A Lost Sale – What Could I Have Done Better?

A Lost Sale – What Could I Have Done Better?

A lost sale: how I handled a job estimate and what I could have done better

I recently quoted a big 3,500 sq ft home in Granite Bay, an upscale part of one of the counties we serve.  The project was going to be a big one: two systems, a 5-ton and a 3-ton with ductwork and possibly insulation blown-in.  Of course I wanted the job, but if I don’t get it, I don’t get it.  I want to talk about how I handled this job estimate and what I could have done better.  Let me know your thoughts about this lost sale.

The Customer

The customer wanted two new systems with a Trane CleanEffects filtration system, plus ductwork, and a way to get one guest room air when it would be occasionally occupied.

When I went on this call, I noticed it was in a prominent area of the county where homes are enormous and expensive.  This house had an upstairs and downstairs, and as I said before, it had about 3,500 sq ft of conditioned space with very little insulation.  We talked about his project, and he seemed set on variable speed systems, which for those of you who might not know is the premium technology currently used in our field.

The customer did tell me that he liked us when we quoted a system for another property of his.  He ultimately didn’t choose us because our price was too high.  He found another company that gave him a mid-tier system for less money that would suit his rental just fine.  And he let me know he was getting “quotes from other companies too.”

The Work

Unphased, I did my usual routine of measuring the house, and checking insulation levels.  I took note of the windows in the house, checked the ductwork, and discussed another way to run the ductwork to one room that was on two different zones.  I checked with the customer for areas of the house that might have hot or cold spots.  Then I checked the return sizing and other possible ways of setting up his HVAC in the attic.  The ductwork could be run closer to the attic floor.  It could be buried with the potential new insulation for more energy savings.

I went out to my truck and wrote up the quote.  I provided several options, but he continued to focus on a variable speed system and possibly the 2-stage system.  So those are the numbers I gave him.  I also quoted him on a one-to-one Mitsubishi wall mount or ceiling mount in the guest room.  All in all, with two variable speed systems, ductwork, and insulation, the quote totaled at around $40k, give or take.

The Offer

When I came back in, I reviewed our sales book and system options and showed him our prices for his project.  He let me know our price was already higher than another company’s, and did I want to see their quote for the job?  I respectfully said no, I didn’t need to know the pricing because I was secure in my numbers for the job.  If another company could offer him the same things we were offering for the job, I understood if he chose them.

On a side note, I feel like with the extras we throw in on our jobs as well as the warranties and preventive maintenance we include, not too many companies can match our price apples to apples.

We finished up our conversation at the table, and I told him I was willing to work with him on the price a little.  I said I was confident that the difference in workmanship would show once that job was done.  We parted ways, and honestly, I didn’t feel too hopeful I’d be contacted by him again.  He seemed to be all about price and nothing else.

The Response

A couple of days later, he emailed me.  He asked questions about mixing systems furnaces with air conditioners, how much to change one of the systems to a 2-stage, and a couple of other basic questions.  I promptly answered his questions that night after work.  I was even able to get his new price down to below 40k for the whole job. It’s a slow time of the year, and I was willing to cut down on profits to win the job and keep my guys working.

The next day he asked me if I could just give him a quote for the 5-ton system, and he’d do the 3-ton later.  I was able to get him a smashing deal.  It meant I’d take a meager but still reasonable profit for doing the job.

Following Up

That was March 19th.  On the 23rd, I dropped him an email asking him how the bidding process was going. On the 30th he wrote back.   (Mind you everyone’s been going through the whole coronavirus lockdown, so it’s a crazy time for anyone to be thinking about replacing their system).  He said:

“As you know, we had several companies provide estimates for the HVAC.  Your estimate was very similar in equipment and price to two others.  The fourth estimate was several thousand dollars cheaper than the other three.  I have gone back and forth with the estimate and the company to make sure I am not missing anything because it was that much cheaper. I’m still waiting to decide because of this pandemic, but I am likely to go with the lower bid.  I hope you understand.  I appreciate your taking the time to discuss with me all the options. I’ll certainly keep you in mind for the other HVAC unit and the attic insulation.”

Sleeping On It

When I get news like this, I never want to respond with my initial feelings.  I’ll usually make sure I sleep on it before replying.  The next day I wrote back:

“Hi Mr. Jones, I can certainly understand why people want to go with the cheapest bid all the time.  It’s like going on Amazon because you know the price is going to be lower than retail stores.  But in the case of HVAC and what is involved in your job, I would seriously consider using the middle price as long as it’s a reputable company you’re comfortable with.  I know the numbers on this job, especially if you’re using Trane or American Standard.

Someone who is several thousand dollars less than us other companies aren’t netting anything.  I would be leery of a company like that. Consider the service after the install:  warranties, workmanship, and if the company is licensed and insured.  Any of us other three companies that are close in price are there because we want to be around for our customers next year when you need us.  From my experience in the industry, the companies low balling like that are here today and gone tomorrow.

I don’t mind who you go with.  Still, for the sake of us other three companies who are at typical market value for your project because of our reputation for quality workmanship, I wish you would reconsider.”

His Decision

The next day he clicked “Decline” on our electronic estimate on Housecall Pro, which I like.  It’s easier to know which jobs we’re still in the running for and which ones we’re not.  But this one came across a little bit like a door shutting in my face. I’m not upset with the outcome.  Honestly, it’s a huge job with lots of foot traffic and lots of ductwork.  I’m somewhat glad we don’t have to do it.

How Would You Handle This?

Is there anything you would have done differently on this? I’d genuinely like to know your thoughts, whether it’s positive or negative.  I want to take something away from this to gain knowledge.  Was my final response back to him too harsh?  Perhaps that’s why he didn’t respond further.

Let me know your thoughts down below.

Thanks for stopping by and we’ll see you on the next blog post.

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

Is Doing Side Work Illegal? Why Doing Side Work is a Bad Idea

is doing side work illegal?

Is it okay to do side work if I’m employed by someone in that field already? Let’s talk about what side work is, if it’s illegal, and when it might be okay to do it.

Intro

In California, it’s illegal to perform your normal blue-collar construction jobs on the side.  This means jobs like plumbing, electrical, HVAC, carpentry, windows, roofing, and other handyman type jobs.  Performing those on the side is illegal if you’re collecting more than $500.  If you were looking for the answer to whether or not that side work is illegal, it is.

