Month: March 2019

Do you know how a solenoid valve works?

 

Really?

 

On the surface, I think we all understand how a solenoid valve works.  The Coil energizes creating an electromagnet.   That temporary magnetism lifts an iron plunger within the valve itself allowing refrigerant to flow.

 

But…  is it really that simple?

 

Turns out, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you’d expect.

 

The simplest type of solenoid valves are direct acting solenoid valves.   These are exactly what is described above.   The iron plunger directly controls the flow of refrigerant through the valve. Every single solenoid valve you see incorporates a direct acting valve, but there is more than what meets the eye.

Courtesy of Sporlan

Direct acting solenoid valves have an inherent limitation.   If the force created by the fluid flowing through the valve that is acting on the iron plunger is enough to lift that plunger, then it isn’t going to close regardless of what the electromagnetic coil tries to tell it to do.   What this means is that direct acting solenoid valves are limited in size, and that size is pretty small.

 

 

So, how can we control the fluid flow in larger lines with solenoid valves?

 

We start to use the pressure within the system to actually force the valve closed.

 

Say what???

 

These are called pilot operated or pilot actuated valves   The direct acting solenoid doesn’t try to control the entire flow, it only acts to control a small portion of the fluid which acts on a diaphragm or other device to open and close the valve.

Courtesy of Sporlan

 

Let’s see if we can start to understand how these valves work in practice.

 

First, a few basics.

 

  1. Solenoids, like most valves, are directional. If you install it backwards, it isn’t going to work correctly.    This is why.
  2. Solenoids must be sized properly. You can’t just go buy a ½” solenoid valve and expect it to work because your line is ½”.   This is to ensure a small pressure drop across the valve which is what actually makes the valve work.

 

Ok.   Refrigerant flowing through an energized solenoid.   Now, the coil de-energizes causing the iron plunger to drop and seal a tiny port.  What this does it stop a small amount of flow from inlet to outlet, preventing that small flow from leaving the valve body.    That small port being blocked causes pressure to build on top of the diaphragm or valve seat disc, forcing it down to seal the valve.    The small iron plunger and spring don’t have the force required to force the valve closed but, by utilizing system pressure, we have a much larger amount of force available.

 

In truth, the large majority of solenoid valves a technician sees are pilot operated valves.

 

— Jeremy Smith CM

 

 

 

I heard a great presentation by Ron Auvil on VAV systems and it got me thinking…

Can you size a commercial system / perform a block load by the number of occupants?

Yes! 

No, just kidding that’s crazy talk. There is way more too it than that.

However, in a commercial environment, while the perimeter of the building is affected by heat loss/heat gain to the outdoors, the internal zones are “cooling only” zones with the primary load usually being PEOPLE.

This is where the 500 btus per hour comes in. On average a sedentary worker in a building will add 500 btus per hour to ALL areas of the building whether it is hot or cold outside. This creates an issue in the winter when the perimeter of a building requires heating and the center of the building requires cooling.

Now, keep in mind, a sleeping person generates heat more in the neighborhood of 260 btu/ hr so if it’s a REALLY boring job where workers dose off at their computers it may be less.

Add in the internal electrical loads from lights, computers and other equipment and you start to realize that EXTERNAL loads are only part of the equation, especially in large commercial buildings with many occupants. In fact, in a busy commercial space the internal loads generally far outweigh the heat entering from the outside (external load).

This is where the concept of thermal diversity comes in. On a cold day there may be a need for heat at the perimeter of the building to offset heat losses to the outside while still requiring cooling in the center of the building to offset the internal loads.

In a good commercial design you must have some method of dealing with the thermal diversity between internal and perimeter zones along with maintaining appropriate ventilation / outdoor air.

Food for thought.

— Bryan

Knowing how to properly combine capacitors in series and parallel is a great, practical field skill to employ when you need to get a customer up and running and you don’t have the exact size.

Increasing in size is easy. Just connect in parallel and add the two sizes together. For example, if you needed a 70MFD capacitor you could easily connect a 50 and 20 in parallel will add up to 70MFD. Connecting in parallel is as easy as making two jumper wires with connectors and jumping one side of each capacitor to the other and then connecting one side like usual.

