Quality Installations Start at the Top

July 14, 2008
The new Quality Installation Specification developed by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and other industry leaders is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI)- approved standard that describes the steps a contractor must take to ensure a quality HVAC installation.

By Skip Snyder

The new Quality Installation Specification developed by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and other industry leaders is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI)- approved standard that describes the steps a contractor must take to ensure a quality HVAC installation.

The QI Standard identifies consensus requirements associated with quality installations, acceptable procedures for measuring or verifying the attainment of those requirements, and acceptable forms of documentation to show compliance to the requirements.

ACCA offers a variety of material to help HVAC contractors install systems according to QI standards. ACCA’s programs include a guide for technicians that helps them implement all of the measurement procedures required by the QI specification. Examples and illustrations address various types of testing and diagnostic tools and equipment and are a necessary field guide to verifying a quality HVAC installation.

Quality Installation requirements address:

  • design (including building heat gain/loss load calculations, proper equipment capacity selection, and matched systems)
  • equipment installation (airflow, refrigerant charge, electrical requirements, on-rate gas-fired equipment, combustion venting system, and system controls)
  • duct distribution (with attention to duct leakage and airflow balancing)
  • system documentation and owner education aspects.

Your Next Step: Get Buy-In
Successful implementation of QI requires a paradigm shift in thinking, and in how you run your HVAC business. It requires a departure from, “I can beat my competitor’s price, and do it cheaper and faster,” to, “I want to deliver something that’s efficient and safe, and I won’t do it for the cheapest price.”

QI starts with a commitment from the business owner, and moves laterally through the management team. They too must be willing to “walk the QI walk” in how they handle their leadership positions in the company, and how they communicate policies and provide equipment and programs for their employees.

As with any new implementation, employees will begin to buy-in if they see a sincere effort by company managers and policy-makers. That’s why QI must start at the top. It’s important that you, as the company president or CEO, take an active role in seeing it through. If you say you want to implement QI, and then let an assistant handle the implementation, your results will not be as significant.

QI Lets You Compete in Any Environment
Have you allowed external market influences define how you compete? Many will say they can only do what the current economic environment permits! Or, they’ll say the government sets the rules. Or, their competitors are lowball bidders.

To all of that, I say, that’s your environment because you’ve made it that way.

In spite of the surrounding economic or regulatory environment, a business owner must take the wide-angle, customer-focused point-of-view.

Are You Seeking the Best Customers?
What does the customer want? Does he or she truly want the “cheapest price?” Don’t you think most astute customers — the better customers, if you will — have heard that “you get what you pay for?”

What type of customer are you targeting? Are they customers who want something better?

Starting at the top — as it relates to prospecting — means the business owner starts to distance himself or herself from the price shoppers of the HVACR industry, and starts looking for customers who want something better. These are the customers who want a contractor — notice I didn’t say a “product” — who will help them save them money on utility bills, equipment maintenance and repair, and will deliver a high-quality comfortable indoor environment.

If you try to implement QI in a price-based competitive arena, or in a marketplace in which the ANSI/QI Standards aren’t known or desired, you’ll face an uphill battle. Your strategy in this particular marketplace is to educate the customer on QI, and the benefits of quality. Educating the customer in this price based competitive arena will reap some converts to QI.

Look at your marketplace; who among your prospective customers would most appreciate a quality HVAC installation, properly installed, tested and commissioned the first time? Who would most appreciate proper documentation of all you do? Those are the customers you target with the QI initiative.

Give Everyone a Chance
As a contractor who has embraced QI, you have a fiduciary responsibility to inform all customers about what you’re offering in the realm of QI. Tell as many existing and prospective customers about the newest technology, and about what’s happening at the government level related to regulations. It would be a shame to install a lower SEER system when you can offer something substantially better with a proper presentation. Too many contractors are going like for like and low bid for low bid. They (the contractor) find themselves in a corner when a customer asks them, the industry expert, why they didn’t inform them of that better piece of equipment, and all the benefits that would result from the more efficient system.

A Solution in Tough Times
With the price of oil going through the roof, contractors must be more sensitive to the ongoing operational cost of the systems being provided and serviced. QI fits like a glove with this challenging, energy-conscious marketplace. In fact, the higher the cost of energy, logic dictates that the better QI fits in to your business and market strategy.

Contractors often look at other market forces as competitors. In Pennsylvania, the state boiler inspector aggressively enforces the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) code. That generates work for some contractors. We’re constantly monitoring the interpretation of codes by those who enforce these regulations. In some cases we discover the interpretation of these codes will require changes to existing systems. Instead of waiting for the “red tag” from the enforcement authority, we actively market this change to our customers, with two positive outcomes. First, we’re viewed as professional and proactive in understanding the changing codes. Second, it generates work, which allows us to guarantee a 40-hour work week for our technicians.

A number of utilities have incentive programs, but in some cases they struggle to set the bar at a particular level of quality. You can work with your utility to establish the ANSI-approved QI standard as the bar, and thereby eliminate a number of contractors who won’t or can’t meet the standard. The utility officials will be happy and you, the QI Contractor, have reduced the competition to quality contractors only.

Analyze your marketplace and your competitors. Revisit your relationships with utility companies, and talk to them about quality-based incentive programs. Revisit governmental agencies at the city, county or state level. Introduce the QI standard to the consulting engineers, builders and property owners; emphasize this standard of quality as a starting point.

Tell them what the utilities are offering in the way of incentives. Tell your customers what code enforcement and state regulations require. Explain your company’s level of professionalism, based on your adherence to the ANSI-approved QI program. It’s going to take some work, and you won’t bat a thousand. But once your organization delivers the program on a consistent basis, you’ll find your business in a better place.

An Extra 10% is All it Takes
Make your company unique. Be a cut above the competition, and get away from the mindset of working twice as hard for twice the money.

To earn twice the money, you don’t have to be twice as good, just 10% better than your competition. That 10% edge is found by following the QI program.

When you implement QI properly and take advantage of the perceived obstacles (such as code enforcement or changing regulations), QI will become your roadmap to customer loyalty. Our customers come back to us because we fix their problems and are proactive with issues. Most contractors are reactive to a marketplace. The ANSI/QI initiative is for proactive contractors who, at the end of the day, are well ahead of the game.

(Ed. note: ACCA has also finalized a standard for HVAC residential maintenance (QM). Both QI and QM have been added to California’s Title 24 energy efficiency building requirements.)

For more information about the ACCA Quality Installation Specification visit www.acca.org/quality.

Skip Snyder is president of Snyder Company, Upper Darby, PA. He can be reached by calling 610/789-3000.