Building a Reputation

Just like so many other people who entered the trades, I thrived on any knowledge I could gain in my field to be as good as I could be.  I was just appreciative of having a job I could dependably go to and have work on a steady basis.  All I wanted to do was earn the respect of my peers and be considered someone customers would ask for, and managers would send to the tough jobs.

As people settle into their jobs though, they become complacent.  They start getting itchy and looking for more.  “I can do this!  I can change out that part on this air conditioner for less money than the company I work for and make way more than my hourly pay for doing it.”

What is Side Work?

Here’s what side work is.  Once, I was on a residential call and quoted the customer $275 for a part that only cost about $25 online.  They asked me if they bought the part, would I come back out after hours and install it for $100.

I’ve always been one who considers right and wrong.  I not only let the customer know I wouldn’t do it, but I let my boss know, so he could either address it with the customer himself or just leave it alone and chalk it up to knowing that there are people out there who will always try to get the cheapest deal.

It’s funny because that person knows it’s wrong to ask me to do the side work.  If he didn’t, do you think he’d call my boss up and ask him if it was okay for me to come back out after hours and install the part he found online for cheaper?  Probably not.

Thinking Ethically

Entering a world of doing side work on your own while you save enough to start your own business cuts your own throat, to an extent. It’s like tradesmen who knowingly buy stolen tools to use on their job site instead of going to the store or going online and paying legitimate prices for legitimate tools.  If you do this, don’t get angry when you start your own company someday and discover lowballers are undercutting your prices now that you have more expenses than they do.

Contractors have substantially more expenses than technicians who wait until they get off work to come back and do a job the customer didn’t want to pay for when they were on the clock.  A person doing this kind of side work, whether legitimately or not, has the same risks as a real contractor… not getting paid, fire, injury, lawsuit, warranty, etc.

Expenses

Contractors have many bills.  We have to carry general liability insurance.  My company has a $1,000,000 policy we must pay each month.  Before starting as a licensed contractor, I had to write the state license board a check for $15,000 for a bond.  Although we’re a small-to-mid-sized HVAC company, our monthly bills, including paying employees, top out in the tens of thousands of dollars. This is why we charge the prices we do.

Follow me for a second.   A very experienced contractor who sends their guys out into the field, on average, bills out their service techs for less than 50% of the actual time they’re on the clock.  The rest includes rent, payroll, administrative costs, attorneys, drive time, stocking up the warehouse, paperwork, weekly training sessions, running for parts, return visits that aren’t even charged to the customer, and a myriad of other expenses.

Consider the $30,000 service van you’re driving around in that’s only going to last five years and maybe be worth $5000 when the company goes to trade it in for your next van. It’s shocking if you think about how much it costs to roll a van to a service call or an installation.  There are even business owners themselves who don’t entirely understand that cost.

Common Decency

But getting back to it, I’m not saying doing a little work for family and close friends isn’t right, because no one is going to turn down family. Everyone’s got someone they know who can do the work; a buddy who’s a mechanic, an aunt who’s a seamstress, an uncle who’s a roofer. That’s not a person running some underground business. That’s just common decency.

I’ve gone over to my next-door neighbor’s house when I worked for someone else and replaced a bad capacitor on their AC.  Was that wrong?  Some would say yes, but as a contractor myself, I would say no. But there’s always going to be some line you shouldn’t cross.

But I will say this.  If you’re going to do side work, don’t use my tools, my parts, my equipment, my van, or my name and reputation.

Technically, if there’s any legal requirement to be a ‘contractor’ in your area and you don’t meet those requirements, there’s no legal requirement that a customer pays you for your work, even if you’ve completed it to their satisfaction.

Crossing the Line

Even if you have a contract signed by both parties, you’ll lose any legal attempt to collect. Take the customer to court? The court will simply deny your claim, as the courts can’t rule on an illegal act.  And operating without any of the required licenses, insurance, bonds, registration, etc. is also an illegal act.

That’s the line you’re crossing when you decide to take on that side work.

I know I’m not going to change the minds of the masses of side-jobbers out there.  Many think lowballing their bosses for one reason or another is okay. I’m all for healthy competition and real contractors keeping each other in check with pricing.

Weighing the Odds

Good contractors don’t suffer from a lack of work because of all the people doing side work. It’s simply the principle.  Contractors have worked for years building up their business.  Years spent finding employable technicians who can be insured and who carry out their duties safely, precisely, and professionally.

My point is to think about what you’re doing before you take on that side job.  Is it worth your job if you’re caught and fired?  Probably not.  Is it worth doing a little bit of side work while you’re waiting for your state license to process?  Or while you’re building savings to even get started?  Probably not.

Your Turn

Let me know what you think about his topic in the comments below.  Do you think it’s harmless, or are you not willing to cross that line to keep things legit?

Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the next blog post.

Professionalism in the Workplace

professionalism in the workplace

Nine Essential Tips for Gaining Professionalism in the Workplace

Hi, this is Greg Fox from Fox Family Heating and Air.  One of my goals for this blog is to bring up-and-coming technicians, existing techs, and even aspiring business owners some insight into the more personal side of HVAC and other blue-collar service industries.  One of my long-time viewers, David Melendez, is an instructor in the HVAC field.  David asked me to discuss a topic that we both feel should be a no-brainer for any job.  Today I’m going to give you nine ways you can come across more professionally at your job, so you can hang on to it for many years.

Intro

The way you carry yourself, the way you speak to others, and the way you look each and every day shows your level of professionalism.  Look around; it’s the people around you that look sharp, seem confident, and have the trust of everyone around them who are the leaders in your workplace.  You don’t have to be in a management position to be considered a leader within your company, either.  Leaders will get promoted from within their company, or they’ll get poached from other companies who see their professionalism.

There are just too many blue-collar service technicians who are getting the job done but are leaving their customers and their bosses unsatisfied.

Here are nine ways to make yourself come across more professionally in today’s workplace:

1. Be the eager person you were when you got hired

A good way to gain professionalism is to try not to get complacent with your job.  People get hired because they make promises to the company that they’re going to do this, and are really looking forward to doing that.  Once they’re hired, the fizz on top of their soda runs out, and it seems like people start taking things for granted.  Stay interested in your job.  Looking forward in your career, you’re always showing your customers and your supervisors why they should keep choosing you for the job.