Series is a little more tricky, it goes like this

Total Capacitance is 1 ÷ (1÷C + 1÷C) = Total MFD When Wired in Series

The result is that the total capacitance will always be less than the smallest capacitor. Let’s imagine a real-world scenario where you need a 3MFD capacitor and all you have is 5 & 7.5 MFD on your van.

The math would be

1 ÷ (1÷5 + 1÷7.5) = Total MFD

_

1 ÷ (0.2 +.13) = Total MFD

_

1 ÷ (0.33) = Total MFD

_

3.03 = Total MFD

Definitely not something you will run into every day but a nice knowledge tool to have in the noggin toolbox

— Bryan

 

Duct and system design are two of the BIGGEST needs among technicians, salespeople and contractors. Matt Milton has generously agreed to teach a small online mastermind class on design, load calculation, the math of the trade and much more.

While this training may be at “no charge” it certainly isn’t FREE. It will require a lot of time and effort on your part to invest in yourself.

Here is the course summary

HVAC School – Residential Load Calculation

Residential Load Calculation is a 12 week online course to teach you the fundamentals of heating and cooling load calculations using ACCA Manual J (Abridged Edition).**WE WILL NOT COVER WRIGHTSOFT, COOLCALC OR SIMILAR IN THIS COURSE**

Topics covered include:
Print reading
Basic Construction Math
Construction Methods
Load Calculation

**Limited to the first 25 qualified responses received**

Tentative Schedule:
4/16/2019 -7/9/2019 (We will skip 4/23);
Online class from 7-11 PM EST each week (Most weeks will be 2-3 hrs max)
You should expect to spend 2-3 hours a week (average) on the homework project as well.

Week 1 – Introduction; Sections N & 1
Week 2 – Sections 2 & 3; Construction Math, Plan Reading
Week 3 – Section 4 – Heating; Worksheets A, B, D & J1
Week 4 – Section 4 – Heating; Worksheet E & J1
Week 5 – Section 4 – Heating; Worksheet G & J1
Week 6 – Test 1 – Heating Load Only & Full Heating Load Calc for Upper Floor Plan
Week 7 – Section 5 – Worksheet B, Table 3E-1 & J1
Week 8 – Section 5 – Worksheet D & J1
Week 9 – Section 5 – Worksheet E, G & J1
Week 10 – Section 5 – Internal Loads, Latent Loads & J1
Week 11 – Class Review & Full Cooling Load Calc for Upper Floor Plan
Week 12 – Test 2 – Heating and Cooling Load Calc.

Please see the details and sign up below.

NOTE: IF THE FORM DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY USE THIS LINK INSTEAD

I have spent most of my career being afraid of hard start kits, I heard too many horror stories of start caps exploding and sales technicians telling every customer they need one.

It dawned on me recently that it may be time for me to take a more mature look at start capacitors, potential relays, and hard start kits and find some best practices.

First, be aware that not everything commonly called a “hard start” is the same thing. The bottom of the barrel is called a PTCR which is essentially just a resistor that starts off at a low resistance when cool and changes to higher resistance when it gets hot. It creates a direct path from L2 (run side) through the start winding and as soon as it heats up, the higher resistance essentially removes it from the circuit. This is NOT the same technology as a start capacitor in any way and in my experience, they don’t work well and are prone to failure, at least in air conditioning systems.

There are also electronic and timer type “start kits” that utilize a capacitor but remove it from the circuit using a timer.

However, the most traditional and time tested method of start assisting a compressor in HVAC in the good old start capacitor and the potential relay.

Let’s start with how they work.

Photo Courtesy of Rectorseal

When a compressor first starts up, it requires a lot of torque to get from 0% up to 75% of running speed, especially when it has to start under pressure load (unequalized pressures). A start capacitor is designed to create the optimal phase shift for that first 75% of synchronous speed. A run capacitor is sized to create an optimal phase shift for a compressor that is running at full speed and at full design load because the run capacitor never comes out of the circuit.

Photo Courtesy of Rectorseal

While a run capacitor has heat dissipation capability for constant duty a start capacitor MUST be taken out of the circuit VERY quickly to avoid melting down as well as causing compressor damage.

