In March, we celebrate Women’s History Month to honor the heroic and historic accomplishments of women in all areas of accomplishment. In plumbing, we look to Lillian Baumbach, the first female master plumber in the United States. Women, like Lillian, paved the way for modern female plumbers and other tradeswomen. The best form of honor Read more
In March, we celebrate Women’s History Month to honor the heroic and historic accomplishments of women in all areas of accomplishment. In plumbing, we look to Lillian Baumbach, the first female master plumber in the United States. Women, like Lillian, paved the way for modern female plumbers and other tradeswomen. The best form of honor is respect. There is no better way to respect tradeswomen than acting like a true ally.
What is an ally? An ally is an individual, contractor, manufacturer and/or retailer who stands with and for tradeswomen.
Women constitute a mere 1.5% of the construction trades industry workforce. With numbers so low, it’s easy to feel alone and isolated in your work environment. Below, find some tips to being an ally.
- Mentors – Providing sage advice to apprentices and young people in the skilled trades helps them feel welcomed in their work environment. This extends to facilitating networking and social events.
- Does not assume – When in doubt, ask. Also, do not assume stereotypes about women or women who work in the skilled construction trades. Having low expectations of tradeswomen is another gaffe. Do not assume tradeswomen possess less experience or cannot complete the same tasks as a tradesman.
- Isn’t shy – An ally calls people out and does not tolerate inappropriate and demeaning humor or remarks. Additionally, get involved with women’s committees. Both men and women can support women in the trades. An ally can also get involved with policy. Share information about the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, sexual harassment training, and pregnancy discrimination.
- Doesn’t mansplain – This should go without saying.
- Encourages all voices – Keep an open mind. As a leader, create environments where all voices can be heard and appreciated.
It’s not simple, but it’s worth it. Allies, like tradeswomen, come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds. An ally is a powerful tool for recruitment and retention of tradeswomen. Rest assured, tradeswomen will still be here with or without allies. But, they help to improve the workplace for all.
Guest Blogger – Allie Perez founded Texas Women in Trades in 2013, an organization working to bring more women, minorities, and young people to the trades. She also serves as the VP of Marketing and Operations at George Plumbing Co. in San Antonio and on the National Taskforce for Tradeswomen as the Communications Committee Co-Chair. A graduate of New York University, Allie has contributed to trade periodicals for more than seven years. To contact her directly, email email@example.com.
Use these tips to keep customers comfortable this winter Do you know how to ensure your tankless water heater installations perform optimally this winter? Tankless water heaters — known for their on-demand hot water, low energy use, and compact size — are popular among homeowners. Propane-powered systems offer an additional advantage: they can be installed Read more
Use these tips to keep customers comfortable this winter
Do you know how to ensure your tankless water heater installations perform optimally this winter?
Tankless water heaters — known for their on-demand hot water, low energy use, and compact size — are popular among homeowners. Propane-powered systems offer an additional advantage: they can be installed virtually anywhere.
For customers located in regions that experience snow and frigid temperatures, there are a few considerations for HVAC professionals to keep in mind to ensure their customers’ comfort year-round.
Here are eight tips for specifying, installing, and maintaining tankless systems in cold climates:
- Size the unit for the cold. As temperatures drop, more time and energy are needed to heat water to the desired level. To ensure customers’ tanks meet demand throughout the year, it’s important to know how they’ll perform in cold weather. For example, in Washington D.C., a unit that can produce 8.5 GPM on a hot summer day will only produce 5 to 6 GPM on a cold winter day.
- Design for the coldest conditions. Be aware of how low ground temperatures can go and how much water a household will need. Also consider the difference between the set unit temperature and the ground temperature, also known as the Delta T. The bigger the gap, the lower the unit’s flow rate will be.
- Bring it inside. Many tankless systems have some degree of built-in freeze protection. Check the product specs, and your region’s historical weather patterns, to determine where to install the tank.
- Vent smart. Proper venting is important. Installations should avoid freezing winds and have sufficiently long vent runs. In cold areas, the minimum vent run recommendation is six feet.
- Keep vents clear of snow. Before a snowstorm, remind customers to keep a few feet around the vent clear of snow. Some tankless models offer air intake from the outer pipe — if that’s blocked, the unit may turn itself off.