2. Be organized

Keeping your service or install van looking organized and clean is one of the best ways to come across more professionally.  Any supervisor is going to remember who has the dirties vans and who has the cleanest vans.  Those with clean, organized vans will be recognized by their peers, too.  They may see your van’s dashboard wiped down each week with Armor-All.  They may see that it’s washed once a week.  Having a place for everything in your van is definitely the way to go.  There are bins and toolboxes you can get to the store to do this.  It’s easier for people to take you more seriously when you have a clean, well-organized van too.

3. Work smarter, not harder

Having a clean van means you can find things easier, which makes you more efficient.  One of the best pieces of advice I can give you when working on the job site is to be efficient with your moves.  If you are going to your service area to start your job, bring something with you that you might need on a later step.  Also, if you’re going back to the truck to get a part, bring something back with you, that you’re not using anymore.

Installers and service techs could save a great deal of time if they would consolidate their steps.  Meaning if you know you’re going to need your recovery machine early on in your procedure, bring the other stuff you need, too, like an extension cord and the recovery tank.  If you have a free hand when walking back and forth to your service area, you’re probably not being as efficient as you could be.

 4. Admit when you are wrong

Nothing shows integrity more than holding yourself accountable for your actions.  No understanding company is going to fire you if you mess up something but are honest with them.  Dishonesty is probably the quickest way to get let go from your company, because if they can’t trust you, why are you even there?

5. Be on time for work and meetings

When the boss says we have a training session at 7 am on Wednesday, you should be inside that building or sitting in your van waiting to go in at least ten minutes before it starts.  I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but not being on time screams unprofessionalism on your behalf.  If you want to make your instructor or supervisor feel like they’re not important, just keep on being late.  You’ll soon have some other place to be that you can be late to.

6. Dress to impress

Those of us in the service industry may usually have jobs where we get dirty during the day.  Most companies know this and are more lenient with your dress as the day goes along.  You may have had to crawl through the attic to run a new electrical circuit.  You may have had to go under the house to reconnect a duct or repair a pipe.  I’m proud of my techs when I see them getting dirty as their workday goes along.  That means they’re working hard and going into places they should be going to do their job thoroughly.

Having said that, you’re always going to want to be your sharpest looking first thing in the morning.  Having your hair brushed, your boots on, with clean pants, and a clean shirt shows a lot of professionalism.  Always know that people are looking at you every day.  They’re forming an opinion of you whether you realize it or not.

7.  Be reliable

Professionals are reliable.  People know they can count on you to be there if you do it regularly.  On the worksite, being available for your coworkers will earn you a ton of respect.  If you can step in and help someone in a time of need, your peers and everyone else will know.

Always improving your skills by reading material, or getting more specialty tools to make your job easier will make you more reliable.  If you’re not showing your coworkers and company this, you may come across as not wanting to be there, not wanting to improve, not wanting to be counted on.

Professionals are stable.  If you’re the person on your team that surprises people with unwanted or outlandish acts, you will realize no one wants to work with you anymore.

8. Show Confidence

Those of you who are more confident at work will be more successful at work.  Confidence is all about knowing what you can do and doing it well.  It’s about being able to tell your boss, “Yeah, I can do that.”  To be able to take an assignment and do it well takes a lot of pressure off your supervisors.  Do that over and over, and you’ll be on your way up the ladder, too.

9. Speak up

People who are confident speak up more than others.  If something doesn’t make sense or come across clearly, confident people don’t shy away from saying something.  I’m not saying if a company’s policy doesn’t sound right, you should stand up and object in front of everyone in the room.  But you could calmly raise your hand and be called on, and respectfully say what you’re thinking.  I’ve always been that person.  It’s not rude.  And it’s not done to try to get a rise out everyone sitting in the room. It’s actually a leadership quality to play the devil’s advocate sometimes, so all sides are considered.

Summary

If you carry yourself well, communicate well, look sharp, and are reliable, you’re going to go far in any company, even if it’s your own.  These are the people who are considered leaders wherever they go.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you next time.

Can I Replace My Furnace Without Replacing My Air Conditioner?

Can I replace my furnace without replacing my air conditioner?

When it comes time to replace your furnace, people may think they have to replace their air conditioning unit and furnace at the same time.  To receive some of the great rebates that are out there, yes, you would need to get the whole kit and kaboodle at the same time.  But for all practical reasons, no, that isn’t necessary, and there are some benefits to doing it this way.  I’ll explain why.

While it’s always a good idea to replace the two parts of the AC at the same time, the furnace, the third part, only has one unit that needs to be replaced.

Imagine the three main parts of your central air conditioning system.  In the heating season, you have a gas flame that typically that heats up a metal box.  Inside that same unit is a blower motor that sends air across the hot metal box which emits warm air into your rooms. And that’s how you get heat.

In the air conditioning season, that firebox is still there physically; it’s just not being heated up.  No flame is on at all, actually.  But you will notice the outdoor AC kick on.  That outdoor AC coil is connected to another coil on the inside of the house where your HVAC system is.  The outdoor unit has the hot coil which is removing heat front the house while the indoor coil is the cold coil.  The blower sends air past the cold coil and on to the rest of your home.

Back to the question “can I just replace my furnace?”  Now that you know there are three individual units, the furnace, the indoor coil, and the outdoor coil, you should know that any of those components can be changed out one at a time.  But before you change it, see if there is anything you can do to understand why your furnace may be blowing cold air.  It may still be repairable!

You may have a house where the AC system is newer than the indoor furnace.  When it comes time for that furnace to be replaced, you may not be ready to change out the AC components.  That’s fine.  Just remember, if you’re looking for rebates through your local utility company, they may want you to replace all three components.  Here’s a breakdown of SMUD’s Heating and Cooling Rebates for those here in Sacramento County.  They want to see a “matching” system that has a blower motor specifically designed for the other parts of the system.  They want the manufacturer of all three components to be the same.

One advantage of replacing just your furnace is the ability to save money.  Whereas an entire system will cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, replacing just the heater becomes only a fraction of that.  Financing $6,000 becomes a lot easier for those looking for a break in tight times.

