12 Reasons Why Being A Certified HVAC Technician Is A Good Career Choice

Hi, I’m Greg Fox from Fox Family Heating and Air in Sacramento, CA.  If you’re out there trying to find a career that is rewarding, challenging and pays well, I think HVAC is the right field for that.  Today I’m going to give you 12 good reasons why being a certified HVAC technician is a good career choice.  And I even have a bonus reason after that.

1. You Don’t Need a College Degree to Get Started

As a high schooler, I could tell I wasn’t going to college.  Unless I got a scholarship, my family didn’t really have enough money to send me to college.  I joined the Air Force right out of high school and when my term ended, I headed out for civilian life.  HVAC was a career I found easy to get into.  I started at the bottom while at my first job, but I quickly worked my way up amongst my peers.

2. Good Wages

When I started, I never realized that I could make enough money to support my family.  I started out very low in pay, but I didn’t have any experience either!  Within one year I had doubled my pay because my supervisors saw how hard of a worker I was and that I was pretty good at it.  With an HVAC career,you’ll find you can make a damn good living at something you’re proud of doing.

3. Independence

One of the greatest aspects of being an HVAC technician is the independence you have during your workday.  Whether you are an installation tech, a service tech, or a sales technician you’ll find yourself not having to be around a crowd at work. You get to go about your day and do or say pretty much what you want, how you want.  Sure, you have calls or installs that you have to go to, but you won’t have any supervisors looking down on you all the time like with some jobs.

4. It’s a career that will always be in demand — growing at about 15% as the baby boomers start retiring

As you’ve probably heard already, HVAC is a career that is never going to go away.  Robots and AI are far from being able to walk into a home, business or grocery store, walk around, troubleshoot the problem, get the repair part, braze copper lines together, enlarge returns, cut in supplies, install an HVAC system, and the list goes on.  The fact is, it takes real people with real skills to do our job.  And the field is only going to grow for the next several years, meaning there will be more and more jobs available for you to acquire.

5. The Job Isn’t Very Repetitive

As an HVAC technician, your job isn’t very repetitive.  Sure, you’re out there repairing systems every day, or installing equipment regularly, but the application of where you’re doing it not only changes daily but from call to call.  You never know what you’re going to get into on the next call.  That’s too challenging for some people, and HVAC isn’t for everyone. But for some of us, we thrive on it.

6. Helping Others/Health/A Place to Serve

Nothing feels better than getting customers back up and running again.  Whether it’s at the end of the day on an install, or after a challenging service call.  Heck, you’ll probably feel like a genius when you find something as simple as a dirty filter that wasn’t allowing air through a system.  The best feeling we get as HVAC technicians is when we can get an older couple, a family with children, or someone with medical conditions that really need a comfortable home cooling again.  When a grocery store with a lot of food at risk of spoiling is saved by your expertise, you’re probably going to feel like Superman as you walk out the door with your tool bag and your head up high.

7. Mechanical Aspect

Our goal as HVAC technicians is to provide thermal comfort and good indoor air quality.  We work with thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer.  A lot of people find this industry confusing because air isn’t something we can see.  We can feel it!  But trying to explain what we just did to get someone’s system back up and running can be a challenge.  Installing, servicing and maintaining equipment engineered for this is what HVAC technicians all around the world love to do.  It’s one of those trades that not everyone can just pick up in a day or two.  This makes our jobs more secure than some other blue-collar trades.

8. Multi-Talented/Jack-of-All-Trades

You can really become a jack-of-all-trades in the HVAC field.  This is especially true if you go into the installation side of the field.  As installers, we must be able to read blueprints from an engineer. Not only are we setting equipment, but we’re also involved in plumbing gas lines and condensate drainage, working with high and low voltage, constructing new platforms, cutting in supply registers in rooms, enlarging returns and even cutting holes through rooftops to place new units.  After replacing some of those units on the roof, we sometimes will also need to patch up the area around the curb to get it looking good again.  

We’ve already discussed the other areas you’ll be good at with thermodynamics, balancing airflow, heat transfer, refrigerant flow and how to make the air quality better in a home.  This is probably my favorite reason I became an HVAC technician because it really makes you a jack-of-all-trades.

