Know the Visual Clues of Discomfort

July 18th, 2017 | Posted by David Richardson in David Richardson | Home | Technical Blogs
David Richardson blogs on HVAC contractors solving customer discomfort

David Richardson is an NCI Curriculum Developer & Instructor

Many homeowners across the U.S. live in uncomfortable conditions. Sadly, most are convinced it’s normal. As an HVAC contractor, there are some common steps you can take to deal with their discomfort, and make conditions much more bearable. If you know what to look for, you can easily see the signs. Let’s look at the most common visual clues of discomfort and how you can help your customers.

Cooling Season Discomfort Clues

In the cooling season, it’s common to hear complaints from customers who say that part of their home is too hot to use. These “parts” range from bedrooms to entire second floors. To offset the heat in these areas, you’ll often find the following clues:

  • Portable room fans
  • Register scoops
  • Window air conditioning units
  • Window shades.

So, how frequently do you see these items in homes? Customers use them to cool down uncomfortable areas and make them a little more tolerable. They often use freestanding fans and register scoops to direct airflow. Furthermore, consumers use window units and shades in an attempt to counteract excessive heat gain.

Heating Season Discomfort Clues

There are also clues that appear during the heating season. While they aren’t as numerous as cooling clues, they still show that uncomfortable conditions exist. When the seasons change, and consumers fire up their heating systems, look for the following:

  • Portable electric heaters
  • Blankets and comforters
  • Heavy clothes worn inside.

Solve Discomfort by Measuring HVAC System Static PressurePeople use electric heaters to knock the chill off specific areas. They wear blankets and heavy clothes to keep from freezing while watching television. Are these items truly a solution? Unfortunately, they indicate your customers need help.

Discover the Source of Customer Discomfort

These items are attempts to solve a much larger issue: the failure to properly condition a problem area. You’ll need to help your customers understand why they have the problems they do – this is why system testing is so powerful.

In other words, testing makes the problems visible to your customers and provides essential clues to diagnose the system based on your results. To discover these issues, you’ll need to look at a system differently than before. You need to understand that adding refrigerant charge or changing blower speed might not really solve the problem.

Static pressure and system temperatures are two of the most effective and simple tests you can use to show the source of customer discomfort. Specifically, we use static pressure measurements to discover restricted ducts and low airflow conditions. We then measure system temperatures to expose excessive temperature loss across a duct system. After taking and recording these measurements, ask your customers questions related to their problems.

Explain What Your Find

So step one is to test and measure the existing system. Then step two is to ask pointed questions about their discomfort issues and find out what they think they want in terms of solutions to those problems. Avoid yes and no questions. Be sure you ask these questions after testing. This establishes credibility and doesn’t look like you’re trying to sell them something.

Static pressure and system temperatures are two of the most effective and simple tests you can use to show the source of customer discomfort.

This is the method family doctors use. They obtain blood pressure, temperature, and body weight measurements before ever discussing symptoms or looking for clues to an illness. To put it another way, they test first. Now imagine how you would feel if your doctor recommended open heart surgery based on your physical appearance and the answers to a few questions. You would question their motives. Subsequently your customers will likely have the same response if you try to diagnose their comfort systems without test results.

Solve the Issues

So to solve discomfort issues you must understand which test to perform and how to interpret the readings. Diagnostics may need to go much deeper and will dictate the appropriate repairs.

Find clues to consumer discomfort in their homes

To solve discomfort issues requires understanding which test to perform and how to interpret the readings. It also requires you to asked customers pointed questions about their comfort problem spots in the home. These should not be yes-and-no types of questions.

In a recent private training I conducted, the home we tested had an uncomfortable bonus room that doubled as the wife’s office. The family rarely used the room because it was so hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The first diagnosis by many contractors was the room needed an additional heat pump system.

Indeed, after some testing and a visual inspection, we discovered the bonus room was only getting half of the airflow it needed. We also discovered excessive amounts of heat coming into the room due to insulation defects.

A Different Approach

With a little bit of duct renovation and insulation repair, the temperature in the room started to drop. The homeowners couldn’t believe the difference when we were finished. My students were surprised we corrected the issue without installing additional equipment. They had a new way of looking at an HVAC system.

It’s important to remember that new equipment and zoning might make issues worse. To truly solve these problems, you may have to go beyond the HVAC system. This means you’ll need to know where to draw the line and get other professions involved. Keep your solutions focused on what you do best and offer your customers new answers to age-old problems.

David Richardson serves the HVAC industry as a curriculum developer and trainer at National Comfort Institute, Inc. (NCI). NCI specializes in training focused on improving, measuring, and verifying HVAC and Building Performance.

 If you’re an HVAC contractor or technician interested in diagnosing and solving comfort problems, contact David at or call him at 800-633-7058. NCI’s website is full of free technical articles and downloads to help you improve your professionalism and strengthen your company.

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