Another advantage of replacing the furnace is that today’s furnaces all come with ECM motors. They are more efficient to run than the older PSC style motors that use a capacitor to help regulate its voltage.  Those capacitors are also just another repair part that can fail often.  So, no more of that $300 expense every few years.

In California, all of our furnaces have low NOx standards, which reduce nitrous oxides that escape into that atmosphere causing acidic rain, smog, and other nasty side effects with our environment.  Replacing your furnace will actually doing a big favor to not only you but others around you in this world.  Check out this blog I wrote on the topic of Low NOx Furnace Requirements. You know, it’s your money and your budget.  Some companies will tell you this is not possible.  If you want an honest opinion about what you can and cannot do with your HVAC system concerns, give us a call at tel://1-916-877-1577 or contact us here.

Our Top 5 Favorite Booths at the 2020 Northern California Home and Landscape Expo

Fox Family at Home and Garden Show

Our Top 5 Favorite Booths at the 2020 Show

This past weekend we got the chance to be one of 16 heating and air conditioning companies at the Northern California Home and Landscape Expo at Cal Expo.  We saw at least 20,000 to 30,000 people walking through the maze of exhibitors out there.  The weather was nice for all three days.  Each day there were threats of rain but would subside just in time.

In this week’s blog, I wanted to point out our top 5 favorite booths from this year’s show.  I really don’t think you can see all the exhibitors in one day.  There were multiple buildings hosting companies from all over the Sacramento area showing off their businesses.  Here’s a list of all the trades you could have seen at this year’s show:

  • Air conditioning, heating, plumbing and insulation
  • Appliances and home products
  • Cabinets and closets
  • Contractors and remodelers
  • Concrete, decks, and fencing
  • Financial, real estate, and insurance
  • Floors and carpets
  • Gardening and outdoor products
  • Home furnishings and decorative art
  • Kitchens and baths
  • Landscaping
  • Pet products
  • Pools and spas
  • Roofing, siding, and painting
  • Screens, sunrooms, and patio covers
  • Security, satellites, and water
  • Skylights and solar
  • Specialty products
  • Tile, marble, and stone
  • Windows and doors

1. Our first favorite booth this year was Armstrong Plumbing (www.armstrongplumbing.net) and their famous toilet filled to the brim with candy. 

They also were giving out foam stress balls that looked like, well, poop!  Armstrong Plumbing is well known in the Sacramento area for their expert service and installation teams.  From the smallest repairs to repiping an entire home, Armstrong and their company mascot, Rosie the Riveter, is a company I would trust in my home.

2. Number two on the list: I’m always amazed by the detailed and elaborate booth Yancey Home Improvements (www.yanceycompany.com) puts up every year. 

Their booth looks like a cutout of a home that has a rooftop with shingles and even solar panels on top of that.  They built out the patio covers and other sunrooms they specialize in as well.  It was a very large display that took up several 10×10 ft. booths! 

3. The third that was neat to see was the Vitamix blender booth. (www.vitamix.com

Vitamix demonstrated how easy it was to prepare whole meals with the use of their line of variable speed blenders.  From soups to baby food, smoothies to frozen desserts, the Vitamix blender is definitely something Melissa and I want to pick up soon.  

4. Number four on the list that was there is Harlan Quality Roofing (www.harlanroofing.com). 

Fox Family has referred some of our customers to Harlan Roofing.  Some of those homeowners chose to have their roofs done by James and his great team.  It’s nice to know we have helped other companies in our area by throwing some business their way.  Their values line up with Fox Family’s in many ways.  The care they put into their roofing installations is one reason Harlan Quality Roofing will be around for many years.

5. And finally, System Pavers (www.systempavers.com) was there. 

The day before the show opened, the System Paver teams were hard at work setting up a sample area of their carefully placed paving stones that interlock, keeping them looking nice, durable and maintenance-free.  There were plenty of colors and styles available.  I’m sure anyone could find the perfect driveway, walkway, patio, or deck for their home.

Barely Scratching the Surface

I could go on and on about all the great booths at the 2020 show.  But like I said before, I really don’t know how someone could get to all of them in one day.  With a multitude of buildings housing all these companies, I know the visitors out there got what they came for, which was lots of ideas for their home projects coming up in the year ahead.

It was nice being out there this year.  As a company of our size, rubbing elbows with so many of the well-known businesses and business owners here in the Sacramento area is a real treat for us each year.  Hopefully, we’ll get to see you at the show next year.  If you see us, make sure to stop by and say hello.

You can see us throughout the year at this show as well as the Sacramento Home & Garden Show www.sachomeandgardenshow.com at Cal Expo, March 6th to the 8th.  We also set up a booth at the Rancho Cordova Business Expo  www.ranchocordova.org/2019-business-expo.html each year.  This year’s show is on August 20th.

Thanks so much for checking us out for this week’s blog.  We’ll see you next week! 

Creating Consistent Service for Our Customers

Fox Family Creating Consistent Customer Service

Why Fox Family Service Calls Are All the Same

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on standardizing the way we carry out our service calls.  It’s really just good practice to have it written down for someone who might need to refer to it.  It’s good to have a system for AC and heating service calls, but at the same time, we never want to take the personal aspect out of each call either.  We hire our technicians for their personalities and train them to become great service technicians.

Introduction

So how do we keep our service calls structured while still maintaining that family feel?  At Fox Family Heating and Air, Melissa and I focus daily on treating our technicians great.  We know that by treating them with the respect and kindness they deserve, they will take care of our customers the same way.  We feel that goes a long way in reaching the goals of a structured service call while being personable at the same time.

It’s almost impossible to expect each service call to go the same way, every time.  There are too many variables when it comes to residential and commercial HVAC services.  Every customer’s concerns are unique to them. 

Our Routine

But at the same time, if our customers refer us to their friends and family to service their HVAC systems, we want the flow of the call to be very similar from home to home and business to business.  Our techs have a routine that includes:

  • The Pre-Arrival
  • Arrival
  • Approaching the door
  • Making Contact
  • The Conversation
  • The Diagnosis
  • Making the Repairs
  • Completing the Call

I can explain some of the aspects of our service call that should be standard from technician to technician in the hopes that no matter who comes out to service the HVAC system the total experience will be the same.

