HVAC contractors and technicians are responsible for installing and maintaining machines that provide comfort and enhance our living conditions. Such important jobs require acute attention to detail and experience with your craft, particularly during the beginning of a client's job. Much like a walkthrough performed for any other service in other industries, the purpose is for the contractor to establish a business relationship with the prospective client and familiarize themselves with the job that is going to be performed in order to make an informed estimation.
HVAC refers to any equipment associated with the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems required and specified in construction. During the design and planning process of a new construction project, a mechanical engineer specifies and designs an HVAC system to best fit the given project. This section of the building construction documents is drawn in great detail and offers a valuable and accurate resource for an HVAC subcontractor to estimate the materials and cost of the project. The process of estimating an HVAC job is generally a straightforward task that can usually be successfully completed by just about anyone with a general understanding of HVAC construction.This article will go over the various things you should look out for when performing an HVAC walkthrough as well as different walkthroughs for different services. The ultimate walkthrough guide for service companies (link to article) goes over some basic procedures that all service companies should perform.
What Tools to Bring on an HVAC Walkthrough
In the field of HVAC, the contractor’s tools are an essential part of completing the walkthrough. During the HVAC service estimation process, you will highly benefit from using some of the following essential tools. Even though different tools are used depending on the type of job, there’s a good chance that you’ll see at least a couple of these in an HVAC contractor’s tool box.
1. Tape Measure
Probably the most used item on this list, the tape measure is responsible for helping the contractor discern the length, width and height of various spaces and objects they’ll be working with.
Depending on the work being estimated, the contractor will most likely have to measure the distance from the outside unit to thermostat and indoor furnace for new unit installations. Measuring the length, width and height of ductwork is also a possibility for new installations depending on what the prospective client desires and state of the ductwork already installed. The more distance items that require connection are from each other and the difficulty of connecting them (running ductwork, pvc or copper refrigerant lines) the more skill and knowledge a job will require. Be sure to price your task accordingly.
2. HVAC Gauges
This tool will also most likely be used in every job and estimation. The gauges are responsible for reading the pressure of various liquids and gases in a cooling system, as well as vacuum pressure when you are pressure testing or charging the device. This diagnostic tool is a strong ally in your arsenal as it can help you get closer to finding out what the problem is during service jobs and ensure everything is working correctly at the end of an installation.
Although this may not be used in every job, it is still a very important item to have on you at all times. When working with various heating and cooling systems, the presence of live electricity is almost always guaranteed. In the case that it isn’t, an HVAC contractor would still be in need of one in order to safely confirm their assumptions. Working with electricity can be very dangerous if the proper safety procedures haven’t taken place. Including one of these two items in your tool box will certainly come in handy. There is a very little difference between a non-contact detector and a multimeter.
A non-contact detector does exactly what it sounds like. It detects electricity without direct contact by sensing the AC electric field created by live AC wires. You can also use them to track where power wiring is going inside a wall. They often also have a metal detector so you can also track wires which are not live. A multimeter works by using the black and red prongs to make contact with the negative or “common” and positive respectively. Below is a video that shows you how to measure voltage using a multimeter.
Embedded video: https://www.youtube.com/embed/FMevkhVDvuU (Credit to Tec Tube on YouTube)
4. Wrenches, Screwdrivers and Drills
Many times during the walkthrough an HVAC technician will most likely have to unscrew the screws in order to get a good look at the innards of the machine they will be working on. It is hard to tell how to fix something if you don’t know what's wrong. For some problems, a quick look under the hood can reveal a lot about the next steps to take.
The app is a great organization software and one of the most essential tools to use. It is not only good on a walkthrough, but also throughout the whole process of installation, maintenance, or service job. While more experienced contractors or technicians may be able to perform walkthroughs immaculately due to their knowledge, it is best not to leave important matters to the mind. Many thoughts flood our brains throughout our days and certain matters occupy our thoughts more than others. Don’t take the chance of forgetting an important task or having an unexpected circumstance ruin your credibility as a reliable HVAC contractor.
Route is a software service platform that aims to help companies in the building services industry perform their trades with confidence. Routes Walkthrough Builder™ organizes every detail and important information you will need in order to price your job effectively and maintain coherence with every technician working on the job through an hvac maintenance checklist. Route's Estimator takes data from real world companies’ performance and helps you adjust your price so that you never underbid. Communicate with your technicians, relay new information, maintain a structured client, contacts and lead database and create professional, and easy to use contracts form our customizable contract templates. Whether your business focuses on installations, services or maintenance, Route will be there every step of the way ensuring not only your satisfaction but those of your clients’ as well.
Different Types of Walkthroughs for HVAC Companies
Depending on the types of services your company offers, as well as the kind of job that will be performed once you know the issue to be solved, the walkthrough you will perform will differ based on things to look out for and details to remember. Commercial and residential walkthroughs also differ in great amount.
Walkthrough for HVAC Service Call
Service calls are maintenance jobs from a client that you have no relation with, these are often only residential. Usually the client will call explaining what is occuring (No cool air, making weird sound etc.) most experienced contractors will already have a couple ideas of what the problem could be and how it will be fixed but the only way to know is to perform a walkthrough for this call. A walkthrough for a service call is a diagnosis of the issue a client is having, after which the contractor/technician will provide a solution. Pricing is usually done after the diagnosis, as it depends on the severity of the problem and if a whole new installation will have to occur.
