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Maintenance Upgrades That Don’t Cost Your Soul
Maintenance is not the sexiest part of our trade, and that’s ok. There really aren’t that many parts of our trade that are sexy, to be honest. Maybe maintenance is just the lowest on the totem pole. It can be easy to get into a routine of plowing through one after another, trying to check them off your list so you can get on with your day. But if we are really at someone’s house to provide great service, minimize breakdowns, and improve their systems, what are some basic upgrades we can offer to customers?
The control wire running with the liquid and suction line is often a battered and shredded set of wires who have seen better days. A lot of times, you can slide some Sealtite over those wires before they break or touch (and short out a low-voltage fuse), saving you and your customer the pain of a service call during a hot or cold time of year. Pro tip: spray WD40 inside the Sealtite for easier wire feeding. For very long runs, use a fish tape to pull the wire.
Surge protectors are a must on inverter equipment and on any furnace with an ECM blower motor. They essentially absorb damaging voltage spikes, lengthening the life of sensitive electronics on the equipment. There are also more advanced types that can cut power to the unit in the case of constant overvoltage.
Take the cover plate off of the disconnects and check for melted wiring or plastic. Square D disconnects are notorious for this and have a telltale plastic melted crack on the left side for some reason. If you have melted wires, check to see if they were trimmed improperly and make some fresh connections. Replace failing disconnects, or Murphy's law says it will fail the next time you use it.
Insulating Drain Lines
Do you live in the South? Do you have drain lines that run across the attic and drip condensation onto insulation and sheetrock? Take some pictures and show them to the homeowner to see if they want to get that taken care of.
Have you ever seen a supply plenum with a bunch of collars that have no mastic? No? Just me? Seal those bad boys up!
Any capacitor that is rated 10% weak or more gets a recommendation to be replaced. Weak capacitors make motors and compressors run hot and have a higher chance of failing during a hot day. I don’t want to come back in the middle of the summer to change a capacitor. I have other capacitors to change!
Float switches are worth the cost of admission, especially on closet units. The amount of damage that can be prevented to homes from float switches is… A lot. Think not just about the short-term water damage but the long-term damage of rotten wood and mold growth that can be prevented.
Have you ever checked the pressure drop across the filter on a system with a manometer and compared it to the chart on the filter? Bryan wrote an article about doing just that a while back. 9 times out of 10, people have a cheap filter that doesn’t catch much of anything, bypasses a bunch of dust, and has a high pressure drop. Can you fix that? Yes, yes, you can.
If you have a homeowner with a backup generator, this is definitely something to mention. If someone doesn’t have a soft start, there is a good chance their AC won’t be able to kick on with a backup generator. These devices started out in the RV world and have migrated over to residential HVAC for good reason. They make a lot of sense in specific applications. Here’s a video if you want to learn more about them.
ESCO Group's HVACR Learning Network has a good free webinar covering the differences between soft and hard starts HERE. You can also earn NATE credits if you opt to take the exam at the end for a small fee (or purchase the all-access subscription bundle).
IAQ and comfort testing
You know what can be a great way to get someone to understand indoor air quality and comfort? Testing and data! What about buying a Haven IAQ monitor and “renting” it to your customer for a month and then returning to go over the data with them? This could be a great tool to help homeowners see something on a graph that is really hard to see in real life. (Almost) everyone needs better filtration, more fresh air, and humidity control. Maybe people just need to see some data to understand it.
Another testing option to offer to people at a reasonable price would be testing room CFM with a flow hood. Don’t give away diagnostic work for free. People pay big money for testing and balancing. Do some quick and dirty room-by-room load calculations and get a $400 CPS flow hood. Prove with testing that a room doesn’t have enough air. Don’t just go up in the attic and say, “Yep, that room needs a 9, and it only has a 7.” You can feel more confident because you have data and you’ve charged the customer for a service, so you don’t have to bundle all that work you just did into a sale you might not make.
Hard Start Kits
I know we all think these are providing a benefit to homeowners, but they’re actually not. Bryan taught a class explaining that even if it looks like your amp draw has dropped after installing a hard start kit, it really hasn’t. You’ve just shifted the inrush amp draw from your common (which is made to handle high inrush) to your start winding (which is not made to handle high inrush.) Don’t believe me? Test it with your meter sometime.
Hard Start Kits still have their place on old units that have a “hard” time “starting” (hence the name which has stuck around to puzzle us all over why we sell so many of them on units that start just fine.)
Bolt-on IAQ products
No one knows if these things work or not. There is no good laboratory data, and I can’t sell them in good conscience. In my opinion, it’s best to stick with the tried and true IAQ techniques like good filtration, ventilation, and humidity control.