technician servicing furnace

The Cold Cometh

Oct. 13, 2017
It’s time to look ahead to the changes the cold season will bring us while we serve the HVAC needs of our customers.

I got an email from the North Pole this week. No, it wasn’t from Santa, it was from one of our guys preparing for the cold of winter that is settling in way up North. In this shoulder season, many of us are still recovering from the recent heat of summer and are just now welcoming the cooler days of fall. It’s time to look ahead to the changes the cold season will bring us while we serve the HVAC needs of our customers.

Season Changes at Our House
This time of year, at the Falke home, we begin to move the summer clothes and shoes down the hall to a long storage closet. My wife, loads up the car with anything she hasn’t seen me wear this summer and makes several trips to Salvation Army, usually without bothering me with any decision about what I would like to keep or pass on. Then we haul our winter clothes, coats, shoes, hats and cold weather stuff back to our closets (my closet is the small one). And then our wardrobes are ready for the winter.

We pull out the heavy eiderdown and pack away the cooler bedspread. We then toss a few comfy blankets on the couches. Outside, the fall cleanup is well underway: I empty the gas from the summer yard equipment (except for my awesome 600+ CFM leaf blower) and move the snow removal machine to the front of the shed for easy access. I harvest the honey from my bee colonies, clean out the vegetable garden, and then load up the garage with firewood. Then I stand in the backyard and dare the Ohio freeze to TRY to make us uncomfortable.

The Mood Changes in the Office
If you’re lucky, this last month finally brought some relief from a very busy summer. The wrestle to get pre-season service agreements scheduled gets easier because your customers feel the morning chill in the air.

The faithful customers who want you to check their heating equipment before they need to use it are all taken care of.

Your marketing efforts morph away from cooling and focus more on heating to match the changes in the weather from week to week. The content of your website switches to full heating mode.

The inventory guys begin loading your service trucks with more heating parts and accessories. They begin to restock the cooling parts back into the shop. The cooler it gets, the heating equipment inventory shipments swell and the cooling equipment inventory shrinks.

The Mood Changes in the Field
Hopefully your service trucks get at least one good cleaning as well as any maintenance work done during the slow season. The time has come to brush off the combustion analyzer and move the refrigeration gauges deeper into the truck. The truck itself somehow smells cleaner again. Perhaps this change is because the service guys aren’t sweating near as much.

You shift gears from cooling repair and service to match heating repair and service. Your eyes scan the equipment differently now as you inspect and evaluate different areas of the equipment and system. The tools and instruments you use daily changes to match the season. And the heating side of your diagnostic brain wakes back up.

You begin paying far more attention to flues, chimneys, combustion air, and venting. You pay less attention to condensation issues and refrigerant pressures, unless you’re in a heat pump market.

In the fall, carbon monoxide (CO) discussions will increase with your customers. CO monitor sales opportunities present themselves with a sense of urgency as CO poisonings increase in the news. Safety testing increases as well-informed service techs evaluate the hidden defects of combustion equipment and building pressures.

Installer Conditions Fluctuate
Installers are the one constant in our industry. They will find attics a far friendlier environment as temperatures plummet from 135F to a comparatively comfortable 50F. In the winter, you can dress for protection from the cold with overalls, hats, gloves and thermals. You can only dress down so far to tolerate the heat of summer.

In the cold season, due to wetter conditions, mud is a constant plague when entering homes. Although foreign to many parts of the country, that white stuff called snow also is a force to be dealt with when working outside.

In summer, urgent installation jobs are driven mostly by customer discomfort. During winter in Northern climates, the house and its occupants may freeze and serious damage may occur. This creates a more forceful definition of “urgent.”

Salespeople Shift Gears
Your sales force will begin talking heating, instead of cooling. Furnace information will be listed first on your proposals and the air conditioning specs will be listed second.

For the salespeople, the phone begins to ring from customers worried their furnace or heat pump is on its last leg. They realize if they don’t get their equipment replaced early, they could get stranded. The questions you ask customers begins to change as well. Questions about which room is too warm on a summer afternoon transforms into which are your coldest rooms on winter mornings? You talk about gas versus electricity bills in colder climates. Customers as more about heating equipment rated efficiency.

Because of wet conditions, not tracking yuck onto customers’ floors requires more care. Days get shorter and evening sales in the dark require more attention during inspections.  

In colder and dryer climates, humidifier discussions increase and sales skyrocket. Because the temperature difference between inside and outside may triple, building insulation defects are much easier to discover with infrared technology.

The purpose of this article has been to help you mark the changes in the seasons and take a few deep breaths before you prepare for the busy season soon to come. Don’t miss a season change -- be sure to stop and smell the summer dust burn off the heat strips and heat exchangers on that first cool morning. You know that smell, don’t you? Don’t miss it this year.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute, Inc., an HVAC-based training company and membership organization. You can contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at for free information, articles, and downloads.

About the Author

Rob 'Doc' Falke | President

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute an HVAC-based training company and membership organization. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician  interested in a building pressure measurement procedure, contact Doc at [email protected]  or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at for free information, articles and downloads.