When their HVAC systems malfunction, some customers can’t afford a new unit, especially if the recession is still hitting their pocketbooks.  Brothers Air, Heat & Plumbing in Rock Hill, S.C., decided to take the common debate of whether to seal or replace and profit from it.

The contractors made a decision to start marketing and using HVAC sealants. While many contractors are still hesitant to venture into refrigerant sealants, which appeared on the HVAC scene in 2003, Brothers trained all 28 of its service technicians not only in proper application techniques, but also how to market sealants to customers with leaking HVAC equipment.

“Many of our customers are really suffering financially from the recession, so offering this option is really appreciated,” said service manager Steve Helms.

Training

The 30-year-old company spends tens of thousands of dollars training its workers annually. The company is involved in North American Technician Excellence certification, and is part of contractor organization Nexstar, and the National Comfort Institute. Helms jumped at the opportunity when Toronto-based Cliplight Manufacturing, which manufacturers HVAC refrigeration vacuum-packed sealant technology, offered an onsite training workshop at the company’s South Carolina headquarters.

The training was conducted by Paul Appler, Cliplight’s director of research and the inventor of its Super Seal line of sealants.

“When you get training from the person that developed the product, that’s about the highest level you could possibly get, plus several of our technicians have contacted him since and have gotten immediate answers,” Helms said.

Brothers officials said the training was also invaluable. Although Brothers had tried Cliplight’s Super Seal HVACR exclusively, several earlier applications hadn’t been successful.

Helms said he now believes this may have been because of failures to rid the systems of moisture or decisions to seal leak holes that were larger than the manufacturer’s suggested size of 300 microns — the diameter of a human hair.

Consequently, Brothers has established the policy that sealants are only to be used in a system that has leaked only 10 percent or so of its charge over a four-week period. Helms contends that larger losses indicate a potential for leaks too large for sealing. Since eliminating system moisture is critical to sealant success, Brothers is using Cliplight’s Ultra Pack, which combines Super Seal HVACR and the Dry R moisture remover in one package.

Introduced in 2008, Dry R chemically changes moisture to a non-oily liquid that flows freely throughout the system without attaching to system contaminants, Cliplight officials say.

Eliminating water not only prepares the system for sealing, but it also prevents further acid formation, resultant corrosion and other problems associated with moisture, they add.

Since establishing criteria for which systems qualify for sealants, training its service techs, and using a moisture eliminator if applicable, Brothers now has more than 500 applications of the product working smoothly since January 2009.

Training in all aspects of HVAC is so important to Brothers that they employ a full-time technical trainer, Bobby Nasekos, who conducts individual field training with technicians as well as for the entire service department in group training sessions on a wide variety of HVAC subjects.

Marketing

Presenting sealants properly to customers is almost as important as following the necessary steps to applying them, according to Helms. All technicians are trained for on-site sales presentations and outfitted with their flat-rate price books on all HVAC services to explain different options for servicing or repairing equipment.

On systems slightly low on refrigerant, technicians typically top it off, then perform a leak search with an electronic leak detector from TIF Instruments or Yellow Jacket, a service which is built into the price.

The repair or replacement options are presented to the customer. When the leak is located, customers can choose to have it repaired conventionally or sealed. Customers with leaks that can’t be found quickly are offered the options of sealing or component replacement. Top-offs carry no warranty and the customer is well informed that it will likely leak out again. Likewise there is no warranty on sealing, but Brothers typically applies the sealant-application price of $250 toward a new coil if the sealant doesn’t solve the problem within a 90-day period. With a price of $1,500 to $2,500 for a new coil replacement, nearly 80 percent of customers choose the sealant, Helms said.

Since Brothers advertises its claim of having parts for 78 percent of service projects on its large, heavily stocked service trucks — which enable most repairs to be completed in one trip — a can of sealant helps strengthen the claim since coils are too large and not feasible to stock and carry with so many applications out there.

Each truck also uses a laptop with printer for invoicing and billing. Each vehicle is also equipped with a credit card swipe receiver for credit payments. When parts are used on a job, Brothers electronic invoicing software notifies the warehouse to replace the parts on each truck the next day.

“We always like to stay ahead of technology, so when a new product comes along that can benefit our customers, we always investigate it and if it’s a viable solution, we fully commit by stocking it, promoting it, and training our techs on it,” said Helms.