9. The Challenges/Troubleshooting

If you’re really up for a challenging career, you’ll find HVAC a great career.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be good in this field.  But it does take a solid understanding of the fundamentals and a good deal of patience.  Just when you think you have the answer to a problem, something else comes up and then you must deal with that.  All the trades we just talked about — plumbing, electrical, carpentry, roofing, thermodynamics, and others — can all come into play when it comes to solving the myriad of troubleshooting issues we face in the HVAC field every day.

10. You Learn Sales

Some of us get the opportunity to sell to our customers.  We’ll pinpoint the problem and need to persuade the customer to spend money on the repair to get their system running again.  Other times the cost to get the system running again isn’t worth it to the owner, so you end up selling them a new system.  You also are out there trying to sell indoor air quality to homeowners so they can more fully enjoy their homes.  Many people don’t know the air in their homes is sometimes worse than the air outside. 

Selling can be a sensitive subject because some people think HVAC technicians and salespeople take selling a little too far.  Our industry has gotten a bad reputation compared to others because some companies only pay their technicians by how many parts they sell.  It’s a fine line because technicians can get greedy and not care about taking people’s money just to line their pockets, but at the same time, they do have to be able to put food on their tables and support themselves during the off-season.

11. Seasonal

Which brings me to my next reason HVAC is such a good job choice.  Most people don’t use their AC or heating all year.  This creates what we call shoulder seasons.  During these times, some companies don’t have any work for their techs.  Other companies have maintenance contracts that need to be fulfilled.  But, if you’re in the residential and commercial field, I’m sure you’ll feel the seasonal changes in your hours at work, which is why you’ll need to discipline yourself to save money when you’re busy during those slower times of the year.  The refrigeration side of the industry is usually a year-round job, but some people can’t stand some of the stuff you have to work on every day, like slimy bacteria, for example.

12. Take Home Van/ Save on Gas Money

Last but not least, some companies will let you take your work van home with you.  This saves a lot of time and money since you don’t have to drive to work to get your van, just to be at your first call which could turn out to be right by your house! Having your own van means being able to stock the truck your way, have certain tools and other knick-knacks set up just the way you like it.

BONUS!

I noticed in the first year of doing this trade I built quite a bit of muscle from all the carrying, lifting, squatting, crawling and other activity on the job.  It’s a physical line or work that can add some weight to your body, hopefully the right kind.  Some guys get bigger in the belly because they’re working harder and they go home and eat a lot more than they normally would.  I feel like my first year in install I added around 10 to 15 lbs. of muscle on my body which really filled out my shoulders, arms, chest, and legs nicely.

Summary

I hope this helps in your quest to find the right career for 2020!  HVAC is a field that isn’t going away.  People will always need to be comfortable in their homes and offices.  I have truly enjoyed my time as an HVAC technician.  Sure, I’ve found myself in some interesting positions I’d rather not be in at times.  But I think that happens with every job.  The pay is good, the job is interesting and different every day.  The challenges we face keep us at the top of our game.

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

Don’t miss the video on this topic:

Starting My Own HVAC Business – Get Your Contractor’s License First

Doing Side Work Without a License

This series is set up to compliment my video series from 2016, “Starting My Own HVAC Company.”  I  thought I’d review some of the things I talked about before and give you my thoughts on them now that I’ve been doing it for a while.

Intro

When I was starting my HVAC business, I didn’t realize how much I would need to know.  I was just another technician who was tired of working for someone who didn’t have the same values and ideas I did.  Some people don’t think the journey should be too hard.  Get a truck, get your tools, get some customers, and go to work.

It was a liberating feeling for me, at first.  I quickly found out if I wanted to grow my business, I would have to learn more about the business side of HVAC.  I knew I was a good technician. But I started developing a great desire for more input, more knowledge of the business side.

Getting off the ground seems like the toughest part of the process, but I can honestly say now, that it’s not.

Reviewing the Series

This series is set up to compliment the 2016 video series, “Starting My Own HVAC Company.”  I  thought I’d review some of the things I talked about before and give you my thoughts on them now that I’ve been doing it for a while.  If you want to see that series before reading this post, you can find it here.