- Educate customers with recirculators. For customers whose systems have a recirculating loop, remind them to turn off that function when bad weather is on the way. If the vent termination is snowed under, the unit will eventually power off with an error code.
- Consider condensation. Drain condensate from condensing units into a conditioned space to avoid drain freezes, which will cause the unit to turn off.
- Be ready with backup power. Many tankless systems need electricity for freeze protection and ignition. A propane standby generator can help ensure that customers’ hot water will continue to flow, even during a power outage.
For more information about propane tankless water heaters, visit Propane.com/Water-Heating.
Bryan Cordill is director of residential and commercial business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How HVAC Contractors Are Balancing Employee and Financial Health In The Era Of COVID-19 As most states across the U.S. see a rise in COVID-19 cases, industries grapple with how to maintain business while keeping employees and customers safe. As essential workers in the building and construction trade, HVAC contractors are reevaluating the way they Read more
How HVAC Contractors Are Balancing Employee and Financial Health In The Era Of COVID-19
As most states across the U.S. see a rise in COVID-19 cases, industries grapple with how to maintain business while keeping employees and customers safe. As essential workers in the building and construction trade, HVAC contractors are reevaluating the way they have worked for decades.
Although every state has its own challenges, guidelines and requirements, there are some standard directives from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), such as social distancing. However, much is left up in the air due to the many unknowns of COVID-19. This leaves HVAC contractors to determine, as a collective, what best practices the industry should implement. From the east coast to the west coast, leading commercial HVAC contractors are sharing thoughts and ideas on how their businesses are successfully riding the waves and staying afloat throughout the pandemic.
As cities closed down, many HVAC contractors discovered it was harder to get permits approved or have new permits issued. Because projects were put on hold or halted altogether, some contractors were faced with condensing their office staff and crews.
Forward-thinking contractors like Mike Sicard, owner of Willamette HVAC in Hillsboro, Oregon, laid off employees early on so they could be ahead of the rush for unemployment benefits. He cut his team of 30 employees in half and focused on training those remaining to perform multiple jobs. His service manager now performs accounting duties, including payroll, while the dispatcher now also works on invoicing. Being one of the first areas in the country to be impacted by COVID-19, Sicard tried to keep his employees’ best interests at heart, while also keeping his business running smoothly.
Not every company has downsized employees, though. On the other side of the country, Jerry Goddu, project manager for Hickory Mechanical in Hickory, North Carolina, has kept his 20 employees busy and says he could hire a few more. They were able to keep staff on the payroll while limiting employee risk and exposure by decreasing how many hours employees work.
“We went to a four-day work week” said Goddu. “We learned that one day less exposure reduces the chances of encountering illness by 20%.” By focusing on safeguarding employees’ health, contractors keep teams in place and save money in lost labor and health insurance.
The Changing Outlook of Available Work
Commercial work for HVAC contractors has remained fairly steady, with a focus on service work. Sicard says his business used to have a 50/50 split between construction and service work. Since COVID-19 began it’s about 75% service work, with a vast majority of that work coming from maintenance contracts.
With a significant number of buildings across the country closed due to states’ work-from-home orders and social distancing regulations, a building owner or facilities manager will give commercial HVAC contractors access to the building. Sicard notes that it’s good that businesses are keeping up with preventative maintenance, because in some cases owners and managers are unaware of the HVAC unit needing repair since the building is unoccupied. More costly repairs are caught earlier thanks to upkeep on routine maintenance contracts.
Keeping Workers Safe
Before HVAC contractors send their technicians to a jobsite, they are considering their employees’ health and wellbeing. Some teams have high-risk employees—Goddu has several employees over the age of 65—and some live with high-risk individuals. It’s important to set guidelines for safe work practices to ensure everyone is protected.
Going beyond sanitizing trucks (wiping down door handles and cab interiors) and making sure all employees have access to their own sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE), Goddu also sat down with his employees and shared videos with them on how COVID-19 spreads. Hickory Mechanical enforces the important information from the videos with signage reminding workers to social distance by staying 6 feet apart at all times and implement good hygiene practices. His team has responded well to the information and realizes they must take these extra steps to ensure everyone’s safety.