Pre-Arrival

We always call our customers when we’re on the way.  It’s nice to give our customers about a 15 to 30-minute heads up.  It takes us off the clock for a customer who is expecting us.

The pre-arrival also includes us gathering ourselves after the drive to the job site.  It’s important for a tech to leave the stresses of their day behind us.  Traffic, other service calls, and life in general can make things tough for anyone. 

Arrival

At the arrival, we ensure our techs park on the street in front of the home or business.  It’s important for us to not take our customers for granted in thinking we can just pull up in their driveway.  Sometimes it’s necessary to park in the driveway, but we always get permission first.

Approaching the Door

On our approach to the home, we make sure not to walk across the lawn.  Coming up the driveway or sidewalk is best for keeping the home clean once we get inside.  We also only come to the front door.  It’s just unorthodox to come to the side or back door to greet a customer.  And, since everyone wants to feel like they’re the most important person on the technician’s mind at the time of arrival, talking or texting on the phone is avoided.

Making Contact

When we make contact with customers at the door, it’s important for us to be aware of certain things.  Not everyone wants to shake hands with a technician when they arrive.  We can be known to work on some dirty things during the day and people know that.  But, if someone initiates a handshake, we always welcome it. 

We also ask our customers if they’d like us to wear our shoe covers in the house to protect their floors.  It’s also important for us to respect people’s homes and businesses by just focusing on the task at hand.  We understand that people are private in their homes and everyone’s lifestyles are different.  Making comments about cleanliness or particular items in the home is not what we do.  So that sort of respect goes a long way with our customers, and they feel comfortable with us in their homes.

Having the Conversation

One thing I tell my techs is that we’ve heard our customer’s concerns a million times.  They’re usually very similar from one customer to the next.  But it’s important to Fox Family that we stop talking and listen to the customer’s concerns without interrupting.  After they’re done telling us, we might ask some more specific questions to help us narrow down the problem, like:

  • How long has it been happening?
  • Has there been a power outage in your neighborhood lately? (brownouts, blackouts)
  • Who does the preventive maintenance on your system?
  • Any other history of problems with that unit?

We also want to learn about other areas of the home that might have problems going on.  Perhaps there’s a room in a certain part of the house that’s warmer or cooler than the others, or they’re having air quality issues in the home, etc.

Along with those extra questions, we also like to ask “We’re always on the lookout for ways to make your system run better, last longer or be safer for you and your family.  If I see something like that while I’m here, can I bring it to your attention?”

Some people say, “No” and that’s totally fine.  We’ll get in and get out in a timely manner.  But not asking puts us in a position where some customers might think we weren’t being thorough enough on the call to foresee these other problems.

The Diagnosis

Once we’ve figured out what’s going on with the system, we try to be as thorough as possible and let the customer know about any system problems we may have seen.  For instance, the control board of a system might need to be replaced, but the capacitor for the blower motor (which is still working) is almost out of stored energy, which will prevent it from regulating the voltage to that motor.

The heat exchanger or firebox of the furnace keeps the spent gases in those hot chambers and flue pipe which then exhausts out of the rooftop.  Let’s say you have a bad inducer motor which is preventing your system from running.  Well, if the firebox of the furnace has failed, we feel like our customers would want to know since it involves their system running safely.  

Homeowner Safety

All in all, I just tell my techs to suggest all repairs needed as if it were their home’s HVAC system.  We just want to bring the system back to manufacturer specs and keep the residents of that home safe.  That particular home may need multiple repairs to get it back up and running in tip-top shape. 

Another unique thing about Fox Family is that we want to protect the homeowner who may be using their house as a rental.  One way we do this is by only talking to the owner about the repairs since they are the ones paying for it.  The landlord/tenant relationship can be dicey at times.  If we divulge repair information to the tenant but the owner decides not to make that repair, it can stir up the relationship which is not what we want to contribute to.

We understand that maybe only one repair can be made that day.  Our customers’ budgets differ from one to another.  We simply make the suggestions and do the work our customers approve.

Fox Family differentiates itself from other companies by offering a lifetime warranty on the parts we use to repair your system.  This puts the responsibility on us to use the best products for your repair, which makes our customers feel better about the money they’re spending.

Making the Repairs

When making the repairs, we can usually go right out to our service truck and get the parts we need.  Keeping our trucks stocked with all the right parts gets our customers heating or cooling again, quicker.

Sometimes a special part needs to be ordered and delivered to our shop.  When the part comes in, we make the appointment to come back out and replace the part for the same price we agreed upon the first visit.   Keeping the customer informed along the way during the delivery is another way we provide that personal touch with our customers.

After the repair, we clean up the service area and try to make it like we were never there.  Hopefully, this will make the whole repair process go smoother for the customer.

Completing the Call

When it’s time to complete the call, we try to sit down at the kitchen table and go over everything we’ve done.  We mention our lifetime warranty on the parts they’re paying for, and we offer to come out and perform the preventive maintenance on their system to help keep the system running as long as possible. 

Our technicians are asked to collect the money for repairs they made that day, as billing can get very complicated for the office. 

The only other thing I ask our techs to do is to make sure our customers know how much we appreciate them and to thank them for trusting us with their home’s HVAC system.

Final Thoughts

Having a standardized way of running a service call keeps every experience with a tech who comes to a customer’s home very similar.  That way when we’re referred to friends and family, they get the same experience.  All the personality and conversation during the rest of the call comes genuinely from our technicians.  That’s why we hire our techs for their personalities and not so much their skills.  Skills can be taught; a great personality can’t.

Thanks so much for stopping by and we’ll see you on the next blog.

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

Why Do Gas Furnace Control Boards Fail?

How Does a Gas Furnace Work

A bad control board is not uncommon a couple of times a week during a busy winter of service calls here in the Sacramento Valley. What are the parts on a circuit control board that fail, and why?

The printed circuit board of a furnace is the brains of the whole operation.  It’s the quarterback calling the shots down on the field of high and low voltage circuitry we work on every day.  On this week’s Fox Family Heating and Air Blog, we’ll talk about the parts on the control board that fail and explore some of the most common reasons why. 

What’s Failing?

