The HVAC Installation Audit: Here’s Why It’s Essential
Do you remember the last time you hired a contractor to install a new heating and air conditioning system? If it was a typical installation, some technicians came to your house. Then they installed some equipment and left. "Call us if you have any problems," they shouted on their way out. And you never heard from them again.
That's the norm in our industry. We think there's room for improvement.
Practically nobody performs a quality control audit for new HVAC installations, but they should.
Quality control is just as important for HVAC as it is in other industries. After all, would a Ford facility send a batch of new vehicles to a dealer without ensuring the assembly met specifications? Of course not. The results could be catastrophic - the cars might break down in traffic and cause a crash.
Or to cite a more 21st century example, would Bank of America add a new online banking app to the App Store if its quality assurance team hadn't tested the app for security vulnerabilities? Definitely not. Hackers might break in and steal everyone's bank account information.
So why is it considered ok for an HVAC contractor to skip out after installing new equipment? Remember, this is equipment that could, if installed improperly:
- Underperform for many years, resulting in high energy bills and general discomfort
- Increase or decrease humidity beyond your comfort thresholds, even when dehumidification controls are supposedly installed.
- Exhaust carbon monoxide into your living space
- Leak hazardous chemicals (think refrigerant) onto your property
And so on. The bottom line is that it's not ok for a contractor to install a system and call it a day. You deserve a quality control audit after any new HVAC installation. No bones about it.
And as we're about to explore, the quality control audit should occur a little while after the installation - not the same day the technicians wrap things up.
HVAC installation audits result in consistently excellent work
Imagine you're an HVAC technician completing an installation. You've just spent the entire day inside a blisteringly hot attic or hunched over inside a dark crawlspace. You know you've performed a great installation, but you're zonked. If you were asked to perform a comprehensive audit of your work, you might miss something.
That's one reason we wait awhile before performing a quality control audit: post-labor fatigue. It isn't the only reason, though:
- Audits encourage quality work. Even if you hire the best technicians in the world, they will always perform better when they know a supervisor is going to visit the home and audit their work.
- Audits create a culture of excellence. As new technicians come into the company, their work needs to be scrutinized. By seeing what they're great at - and where they could develop their skills - you can set a baseline for consistent improvement. The result is a team of technicians who constantly push themselves to perform excellent HVAC installations.
For these reasons, we always send an auditor who did not work on the installation to go over the techs' work and suggest (or perform) any needed modifications.
By the way, that's the other reason audits are needed. When you wait a day or a few days after the installation, you do notice things that need to be tweaked to ensure optimal performance.
Here's a rundown of what can happen during an HVAC installation audit
Since every installation is different, a lot of things can happen during a quality control audit.
For starters, new HVAC systems are often heating or cooling homes that haven't been conditioned in for several days. In other words, the equipment is tasked with a big heating or cooling load right away. That being the case, it's difficult to assess performance until things get "back to normal" and we see how the system performs under typical conditions.
You also might have questions for us after you've used the system for awhile. For example, maybe you're confused about some of the settings on your new smart thermostat. There's a modest learning curve with some units, so it's a common issue. An auditor can show you how to use every control - confidently.
Other things we address during quality control audits include:
- Testing and balancing: We check return grille and supply register airflow to make sure it aligns with what's needed for each room. During an audit, we often make adjustments to ensure airflow is optimal.
- Adjusting the blower fan speed for proper airflow: Sometimes, slight adjustments to the blower fan speed can help you achieve proper airflow. We check on this during the audit and tweak the speed as needed.
- Sealing ducts if the crew missed a spot here and there: When our techs install new ductwork - and they often do during HVAC equipment installations - they always seal your ducts with mastic or mastic tape. An auditor checks all of the duct sealing work and improves the seals if necessary.
- Adjusting the refrigerant charge: Improper refrigerant charge is a common problem for HVAC installations that aren't subject to a quality audit. That's because it's hard to assess whether the charge is accurate until the system has properly conditioned the home and the humidity levels are where they should be. During an audit, we check the refrigerant charge and make adjustments when we need to.
- Checking for noise and ensuring the unit is quiet: More often than not, your new system will be quieter (or as quiet) as the one you're replacing. If it's operating more loudly than it should, we'll figure out why and address the problem.
- Verifying that we did everything we said we'd do: Every installation is different and every homeowner has different preferences or requirements. That being the case, it's imperative that we verify whether our techs have executed on everything you purchased. The audit is a great opportunity for us to dot every "i" and cross every "t."
Quality control audits aren't industry standard yet, but we're doing our part.
We'd love to tell you that we're revolutionizing the industry and that most HVAC contractors are coming around to the idea of audits. Unfortunately, they aren't. We're kind of an outlier.
Quality control audits simply aren't "industry normal" yet.
Here's one way to look at things: If your contractor skips steps prior to the actual installation - for example, maybe they don't perform a load calculation, analyze your ductwork, or test static pressure - it's time to get nervous. Even if they managed to pull off a seemingly decent installation, they're probably not going to audit the job.
On the other hand, a contractor who does go through these steps and sends highly trained, experienced technicians to perform the installation (employees, mind you, not subcontractors), you'll probably be extremely happy with the performance of your new system. Do you still need an audit? Definitely. Things can go wrong. Unintended hiccups can inhibit the system from working the way it should.
In an ideal world, quality control audits would be a normal part of the process. We're not there yet, but maybe we will be one day.