“We had major layoffs in industries in Hickory, North Carolina, so some of these folks are the only ones working and providing an income for their families,” Goddu said. “They realize how important it is to stay healthy.”
Setting Customers’ Expectations
Keeping employees informed and well-equipped with PPE is just part of the new normal for commercial HVAC contractors. These businesses must also educate customers in their best practices, as well how customers can help ensure the wellbeing of the technician visiting their site. “Set expectations and be very clear with your customers,” says Sicard. “Don’t hesitate to establish very specific instructions for your technician’s access and needs.”
Willamette HVAC’s dispatcher asks customers a set of screening questions when calling to confirm the technician’s arrival time—asking pertinent queries such as has anyone in the home been ill or has the home been under quarantine. They also request that customers practice social distancing with the technician, ask about the location of the HVAC system and remind customers to clear away any items that may be around the system—technicians prefer not to touch items unnecessarily during the appointment. As a courtesy to customers and to protect their health, Willamette HVAC’s technicians also wear booties and masks when servicing or installing parts of the system that are located inside buildings.
Sicard believes he’s learned an important business lesson that will transcend the pandemic. When a crisis arises, he now knows—and recommends to others—the importance of having a response plan in place and implementing it swiftly. “Be proactive instead of reactive and conduct crucial conversations with employees,” he says.
That means being prepared to act quickly as regulations and conditions change in your state or region. As experts now say, there is no normal in the new normal. All industries are in uncharted waters when it comes to COVID-19, but the more honest contractors are, the easier it is to manage everyone’s expectations.
Lisa Zierfuss has served as product manager for a variety of tapes at Shurtape Technologies, LLC, an industry-leading manufacturer and marketer of adhesive tape. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from University of Wisconsin-Madison and has earned several product manager certifications from the Pragmatic Institute.
While many service leaders believe that providing service is the core of their business, it isn’t what ultimately drives their business’s success. Senior service leaders quickly realize it is the ability to win more sales and improve profitability, or their overall financial position, that will ultimately decide the fate of their organization. Aligning a service Read more
While many service leaders believe that providing service is the core of their business, it isn’t what ultimately drives their business’s success. Senior service leaders quickly realize it is the ability to win more sales and improve profitability, or their overall financial position, that will ultimately decide the fate of their organization. Aligning a service organization behind these “non-service” objectives can be challenging, but service leaders who’ve successfully grown their businesses have mastered this complex balancing act.
From the operational efficiencies that can be gained in scheduling, dispatching, service operations, and payment processing, to marketing and lead generation, business analytics and customer communications, every aspect of a field service business can be seen through the lens of creating a better service business that also delivers greater financial return. What, then, is the unusual approach these successful leaders are taking, and how is it driving their success?
Digital transformation – is it worth your time?
Admittedly the talk of “digital transformation” is getting a bit wearisome. At its core it is about using technology to create seamless efficiency across an entire organization, and this message resonates with service personnel. They get it. But the best digital leaders understand it should be thought of as much more if it is going to be worth it. It is the vehicle that allows people to connect with the business, both internally and externally. From appointment scheduling to payment processing, throughout the entire service lifecycle, employees must connect to each other and to customers. And most of these interactions must occur without human intervention so that only the potential problems are highlighted for personal attention. At the same time, digital transformation seen this way also allows business owners to more easily keep track of their teams, manage profitability, communicate effectively, intervene and make more informed business decisions. Just as easily, it expands to include winning new customers, generating online reviews, increasing digital presence, and managing leads.
To successfully transform, a company needs the right technology platform in place. And this technology allows field technicians and back office workers to work more efficiently within their processes, ultimately saving time and money, and creating a better experience for their customers. Service leaders can focus on gaining these operational improvements, but deep down they know that what they are really working on is enabling this much larger transformation in how people communicate.
Open lines of communication
Even before COVID-19 created the need for more distant interactions, the move towards timely and on-point, yet fully-automated customer interactions was underway. Driven by technology, the right field service solution opens the lines of communication not only between employee-to-employee or the technician to the back-office, but most importantly between a company and its customers. Especially with remote work, employees and customers need to stay updated on important information, and be able to easily contact one another.