So, what is failing on these boards?  A slice of silicon 10 years old should be the same composition as a 1-year old board, right?  It seems so.  Regardless, aging systems do begin to give more problems than the newer ones.

Printed circuit boards these days are composed of shrunk down relays and switches mounted on a rigid green board to orchestrate the sequence of operations that start up the furnace and gives us heat.  30 and 40-year-old furnaces we see still out in the field have these relays and switches.  They’re just bigger and sturdier because they’re made from more durable parts.

Last week we discussed how the smaller a control board gets, the weaker the material it’s made of.  The material is thinner, the solder connections are smaller, and the relays are made with tinier pieces of plastic and metal.

Control Board Life Expectancy

Our customers might think a control board should last the lifetime of the furnace.  And I’d say 50% of them do!  But all parts on the furnace control board have a life expectancy, and many things can happen to accelerate the aging process of the parts on that board.

Assuming there’s power to the board, it should function properly. If it’s not, there’s nothing we can do to bring it back to factory specifications.  You can’t make field solder connections right there on the spot that are going to meet any kind of standard the manufacturers set when creating the board.  Different soldering alloys will clash, resulting in a temporary fix at best.

Failed Solder Connections

That brings me to my first common failure on a control board.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked about failed solder connections on the back of a control board.  Molex plugs have stems that are secured to the board and soldered in place to adhere to the metallic circuitry that act as wires do in a house.  If the wire has a beak in it, that circuit isn’t going to work. 

When the backsides of those Molex plugs develop a crack, it makes a gap between the stem that goes through the board to the backside where it meets the circuitry.  Any fractures in that solder connection are going to start creating intermittent abnormalities.  There’s a low voltage Molex plug and a high voltage plug that’s going to be a part of any furnace control we work on.

Thermal Expansion

You might ask, “What makes the solder connections fracture like that?”  Two words, thermal expansion.  Once the solder is applied and forms, it remains a very rigid metal with very little plasticity.  Warmth creates expansion.  And that kind of expansion within the solder joints is going to create a gap between it and the stem it’s supposed to be attached to.  This will cause problems with your boards either now or later. 

When I see a control board that has fractured solder connections on the back of the board, I let the customer know it doesn’t meet factory specs anymore and offer to replace it for them so they don’t have problems in the future.

Relays and Switches can Stick, Burn and Pit

Just like a contactor on the condenser outside, the control board at the furnace has miniature relays which allow certain motors to receive the voltage they need to operate.  And just like the contactor on the condenser, those furnace relays start to pit and burn from arcing that occurs across the contacts as they close.

High temperatures can melt the protective coating on the windings of the coil of a relay, which can prevent the contacts from closing in the first place.  Plastic pieces that the contacts are mounted to can lose stability with ambient heat surrounding the relay, too.  This can warp the contacts of the relay causing them to be misaligned and unable to function properly.

Stuck Switches

When an electro-mechanical switch like the ones on our boards is suddenly being used after a long period of downtime, like the end of one winter to start of the next winter, it can become permanently stuck.  Tapping on the relay can sometimes help, but only delays the inevitable failure of the board.

Over-voltage, like in-rush and other voltage spikes, creates constant overheating.  Under-voltage can prevent the contacts of a relay from staying closed securely.  And it’s not just the voltage that’s damaging these parts.  It’s also the current being carried with that voltage which wears out switches prematurely.

Transistors

Transistors are typically the first part to fail in a control board.  Once again, the damaging heat and energy that hits those transistors due to voltage spikes, or even a little bit of static electricity, can wear out a board prematurely.  This is going to change the composition of the materials they’re made of.   Over time, they just give out, preventing the control board from working properly.

Power Surges

Asking questions with the homeowner can reveal a lot when diving into an HVAC system that isn’t working properly.  A recent thunderstorm or lightning strikes in the area can send a surge through the house’s electrical system.  That surge might not affect the lights or kitchen appliances in the house.  They may not even trip the breaker if the furnace is on at the main panel.  But it might take out the transformer before the board, sending a jolt to that sensitive control board.

Brownouts from the power company are notorious for damaging HVAC equipment.  A reduction in power that suddenly comes back on with no warning can damage the protective coatings on parts, causing them to fail either now, or even a couple years from now.

Another power surge a house can experience is a car accident in the area that may have taken out a power line. As the connections of those high voltage wires attached to the poles rip apart or get stretched, the influx of energy and the damage it causes happens instantly.  

Many HVAC parts have been taken out by these three situations, causing anywhere from a few thousand dollars’ worth of damage, to simply blowing a little 3-amp fuse on the control board.  No one should ever underestimate the freakish damage that can occur to an HVAC system when power surges happen in or around a house.

Static Electricity  

Careless or unsuspecting technicians who walk across a carpeted floor to get to their furnace can build up more voltage on the body than it can store.  As a result, that voltage will need to be transferred to the next piece of metal it comes in contact with.  You don’t want that to be the metal on a control board.  Electrostatic discharge (ESD) can even develop after you’ve grounded yourself to the furnace the first time.  Standing on a carpet can create that static very easily. 

The damage is done to the control board terminals when ESD hits the board.  There are very thin insulating layers within the control board’s transistors, relays, switches, and solder joints that will break it down.  What’s even worse is that sometimes that discharge won’t cause damage to the board immediately.  It’ll damage the insulation to such a degree that the device fails sometimes hours or even years later.

Control Board Degradation Over Time

A diagnosis of a bad control board is not an uncommon one.  But it makes me wonder what that board has gone through during its life to have gotten to the point where it’s now failed.  The parts themselves have an expected life span.  Everyone agrees with that.  But factors such as thermal expansion, power surges, and static electricity all play a big part in the degradation of a control board over time.

We’ve been getting excellent feedback from our fellow technicians like you who are out in the field working on this stuff everyday.  Please feel free to express your opinions and share your stories about failed control boards in the comments section below.  As HVAC techs, we’re always trying to learn, and there’s no better information than the lessons you’ve learned and can pass on to us.

Thanks so much for stopping. We’ll see you on the next blog post!

