by Margo Vanover Porter
“Contractors known for quality possess common traits,” emphasizes Dan Weis, co-owner and vice president of Weis Comfort Systems, Inc., Fenton, MO. “First of all, they take care of their employees, because they realize that nobody will get serviced well with disgruntled employees,” he says. “Second, they care about doing the job right and having their customers so pleased that they not only write a good review, but they tell their friends.”
Weis believes contractors that excel in the field also ensure technicians are well versed in industry codes and standards. “Installing high-efficiency equipment on duct systems that are improperly sized leads to a bad installation and a dissatisfied customer,” he says. “It’s important that you understand and apply the standards, and that your employees understand why you are doing it the way you are.”
Jolene Methvin, work coordinator for Bay Area Air Conditioning & Heating, Inc., Crystal River, FL, agrees, “Quality contactors make sure technicians are licensed, follow local codes and industry standards, and get constant training as new products being developed,” she says. She reports that all of Bay Area’s technicians are NATE certified. “In the state of Florida, to be a technician, all that is really required is that you’re EPA certified, which doesn’t necessarily mean you have the high skill set required to be a technician,” she explains. “NATE testing shows you have the skills to do the job in the field.”
Look Beyond The Box
Top-tier HVAC contractors also emphasize and analyze total home performance, realizing that if they don’t, contractors representing other trades will. Methvin says, “Then, they will be making recommendations regarding our systems. There are parts of the home that affect how our system will run, and there are parts of our system that affect how the house operates, so it’s important we look beyond the box.” She suggests that technicians consider the home’s thermal envelope, asking questions such as, “Is insulation missing? Are ducts sized properly? Are there air gaps? Home performance issues mask themselves as comfort issues,” she explains. “When the home is sick, the people in it are uncomfortable, and they look to us for answers. It’s important we have the answers to give them. We don’t want to turn the answers over to somebody else with ‘You need an energy audit.’” Methvin adds that putting top-of-the-line equipment into a house with undersized and leaky ductwork will decrease capacity and result in dissatisfied customers. “You take that same piece of equipment and install it to standards, customers can get the capacity and comfort they are expecting. As a contractor, you have satisfied customers, which gets you referrals and positive reviews.”
For Edward Auth, energy-efficient home performance systems are an everyday priority. “Everything we do, every system we install in the multi-family homes we work in, are all built to Energy Star standards or higher,” reports the manager of Giordani Heating and Cooling, Inc., West Mifflin, PA. “We seal all of our ducts, so we have zero leakage,” he continues. “We go above and beyond to make sure everything is sealed as tight as possible, paying attention to all of the other trades, so we don’t mess up any of their energy efforts. When we do a job, it’s done correctly.” Upon completion, all of the company’s work must adhere to third-party energy inspectors and testing. According to Auth, the company annually installs about 200 to 300 forced air systems in residential multi-family housing. The $3 million company, which has about eight employees, does most of its work in Pittsburgh, and averages about 90% new construction and 10% in remodels.
To Be Among the Best
Contractors who are known for excellence not only properly install energy-efficient systems, they also treat their customers with respect. “I expect a certain level of service when I’m in a restaurant or store,” Weis explains. “Why not apply that same process to what you’re trying to do as a contractor? Treat customers like you want to be treated.” Other advice for maintaining your reputation as a quality contractor includes:
Pay attention to the little things. “Be on time,” Weis advises. “Show respect for the customer’s home. Lay down drop cloths and floor protectors. Don’t smoke on the property.”
Be sure your bid covers quality work. Inexperienced contractors sometimes make the mistake of underbidding a project, Auth says. “Then they chintz up on things, because they don’t have enough money in the job to do it right.”
Fully equip your trucks. “If your technicians have to go back and forth to a supply house to get parts, your company looks disorganized,” Weis says. Before going out to a job, the company truck should be clean, and contain the proper equipment to complete the job.
Avoid techno-speak. “Our industry is very technical,” Methvin admits. “We need to find the balance between communicating what needs to be done, and how it will benefit homeowners without getting so technical you lose them.” She suggests taking the time to explain in layman’s terms why you are taking the extra steps that other contractors might not take, and how those precautions will benefit them. She cites an example, “For me just to come in and say, ‘We’re going to check static pressure,’ means absolutely nothing to customers,” she says. Which is why she recommends saying something like, “We’re going to run a test on your duct system to ensure the air movement will properly cool and dehumidify your home.” Then the homeowner understands what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.
Keep up with the times. “There is always something to be learned,” Weis says. “The guys who say, ‘Hey, I don’t need any of that fancy internet stuff,’ might be great contractors and do a quality job, but sooner or later that will catch up with them. We have to be willing to change.”
Monitor online review sites. “You have to ensure that whatever is out there online gets an immediate and well-thought-out response,” Weis says. “You never want to go off half-cocked.” In a dispute, he recommends that you present your side in a clear and concise manner. “Your response has to be fair,” he says, “But you don’t have to grovel, particularly if someone is trying to get something for nothing. People respect it when a company takes a stand that is fair. It’s a matter of principle, and quality contractors have principles.”
Author's Note: Margo Vanover Porter is a contributing writer for IE3 Magazine.