Get a Contractors License

The first thing we should talk about is, if you want to this right, you’re going to have to get your contractors license.

In California, if you want to do any HVAC, plumbing, electrical, handyman, and other types of work for someone and you plan on collecting more than $500, you need to get your contractors license first.  Why?  Let me give you a few reasons.

First, and most obvious, it’s the law, and you can get arrested and fined thousands of dollars for contracting without a license.  If you get caught contracting without a license, it’ll make it that much harder for you to go to the State and apply for one with that strike against you.

Lending Credibility

Second, having a license lends credibility to your name and builds trust.  When your future customers see you’re legitimate on the government website, it shows people you’ve gone through the process like everyone else, and you don’t cut corners. You can control your own business and its reputation when you’re doing things the right way.

Setting a Standard

Third, contracting legitimately keeps the quality of work you do at a certain standard.  For any work that alters the electrical, plumbing, gas lines, or structure of the building, a permit is needed.  To get that permit, a contractor’s license is needed.  And when you’re done with that work, a local city or county building inspector comes in and verifies your work to close out the permit.

You’ve heard me talk (and complain) about the system of inspectors and administrative personnel in the building departments.  Even though I feel the way I do about them, I realize the need for inspectors to confirm the work we’ve done.  It’s a system of checks and balances which provides a separate set of eyes to see the job we did and give the homeowner their seal of approval based on the local building codes.

Protecting Customers

Finally, being a part of a group of people in your field who has gone through the steps of becoming contractors creates a force that inhibits non-licensed people from scamming and taking advantage of homeowners and endangering their property with shoddy workmanship (which still happens anyway.)

Summary

I wanted to review these steps again, not to discourage anyone, but to enlighten those of you who are interested in starting up your own company.  Start by being legit.  I don’t condone the people out there doing side work while still working for someone else.  But that’s another topic.  If your state allows for high dollar HVAC work and there’s no insurance requirement or state bond obligation to protect the homeowner, should you burn their house down with sloppy, unvalidated workmanship, then more power to you.

Take the time to do it right from the start, no matter what state you’re in.

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

Don’t Miss our Video and the Series on This Topic:

  Starting My Own Business - Revisited 5 Years Later - Part 1: Contracting

HVAC Training: 5 Reasons Making Mistakes Creates Better HVAC Technicians

5 ways mistakes make you a better hvac tech

Making mistakes means better technicians

In an industry that that has a recruitment field that is slowly diminishing in size year by year, HVAC technicians entering the field need to know their hopes of being a good technician won’t be demolished if they make a mistake.  Making mistakes creates better technicians in one way or another.  Sometimes it removes them from the position of BEING a “technician” altogether.  One thing’s for sure, everything has a way of working itself out and no one is immune to that fact.

Intro

It’s funny. Today on social media, most people will only post their positive achievements.  God forbid should we post any of our mistakes in front of a world that will likely bash us with replies that drive the point home even further than the mistake itself.  Making mistakes is going to happen.  Generations before us in the HVAC industry as well as others have made many mistakes that got us to where we are now.  Best practices and technology have improved greatly since the first waves of this trial and error began.

In actuality, some people do post their mistakes on social media.  And bless those brave souls who do.  One electrician posted a picture of himself in the hospital wrapped in bandages head to toe after he received second and third-degree burns when he touched the wrong piece of metal inside an electrical panel.  A great learning experience for everyone.

Another posted a picture of himself in the hospital with a disgruntled, almost painfilled face after he touched the wrong part of an electrical component he’s worked on hundreds of times in the past.  This time, touching it in the wrong place, caused his heart to stop, his body to seize, and blackout until his partner on the job site literally had to kick him off the live part.

This leads me to my first reason why making mistakes creates better technicians in one way or another.

#1 – Mistakes help us slow down and pace ourselves as we get the job done.

Those of us who have done an HVAC maintenance on a furnace or air conditioner can probably go through the routine of it with our eyes closed after just one season of doing them.  Although most systems throughout the day are made by different manufacturers, they operate pretty much the same.

