Jim’s Blog

In Part Two of the discussion on in-house training programs for HVACR technicians I touched on the subject of attitude and how it can affect a training session. In this segment I wanted to look at this subject not just from a technician’s perspective, but from an overall point-of-view.

So I decided to share something called the S.W.E.A.T Pledge.

It’s by Mike Rowe, and I think it addresses the subject of being a Technical Professional in a way that makes sense to all of us.

 

“The S.W.E.A.T. Pledge”

(Skill & Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo)

 

1. I believe that I have won the greatest lottery of all time. I am alive. I walk the Earth. I live in America. Above all things, I am grateful.

 

2. I believe that I am entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing more. I also understand that “happiness” and the “pursuit of happiness” are not the same thing.

 

3. I believe there is no such thing as a “bad job.” I believe that all jobs are opportunities, and it’s up to me to make the best of them.

 

4. I do not “follow my passion.” I bring it with me. I believe that any job can be done with passion and enthusiasm.

 

5. I deplore debt, and do all I can to avoid it. I would rather live in a tent and eat beans than borrow money to pay for a lifestyle I can’t afford.

 

6. I believe that my safety is my responsibility. I understand that being in “compliance” does not necessarily mean I’m out of danger.

 

7. I believe the best way to distinguish myself at work is to show up early, stay late, and cheerfully volunteer for every crappy task there is.

 

8. I believe the most annoying sounds in the world are whining and complaining. I will never make them. If I am unhappy in my work, I will either find a new job, or find a way to be happy.

 

9. I believe that my education is my responsibility, and absolutely critical to my success. I am resolved to learn as much as I can from whatever source is available to me. I will never stop learning, and understand that library cards are free.

 

10. I believe that I am a product of my choices – not my circumstances. I will never blame anyone for my shortcomings or the challenges I face. And I will never accept the credit for something I didn’t do.

 

11. I understand the world is not fair, and I’m OK with that. I do not resent the success of others.

 

12. I believe that all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.

 

On my honor, I hereby affirm the above statements to be an accurate summation of my personal worldview. I promise to live by them.

 

Signed_______________________________________

 

Dated____________________

 

 

The thrust behind this is that Mike Rowe has developed a scholarship program for high school students who plan to pursue education in a trade or craft, and in order to apply ( a $15,000 education and training opportunity here), they have to sign the S.W.E.A.T Pledge.

While I like all 12 of the points that Rowe makes in the pledge, 4, 6, 9, 11 and 12 are my favorites.

Learn From Yesterday…..Live For Today…..Look Forward To Tomorrow

Jim

 

More On The Perspective of Fundamentals

 

Beyond the understanding that new hires or installers in training to move up to service need to have a good grasp of the fundamentals of electricity, refrigeration and psychrometrics, there’s another consideration regarding this subject…..experienced technicians and a review of the basic concepts of HVACR that will help them in the continued development of their troubleshooting skills.

 As a service manager facilitating an in-house training session on this subject, we need to be aware of two important issues. The first, of course, is that we need to be creative in our approach to presenting the basic concepts of how to read wiring diagrams, troubleshoot and test components, calculate superheat and subcooling, and perform static pressure tests as part of evaluating the air flow in a system. What we ultimately want to see is the experienced technician paying attention, participating, nodding in agreement and, when prompted, even contribute information on the subject at hand in order to help bring along those in attendance who are less experienced. That would be an ideal situation; a productive training session that contributes to the professional development of everybody in attendance.

All good.

Fun.

Happy employees.

Your operation running smooth.

Yes, that would be ideal, and sometimes, getting there means that we need to be aware of a second issue, and deal with it effectively. I’m talking about technicians who have been in the field for a number of years, and the possibility that they may not be as excited as you are to have them in your fundamentals training session. There could be a variety of reasons for this. Perhaps somebody who has been ‘out there’ for five years would look upon the hour spent as a waste of time, especially if they were facing a busy workday. If that’s the case, it could derail your ideal training session described above. Instead of a pleasant experience for everyone, somebody could be sitting there, arms folded, noting the time at frequent intervals, barely tolerating the experience until it will finally be over.

