HVAC contractors and testing professionals are reporting an interesting shift in the type of services requested by their customers. They want more of a diagnostic and problem-solving approach. Meanwhile, code compliance and plan and spec testing are also changing. Let’s take a look at why some are fighting these changes, while others are embracing this new trend and discovering opportunities with a growing demand and little or no competition.
While each of us troubleshoot daily in maintenance work, this new type of diagnostic troubleshooting is often priced and proposed to the customer as a consulting and reporting service. It is a different animal and much more challenging than the troubleshooting required to make a typical maintenance repair.
The demand for diagnostic and problem-solving testing is being driven by consumers searching for solutions to longstanding HVAC system problems and issues. Many customers have been exhausted by typical HVAC techs and manufacturers who only guess at the causes of problems and don’t measure to find effective solutions.
Wikipedia offers a definition of troubleshooting that perfectly matches the process and outcome of HVAC diagnostic and problem-solving services:
“Troubleshooting...is a form of problem solving, often applied to repair failed products or processes on a machine or a system. It is a logical, systematic search for the source of a problem in order to solve it and make the product or process operational again.
“Troubleshooting is needed to identify the symptoms. Determining the most likely cause is a process of elimination—eliminating potential causes of a problem. Finally, troubleshooting requires confirmation that the solution restores the product or process to its working state.”
With our purpose defined, let’s look at how these advanced troubleshooting services are being offered by various segments of the HVAC industry.
HVAC and mechanical contractors are consistently expanding their diagnostic testing services. By using their skilled testers to dig deeper into customer complaints, they earn additional income for testing, creating a scope of work, and subsequently delighting their customers.
The scope of work is targets eliminating concerns that can’t be detected or diagnosed with typical service instruments in the limited service time allotted. This results in an attempted patch-type repair that damages both the customer and contractor.
Knowing when to offer paid diagnostic services is a matter of experience. Companies that do offer proposals for diagnostic testing and reporting have developed departments to fulfill these customized special services. Most of the time, solutions are so specific, the contractor has little or no competition when it comes to the renovation or repair prescribed.
The outcome is a solution for an often-longstanding issue for the customer, and higher profitability for the contractor. Both parties win.
Balancing professionals typically link testing data to solutions. By default, this is their job. Troubleshooting is a built-in response to their training and daily thought process.
In the past, the driver for balancing services has been the commercial plan and spec market. But many see this market changing as prices lower and more designers assume balancing reports are only a box to check on the final project checklist
As a result, poorly balanced systems and projects are on the rise. This phenomenon is creating great demand for paid diagnostic and reporting services at an alarming rate.
Trained and certified balancers are usually the most qualified to offer and fulfill paid diagnostic and reporting services. They know the market is screaming for this and its value brings two to three times the profit margins of just plan and spec balancing.
More importantly, the work is challenging and fun. It is creative and satisfying to the HVAC company and balancing technicians. These companies can solve the problems in their heads but may be challenged with the ability to effectively express their solutions in a written recommendation.
Warning: embracing this new market and shifting away from plan-and-spec balancing work may be painful. Life always hurts when we move beyond what we’re comfortable with. When you experience this discomfort, allow it to assure you that you are on the right path. You’ll know this for sure once you experience a high level of success, for both you and your customer.
Engineers and Designers
An increasing number of mechanical engineers are finding opportunity in pre-testing HVAC systems. This is a valuable add-on service to basic building redesign services.
Typically, the prescribed solution offered by most engineers is equipment replacement. This places new equipment on the same distribution system. This usually fails to solve the real cause of the customer’s complaint less than 25% of the time.
One of the most beneficial elements of diagnostic testing is the ability to measure the deterioration of equipment capacity and efficiency caused by poor installation. This technology answers the greatest question asked by this community: Why don’t installed systems meet my design?
Proactive engineers and designers will specify or offer this service to assure installation meets design. Otherwise they can find themselves in a most difficult position unable to explain why their designs are not performing. This happens when a contractor or balance company, hired directly by the home or building owner, blindsides them with documentation proving the systems are performing 40% below the equipment schedules and balancing reports bearing their stamp.
Universal Industry Application
As the rate of change in our world increases, the ability to embrace and adapt to new opportunities determines our ability to thrive in the future.
Other groups are also feeling the pressures to move beyond their standard prescribed professional roles. Change is just as uncomfortable and painful in their jobs. As consumers demand more, it’s up to each of them to offer relevant services.
Facility Maintenance Personnel are under pressure to solve problems, not just make patch-type repairs. They need evidence to prove that the results of their work justify the cost of their employment. Their ability to test and diagnose HVAC defects may be critical to their survival. Many contractors, balancers, and engineers partner with facility leadership to systematically seek needed solutions.
Energy Raters, finding decreasing opportunity in compliance testing, are building sustainable businesses by applying their new “mad testing skills” to live HVAC systems.
These pioneers are discovering the generalized test methods they use to document compliance only insinuate efficiency by comparing test results to generalized scientific data. These tests were never designed to diagnose, pinpoint, and remedy unique HVAC system efficiency defects.
Live system testing easily diagnoses unique defects in each system and enables them to prescribe and offer customized solutions. They find additional work using the same HVAC testing after work is completed to verify delivery of efficiency. This changes raters from auditors and compliance helpers, to valued consultants and solution providers.
This service is highly valued by home and building owners and it pays far better. This change in paradigm produces sustainable, marketable business that meets customer needs and delivers measurable results.
Making the Change
By shifting from compliance cops to consultants who now solve efficiency problems, one contractor reported a five-times increase in annual sales over two years. This contractor also reported a nine-times increase in net profit. This, by the way, was accomplished through word of mouth referrals from his customers.
This new business model creates sustainable companies free from dependence on code compliance services, which are declining at an alarming rate in the HVAC retrofit industry.
Luck happens when the prepared meet the opportunity. This past month, my email and voicemail have been filled by HVAC professionals from each of these categories who successfully adapted their services to meet customer desires for a new level of solutions.
I am grateful for the opportunity to share what I leaned from these forward-thinking professionals and encourage you to embrace this opportunity already knocking at your door. Please answer the door and embrace this new opportunity and prosper by it. This quiet change is happening with or without you.
Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute, Inc., an HVAC-based training company and membership organization. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in a free test procedure used in finding HVAC solutions, 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.