I remember a mistake I made on furnace tune-up in my first year on my own.  I was working on a rooftop gas package unit when I was checking the outlet pressure at the gas valve.  When I was done with it, I sort of just moved on to the next item on my list without screwing the pressure port screw back in.  So, when I went to fire up the system and the flames ignited, about three seconds later the flame rolled out towards my face and actually singed my eyebrows a little.  Mmmm, nothing like the smell of burnt hair in the morning.

Obviously, this taught me to be more purposeful when I work on equipment and ultimately made me a better tech for it!

#2 – Mistakes point us to something we didn’t already know.

They teach us little nuances in different equipment.  I see so many technicians just blow through the installation of a new part or full HVAC system and not even read the directions.  Then when the system doesn’t fire up correctly, they don’t know why.

A prime example of this is on the White Rodgers 50 A 55843 control board.  It’s a universal replacement that we like to use for most single-stage gas furnaces in the residential field.  Most of the time, control board change out are like-for-like changeouts.  Plug and play.

Well, when you use this board to replace a Trane XB80 gas furnace control board, there is an adapter you have to use from the box to include a couple of roll-out switches into the Molex connector that plugs into the board.

Almost every time a technician has called to tell me their problem with the start-up after changing the board, I ask if it’s a Trane furnace.  A lot of times they say yes, and I tell them about the paragraph in the installation instructions that speak to this adapter.  And… that technician never calls again about that issue.  In fact, they likely become someone who can be called by junior techs in the field that incur the same problem.

#3 – It humbles us

Making mistakes can bring even the most experienced techs back down to reality very quickly.  It keeps us humble when we make mistakes.  Admitting these mistakes can add some humility back into our lives that will ultimately make us better technicians in the long run.

I’ve heard of some technicians and DIY homeowners who screwed up wiring something as simple as wiring a capacitor wrong.  When they finally realize what they’ve done, whether it’s burning up a compressor, causing the fan spin backward, or something else, they’ll say, “Well, that was a humbling experience.”

Some people just don’t know when to ask for help, or take the time to read the directions.  As the saying goes, it doesn’t matter who’s right, it matters what’s right.

#4 – Mistakes create change

Technicians who have made mistakes in the past and then went on to become great technicians have all asked themselves some internal questions.  “What went wrong?” “What did I learn from this?” and “What could I do better next time?”

Nothing is more humbling than putting your foot through the ceiling while working in the attic.  It’s easy to learn from that mistake.  Watch where you’re stepping, make sure it’s wood that you’re stepping on.  And even then, step squarely onto the wood.

People who have improved their skills by making mistakes reduce the chances they’ll mess up again.  They develop a plan that will help them avoid making similar mistakes.  Ultimately, that might not be the most perfect reaction to your mistake, so be flexible and forgiving to yourself and others who make mistakes on the job.

#5 – Mistakes reveal our true passions.  Is it time to move on?

Not every mistake is going to relate to making us better technicians, but rather better or happier people.  Since I’m in the mood to make myself the example here, I’ll tell you another quick story of a mistake I made, which led to another path.

Before I was an HVAC technician, I was a bartender for 15 years.  I started when I was 20, and by the time I was 35, I had a family, didn’t drink anymore, and didn’t even go out to bars anymore.  But it’s all I knew how to do.  And I was pretty good at it.

One night I asked the wrong person to leave the bar for the night after he called me a not so nice name that involved a couple of cuss words.  My boss had always let us stand up for ourselves and our co-workers who were abused in any way.  Drinkers can get a little feisty sometimes.  Apparently, this person I asked to leave the bar for the night (in a not so nice way) was the wrong person to kick out.

A few days later my boss and I agreed to go our separate ways.  It was likely a culmination of things, like I wasn’t the party guy I used to be, which might have led me to not be as understanding and forgiving toward intoxicated name-callers.  Either way, my final mistake there made me realize that this might not be the job for me anymore.

I started a new job in HVAC and became very passionate about it, which has led me to where I am now.  Funny how life steers you in the direction you didn’t even know you were going.