A situation like this not only affects you because you’re looking right at it, but the negativity, even if it’s subtle, can become pervasive, having an effect on everyone attending the session and all the subject matter being discussed. So, how would you anticipate this possibility and handle it?

One thing to consider is that if an experienced technician takes the time to contact you prior to the training to say that since it’s a fundamentals session, they would just as soon pass on attending, tread lightly. Simply dismissing their stated opinion out-of-hand and saying that the session is arbitrary, for example, is not going to be a productive route to take in this situation. My reasoning behind this is simple. I’ve been in situations where a technician may say that they have “5 years of experience” working in HVACR, when in reality, what’s closer to correct is that they have “1 year of experience 5 times over”. And, since our responsibility as a service manager and trainer is to make every effort to coach, lead, and contribute to the professional development of those who report to us, we need to anticipate this possibility and, as I said above, be creative in our approach to presenting the basic concepts, no matter who is attending our session.

 

Learn From Yesterday….Live For Today….Look Forward To Tomorrow

Jim

In-house training programs for HVACR technicians can be broken down into three categories. First, there’s the process of bringing on new hires, or bringing someone up from installation to service, and making sure that this group has the fundamentals training they need in order to become an effective service technician. Second, there’s the seasoned technician who needs to be brought up-to-date on new developments and the equipment changes that are a result of that ever-evolving process in the HVAC industry. And, the third category applies to both of these groups…. their professional development from the perspective of interpersonal skills; customer service and communication skills, and, of course, sales skills.

 A Fundamentals Perspective

One of the major challenges that service managers and contractors deal with when training a new technician is what I refer to as haphazard experiences. What I mean by this is that when a technician in training is assigned to ride along on service calls, the experiences are haphazard simply because of the way a technician’s service day rolls out. The first call of the day may be a package unit heat pump with an air flow or refrigeration system problem. The second one can be a split system that employs a gas furnace as an air handler, and the third can be another type of system, etc….etc…. throughout the day. And regardless of how effective a senior technician is at explaining specific components, test procedures, and replacement of a failed part, a  significant percentage of the learning comes about in fits and starts, which means that for the trainee, it can be a jumble.

To keep the confusion that is a characteristic of the field training experience, your trainee needs structure. A training program that provides a logical sequence of the absolute fundamentals of electricity, refrigeration, and air flow, and serves two purposes: First, to eliminate the mystery behind things like current flow and the laws of thermodynamics, and second, to give trainees someplace to put the mountain of information that comes their way on a daily basis.

When it comes to lesson content regarding electrical fundamentals, the topics that help a new technician bring it all together are these:

…Electrical generating stations and the electrical grid

…Fundamentals of conductors, semi-conductors and insulators

…Schematic symbols and the structure of wiring diagrams

…Component identification and tracing circuits, the difference between loads and switches

…Proper use of test instruments and electrical safety, voltage, resistance, and amperage measurements

On the refrigeration side:

…Fundamental laws of thermodynamics that allow refrigeration systems to transfer heat

…The four basic components of any refrigeration system

…The refrigeration cycle and the state of the refrigerant as it enters and exits components

…Refrigerants and oils

…The temperature-pressure relationship between refrigerants and temperature/pressure charts

…Evacuation, dehydration and refrigerant recovery procedures

…The relationship between refrigeration system operation and proper indoor and outdoor air flow

…Proper use of gauges and coil temperature splits

…Fundamentals of superheat and subcooling

 And, when it comes to air flow:

…Properties of air

…Psychrometric charts and how they illustrate basic heating and cooling processes

…Air volume and velocity, and static pressure in a duct system

…Air flow measurement devices

With these very fundamental topics covered in your in-house training program, you’ve laid the foundation for further study on the more detailed subjects of HVACR system performance, electrical and refrigeration system evaluation and troubleshooting, and how to use manufacturer specific information regarding servicing and troubleshooting procedures.

We’ll continue our discussion on this subject in Part Two.

