Skills in the Toolbag
The old adage goes:
“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”
For some techs I know, even having a hammer can be challenging.
I was pretty new in business and my first real “employee” hire in the HVAC part of Kalos was my brother Nathan, who many of you know as he is quite famous or infamous in the social media circles (which it is, is for you to interpret).
We won a custom new construction home job as the HVAC contractor and this was a “custom” job to be sure. I think it may have been the first house this builder had ever built and he planned almost nothing.
I remember walking the job with him after the slab had been poured and asking, “Did the plumber run chase lines for the copper?” as it was clearly supposed to have been based on the layout, and he looks at me like I have three heads and one of them is on fire and says “What’s that?”.
We agreed that we would run line covers on the outside even though I hated to do it on a nice new house. The day arrived to run the copper and I started laying it out. The builder took one look at the covers and grunts “you aren’t putting those on the wall, those are hideous”, which they were of course (this was before the paintable plastic covers we use today). So we start walking all around the house looking for some way to pack out a wall on this concrete block house so we could punch out four line sets from the inside.
We finally settled on a spot and I started running line sets. I asked Nathan to punch through the holes in the block so we could run the lines (Yes, I would do this all very differently today so don’t ask all the obvious questions), he walks off and I don’t think much more about it.
Fifteen minutes later I round the corner to check his progress and I see him, bent over, smacking the concrete block as hard as he could with a CRESCENT WRENCH.
It’s been about twelve years since that job and a lot has changed for the better, Nathan is still the sort of guy who is more prone to use the tool in his hand rather than buy something flashy but he’s actually an incredible tech and has harnessed much of that early lack of preparedness into practical resourcefulness.
Resourcefulness and Preparedness
Accountants are prepared, they need to know every rule and have all of their I’s dotted and T’s crossed. If you throw a complicated problem at a good accountant they are prepared to take care of it with precision and if they have any questions they will make 100% sure they get them answered 100% correctly and precisely before they proceed. It’s important that they are that way to keep us out of trouble with the IRS.
HVAC techs aren’t accountants
We can prepare as best we can and sometimes something goes wrong, the valves at the rack doesn’t hold, the aluminum coil has a leak, the product is going to spoil and the Shizzle is about to hit the Fizzle.
This is why techs need to be both prepared with the proper tools, resources, materials, confidence and know-how to jump in and IMPROVISE.
Some techs use resourcefulness and improvisation as an excuse not to be prepared and others blame less than ideal circumstances when things go arwy to explain away their failure to execute.
You don’t need to choose… go ahead and do both, be both prepared and resourceful, do things by the book when you can and absolutely improvise when you must.
Practice in our field isn’t like practicing the piano for a concert. For us it’s more about learning while doing and redoing and redoing and improving every time we do rather than repeating the same mistakes and preparation errors over and over.
In our trade there are two levels of thinking, the first is always looking for what “works” and ways to get by. An example is a residential installer who knows to connect R to Red, C to Blue, G to Green and so on. He knows that when he does that and flips the breaker…. most of the time IT WORKS! He also knows about this thing called a meter, he has one in his bag and sometimes his boss tells him to poke it around in the unit a bit to “measure” some things called voltage and amperage and write the stuff that shows on the screen down on paper.
I know I sound condescending but if you are, or have been in the field you know I’m not exaggerating at all. This installer knows what works (most of the time) and he stops there. As far as he is concerned his bag is full of all the tools he needs because at the end of the day the unit usually blows cold (or hot).
We have all been there and maybe are there at one aspect of the business or another because we are just trying to scrape through a tough day without having our ignorance revealed (it’s how I feel every time I have Bergmann on the podcast).
But listen up for a second….
You never need to stop filling your skills and knowledge tool bag. NEVER!
If you haven’t tried brazing aluminum or steel before… give it a shot
Does rack refrigeration intimidate you? Look for an opportunity to work on it a bit.
You don’t learn well from reading? Guess who else didn’t… Hellen Keller, because she was BLIND and DEAF and she ended up becoming one of America’s most well known authors.
If you are good at your job and make a good living doing this stuff, CONGRATS, but that doesn’t mean you should stop growing and start allowing your brain to skills to decline.
If you are bored start doing new things like –
- Measuring Airflow (for real, not just checking static)
- Do a duct design (the right way)
- Learn more about VRF, COw, Hydrocarbons, PVE oil etc…
- Start flowing nitrogen while brazing and using a micron gauge (seriously stop making excuses about that)
- Get better at combustion analysis
And the list goes on and on…
Keep adding tools to your skills toolbox, it will make your work more enjoyable, you will be more equipped to help others and you will increase your earning potential AND your ability to fix those really tough issues that has everyone else scratching their heads.
Those are the moments a good tech smiles… steps on his metaphorical (or literal) cigarette butt and digs deep into his bag of tricks… a bag that keeps growing every day.
Bryan Orr is a lifelong learner, proud technician and advocate for the HVAC/R Trade