Closing

So why can’t we be more forgiving of those who make mistakes out in the field?  Maybe it’s because we don’t have the patience for new apprentices trying to learn the trade.  Maybe it’s because that mistake has been made by the same person more than once.  I get it.  I’m not saying extra training, disciplinary action or removal from a certain position doesn’t need to happen.  Because it does sometimes.

But, we should all recognize that mistakes will be made by today’s technicians, which is just another generation to make mistakes as we plow forward in this game called life.  Realizing that mistakes are going to be made, we can relax a bit more.  By doing so, we might make fewer of them.

Each one of us is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting.  As our pool of future technicians grows smaller every year, we as the journeymen need to recognize that we made mistakes as we came up in this field, which has led us to where we are now, as valued members of our teams.

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

Crane Safety Tips for HVAC Crews

crane safety

There's nothing like getting someone's air conditioning restored when they've been going without. It's all about getting on the job and removing the old package unit on the roof as quickly as possible. Some important crane safety tips are worth following.

HVAC workers regularly have a great time working with each other on the job.  Install days can bring a team together because there’s nothing like the satisfaction of getting someone’s air conditioning restored when they’ve been without it. It’s all about getting on the job and removing the old package unit on the roof as quickly as possible so they can be ready when the crane gets there to place the new unit.

You can tell the good crews from the bad ones.  Usually, an install crew has one central leader or foreman who is in charge of the job.  The rest of the crew are helpers.  Whether experienced or not, when a crane is involved, only one person from the team needs to be communicating with the crane operator.  This way there’s no confusion when two or more people from the same install crew are giving hand signals to the crane operator at the same time.

For the most part, in residential package unit installs on the roof of a house, the crane operator can see the unit’s placement spot.  Maybe not the curb’s actual footprint he’s setting it down on, but experience creates a comfort level for the operator to get the unit pretty darn close to where he needs to place it.  There are obstacles the crane operator needs to navigate the unit through.  Straps hold the unit secure as the hook holds everything together on the way to the placement. Sometimes there are trees or giant radio antennas, or even high voltage power lines that must be avoided as the unit gets lifted to the roof.

Hand Signals

Hand signals are a straightforward way for the install foreman and the crane operator to communicate.  As the unit gets closer to the placement spot, the installer can’t yell at the operator. They’re too far apart!  So, a series of hand signals are commonly used in lifting and placement.

Once again, only one person must be giving the hand signals unless a relay is set up between the final resting point and the crane operator.  For instance, sometimes a package unit is lifted onto the house’s backside rather than the roof.  The operator can’t see the final spot or the hand signals given by the unit’s installer.  Only then would a second installer be the middle-man for relaying the signals to the crane.

A culture of safety is super important.  New installers can get excited.  The homeowners almost assuredly come out of the house to watch the giant crane do its job.  And nearby neighbors tend to poke their heads out to see what all the noise is about across the street.

Let’s take a look at a situation where several fairly new people to this whole process, which usually only takes ten to twenty minutes, can find themselves in a potentially life-threatening situation.  A 600 lb unit is about to be hoisted from the street, vertically about 30 feet, across the front yard, over the rooftop around any obstacles, and finally, put down on its resting spot—another reason the experienced foreman on the job must take control of all these moving parts. 

How many people on the job site are standing near the unit’s path to the rooftop?  The neighbor comes over to talk to the homeowner about his new system; kids are running around giddy with excitement.  One installer is climbing up the ladder to help out.  What could go wrong?  Plenty.

One of my biggest fears on crane sites is the “uncontrollables.”  I’m concerned mainly about things that can happen with a 600 lb. unit swinging in the air over our heads.  So I tell people before the lift (nicely) to get out of the way. Don’t find yourself under the unit while it’s hoisted to the roof, installers on the rooftop included.  God forbid if a cable snapped or other mechanical issue happened, we can pay for a new front-yard swing or even a damaged roof for that matter.  But you can’t replace a life.  Plain and simple. 

When the unit gets placed, one or two installers usually have their hands on it, guiding it down onto its spot while the crane slowly lowers it down.  At this point, installers must watch that their hands don’t end up in the wrong place, under the unit.

Crane Safety and Power Lines

The most significant safety point to be made is to make sure there are no power lines in the area that you plan on hoisting and operating in.  Make sure you have plenty of space between the area you plan to work on and the power line.

