Wednesday, February 5, 2014

First to Try Guy

Let me relay an experience I had a number of years ago and then a repeat of that experience 15 or so years later. I guess I didn’t learn from the old adage, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”
The New Rooftop Units
I was a sales engineer with a large HVAC equipment manufacturer right out of college. I was teamed up with a great mentor and partner. We had submitted bids to contractors who were bidding on a low rise office complex which would require multiple 20-30 ton rooftop units. Our old units were not very competitive since the curbs, plenums, dampers, and other accessories needed to be assembled and installed on the basic unit. Our competitors had fully assembled units which saved the contractor labor, making the installed price less than with our equipment. Well the powers to be at corporate saw the light. They redesigned our units so they would be fully assembled at the factory. We also had some features available in the units that engineers, owners and installing contractors would find of value. The installing contractor who got the job liked our bid and we were selected to provide the equipment with our redesigned units.
This was the largest order the factory had to date on these new units, so one of the engineers flew in to see the installation and be there for startup. As we were driving him from the airport to the jobsite, we passed another low rise office complex going up. Just the structural steel was in place but the roof curbs were set in place for the roofers to install the roofing material. The engineer commented,” Is that the way they support the roof curb and unit?” We discussed this for several minutes when my partner and I looked at each other in sheer astonishment. The engineer thought much more structural steel was used to support the rooftop unit. We knew we were in trouble! The type of fans used in these units caused a lot of vibration when installed with code approved structural steel which was much less than the engineer had thought would be used. We had a problem job! We did eventually solve the problem but the lesson was IT IS NOT ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA TO BE THE FIRST TO TRY GUY.
The New Furnaces
Leaking Chimney
I moved on after several years in that position to take over a family plumbing business. Years later, after adding HVAC to my plumbing business, our major equipment supplier held their annual dealer meeting and introduced the furnace of the future. It eliminated the flue damper, had a new heat exchanger, had a new circuit board to control the unit and could vent into a masonry chimney just as the less efficient units did. It increased the efficiency from the mid-sixty percent efficient to eighty percent efficient. Wow! We immediately began to market and sell the units. Obviously most every customer wanted a more efficient furnace in their home and we were ready to provide it. After installing dozens of these units, we started getting calls about water on the basement floors below the chimney cleanout. What was going on? We asked the factory engineering staff and they said it was condensate forming in the chimney. They asked if our chimneys had clay tile liners inside of the brick. Well of course they did since this had been code for many decades. What they didn’t know that most clay lined chimneys do not have a consistent air gap between the clay tile liner and the exterior brick so the chimneys were too cold to carry the moisture out of the chimney before condensing. What can be done? No one seemed to have an answer. By trial and error we found that installing an aluminum liner the problem went away.  After several years the flue piping began to rot out and had to be replaced with B vent. The aluminum liners rotted out and had to be changed. Several generations of circuit boards had to be replaced. Problem after problem gave us the privilege of satisfying many unhappy customers at our expense for issues that was not our fault. I recall one contractor who did not jump on board with the new and improved units for two plus years. He avoided many of the headaches we endured .The lesson was IT IS NOT ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA TO BE THE FIRST TO TRY GUY.

Although it can be exciting to have newest products, the newest truck designs, the newest software, it can be costly and create unhappy customers, employees, or owners. Tread cautiously when and if you decide to be the first to try guy!

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Dan has been in the service industry for nearly 50 years. He has operated a large plumbing, heating and air conditioning service company and for the past 12 years has helped small companies in the service business to grow and prosper. Contact him at

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