As one of the most client-facing careers in the HVAC contracting trades, HVAC techs get an earful of customer service calls swearing that their HVAC systems are inexplicably “broken.” But last year, HVAC contractors were hearing something new. Calls started coming in from potential customers asking how they could make their HVAC systems better.

Is there a better sales lead than that?

Among questions on duct cleaning, UV light sanitation, MERV filter ratings and indoor air quality — the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed everyday joes into your ideal customers: the kind who want to know more.

Now that a new POTUS is taking over this month that is clearly more … open to coronavirus prevention, HVAC contractors should be asking themselves how they can help potential customers know more and do more with their HVAC systems.

If a planned near $2 million HVAC system upgrade at the White House is any indication, you will have a lot to discuss with your company’s leadership team.

As reported earlier this winter by TMZ, (yes, that TMZ), a number of guest townhomes owned by the White House are scheduled to receive an HVAC system upgrade to better meet CDC guidelines on coronavirus prevention. Guidelines such as rearranging spaces to give less people more space and increasing the circulation of outside air “as much as possible.”

The HVAC system upgrades at the properties reportedly won’t be fully completed until 2022. Although there is no word yet on the type of HVAC system that will be used (we are looking into it) to outfit these upgrades, HVAC contractors would be wise to use this news to further make the case for their essential services in the new year.

No matter 2020’s pitfalls, it’s still good to be in the HVAC contracting business. With the right plan in place, this year promises to be great. — Emell Derra Adolphus, Editor-in-Chief, SNIPS Magazine.




Training Days

At Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 104 in California, behind every great sheet metal apprentice are great instructors.

The more than 9,000 sheet metal workers represented by Sheet Metal Workers’ Local Union 104 span 49 California counties, from Ventura County to the Oregon border, including the region of Silicon Valley.

As COVID-19 kept everyone away from Local 104’s union hall in San Jose, California, an early adoption of virtual learning and zoom-based classes kept their sheet metal apprentices learning through lockdown.

“We are fortunate to have a wealth of very talented, very dedicated people in our Local. Our administrators are very on top of keeping up with technology, advancements, and the trends of the industry,” says training coordinator Brad De Young.

A roster of part-time and full-time instructors manage a robust five-year sheet metal apprenticeship program that covers sheet metal fabrication, ductwork installation, detailing, testing and balancing of sheet metal products and HVAC service. Guidance from the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union sets standards for a core curriculum. Dedicated instructors enrich the coursework.

“The most important role involved with (this) position is to help guide the apprentices in whatever manner possible,” says Young, “for them to have a successful apprenticeship and push themselves to achieve beyond what their original goal was.”

Today’s apprentices are tomorrow’s company owners, department heads and forepersons. “With all due respect to the other trades,” says Young, “I feel very strongly that a well-trained union sheet metal worker is by far the best skilled tradesman around. Our trade has so much variety you will never run out of new things to learn and pursue.”

Brandon Manley, a recently graduated sheet metal apprentice, had no doubt that a  career in sheet metal work was the right path for him. His focus is on architectural sheet metal.

“My uncle retired from sheet metal, and I have two cousins who are journeyman in Local 104,” he says. “I never thought about joining any other trade. But now that I know, I’m still glad with the choice that I went with.”                  

Apprentice Greg Castaneda married into the trades. “Nobody in my immediate family is in a skilled trade, but I married into a family that had multiple members that are currently working in Local 104,” he says. “Switching careers at any point can be nerve racking, and there is always the fear of the unknown. I came into the sheet metal union, knowing very little about what the trade actually entailed. The diversity and many options that you can take within the trade is probably the thing that has surprised me the most. I also learned that I was able to catch up with the competition pretty quickly and was able to thrive and take on more responsibility within my first few years.”

According to training coordinator Young, the most popular career path at Local 104 based on enrollment numbers is the building trades sheet metal program. However, apprentices have CAD detailing courses, certifications in welding, TAB (testing, adjusting and balancing) and HVAC service all available through Local 104.

“I have always believed what separates us is the training. From the very top of our union all the way throughout, you see that training a highly skilled workforce is of the utmost importance,” says Young. “Our instructors, both full-time and part-time, give back and train the next generation.”

Back when instructor Chris Coatsworth was a Local 104 apprenticeship, what he remembers most is the impact his instructors had on his ability to learn and career trajectory.

“I had some really smart teachers, and you kind of take things you learn from different people over the years and you incorporate what you like and try to make that part of your own,” says Coatsworth, who teaches first through fourth year classes. “I really like, as far as the classroom, digging into design engineering concepts. I want to know why things work, and why things are the way they are. Those are kind of the gaps that you don’t get all the time out in the field. So, that’s what I see as a big part of what we bring to our apprentices. We fill in those gaps that they don’t get out in the field.”

Home schooling gave recently graduated apprentice Charley Hatfield the opportunity to take college courses while finishing high school. The experience gave him just enough to know that college was not for him.

“Not knowing what field I really wanted to study right out of high school, I chose to get involved with building trades as I did not see a realistic path that would lead me to making a wage comparable or better than what the building trades made,” says Hatfield, whose family ties to the building trades are strong. He is now a third generation sheet metal worker, 19th in the family, with parents, an uncle and an aunt who are all sheet metal workers.

“My grandfather even owned his own shop before he retired,” says Hatfield with pride. “Even though I am now complete with my apprenticeship, I know there is still so much to learn. I chose sheet metal because of the vast variety of applications and scopes of work we have.”

He adds, “And let’s face it, being able to say that all of our material is made by hand, in our shop, rather than some machine somewhere in the country or overseas is pretty neat. The amount of collective knowledge that goes into fabricating and installing correct (HVAC) systems is astonishing.”