Crane lifts on some of my jobs have been so close to power lines, you could see an arcing from the line to the crane boom.  Nobody got hurt, but it’s essential to observe general common sense not to go over and touch the crane or be near it.

Use a Certified Crane Operator

The crane company that we use is super professional. We’ve worked together on crane lifts hundreds of times.  They do their part but aren’t necessarily responsible for the safety of everyone around the crane. That’s where working together respectfully plays a significant role.  I keep an eye out for the crane operator, and he advises us on certain things that might make the lift go smoother.

Communication and Taking Charge of the Job Site 

Again, communicate with those near the crane before, during, and after a lift to ensure everyone’s safety.  Have a plan and stick to it.  And keep it similar from job to job.  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel on every job.

Crane Safety on Rooftops

Don’t step backward.  It sounds so simple.  Don’t step back.  Yet, it happens all the time, and even though it’s often without negative repercussions, in a high hazard situation, like on a roof, it could be a critical mistake.

Don’t be hanging out on your cell phone. It’s bad enough walking around on city streets, accidentally bumping into each other while not paying attention to where you’re going.  Rooftops are no place for distraction.

Always slow down when you get close to the edge of the roof.  If you find yourself in a rush on the rooftop, maybe you should ask yourself why (other than you’re trying to get the job done fast so you can go fishing).  Newsflash!  It’s hard to go fishing when your leg is broken, ribs cracked, and spine injured from falling off the roof.

Secure Your Ladder

Tying off your ladder, even on a single-story roof, is sooooo smart, but I rarely see it done.  It’s another cultural thing.  As the leader on your job, show the rest of the crew how it’s supposed to be done.  Even as the helper on the job, maybe the foreman is thinking of other stuff.  Who says you can’t tie the ladder off?  You know it’s the right thing to do for the best crane safety.

Guarding the Gutter

Similar to that is something I’ve bought for my team, called a gutter guard.  It props itself inside the gutter, between the gutter’s outer edge and the trim of the roof edge, providing a place for the ladder to rest without damaging the gutter.  How many times a day do you go up and down that ladder?  How many times can that gutter flex before being permanently disfigured from the last HVAC crew that was on their roof?

Developing a Solid Safety Plan

I’ve been on jobs where we thought the lift would go one way, but when the lift operator got there, they decided it had to go another way.  Go with the person who has the most experience with the crane and its capabilities.  And if that’s not something that works for you and your team that day, put off the lift until you’ve discussed it with your supervisor.  Then you can go in with a solid crane safety plan during the lift, and everyone will be on the same page.

Focusing on Safety

Hopefully, my experience will help refocus your intentions when working on rooftops and dealing with crane lifts. It’s a super fun experience. Everybody just has to make sure they make it home that night.

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

Where Should HVAC Technicians Wisely Invest Their Money?

Where Should HVAC Techs Invest

Blue-collar workers like HVAC technicians may not be the first people you would think of as savvy stock market investors. As a company owner, I provide our workers with a Simple IRA that acts much like a 401K. We match a certain percentage of their contribution to their retirement account. In that account, they are encouraged to invest their money in a variety of stocks or ETF’s.  These options can help them gain some free money in the form of capital gains.  The stock market has, on average, provided more interest than leaving an employee’s money sitting in their account, gaining no interest — not even the 1% to 3% a traditional bank would generate for their customers.

Buying Shares in Familiar Companies

Warren Buffet, Benjamin Graham, and Peter Lynch are some of the greatest investors of all time. Their advice when it comes to investing is to invest in what you know.  Should HVAC technicians focus on investing in banks and biotechnology? Probably not. But a technician would have great insider information on the HVAC industry. Trane, Lennox, Carrier, Daiken, Johnson Controls, Honeywell, AAON, Comfort Systems, Watsco, Mitsubishi Electric, and Fujitsu are all very popular names in our industry.

HVAC Equipment Shortages

The pulse of the industry is like second nature to HVAC technicians.  As I write this at the end of a very busy summer and hopefully near the end of the COVID-19 crisis, insiders know there is an unprecedented and vast shortage of HVAC equipment and parts.  Raw materials, control boards, compressors, switches, copper, aluminum, sheet metal, and everything else that goes into an air conditioner or furnace are slow in getting to manufacturers. 