For example, live notifications when employees arrive on location can help limit customer and field technician interaction in the wake of COVID-19. This improves the experience for customers, because today’s consumers prefer real-time updates from their service partners, while also making the technician’s job easier (and more in alignment with post-COVID expectations). Customers can also receive updates when a job is finished or get notified if there is a change in status, as well as leave reviews and be added to email communications during the time when they are not receiving a service. Opening the lines of communication from the company to field technicians to customers creates an exceptional customer experience, full of trust and transparency, and it also helps increase operational efficiency for the company. In the duality of this message, service leaders find a way to both gain employee support, while also moving their company forward with less fear of change.
The ability to maintain open communication also allows field technicians to easily access the right tools and information they need in order to better do their jobs while onsite. This could include job details, locations, contact information, and even notes on past related jobs, which can also help with cross sell and upsell opportunities. It also includes communication-oriented steps within customer interactions that include activities such as taking payment. Software solutions that have highly integrated payment capabilities create a win-win for both the organization and the customer by offering customers what they prefer (whether it be through credit card, card on file, eCheck, Google Pay, Apple Pay, etc.), while reducing the load on technicians, and speeding the movement of cash through the organization – something every executive cares about.
A better experience does have a hard ROI
According to a recent WorkWave survey of over 150 service companies, online reviews, word of mouth, and referrals from existing customers are the top three ways that these companies are winning new customers. And you can be sure that a customer that will not refer someone else to you, won’t return to you when they have their next service need. All of this relies on a customer having a good experience.
Errors made in the field cost companies far more than they understand. A lost invoice could result in the company never being paid, and never knowing it. And it can result in a frustrated technician that might carry that frustration into the next customer interaction. The right software solution can help reduce both human error in the field, and alert management when potential problem situations like this occur. Perhaps just as important, it makes the technician’s job easier. Technicians running rural routes in the midwest don’t want to carry around customer checks (and potentially lose them) any more than companies want to wait an extra week or two to deposit these checks into their business account. These seemingly small errors and inefficiencies can be prevented, and again, reinforce that the customer, the employees and the company can all win together.
An individual error might ruin the experience for one customer, but when added up they make or break a company – and as socialized as the importance of a good customer experience is these days, employees aren’t going to see it as potentially company-killing. Customers want a partner who keeps them updated not just on their services, but who also keeps them updated about the fact that they are updated. They want a company that runs efficiently and reliably, so that they feel they can trust them. At the heart of doing this effectively lies the right technology, but savvy service leaders know that they have to position technology as something that doesn’t just highlight errors, but helps prevent those errors by making individual employee jobs easier. The end result will be customers that are more likely to call back for another service, enter long-term contracts or make that all important referral.
The hidden ROI in employee satisfaction
One of the few times a client (an owner) completely surprised me in recent years, was when he said that the best thing he ever did to increase employee satisfaction and reduce technician turnover was to implement route optimization. We try to sell route optimization into every customer, not just because we sell software, but because it produces a greater overall ROI than almost any software component we sell.
Owners and executives love huge efficiency boosts, employees usually don’t. He explained that his technicians like providing service, and they hate driving, getting stuck in traffic, and criss-crossing back and forth across their territory day after day. Their frustration goes up and when they get a call to jump ship and go to a competitor they take it. Route optimization reduced this frustration for his employees. Behind the scenes it allowed them to do more of what they love, fixing and installing things, and less of what they didn’t – wasting time.
In today’s technician starved landscape, it isn’t only the customer experience that matters. Great leaders know the employee experience matters too. Tremendous focus has been applied to giving technicians the proper tools and technologies in order to be successful while they are onsite with customers. But the right technology can increase efficiency, while also building employee confidence and satisfaction, which is essential for retention and even recruiting. Simply put, a happier technician is also more likely to provide a better experience and go the extra mile for your customer – win, win, win.
Today, every service operation relies on a field service platform to drive their success. But it is the successful adoption of this technology that will help a company move beyond just thinking of operational efficiency as the key to its success – that technician effectiveness when on-site can yield more than just a better first time fix rate. The key to success at this next level is changing the way service leaders have long thought about service as the main driver of their company’s performance.