HVAC Training: 6 Ways to Prevent Damage to Printed Control Boards or PCB’s

How Static Electricity Kills Control Boards

Electrostatic Discharge is a Bigger Problem With Modern Electronics Than it’s Ever Been

When I first learned how to change a control board on a furnace, I was educated by my trainer to take great care in removing any static from myself before removing the board from the box.  He said I could damage the control board before the furnace even ran for the first time after the repair.  It’s called electrostatic discharge and it’s a bigger problem with modern electronics than it’s ever been.  This is what we’re going to talk about this week on Fox Family Heating and Air.

And for those of you who have experience handling control boards, let us know down below in the comments section if you have any other safety suggestions or any good war stories from your time in the field.  We’re always trying to learn as HVAC techs, and there’s no information better than the lessons you’ve learned and can pass on to us.

Reducing Electrostatic Discharge

About a third of all control board failures come from damage caused by electrostatic discharge.  You might have seen those pristine labs where they manufacture control boards.  One of the main goals for these rooms is to reduce static.  Once a control board is created, it’s prone to static damage.  If that damage were to happen at the lab the cost to manufacture another one is very little.  If the damage happens during testing it requires 10 times the cost to make it.  And if that board fails at the customer’s house, it takes 100 times the cost to manufacture a new board at the lab, package it, ship it to an HVAC warehouse, ship to the HVAC contractor, who drives it to the customer’s house, and has it ready for the customer to replace it, and put a warranty on it.

When it comes to static damage to a control board, it’s not so much about the voltage being transferred from you to the metallic parts of the board itself, but the resistance it incurs as it travels through pins, transistors, and other parts of the board along its path to ground.

The Shrink-Down

You’ve seen those big controls and relays that were used on decades-old furnaces.  They’re the same controls used today to direct the sequence of events that start the furnace and shut it down.  Anyone who has worked on an old furnace can tell you those relays and switches take up a lot of space in the control panel.   These days all those relays, transistors and switches have been shrunk down to the point that they now fit on a printed control board the size of a small napkin. 

Those old relays and other controls being larger than today’s parts were constructed with heavier materials.  That’s why they’re more durable over time.  The strength of the materials used to build small control boards is obviously not going to be as durable as those bigger, heavier parts.  You know the saying; “they don’t make them like they used to?”  Well, there’s something to that.

The Victim

A static discharge 20 years ago would have been harmless to those controls.  Today that same discharge through the board can result in catastrophic damage.   Transistors are often the victims of static shock to a control board.  But pins, brittle solder, and the silicon itself can all be deformed by the heat that travels through during a static discharge.

Damage like this can make a control for the blower motor, which is supposed to be off at a given time, to a blower that s always on now.  Or a safety switch that is normally closed to become constantly open.  These parts of the furnace that are needed to work in a certain order can be thrown out of whack very quickly with the slightest arc from your body to the control board.

Unseen Damage

Most people don’t even know they’re charged with static electricity as they cross the carpet floors and on to the HVAC system of a customer’s house until they feel the spark travel from their fingers to the brand-new control board they’re changing out.  Some of those techs also don’t know they’ve just damaged that expensive control board their customer is getting ready to pay for either.

You don’t have to be wearing a flannel shirt and your favorite pair of wooly socks to develop static.  Although clothing like that, as well as other situations, can create a significantly higher amount of energy than the body can store, which will need to be discharged at the next available piece of metal you touch.

Why Inspect?

Suppose you were out on a preventive maintenance or a service call doing a visual check of the backside of a control board.  We all know of the solder connections on the back of those boards which are receptors for a Molex plug that controls many of the basic functions of the furnace.  The heat from even a minuscule 24 volts, over time, will fracture those solder connections, which is why we inspect the back of the boards on a regular basis.  But if we bring with us a body full of static, and touch that control board, we can create a very minor defect in the board, or make a pre-existing, undetected condition even worse.  All of these fractures break down the control board over time until it completely fails.

Every control board I’ve changed was stored in an anti-static bag that comes inside a cardboard box.  Even those anti-static bags are conductive!  But they do help reduce and negate any static electricity the board might encounter during shipping and riding around in the back of your truck.

What Can We Do?

So, what can we do to prevent ourselves from damaging printed circuit boards in the future?

1. Ground Yourself

Do what my trainer told me to do.  Ground yourself to the furnace before touching the delicate components inside them.  Something that has a direct path to earth.  When we ground ourselves, we’re removing any excess voltage we may have created and carried with ourselves as we walked to the furnace.

2. Avoid Carpet and Rugs

Try working in an area where you’re not standing on carpet or area rugs.  These will encourage you to generate static even after you’ve already grounded yourself to the unit the first time!  A canvas drop cloth is less likely to generate that same static.  Working on bare or concrete floors is even more ideal.

3. Humidity Levels

I know you can’t change this while you’re servicing the HVAC system, but understanding the humidity levels in the room can help.  A room that has 40% to 50% humidity is less likely than a dryer room to encourage static.

4. Remove Voltage Potential

Make sure you’ve unplugged the furnace.  You want to make sure there are no electrical currents running through the system.

5. Handle with Care

When you do take the control board out of the anti-static bag, or when you remove one from the furnace to inspect it, make sure you are only touching the sides of the board.  Voltage potential is conducted through all the metallic parts of the board.  These are the areas you don’t want to have your fingers all over.

6. Stay Hydrated

Speaking of hands, keeping your skin moisturized by drinking plenty of water and even using lotion will help keep static-electricity down.  Dry skin encourages static to build up even after you’ve grounded yourself a first time.  You’re not off the hook as far as static discharge goes. Grounding yourself to the furnace multiple times is not unheard of.

Here’s a Little Tip!

Want to reduce the chance of that painful snap between you and the metallic object you choose to ground yourself to?  Use something like your metallic car keys to touch that ground.  This allows the discharge to travel straight through the key instead of going straight to your hand.

Summary

I hope this helps you with your question as to ESD damage to control board furnaces.  If you’ll take the time to ground yourself properly, you’ll reduce the chance of transferring the voltage to the control board.

Thanks for stopping by and we’ll see you on the next blog post!

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

Should I Go to HVAC School or Get Hired as an HVAC Apprentice?

Trade School or Apprentice

People entering the trades question whether they should start their journey out by going to an HVAC trade school or by trying to get hired on with a company as an apprentice.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the world.  The answer to that will differ based on the company you’re trying to get on with, and what YOU want as a future employee. 