Companies like Trane, Lennox, Carrier, Ruud, Goodman, among others, are being delayed.  Some delays are not necessarily due to temporarily closed factories, worker layoffs, or everything else COVID-19 has brought with it.  Snags in transportation or the receiving docks receiving those deliveries also affect the process.  Delays persist.

How do all these factors affect stock prices now? How will they affect stock prices moving forward into 2021 and 2022? And how is the industry growing in general? These are questions HVAC technicians and other industry experts are much more likely to know the answers to than biotech experts. Therefore, it’s important we blue-collar experts invest in what we know. Should we be investing in pharma stocks that might create the vaccine for the COVID virus?  Not if the only thing we know about it is what we’ve seen on TV.

HVAC Market Demand in 2021

Commercial and industrial HVAC companies can tell you that 2020 saw a significant slowdown in certain sectors of the buildings where they service and replace equipment. Data centers, health care, and warehouses remained a reliable source of work. But retail stores, hospitality, and restaurants suddenly became incredibly soft markets. All the major HVAC manufacturers like Watsco, Johnson Controls, Trane, Carrier, and Lennox expected the softness now seen in the light commercial segment. It will create some pent-up demand going into 2021. That is good for earnings for these publicly traded companies, and who better to gain from it than our own industry experts?

COVID-19 is Inspiring Home Improvements

In an earlier post last month, I discussed what happened to those of us in the residential HVAC market. There’s been a demand for equipment changeouts, unlike anything we have seen. What was happening? Those workers directed to work from home started investing in their homes. Hardware stores, gardeners, construction crews, and HVAC companies all started working harder than ever before! I cannot think of one contractor I have talked to that did not smash sales records this past summer.

The Working From Home Trend

Homeowners found they had more disposable income to work on their homes since vacationing and going out to the movies was not going to be happening anytime soon. When offices begin opening again, the commercial sector will see a rise in sales. That is good for stock owners. I think a little over half of those working from home will remain working from home. And they will continue sprucing up their homes to ensure a comfortable workspace. But we as HVAC technicians already know that. Therefore, investing our hard-earned retirement money in something we know follows the advice of a few of the greatest investors of all time:  investing in what we know.

Getting Started

Give it a shot! You don’t have to be a super slick Wall Street investor to be invited to the party. Apps on your phone will let you buy shares of stock one at a time. I personally have my IRA and another account on Robinhood, which takes no extra fees for me to invest my money through them. If I only have a hundred dollars to throw into my account that week, I can purchase $100 of a $275 share of Lennox. It all builds up over time, and the younger you start, the sooner you will have enough money in your retirement fund to support you when your knees finally go out.

Invest in Companies You Know

Instead of letting your money sit in an account making no money beyond what you put in there, invest in some of these companies, companies you already know well enough to know that they make good profits every year. This industry will only increase in size every year due to technology upgrades, population growth, and new homes being built further out into suburbia, to name a few.

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

Good Customer Service or Good Technical Skills: Which is Better to Have?

good customer service

Technical Skills Without Customer Service Can Be a Bad Mix and Vice Versa

Having both good customer service and good technical skills is super important.  But if we had to decide one or the other when it comes to hiring a technician or having a technician come out to your house for service, which one would it be?  I have my own opinion, and that’s what I’m going to share with you today.

Technical skills without customer service can be a bad mix and vice versa.  Is professional customer service needed as much as your need to have a seasoned technician who lacks the social skills to be a lady or gentleman in your home while performing that service? 

Is Good Customer Service Necessary?

Some people think customer service isn’t needed as much in the industrial or commercial sector because those technicians aren’t having to convince or deal with owners of the building right on the spot.  Even if they did, most building owners and landlords aren’t concerned with anything but getting the repair made. They also want it at the lowest expense possible.  They’re not concerned with how old the system is or the quality of the parts. Usually, they want to get as many years as possible out of their one system. To an extreme! I understand, though.  It’s a business decision where quality isn’t as important as function in most cases.

