Diagnostic difficulty

The old adage “the customer is always right” applies just as much in the plumbing and HVAC/R world as it does in any other business – if not more-so.

In the November/December issue of Plumbing & HVAC refrigeration columnist Greg Scrivener talks about common mistakes that refrigeration service techs make. It’s good reading – whether you’re a refrigeration tech or not.

One of the points he makes is that when a customer calls to say there’s a problem, 99 percent of the time there really is a problem. The fact that the technician can’t find a problem doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Customers don’t call a contractor easily – the first thought is “this thing isn’t working right” and the second thought is always “how much is this going to cost me?” At no point do they expect a technician to come over and tell them there’s nothing wrong.

But diagnosing today’s HVAC/R systems isn’t easy. To do the necessary tests to find a difficult problem requires experience, thought and the one thing that most technicians don’t have – time. They are often under extreme pressure to fix the problem quickly and move on to the next call.

As a result, they often address the symptoms without finding the real problem. It’s like replacing a fuse in your car without knowing what caused it to fail, or replacing a pressure switch in a furnace without finding out what caused the fault code. “It’s not the switch,” as heating columnists Bob Bettles and Brian Guttormson have pointed out on a number of occasions.

Add to that the sophisticated electronics on many of today’s heating appliances, and diagnostics are not easy – or quick in many cases. During a joint manufacturer, wholesaler and contractor meeting at the annual meeting of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) last August in Windsor, one contractor asked the manufacturers why there isn’t a tool similar to the one automotive mechanics use – a fault code reader – that plugs into the electrical system of any car and diagnoses faults.

It’s a good question. The problem, reported one engineer, is that there is no common control protocol among different brands of HVAC/R equipment as there is among auto manufacturers. That is one thing the industry should address.

But the biggest thing that contractors need to – and most do – understand is that a good diagnosis takes time. Few things are simple or straightforward these days. Allowing the technicians an extra hour or two on the job is a lot less expensive than a call-back and the resulting damage to the contractor’s reputation. Most contractors know that, but old habits die hard and, well, time is always in short supply.

AHR BB 2015/11/17-12/31
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Construct Canada
DEC. 2-4, 2015

Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building, Toronto. Visit www.constructcanada.com or call (416) 512-0203. 

Solar Canada 2015 Conference and Exposition
DEC. 7-8, 2015

Metro Toronto Convention Centre, North Building, Toronto. Visit www.solarcanadaconference.ca or call 1-647-560-7000. 

Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS)
JAN. 19-21, 2015

Las Vegas Convention Centre, North and South Halls, Las Vegas. Visit www.KBIS.com or call 1-800-843-6522. 

  • Maximizing efficiency in hydronic systems
  • Regular maintenance keeps rooftop units humming
  • A chemical-free approach to hydronic water treatment
  • Bringing clarity to the rules on refrigerant piping
October 2015
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