Keeping TABBs

Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 104 instructor Bendi Seoud leads a zoom learning session.

The Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau is the only testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) certifying agency accredited by American National Standards Institute(ANSI).

The University of California, Davis Western Cooling Efficiency Center released a study, “Testing, Adjusting and Balancing HVAC Systems: An Overview of Certification Agencies,” favorably positioning the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB) as a certifying agency for testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB).

TABB, which was compared to two of the other main certifying agencies — Associated Air Balance Council (AABC) and National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB) — was determined to be the only certifying agency accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 17024, an internationally recognized standard for personnel certification bodies.

The study, written by Fredrick Meyers and Theresa Pistochini, states: “Competence in the subject matter is demonstrated through the ANSI-accredited certification process.”

The study also shares, in regards to training workers to take certification exams, TABB has more than 150 training centers, whereas AABC has zero and NEBB has one nationwide. TABB uses its affiliate Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC) facilities as written exam locations, while AABC has access to third-party testing sites and NEBB offers 12 hands-on outsource testing sites.   

“TABB is unique in that the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) is a parent organization,” says John Hamilton, COO of TABB. “SMACNA is a standards-writing organization and a leader in the HVAC industry. The relationship provides resources for continual upgrades for training and certification exams, subject matter experts, and access to technical publications. The knowledge and technical expertise we obtain from the SMACNA staff has proven to be invaluable for our technicians, supervisors, contractors and customers.”       

Conducting proper TAB as part of the commissioning process benefits the building owner and occupants by ensuring standards meet what is specified in the building design.

Beyond comfort, a balanced HVAC system will use less energy and provide better indoor air quality and enhanced ventilation rates, particularly important in helping to keep occupants healthy and productive in today’s COVID-19 environment.

According to the study, TAB certifications are expected to play an even more crucial role in HVAC systems as building control systems become more complex and energy-efficiency becomes standard.

The study recommends, “Building managers can stay ahead of the curve by making sure their TAB contractors are well qualified.”




Webinar Recap

TABB instructor Bob Dak , center, oversees apprentices working with a flow hood at Sheet Metal Workers 105 in Los Angeles.

Our recent webinar, “How These Construction Managers Use Labor Tracking to Save Money, Build Success” is now on demand at Featuring ICT tracker founder David Francis and New Horizons Foundation chair, Guy Gast, the webinar tackles the benefits of tracking labor productivity in all three areas of HVAC/sheet metal contracting, detailing, fabrication and field installation.

David, you got your start on the ground, so to speak, getting your hands dirty as a contractor. What was productivity tracking then and how do you think it has changed?

When I was in the field it was a guesstimate/gut feeling or we marked up the shop drawings and reviewed them with a PE or PM to track installation, it was very time consuming and not too accurate.

The big change now is margins are tighter with so many added requirements for scheduling, daily reports information and safety that impact how a job is done. Plus schedules are also compacted so contractors have more risk.

Lean techniques for planning and look ahead schedules have become a big part of keeping a job on track on the front end, but the art of installation status and productivity tracking is still in the stone ages. Some contractors do not have a formal tracking process and if they do, it is still a guess or done with paper drawings, a rough inaccurate takeoff that is manually fed into a static spreadsheet. This unreliable data causes manpower and material issues that leads to profit loss as margins slip?

Watch the full webinar now at   




Carrot Top

At the University of Florida in Gainesville, Petersen’s Tite-Loc Plus in Terra Cotta brightens the metal roof of a renovated softball stadium.

Metal roofing contractor Thorne Metal Systems of Jacksonville, Florida, handled the installation of an orange-red metal roof at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The signature color crowned atop the renovated Katie Seashole Pressly Softball Stadium at the campus pays homage to the university’s early days.

“The university is known for its collegiate gothic architecture and high-pitch, orange-red gable roofs,” says Joe Walker, AIA, president of Walker Architects, the local firm that designed the stadium. “This project ran with the roof as the character-defining element of the exterior, and the final design is a direct nod to the collegiate gothic style.”

The metal roof’s steep pitch now serves as a welcoming to the ballpark’s arena, but installation did not come without its challenges, according to the company’s office manager Cody Thorne. “It was a particularly tight site. We could only work around the perimeter because they were working on the field,” he says, adding that the roof’s steep pitch also called for some extra attention. “It was 10:12, so a little more caution and safety were involved.”

In addition to tying the stadium to the surrounding campus, this two-story structure elevated on brick columns makes a statement all on its own for fans – as well as Gator opponents.

“From a fan’s perspective, the geometry of the roof signals the entryway and frames the impressive — and, for a visiting team, intimidating — first glimpse of the field,” Walker says. “For a player, when you look at the elevation of the facility from the field, the central gable is a centerpiece positioned directly over home plate.”

The architect specified 10,300 square feet of Petersen’s Tite-Loc Plus in a Terra Cotta finish for the project. The choice of this particular profile was aided by advice from the company’s technical staff. “It was Petersen that suggested we use the Tite-Loc Plus product with striations, knowing it would be a better product for our project with respect to minimizing oil canning and damage from potential impacts.”

Walker says metal roof panels were an obvious choice to create a visual link to the classic clay tiles that top many of the university’s older structures. “It was the product with the best look for the project price point and, aesthetically, it fit in well in this area of campus,” he says. “Plus, it has the benefit of being low maintenance and importantly, it does a great job of keeping water out.”

While officially a “renovation,” because the original 1996 field wasn’t altered, the upgraded facility has been largely rebuilt to include a new locker room, lounge training room and press box. According to Walker, the $15 million project is a tribute to the work head coach Tim Walton has done building the university’s team into a formidable competitor.   

Photos by Matt