The start capacitor is REMOVED from the circuit by a relay called the potential relay. The potential relay is normally closed and it OPENS when a sufficient PICKUP voltage is present between the 5 and 2 terminals on the relay. This pickup voltage is potential (voltage) that exists in the start winding when a motor gets above about 75% running speed and it is GENERATED in the start winding by the motor itself NOT the capacitor.

A capacitor DOES NOT boost the voltage when you see that increased voltage across the capacitor that is back EMF being generated by the motor, just like in a generator (pretty cool huh?).

Once the compressor shuts off the relay then DROPS OUT which closes the contacts again for the next time.

Some hard start manufactures wire the coil on the potential between start and common and some wire it between start and run. You will find that most OEM’s wire between start and common but this does not mean that wiring between start and run is bad… it just needs to be designed correctly for that purpose (Kickstart does it this way for example).

A properly sized start capacitor and potential relay are not BAD for a compressor, they just must be sized and installed correctly and there are some cases where they are more likely to be useful that others. When in doubt a factory start capacitor and potential relay is the best and safest bet.

Cases where they may be very useful useful

  • Long line set applications
  • Hard shut off expansion valves
  • More often on reciprocating compressors than scroll or rotary (but still OK on scroll and rotary when beneficial)
  • on 208V single phase applications

Things to consider

  • Mount the relay properly, there is a proper UP configuration on most potential relays
  • Use hard starts with REAL potential relays not timers, solid state or other relay types (in my experience)
  • Size the relay and capacitor according to manufacturers specs
  • Ensure that you have a good quality, properly sized run capacitor on any system with a hard start

For a complete write up on potential relays, you can read these articles HERE and HERE

Also, we have a podcast out with the technical manager for Rectorseal James Bowman HERE

— Bryan

It should be stated and restated that codes and code enforcement vary from location to location within the US. The IMC (International Mechanical Code) is one of the most widely utilized and referenced and the 2015 version of the IMC section 307 is what I will be referring to in this article.

Condensate Disposal 

The code as it relates to condensate disposal in the IMC is pretty vague. It says that it must be disposed of into an “approved location” and that it shouldn’t dump on walkways, streets or alleys as to “cause a nuisance”.

This leaves us a lot of wiggle room for interpretation and a lot of authority to the AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) and design professionals to establish what is and what isn’t an “approved location”. Here are a few good guidelines –

  • Don’t dump condensate in places that could cause people to slip
  • Don’t dump condensate around foundations, basements or other areas that could cause ponding, erosion and/or leakage
  • Don’t dump condensate on a roof
  • When discharging into a shared drain or sewer system ensure that it isn’t piped in such a way that waste fumes could enter the system or occupied space

Drain Sizing

IMC 307.2.2 tells us that an A/C condensate drain inside diameter should not be smaller than 3/4″ and should not be smaller than the drain pan outlet diameter. 3/4″ is sufficient for up to 20 tons according to the IMC unless the drain outlet size is larger than 3/4″.

Drain Pitch 

The IMC dictates a 1% minimum pitch of the drain which is equal to 1/8″ fall for every 12″ (foot) of horizontal run. In practice, it is safer to use 1/4″ of fall per foot to ensure proper drainage and provide some wiggle room for error.

Support

Drains can be made out of many materials but PVC is by far the most common. When a drain line is PVC the IMC dictates that it should be supported every 4′ when horizontal (while maintaining proper pitch) and every 10′ vertically.

Cleanout

IMC 307.2.5 states that the condensate assembly must be installed in such a way that the drain line can be “cleared of blockages and maintained” without cutting the drain.

Traps & Vents 

The IMC states that condensate drains should be trapped according to manufactures specs HOWEVER, wording was added in IMC 307.2.4.1 that states that ductless systems must either have a check valve or a trap in the condensate line. While most manufacturers don’t specify this on this gravity ductless drains, it is something to look out for.

Venting after the trap (like shown on the EZ Trap above) is a really good idea in most applications because it helps prevent airlock that can occur due to double traps and shared drains as well as prevent siphoning. This vent is AFTER the trap and must remain open to be effective. The vent opening should always rise above the trip level of the condensate overflow switch when it is in the primary drain line or pan or above the secondary / aux overflow port on the primary drain pan. This helps ensure that if a backup occurs that the water properly trips the switch instead of overflowing out of the vent. While venting is a common best practice it isn’t part of the IMC code.