Things to Look Out For
First off, remember the details of the issue the client has expressed as they are valuable clues in helping decide what the problem is. Normally a thorough examination of the indoor furnace and outdoor unit is expected, be sure to use your necessary tools (gauges, voltage detector and screwdriver) to help figure out what the issue is. It would be of great help to ask the client the type of units they have installed in their home (Electric, gas or forced furnace or heat pump) if they don’t know then it’d be best you know or have someone with you that knows how to identify them.
The quickest way to tell is to look at your thermostat. If you have an “emergency heat” option, then you have a heat pump. If not, signs point to having a furnace. Heat pumps should be outside, while furnaces are usually in a basement, crawl space, or mechanical room, though they can be outdoors. When in doubt, look at the product label and do a quick Google search to confirm what kind of system it is. Perform the walkthrough as usual, being sure to check every component of the machine and writing down possible issues and future issues. Be sure to communicate possible future issues to the client, energy efficient tips to lower their energy bill and ways to improve indoor air quality. Educate them on what the best course of action is, their comfort and ease of living is dependent on your expertise.
Walkthrough for HVAC Installations
Differences between a commercial HVAC installation and a residential installation are substantial. Needless to say, there are tasks that will be the same during both but most things you will be looking out for will differ greatly. Here are some major differences between commercial and residential HVAC:
Residential HVAC units are far smaller than commercial because of the large area commercial units are tasked with cooling and heating. Both systems provide heating and air conditioning for different sized areas but the amount of power consumed and complexity of the machines varies dramatically. The larger size of commercial machines also mean their placement is forced to the roof of the building as opposed to the outdoor/ indoor splitting of residential homes.
The inner structure of residential versus commercial machines is also a major difference. Commercial units require efficient adaptation depending on the frequent use of the buildings amount of occupants. The mechanism of a commercial HVAC unit depends on the structure and where it is going to be installed. The manufacturing of a commercial HVAC system is modular whereas a residential unit is manufactured as a standalone system. Since commercial HVAC systems are modular, all the parts are housed together and it allows for easy maintenance and upgrade. In a residential HVAC unit, all the parts are split between the indoors and the outdoors and it cannot be modified or expanded.
3. Complexity of Installation
Commercial installations are normally a collaboration between a numerous team of workers. Most technicians will have to work along with electricians and roofers depending on the size and scope of the job. Normally during residential installations, a technician will also work alongside electricians, plumbers and ductwork installers, unless they are skilled enough to do every part of the job themselves. However, the size of the job is the biggest difference here.
During the installation walkthrough you should ask questions and take notes of details such as square feet of the area, whether it is a fresh installation or a replacement, and amount of rooms to be cooled. Inspect the ductwork in residential jobs and assess if they should be replaced or not. Make note of space needed to move the old machine out and the new machine in. Be sure to inspect refrigerant lines in order to see if there is a leak or possible leak in the future. Communicate effectively with your client and listen to their concerns. Most often you can suggest an extra service that they didn’t know they needed. Educate them on regular maintenance they can do in order to prolong the life of their machine (changing the air filter).
Walkthrough for HVAC Maintenance
Most companies offer maintenance services after a new HVAC installation. Once again, tasks will differ depending on commercial or residential jobs but most things to check will be the same.
Residential Maintenance Checklist:
- Advise the client to change their filter every 90 days. Suggest good quality filters and how to clean if necessary.
- Let the client know they must change the battery to their carbon monoxide detector annually.
- Free the outside grill of the outdoor unit from debris, leaves and dirt in order to ensure no problems with air flow will arise.
- Make sure both machines are level as this heavily affects performance and longevity. Specifically measure the outdoor unit as these can become unstable from years of rain.
- Clean air conditioner coils, inside and out, before cooling season begins. Dirty coils make the A/C system run longer, decreasing efficiency and increasing cooling costs.
- Check and refill the refrigerant charge if necessary. Not having the right amount of cooling refrigerant can damage the air compressor.
- Clean and calibrate blower system components for optimal airflow. The A/C system produces cool air for the entire home by blowing warm air over the cooled coil. Ensuring that air is moving over the coil as efficiently as possible can mean increased durability and efficiency of the system.
- Check the thermostat settings. Installing a programmable thermostat is a great way to ensure your home's HVAC system cools and heats the home at the most efficient and opportune time. During a seasonal tune-up, an HVAC company should check the settings to make sure the system is heating or cooling as programmed.
- Inspect electrical connections and test voltage on system components. Broken, loose or disconnected connections can mean your system isn't operating properly, efficiently or safely. This will also increase the likelihood of component failure.
- Lubricate moving parts. Moving parts without the right amount of lubrication increase friction and decrease your systems overall efficiency. Without regular lubrication, moving parts will wear out more quickly.
- Inspect the condensate drain. If the drain for condensation in your homes air conditioner, furnace or heat pump becomes obstructed, then water damage, high humidity levels and possible mold or bacteria growth may result.
- Check system startup and shutdown controls for proper operation. The startup and shutdown cycles, usually based on the thermostat settings, should be checked to make sure the system is operating properly and safely.
Commercial Maintenance Checklist:
- Replace filters on cooling equipment.
- Check condition of belts and pulleys and replace as needed.
- Clean condenser and evaporator coils.
- Check refrigerant charge and inspect for leaks if the charge is low.
- Clear drain lines and pans.
- Check electrical connections.
- Check operation of fan and blower motor and adjust if needed.
- Lubricate motors, bearings and other moving parts.
- Check operation of thermostats and other controls.
- Check for adequate air flow.
- Inspect heat exchanger.
In conclusion, the preparation needed for both residential and commercial HVAC services such as installation and maintenance have plenty of similarities. A walkthrough specified for each of those services can help you organize your tasks more efficiently, as well as aid you in providing the best estimate for your company and your prospective clients.