Residential customers, on the other hand, are more connected to their HVAC system.  They spend their hard-earned money on repairs and want their systems to last as long as possible, too.  When those systems get to a certain age, usually 15 to 20 years old, they start thinking about changing out that system because quality and efficiency are much more important to them.  Residential customers also feel more connected to their service technician and the company they represent.  Relationships develop between company and customer.    

Focusing on Customer Service

As our company grows and we are looking for our next technician to hire, this question comes up every time.  Do we employ an experienced tech that might come in with deeply ingrained habits that might not line up with policies and procedures we have at Fox Family?  Experienced techs that have always done it a certain way for years may not be focused on the customer service aspect.  

What About Technical Skills?

On the other hand, should we hire a technician who we know has a great personality and necessary technical skills?  This type of person is someone we can develop and mold into the kind of technician we want representing our company.  It will take months, sometimes even a year, for that tech to get to the point where they can even go out on repair service calls.  But, when it comes to deciding which technician to send into your home, it can be a tough decision.

My point is that some technically skilled people come into a company that may have worked for a shop that didn’t emphasize manners and common courtesies.  I’m referring to things like wearing shoe covers, wiping down attic accesses when they come out of the attic, wearing face masks during COVID-19 in 2020, tucking in their shirts, being clean-shaven, etc.  Things like these can make a difference when it comes to deciding whether or not I want that tech in our customer’s home.

A Better Tactic

A better tactic is to interview the most technically competent people available and, during subsequent interviews before hiring, work to discover the candidate’s collaborative abilities or willingness to learn such skills.

Summary

In talking about the relative importance of technical and people skills, it’s tough to suggest that one is more important than the other.  I read somewhere that an opera is comprised of both words and music. It doesn’t work if either is missing. Similarly, technicians must have both technical and people skills to do their jobs successfully.  Yes, technical skills come first.  But people skills allow us to convince others of our ideas, to collaborate successfully, and to build successful long-term customer and coworker relationships.

Thanks so much for reading this week, and we’ll see you on the next blog.

Don’t Miss Our Videos Related to This Topic

Protecting Fox Family Customers and Employees During the Covid-19 Season

protecting customers during covid-19

The steps we take to prevent the spread of the virus in the Sacramento Valley are essential to us and you

I’m sure tired of talking about it.  It looks like there could even be another wave of it reemerging.  COVID-19 has turned out to be the most diabolical event to happen in my lifetime.  Restaurants and small businesses were the hardest hit.  The heating and air conditioning industry also saw it’s share of technician layoffs and even closing shop until things get back to some sense of normalcy.

The spring season is when we typically spend a lot of our days running preventive maintenance calls.  Pretty much all of our customers were telling us to stay home during the lockdown.  It was a stressful time for everyone.

Fox Family had one technician on call every day during this time.  That tech knew he could be called at any time to go on a service call.  Everyone else stayed home to protect themselves.  During that time, Melissa and I made sure our techs were still paid, and medical benefits were still intact.  We were able to take advantage of the federal PPP fund.  The Fund allowed us to take care of our techs, which, I’m sure, gave some relief to them during a solid two months off of work.

When May hit, the coronavirus started settling down across California.  People started letting us into their homes.  Our focus was not only to provide the same level of service to our loyal customers but to do so with extreme care.  It became mandatory during this pandemic that we show up to the door of people’s homes with our facemask and our gloves on as well as the usual shoe covers we wear to protect their floors.

We’ve never before faced having to wear face masks and rubber gloves in people’s homes to make people feel safe.  Wearing these PPE’s not only protected the customers but protected our tech’s loved ones when they got back home!  But we immediately noticed customers appreciated this step taken by Fox Family Heating and Air.  We always get great online customer reviews, but our latest reviews also mention the extra measures we’re taking to prevent the spread of the virus in our customer’s homes.  It’s a great feeling to contribute to our community.

Fox Family will continue looking out for our customers during and after the COVID crisis rears its ugly head.  The steps we take to prevent the spread of the virus are essential to us and to you.  Our techs are looking forward to serving you in your home.  You can feel safe knowing we are concerned for your safety as well.

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.

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!