Today’s best service leaders understand that the right technology can prevent failure, provide critical information, prepare employees to answer questions, deliver services, and provide accurate, up-to-date information to customers. But it can also control, influence and monitor performance in a way that helps make each employee’s job easier, identifying top performance areas where you can help other employees to learn and improve. All of this can add up to employees who feel their company is investing in them and their abilities by providing tools necessary for the job and increasing efficiency, which has higher job satisfaction. And these great leaders also know that all of these things will add up to the bigger wins that the company needs to truly succeed.
About David F. Giannetto
David F. Giannetto serves as Chief Executive Officer of WorkWave, where he leads all aspects of Sales, Marketing, Customer Service and Success, Product Design and Engineering, Development and Technical Operations. David’s extensive experience across software-as-a-service (SaaS), cloud, service, performance management and emerging technology allows him to further align the WorkWave functions that touch customer needs in a strategic way. David is also a respected thought leader, published author, keynote speaker and frequent writer for national magazines. He authored two books, Big Social Mobile, How Digital Initiatives Can Reshape the Enterprise and Drive Business Results, and was co-author of The Performance Power Grid, The Proven Method to Create and Sustain Superior Organizational Performance. He was also a former columnist with UBusiness Review, Strictly Marketing Magazine and the American Management Association.
I will always preach that a successful cast iron water boiler installation begins with proper planning. I worked for an oil company for 20 long years, and nine years of that I was a service manager. During this time, I came across many problematic jobsites. I would evaluate the installation issues and try to figure Read more
I will always preach that a successful cast iron water boiler installation begins with proper planning. I worked for an oil company for 20 long years, and nine years of that I was a service manager. During this time, I came across many problematic jobsites. I would evaluate the installation issues and try to figure out where the problems had started. This knowledge has greatly helped me as a Training Manager for U.S. Boiler Company. Now, after 40 years in the heating business, I know how important proper boiler installation planning really is for reducing the number of problem jobs and expensive callbacks. In fact, planning is much easier than you may think …
- Proper boiler sizing. Complete a thorough heat loss calculation. Do not fall into the trap of oversizing the boiler because you sized it based on the old boiler size or you measured the connected radiation load, and never allow the customer to talk you into a larger boiler than needed. Today, with physically smaller boilers and less water volume, oversized boilers will short cycle more than ever. Increased short cycling means higher maintenance, higher fuel costs, and higher installation costs.
- Follow the boiler Installation & Operation (I&O) Manual. Be sure to follow one of the suggested near boiler piping options listed in the manual. The boiler tapping may not have to be the same size as the manifold piping. Use the flow charts for pipe size. You can pipe the boiler the same size as the tapping, or in some cases, use smaller piping dependent on the heat loss requirement. When the heat loss is known and the proper boiler size is chosen, you may be able to use smaller air separators, expansion tanks, and piping. You can use the following as a guide to size the boiler and system piping:
- 3/4” pipe = 40,000 BTU’s @ 4 – 5 GPM (gallons per minute)
- 1” pipe = 70,000 BTU’s @ 7 – 8 GPM
- 1-1/4” pipe = 160,000 BTU’s @ 16 – 18 GPM
- Bypass piping. Bypass piping is discussed briefly in the I&O manual. We cannot continue to install modern cast iron boilers the same way we used to install boilers with larger water volumes. When needed, a bypass system should be installed to protect the boiler. There are primary/secondary piping and circulated bypass options, both of which we will discuss later in this article.
The bypass system discussed in the manual is called a “boiler bypass” and is always installed the same size as the supply and return headers. When adjusted, the water flow through the boiler is slowed so the water spends more time in the boiler. This allows the boiler temperature to increase faster and decreases the possibility of boiler condensation. This means that some of the system return water is bypassed around the boiler and enters the supply beyond the boiler. I know what you are about to say. “Well, that will cool off the supply water going to the homes heating system!” That is correct, but it is not a problem. This is what I call a “poor man’s outdoor reset.”