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

Jim

 

 

 

A large part of life is about milestones. And this post is a milestone for me, being as it’s my 100th post on this site.

Hitting this number was a goal that I set back in May 30th, 2011 when this site was set up as a replacement for our old one, and my objective in writing on the subjects of HVACR electrical troubleshooting, refrigeration systems, air flow, soft skills development for technicians, service management, in-house training, coaching, leading, managing, doing business on the web, technician certification, licensing, paying HVAC technicians, etc…was to approach it from the idea that I wanted to help anybody who was interested in reading what I had to say.

Looking back on it, I think the best way to describe my belief about blogging is that a large part of the philosophy behind the process is to consider it from the unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence perspective.

The easiest way to understand this concept is to consider tying our shoes.

When we were very young, we didn’t know how to tie our shoes, and we didn’t know that we didn’t know how to do that, which is defined as unconscious incompetence.

As we got a little older, we still didn’t know how to tie our shoes, but at some point, we realized that we didn’t know how, which is what conscious incompetence is.

So, we worked on learning to tie our shoes, and it wasn’t exactly easy, so we had to concentrate on doing it just so for a period of time before we mastered the process. This is conscious competence.

At some point, we developed the skill so we didn’t have to work so hard on tying our shoes, and we just started doing it automatically, which is unconscious competence.

We went from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence with the two necessary steps of conscious incompetence and conscious competence in between.

I think that being a HVACR professional fits into the same learning model as tying our shoes. When we start out, there’s a lot of things we don’t know, and we don’t know that we don’t know them. But, once we’re aware that there are some things we need to learn, we concentrate on learning these things. and some of these skills, no matter what we’re applying them to, become automatic; a basis for the specific things we need to do in order to troubleshoot and service equipment.

Whether you’ve read every one of my posts here, or if you’ve only read a few, I hope that I’ve been a helpful source for you,  no matter where you might have been on the unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence continuum before you took the time to consider what I had to say. 

In wrapping up this post that is significant to me because it is, as I said above, a milestone. And since it’s a fact that nobody achieves anything of a significant nature all on their own,  I need to say thank you, first of all to two people who have made this possible.

First, my wife Peggy, who always supports everything I do and is directly responsible for any success I have achieved. And also, thanks to Valerie Lancaster of Wowsers Web Design for her expertise in developing and maintaining our site (and putting up with me in the process) on which this blog appears.

And thanks to those of you who have read some or all of this blog and commented and suggested and critiqued what I’ve written. It’s been my pleasure to put this stuff up here for you.

Learn From Yesterday….Live For Today….Look Forward To Tomorrow

Jim

I noticed some discussion lately on Linked-In about NATE and what some of the opinions are out there about it. One of the things I read about it was the idea that the organization has become more interested in perpetuating itself than in certifying technicians. This is where my question about jumping the shark comes  from.

The phrase “jumped the shark” was coined when, according to the opinion of some people involved in the production of the TV series Happy Days, the show reached a point where it was more about ratings than it was about telling its story and entertaining viewers. The episode was about the character Fonzie and his proving he was brave by water skiing, and ultimately jumping over a shark in the water. Actually, it was more of a gimmick than it was a story, and so, for many, it is considered a turning point when the production became more about earning revenue from high ratings than staying true to its original intent. And, what has happened to the phrase “jumping the shark” is what usually happens to a newly-coined phrase that came about due to some very specific situation. It is now often used to refer to any situation in which a negative, such as greed, has overcome what is considered to be the original honorable intent of an organization.

So, my question is, has NATE jumped the shark?

Well, I won’t pretend to know the answer to that question, but there are some things that I do know about the process of technician certification.

I know that even though there may be situations in which every question on a certification exam may not be valid according to everyone working in the field, the exam process itself still speaks to the overall understanding that technicians have in regard to their craft when they achieve a passing score on that exam.

I know that when the certification process works as intended, which is to both increase and measure the overall understanding a technician has about an industry, it results in increased confidence and competency.

I know that when confidence and competency increases, it results in a higher quality of work being performed by persons in their craft.