I think after reading this blog post you’ll have the confidence to start your way into the trades by figuring out this question.

Intro

My intention for this post is not to suggest whether you should or should not go to trade or vocational school to start learning your trade.  There are a lot of my audience reading this in a classroom right now.  And really, there’s nothing preventing you from doing both.  You can never have too much training and education.  In fact, my company offers continuous training on a weekly basis.  New information, best practices, and advanced technology are constantly updating in this field.

But if you’re reading this, you’ve decided that working in an office setting is not for you.  You’ve decided you want to work in a different setting.  One that changes on a daily basis.

An HVAC technician that learns installation and service is really diversified and becomes proficient at more than just HVAC skills, but plumbing, gas, electrical, construction, framing, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, roofing, structural engineering, etc.  Where are you going to learn all of this?

My Story

I was a mechanic in the air force after graduating high school, but I don’t think that really played much of part in my first company hiring me, other than I was manageable.  I went to a job fair they had and listened to their job descriptions and everything they had to say.  I deciphered that they really needed install helpers, so that’s what I told them I wanted to do. 

The next day they called me for an interview.  I went in with a polo shirt, jeans and some clean black boots, and breezed right through an interview that basically was held just to see how I spoke for myself.  It was more of a conversation to determine what kind of personality I had.  And, they hired me with no HVAC knowledge at all! 

I started learning how to install HVAC equipment, run gas pipes, line sets, handle high and low voltage, frame out a new return can, and how to run ductwork properly – all while getting paid, and learning some valuable fundamentals for later on in my career as a service technician.  I got some good overtime hours, and pretty much doubled my starting pay within a year.

But is it that easy for everyone?  It can be.

Going the Apprentice Route

Most local companies in your area provide either residential or commercial HVAC services.   Some companies do both.   It really seems like companies who value their employees have no problem training them, or paying for them to go to training after they’re hired.  The benefit to you as a person looking to work somewhere is, these companies get someone trained up the way they need them to be.  It’s also more efficient for you because it saves you a lot of money and you get trained for the job you’ll be performing.  So, you get your training in the classroom either at the shop you work at, or at a school they send you to.

I found most HVAC company owners I speak with would rather take on a new employee who doesn’t have any experience, but has a great personality, than taking on a skilled technician who has no class, can’t hold a conversation, or has no teamwork mentality.  The reason is that they can be trained in the way that the company wants them to be trained.

Early Spring

Bigger companies typically hire more techs per year than smaller companies.  So, if you’re looking to get on with a company, I tell people to start with the bigger companies around town.  Also, February to April, (early spring) is the best time to try because companies are looking to ramp up their staff to get ready for the busy summer season.  And that’s a great way to get on to prove yourself to the company that hires you. 

But I’ve heard that some of those big companies will also lay off folks when it slows back down after the summer.  And that really saddens me.  It’s got to be frustrating for those techs.  But I think everyone makes their own way where they work. 

My company and the company I worked at before don’t practice laying people off.  Some techs might lose some hours because their employer is slow and didn’t have the work for them, but either way, when it did slow down (like every HVAC business does during the off-season) my employer kept me busy because I was out there proving myself worthy of being on the clock every day.

During that first couple of years as an installer, working hard, staying busy, and getting the job done in a timely manner kept me busy all year.  That’s what employers like to see. 

The Facts About Trade School

There’s no such thing as too much education.  Look at the people who check out channels like mine.  It’s because they’re seeking more input about the HVAC field.

An apprenticeship you’ve been given can be shortened significantly with a degree you earn at a trade school.  Completing an organized class dedicated to the HVAC field is a huge help.  The teachers of those classes are typically seasoned veterans who have been out there and done that for years.  Getting the opportunity to learn from these experts is a great opportunity for you to learn and pick up some really good knowledge.

Getting Hands-On Training

Taking classes after you’ve been hired on deepens your understanding of the HVAC industry even more.  And going to a trade school puts you in a setting unlike a university because you’re not sitting in a big lecture hall.  Typically, these training centers have air conditioners, furnaces, heat pumps, ductwork, and other HVAC equipment already set up, so you get hands-on-training while going to class.  It won’t be the same intensity as learning it out in the field, but it’s a great start.

A lot of trade schools have connections with HVAC companies in your area, too.  So, it’s nice to have that in your back pocket as you approach graduation.  That’s the point of it all anyway, to have a job when you get out of school.

At a trade school, you get your degree faster than going to a university.  They will likely require that you take classes that may not have much to do with the HVAC field.  A trade school can get you in and out in about 6 months, which means you have a good start to finding your first HVAC job.

Entering the Real World

Once you do have your diploma, its time to go out and face the music.  Which is what you could have done rather than going to a school anyway.  I’m only saying that because the company that gave me my chance literally taught me everything I knew before going out on my own as an HVAC contractor.  But if you choose the route of getting hired on as an apprentice somewhere or if you graduate from school, you have to go out and find those companies.  You have to take the step to go face to face with the companies you want to work for.  Whether you choose to face them with a diploma in your hand or not is up to you.

Finding a Company

But there are definitely HVAC companies who will hire you right now, with no experience.  It just depends on where they are in their demand for technicians at the time you’re trying to get on with them.  If they’re not hiring, they’re not hiring and that has nothing to with you having a diploma in your hand or wanting to earn your way on with an apprenticeship.  I have had to turn down good people just because I didn’t have room on my team at the time.

Find some companies in your area that have a good reputation.  You can find them by looking at their reviews online.  Try these companies first, because they are doing something right.  They obviously take pride in their company’s practices, so they very likely care about their employees.

My Road to Success

I wanted a real job.  Being an HVAC technician has been the avenue which has gotten me to where I am today.  A husband, father, homeowner, and someone who can afford to go out and do the things I want to do with my free time.  I’m able to save money for my retirement and take care of my medical needs with the insurance I’ve been provided.  It’s a long way from the previous jobs I had which really didn’t offer these extras that a real job provides. 

Summary

Hopefully this has helped you on your way to deciding whether to go to a trade school or to try and go straight for an apprenticeship with your local company.

Please leave your comments down below and tell us if you went to school or not.  If you could, tell us how that went for you so those who are reading this can learn from your experiences.  See you on the next post!

Don’t miss our video on this topic: