the price established for it. (You’ll notice that I didn’t say ‘asking price’. That’s because as service professionals, we’re not ‘asking’ to collect a certain amount of money for what we provide, we’re advising the customer about the price of the particular service they need and/or want.)

From a practical standpoint, there’s nothing that can be done if the reason is that they money just isn’t there…not in cash, not in a checking account, not in the form of an open-to-buy amount on a credit card, not able to borrow it from somebody…..nowhere. If that happens to be the case, you’re done. If it isn’t there, it isn’t there. The only thing you can do in this situation is collect your service call and diagnostic fee, advise your customer that you’ll be happy to follow up on the necessary repair if their circumstances should change, and move on to your next customer.

However, if the the second reason is what’s behind their “that’s-too-much” issue, then your job as a technical professional is to guide your customer to an understanding that your service is, in fact, worth the established price.

Learn from yesterday…..Live for today…..Look forward to tomorrow

Jim

 

There are realities in everything. And when it comes to learning the HVACR craft and being in the HVACR business, one of the realities that needs to be understood is the relationship between going to school and working in the field. And, these realties need to be  understood from two viewpoints; that of the student, and of the employer who hires graduates.

The absolute, #1 hot-button issue for contractors and training program graduates is the rate of pay a new hire can expect, so, for those who are either in an HVAC training program or considering going to school, I’m going to tell it like it is in regard to the issue of wages….what a person can expect to earn on their first job.

To put it simply: Yes, there are HVACR technicians who earn what we often refer to in the United States as “Journeyman” wages.

This term, which describes a person with some experience in a given craft, originated in Europe, and referred specifically to an individual who was in the process of becoming a “Master”. The idea was that in order to become a master craftsman, the journeyman would have to wander from one town to another in order to gain experience in different workshops related to his craft. The tradition is still in place today in some parts of Germany related to the carpentry trade.

The point here is that the Journeyman didn’t reach Master status until he had wandered from place to place for a given amount of time and gained the experience that can only be gained by wandering around the countryside, connecting with different masters, all of whom had different experiences, points-of-view, and information to pass on during the time the person learning the craft spent with them. All these varied experiences with different masters, when combined over time, allowed the Journeyman to hone his skills and become proficient….meaning that, in the end, he would able to accomplish the tasks related to his craft without error, and the end product that he produced would be of a high quality, serving its purpose for many years to come.

In the HVACR industry, it’s the same process. In order to reach the level at which a journeyman level  technician provides value to an employer that warrants the top level of wages earned, it takes time, and it means having varied experiences with different makes and models of equipment, and different situations, and different applications in different buildings, and different objectives being accomplished with different types of refrigeration systems, etc, etc, etc….

And to again put it simply: the wide variety of necessary stuff that no school or training program, no matter how complete it is, can accomplish.

Which means, that as an aspiring HVACR technician, it’s your responsibility to find out what the “realities” are about the wages you can expect to earn as an entry-level technician. And, the only way you are going to get a complete picture of that reality is to invest the necessary time and effort it takes to contact a significant number of employers….kind of like ‘wandering’ and getting many different points-of-view…. before you commit to a training program.

Is this going to be nothing but easy for you to do? No, it won’t.

Will you likely to get some bad information from some people? Yes you will.

But, in the same way in which it takes persistence to become proficient in a craft, it takes persistence in order to make good decisions about your career. So, don’t give up on getting information if somebody says they’re too busy to talk to you, and don’t let one person’s opinion be the one factor that affects your decision to get into the HVACR industry.  Talk to many different employers. Find out how to get in touch with your nearby chapter of RSES (Refrigeration Service Engineers Society at www.rses.org) so you can attend a meeting as a guest and ask questions. Do whatever you need to do until you’re satisfied that you have all the information you need in order to make an informed decision.

More on this issue in Part Two….

Learn from yesterday….Live for today….Look forward to tomorrow

Jim

 

Every year, a major publication in the HVACR industry conducts a contest to find the best service contractor in a variety of categories, ranging from small, to medium, to large size companies. And every year, when the winner, along with a runner-up and others that receive honorable mention, is announced, the individual profile of each company is detailed. As you would expect, reading those profiles lists a wide range of reasons why each of these HVACR employer excel in their category, yet no two contractors are exactly alike in these descriptions that detail the variety creative ideas each of them have to make their company successful. However, there is one common thread that ties all of these quality contractors together each and every year in this contest….they all have a consistent and proactive in-house training program.

Do HVACR technicians want (and need) a living wage? Of course they do.

Do HVACR technicians feel good about the fact that the company they work for offers benefits such as health insurance, paid vacations and holiday pay in addition to the aforementioned living wage? Of course they do.

Do HVACR technicians absolutely love the idea that they work for a company that gives them an opportunity to learn, grow and develop as a professional in their chosen craft? Of course they do.

The point of the three questions above, and the exact same answer for each of them, is that all of these three elements are part and parcel of hiring and retaining someone, and getting the best performance from them that they are capable of achieving. If an employer concentrates only on the first two, thinking that they’re going above and beyond and ‘treating their employees well’, they often wind up shaking their heads when a technician informs them that they are leaving for a job with another company.

I’ve heard it expressed this way…..”He left me for a lousy 25-cents and hour.”

No he didn’t. He left because an hourly wage, vacation time, and paid holidays are only two parts of the complete three-part package.

One way to look at this is an understanding that there is a difference between an leader and a manager. A leader is someone who does all the necessary things that need to be done in order to bring out the best in people. A manager is someone who protects the company assets by keeping a close watch on incoming revenue and outgoing expenses to ensure that a business is profitable. Of course, part of our responsibility as an employer is to manage. It’s also our responsibility to lead.

An effective in-house training program that offers regularly scheduled sessions on any subject pertinent to a technician’s development (technical, soft skills, self-management skills, etc..) ‘on the clock’ is a key element to leadership. No doubt this takes time, requires a lot of work, and requires a financial investment.

But it’s always worth it.

Until next week…..

Learn from yesterday….Live for today….Look forward to tomorrow

Jim

 

 

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