Residential HVAC Service
Heating and air conditioning contractors, like the rest of us, make mistakes. They make mistakes that hurt performance and efficiency of the HVAC systems they install and maintain. They make mistakes that hurt their customers sometimes. And they make mistakes that hurt their businesses. Let's look at 7 of the biggest mistakes today.
Although Energy Vanguard is not an HVAC contractor, we have a lot to do with heating and air conditioning systems. We train home energy raters (a.k.a. HERS raters) in the RESNET protocols and building analysts in the BPI protocols. We also do quality assurance for HERS raters, which requires us to enforce guidelines for programs like ENERGY STAR New Homes. We may not be licensed to install and maintain equipment, but we know a thing or two about it.
If you've been a reader of this blog for a while, you know that I write about HVAC a lot, and many of those articles are pointing out problems. Turns out, they're very easy to find because so many HVAC contractors leave big messes in their customers' homes. Not all HVAC contractors work this way, of course, but the majority do. The good ones have successful businesses not only because they do good work for their customers, but they make more money by coming in and cleaning up the messes left by the sloppy contractors.
Here then, are what I see as the top 7 mistakes that HVAC contractors make:
1. Not understanding combustion safety
If an HVAC contractor responds to a call about carbon monoxide, they'll usually go straight to the furnace and look for cracks in the heat exchanger. When they find that it's OK, they often assume it must have just been a false alarm, so they change the batteries in the CO alarm. David Richardson, a former HVAC contractor who now works fulltime for the National Comfort Institute training people in combustion safety and air flow, wrote a guest post for us here a couple of years ago about this very issue.
The problem is that most HVAC contractors don't know much about backdrafting of combustion appliances. Nor do they test for it. If you're an HVAC contractor and not testing for flue gases and worst-case depressurization on these calls, you're leaving a potentially dangerous situation. You never want to find out the next day that the people in the house you just visited are in the hospital with CO poisoning.
2. Focusing on 'the box' and ignoring air flow
This is the problem that I've probably written more articles about than any other. If the vast majority of HVAC contractors did professional quality work, I wouldn't be able to go into house after house after house and find the kind of duct problem you see at the top of this page. If all HVAC contractors were pros, no one would know what a ductopus (below) is. If HVAC contractors understood air flow, most duct systems would be larger than they are.
Mike MacFarland of Energy Docs, an HVAC contractor in California, told me last year at Building Science Summer Camp that he pretty much never does a system changeout without also doing a duct changeout. Why? Because he knows that the existing ductwork, even if it's relatively new, probably wasn't sized right, is too leaky, and would lead to more trouble and expense than just starting over.
3. Ignoring the opportunities in home performance
In the residential market, HVAC contractors go into people's homes every single day. They go into attics, crawl spaces, and basements, where they can see the quality of the insulation and air sealing in the home's building enclosure. Even if the HVAC contractor doesn't do the insulation and air-sealing work, it's a great complementary service to advise the homeowners on the other work their home could use to improve its overall performance.