I know that when a higher quality of work is being performed by persons in their craft, it raises the standards of their industry.

I know that when the standards of an industry are raised, it results in a better end product or service for the consumer.

And I know, as everyone else also knows, that is the honorable intent of any business or industry.

So, like I said, I won’t pretend to know the answer to the question about NATE jumping the shark, and I don’t know that anyone can answer it for certain. All I can say is that if something isn’t perfect, then engaging in a dialogue about it is a good thing because that’s how we get as close as we can to perfect in any honorable effort.

And I know that increasing the confidence and measuring the competence of HVAC technicians is an honorable effort.

 

Learn From Yesterday….Live For Today…..Look Forward To Tomorrow

Jim

 

The bottom line on the proper and efficient operation of any HVAC system is that the air flow through the duct system has to be correct. If it’s not, then any other segments of the equipment operation such as the refrigeration system, fuel-burning system, or resistance-heat system, simply cannot perform as they are designed. The end result of this imbalance of operation between the equipment segments is poor performance that wastes energy and money, and can even become a safety and health concern for the building occupants.

 What this means is that specific measurements must be accomplished to ensure proper operation of the equipment, and one way to approach this task is to use an in-duct hot wire anemometer and a traverse measurement system in the main supply plenum. A digital device such as the one shown in Figure One that is capable of monitoring air temperature as well as measuring volume and velocity, allows you to enter duct sizing information, and has the capability to average so you can accurately calculate the total air flow, will tell you if there is sufficient air flow overall through the equipment. In a comfort cooling system, this accomplished simply through the process of accurate measurement in a duct, and then comparing the information you obtain to the manufacturer’s standard recommendation of 400 CFM per ton of equipment capacity.

Figure One

Figure One

Determining possible traverse locations for measurement applies to both rectangular ducts and round ducts, a sample of each of which is shown in Figures Two and Three.

Figure Two

Figure Two

 

Figure Three

Figure Three

With a fundamental understanding of traverse locations, a technician can use available tables and other information to consider the proper procedure for determining traverse air flow testing in a specific situation. As an example, consider the equipment shown in Figure Four where the supply plenum is shown positioned on the air handler cabinet.

 

Figure Four

Figure Four

 

 

For our purposes, we’ll determine that the duct assembly has a width of 24” and, because of that factor, we have chosen five traverse locations in a position on the plenum that is far enough away from the air handler. These five points are the locations for drilling a 3/8” hole in the duct. To accomplish the traverse measurement process, the probe of our anemometer will be inserted slowly through each opening until the tip of the probe touches the inside of the duct on the opposite side from our measurement  position. During each insertion, the anemometer will be set to take a measurement, and those measurements will be averaged to tell the technician what the total air flow measurement is in CFM.

In the event that the air flow is found to be insufficient, steps can be taken to modify the duct system or adjust the fan speed in order to ensure a proper balance between the air flow and refrigeration systems in the equipment.

In Part One of our discussion on total external static pressure testing of HVAC systems, we discussed checking the manufacturer’s installation information to determine what the TESP should be in a given system. As our chart showed, there isn’t just one number that applies to all systems regardless of the tonnage and the amount of air being moved by the indoor air handler.

However, one general application rule we can consider when evaluating any system in regard to the static pressure in the duct system is that most manufacturers of residential and light commercial equipment don’t want a pressure difference of more than .50″ W.C.  if a standard PSC, multiple-speed motor is employed by the air handling system. If the system employs a variable-speed, ECM-type motor, the TESP can be higher that that of PSC systems.

And, when it comes to evaluating an HVAC air flow system and going beyond the aspect of  isolating a given component in the duct system, such as the filter as we showed in the last segment, exact positioning the probes in the proper place varies, depending on the specific design of the system. For example, if you were evaluating a split system that employed a gas furnace as an air handler with an indoor coil positioned in the upflow position, Figure One shows you where you would effectively test the TESP of the blower itself in this particular type of system.

