Quality HVAC Maintenance Testing

May 18, 2011
Maintaining HVAC systems is a routine service offered by a majority of HVAC contractors for decades, and new movements are afoot to expand the basic HVAC service agreement.

Maintaining HVAC systems is a routine service offered by a majority of HVAC contractors for decades, and new movements are afoot to expand the basic HVAC service agreement. Contractors are beginning to provide a premium level maintenance agreements that includes live efficiency testing in addition to the traditional checklist service agreement.

Savvy consumers eager to engage in a service relationship that provides documentation of an improvement in performance, not just a filter change. But in order to find these customers, a contractor must be willing to provide hard data and a persuasive education to help consumers see the benefits of paying more than $39 for a discount service call offered from a bottom dollar, bait-and-switch contractor on the Internet.

More Heat After the Service Call?

Many years ago I had a tough female emergency medical technician visit my office. She was shopping for a new HVAC Contractor that would provide evidence that the money she had just spent for her heating service was a worthwhile investment.

She explained how the day before a service tech came to her home, spent 25 minutes in her basement and then emerged with an invoice for $109.00. She asked what he had done to earn that much money and he showed her a 12 point checklist. She read it and found no comfort. She then asked “How much more heat am I getting out of my furnace after your service than I did before?” “He just laughed at me,” she said, looking quite displeased.

This meeting started a movement towards improving the way we satisfy the wants of a demanding service customer by document the improvement made in an HVAC system during a service call. This can be done by taking some key test data and comparing the test values to manufacturer’s specifications before and after the work is completed.

What Test to Take?

Find the manufacturer’s specifications online of the equipment that your company installs most regularly. Take a close look at the installation instructions and engineering data and look for performance values that you can field measure.

You may be surprised at the numbers right there in black and white that tell a clear story of how the manufacturer expects this equipment to operate in the field. If this equipment could talk in tech lingo, it would shout “Dude, install me so my numbers match these specs and I’ll be the best performing system in town!”

A review of the tables in ACCA Standard 4, Maintenance of Residential HVAC Systems provides a list of equipment and system components that can be inspected and tested to assure satisfactory performance. Testing includes the measurement of the blower, condenser, inducer motors and compressor amperage and voltages. Measurement of gas pressures, as well as other common measurements including system temperatures and refrigerant charge can also be identified.

Additional Testing Opportunities

While more and more contractors are eliminating these critical tests from their service agreements, at the same time dropping the cost of their services and reducing the effectiveness of their maintenance agreements, others are continuing to add more premium service testing to their offerings and shooting for quality conscious consumers.

Total External Static Pressure

A review of the equipment manufacturer’s specifications and even the equipment nameplates will also show that total external static pressure has a maximum amount listed. This can be measured in less than 5 minutes. Should a dirty coil be cleaned during the service call, a pre and post total external pressure reading will provide proof of an improvement actually made in the system. Could you be losing this opportunity to provide documentation of a benefit you delivered to your customer by failing to test?

Fan Speed

Fan speed is often assumed by the fan speed setting, but a poorly performing or a damaged fan is hard to detect without measuring operating fan RPM. Actual can be compared to the manufacturer’s specifications and offered as evidence of the problem.

Filter Pressure Drop

Many pieces of air moving equipment have a published filter pressure drop in their specifications. Actual filter pressure drop in an operating system can be compared to the specification if the filter pressure drop is excessive. Dirty filter pressure drop can be measured before the service and after the service and presented to the customer as evidence of improved system performance, which will result in less operating costs and improved comfort.

Room-by-Room Airflow

Although not typically included in service agreement spot checks of room airflow compared to required airflow can reveal comfort issues that consumers may be eager to have investigated. If airflow is 30% of what’s required, many consumers quickly understand the impact of this defect and will act on your recommendations on the spot.

Remember, as we move beyond the baseline of the industry new opportunities are everywhere. In our effort to serve our customers, each of us has a fundamental decision to make. Will we shoot for the lowest pricing and lowest level of service and run with largest group of contractors in our industry, the low bidders? Or will we chose to build companies that move far ahead of the pack and offer and deliver more.

Customers can be educated to recognize the comfort, safety and energy savings that are available to them from high-end contractors that offer and deliver superior results. Many will pay premium prices for long-term service agreements when given the opportunity.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute a training company with technical and business level membership organizations. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in a free procedure to measure fan RPM, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, articles and downloads.