The system will run quieter and the system water temperature will increase slowly until the radiation outputs enough heat to satisfy the thermostat. The colder it gets outside, the hotter the system supply water temperature will be. When the valve placement is installed as shown in the manual, we can easily adjust the ΔT through the boiler. Simply put, leave the bypass valve open and adjust the flow through the boiler with either valve located on supply or return pipes below the bypass pipe to slow the flow and force more water through the bypass. Partially close one of these valves and check the ΔT through the boiler. You will need a minimum of a 20°F rise. If this is a large water volume system, like cast iron radiation, increase the ΔT through the boiler to 35 – 40°F ΔT.
Quick Tip: If the bypass is hotter than the return pipe, the flow is backwards and you have piped a system bypass as opposed to a boiler bypass. Follow the piping in the manual to verify correct installation.
- Primary/secondary piping option. Primary/secondary piping utilizes hydraulic separation so that the water flow from system pumps do not affect boiler pump flow. This allows us to reduce the flow through the boiler to heat the water faster and heat the water to a higher temperature without affecting the flow in the system. In other words, we can have a higher flow in the system and a lower flow in the boiler. We still want a minimum of 20°F rise through the boiler, and for higher water volume systems we want a higher ΔT near 35°F – 40°F.
- Variable speed bypass pump option. To have the best boiler protection, install a variable speed bypass pump with a temperature sensor. This will change the speed of the pump to obtain the proper return water temperature. We offer a variable speed bypass kit with instructions for gas water boilers. This will protect the boiler in a high-water volume system or radiant in-floor radiation application.
Quick Note: My concern, and the reason for the above discussion of boiler protection from condensation, is excessive water flow through the boiler and slower temperature increase. I have experienced multiple boiler installations where the ΔT through the boiler is less than 20°F. In fact, I have witnessed some as low as 8°F. Lower ΔT’s are a result of excessive flow, possibly caused by the number or circulator sizes installed on the system. So, what is the minimum flow rate on cast iron water boilers? Look in the I&O manual under specifications and find the DOE heating capacity (MBH) of the boiler. For instance, the Series 3 model 304B has an input of 105k MBH and a DOE heating capacity of 88k MBH. Divide the DOE output by 10,000 to discover the maximum flow required by the boiler. If your flow exceeds that number, the ΔT will be less than 20°F. You can use this hydraulic formula to determine flow rate through the boiler.
- Avoid short cycling. Short cycling is caused by lower water flow, or higher ΔT. Higher ΔT may mean that the circulator is to small, the boiler is oversized, or the valves not adjusted properly. Generally, the minimum boiler flow should be half (but not limited to) of the maximum boiler flow.
Boiler Flow Formula:
Q/(500*ΔT) = Flow
Q = DOE Heating Capacity
Let’s put some numbers to that formula. Let’s assume that a boiler has a ΔT of 15°F. The Series 3 model 304 (referenced above) has a DOE heating capacity of 88,000.
88,000/10,000 = 8 GPM. This is the maximum flow required by the boiler. Divide this in half to get the minimum boiler flow. In this case, it would be 4 GPM.
Now, back to the formula.
ΔT = 15°F
88,000/(500 * 15) = Flow
88,000/7500 = 11.7 GPM
The flow is almost 4 GPM higher than the maximum flow the boiler should have. This tells us we need to achieve a 20°F ΔT, which means less flow through the boiler. Why do we have to much flow? There are oversized pumps or to many pumps. Using a bypass or primary/secondary strategy above, we can easily correct the flow through the boiler.
- Vent the boiler properly. If the boiler is chimney vented, the local and federal codes apply. A chimney liner may be required. If the unit is direct or power vented, the manufacturer dictates the venting according to the certifications obtained during testing. Since this article applies to cast iron water boilers, a sidewall vented boiler requires AL29-4C vent pipe. No plastic!
- Outdoor air. I like to use outdoor air as much as possible to verify enough combustion air. Plus, there is less chance of contaminated air.
- Gas pressure. Check the incoming gas pressure and the manifold (outlet) pressure with other gas appliances running. Check all safeties. Finally, always complete a combustion check.
Ron Beck is Outside Technical Advisor and Manager of Training for U.S. Boiler Company, where he’s been since 1998. Ron’s 34 years of experience in the heating industry include climbing the ranks of a HVAC company, from apprentice to service manager. Currently, he’s the go-to solution guy for contractors in the field.
Ron can be reached at RBeck@usboiler.net