Figure One

Figure One

In this illustration, you’ll note that we have positioned the probe on the return side of the system after the filter so we can be sure we’re getting information directly at the inlet of the squirrel cage assembly of the blower. And when it comes to the probe on the supply side of the system, it’s positioned so that it is ahead of the indoor coil. Testing at these two points will tell us if the air handling system is operating properly in regard to the furnace itself, providing proper air flow through the duct system and the heat exchanger in the furnace. You’ll also note that we are just slightly above the general ‘.50 or less’ rule we mentioned for PSC blower assemblies. As we mentioned in the last segment on this subject, accomplishing static pressure tests provides us with the information we need to pursue a complete evaluation of the equipment operation and correct any potential problems affecting the total air flow through the duct system. If this system was a PSC rather than a variable-speed motor, we would need to expand our testing in order to bring the TESP across this blower down, and ensure the proper operation of this equipment.

Learn From Yesterday….Live For Today….Look Forward To Tomorrow

Jim

When it comes to the improper proper operation of an HVAC system, incorrect air flow is the number one cause of the malfunction. And one way for technicians to understand air flow in an HVAC system is to understand the concept of external static pressure.

A major factor regarding the performance of the air handling system is the static pressure that will exist between the negative side of the system (the return) and the positive side of the system (the supply). From a practical standpoint, a manufacturer’s blower performance chart (see Figure One) dictates what the TESP…Total External Static Pressure… is allowed to be in a given system.

Figure One

Figure One

In our illustration you can see that this chart is specific to two particular equipment models. When considering the high speed mode of blower operation on the chart, then following the CFM listings to the right until you find the block that shows 1311 CFM, you can then follow up to the top of the chart to the E.S.P listings to see that in this particular case, the manufacturer’s specifications state that the maximum TESP allowed is 0.4” WC (Water Column Inches). What this specifies is that when all items that would contribute to pressure drop in the air handling system are considered, including the filter, the ductwork itself, an indoor coil, and the air supply registers and return grilles, this is the maximum TESP that should be measured. A measurement beyond that number indicates that the performance of the air handling system, and therefore the performance of the refrigeration system and its ability to transfer heat, is being affected, preventing the equipment from operating at peak efficiency.

In the event that a test of a system accomplished with either a Magnehelic or a digital manometer showed a higher-than normal static pressure, the next step would be to perform tests on individual components to find out what steps could be taken to bring the equipment up to its intended operating standards. For example, isolating the filter and performing a static pressure test there, could reveal a simple solution to an overall static pressure that exceeds manufacturer’s specifications. (See Figure Two)

Figure Two

Figure Two

In this case, you’ll note that we have a static test probe positioned on either side of the filter in the return duct, and our Magnehelic is showing a pressure of less than .20” WC. The factor to consider here is that if the measurement at this or any other point in the system gave us enough room to be within the manufacturer’s standards, the equipment would be on track to perform properly. However, if this number was excessive, it would indicate that action must be taken, and there is one fundamental factor that a we could consider here.

That would be whether or not the filter was of the proper design for this system. While a high-grade filter works in one particular system, the design of another system may dictate that filter with lower resistance would be required. And, if a consumer, incorrectly assuming that the more dense filter would be the right one use, installed one that was of improper design, this simple action could affect the overall performance of the air handling system.

Just one of the simple things we need to understand about troubleshooting an HVAC system.

Learn From Yesterday….Live For Today….Look Forward To Tomorrow

Jim

 

What if there was a way to create a 20-MPH wind that would surround a building on all sides and force air at that velocity against all four wall surfaces and the roof simultaneously, so that a building’s tightness (or lack thereof) could be determined? Well, there is a way to accomplish that seemingly impossible feat, and we’re showing how in Figure One (image courtesy of ESCO Institute).

 

Figure One

Figure One

 This illustration shows how a blower door test is accomplished in order to de-pressurize a building. From a technical standpoint, the 20-MPH wind isn’t the method of measurement, but, when the blower exhausts air out of a building and the manometer shows the test pressure being accomplished is -50 pa WRT (we’ll get back to this shortly), that’s fundamentally what is happening. And creating this positive pressure outside the building and, therefore, the negative pressure on the inside, will accomplish an evaluation of the building envelope that allows us to find out if the building is tight, or if it’s not. Of course, if it’s not, then energy is being wasted due to an unnecessary addition to the cooling load, And, while we’re on the subject of unwanted air finding its way into a conditioned space in a building, we’ll remind you that the indoor air quality is being affected due to the un-filtered and un-controlled introduction of outside air.

What a technician needs to understand about the pressure measurement process relative to blower door testing is that the scale being used, the Pascal (pa), is a very fine measurement that provides very specific information about the pressure in a building. Here’s one way to appreciate just how fine a measurement is being accomplished in a blower door test:

 ….1 PSIG is equal to 27.70 inches of water column, the scale that most technicians are familiar with and appreciate how precise it is when measuring things like fuel pressure or static pressure in a duct.

 ….0.2 inches of water column is equal to 50 Pascals.W

Which brings us to “WRT”. It stands for “With Reference To” and it is the acronym used to describe, as our illustration is showing, the difference in pressure inside the house WRT the outside pressure. With one tube from the digital dual port manometer connected to the blower door assembly, and the second tube positioned properly to the outside of the building, the accurate WRT measurement proves to the technician that the building is being de-pressurized to the point where building envelope leaks can be detected and corrected in order to minimize energy waste and cut equipment operating costs.

 

Learn From Yesterday….Live For Today….Look Forward To Tomorrow

Jim 

This will be the last segment of this five-part series on the subject of paying HVACR technicians for the work they do; installing, troubleshooting, and servicing air conditioning equipment. And, while we started this discussion based on only the idea of whether or not a technician should be paid an hourly wage vs. earning commissions and bonuses, it has evolved into much more than just making a decision to go one way or the other. We’ve delved into the subjects of ethics and values, why someone might think they need to sell a customer something they don’t need,  and how a service organization can effectively manage a commission/bonus system for their technician and technician teams.

That’s actually the bottom line on this issue…the fact that, as always, it “starts at the top”. Which simply means in this case that a technician won’t sell a customer something they don’t need, cover up a mistake with more charges, or take any approach other than honesty and fairness with the customer as long as they know what the company they work with stands for (and won’t stand for!) and they receive constant support and guidance from all levels of management and supervision.

With that said, the final point I want to make here is about an employer providing opportunity for an employee. A company called Nuance, a small steel manufacturing company has a very simple philosophy regarding employee opportunity. They follow an approach of: “Hire five, who work like ten, and get paid like eight.” And it works. Their team bonus system that provides opportunity for their employees is the foundation for their performance on Wall Street, enabling them to consistently earn higher profits than their much larger competitors, not just for quarters in a row, but for years in a row.

And, while it’s obvious that 99.9% of HVACR organizations don’t have anywhere near the resources at hand that a steel manufacturing company…even a comparatively small one….has, that doesn’t mean that the fundamental philosophy that is the basis of their success won’t apply on a smaller scale. The philosophy, applied in a company that is large or small, is based on an harmonious employer/employee relationship. Not one that promotes the processes of “getting as much work as possible out of somebody for the least amount of expense” and “getting as much money as I can out of somebody for the least amount of effort possible”.

 And it’s not based in sell!, sell!, sell!, and add-on!, add-on!, add-on! through daily pump-em-up sessions that are designed  to allegedly motivate technicians to squeeze every possible dollar out of every possible customer in order to consistently increase that service call dollar average, because, after all, “that’s how you make as much money as possible for yourself and your family”.

Baloney.

It’s based in the understanding that the mission of the service department is to provide the maximum value for the customer’s money spent while giving them every opportunity to make a buying decision about the things they need and/or want relative to the equipment in their home that keeps them and their family comfortable, safe, and healthy.

And, the technical professional who embraces that mission, and follows it consistently, earns the right to the opportunity to be paid like a professional.

Learn From Yesterday….Live For Today….Look Forward To Tomorrow

Jim

 

 

 

 

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