Drain Insulation 

The IMC code doesn’t directly state that the drain line must be insulated.  Many will point to the where the ICC energy efficiency code states

N1103.3
Mechanical system piping insulation.[/b] Mechanical system piping capable of carrying fluids above 105?F (40?C) or below 55?F (13?C) shall be insulated to a minimum of R-2. but this really isn’t talking about condensate drains when read in context.

Some municipalities do require that horizontal portions of drain inside the structure be insulated to prevent condensation and this standard makes sense to me. In Florida we always insulate horizontal portions of the drain because if we didn’t we would have consistent issues with growth and water damage due to the high dew points.

Condensate Switches 

IMC 307.2.3 states that all HVAC equipment that produces condensate must have either a secondary drain line or a condensate overflow switch, a secondary drain pan with a secondary drain line or condensate switch or some combination of these installations should be used to prevent overflow if the primary drain line blocks.

This includes rooftop units, ductless units and downflow units but the code does allow for the overflow prevention switch to be placed in the primary drain pan in these cases but NOT the primary drain line according to 307.2.3.1

— Bryan

 

 

This is a quick, real-life diagnosis/find by Kalos Services senior commercial HVAC/R tech Eric Mele


Improper Defrost Timer installation


While servicing this display cooler for an unrelated problem, I noticed the defrost timer installed in a way that will almost certainly cause early compressor failure.

Because this is a cooler (and not a freezer) it is set to defrost by simply shutting off the compressor four times per day while still running the evaporator fans. If you look at the timer you will see that the little pins are flipped four times per 24 hr period.

If you are not familiar with remote coolers, and freezers, they are designed to pump down into the condenser/receiver at the end of each cooling cycle by closing a liquid line solenoid and shutting off via low-pressure control. The reason for this is because the areas they control are kept so cold a good amount of liquid refrigerant would migrate to the evaporator in the off cycle.

The timer was installed at the condensing unit and would stop the condensing unit/compressor from running during the defrost event, but would not cause the unit to pump down during defrost. This will likely cause a flooded start at the end of each defrost when the liquid refrigerant rushes into the compressor on startup.

There are no interconnecting wires between the evaporator and condenser, which is common on remote walk-in systems. The easiest way to correct this problem is to relocate the defrost timer into the evaporator, and break power to the liquid line solenoid valve during defrost. 

The diagram below shows first how it is currently connected and then how we rectified the situation.

 

— Eric M.


Breakers are designed to trip anytime the circuit draws a current above the rating for a period of time. The time the breaker takes to trip is a function of how high the circuit amperage in comparison to the breaker rating.

The higher the amperage above the rating the faster the breaker will trip

Breakers can accomplish this either thermally, by tripping on increased temperature or inductively, by tripping on increased magnetic field when amperage increases.

The majority of residential circuit breakers are thermal which means they are more prone to trip during high ambient temperature than during low ambient temperature. This is one factor in why you will receive more nuisance or intermittent breaker tripping calls on a hot Summer day.

Many times breakers get replaced just for doing their job and tripping when they should.

There are five common causes of breaker tripping. Improper circuit design, Overload, ground fault, leg to leg short and breaker issues

Inappropriate Circuit Design

Improper circuit design can result in an overload condition when the circuit ampacity (amperage capacity) or the circuit breaker size is not correctly matched to the load, to begin with or someone added additional load to the circuit later on.

For HVAC equipment this means that the circuit size should be matched to MCA (Minimum Circuit Ampacity) and the circuit breaker or fuse should be matched to the MOCP (Maximum Overcurrent Protection)

If the conductor is smaller than the MCA rating or the breaker is lower than the MOCP rating. It can result in a tripping breaker.

You will also see cases where more than one system will be connected to one circuit breaker which is incorrect unless the systems have additional, independent overcurrent protection.

These issues usually cause an intermittent trip as it takes time under load to show up depending on the severity of the problem.

Overload

An overload condition occurs when the loads draw more current / do more work than they are designed for. Common overload conditions would be a compressors locking up, motor bearings binding, blower belts too tight or sheaves adjusted improperly. And overload generally occurs with inductive (magnetic) loads like motors in cases where the motor is either being placed under a greater torque load than it’s designed for or the motor itself is beginning to fail mechanically.

Overload conditions often don’t trip a breaker because the motor itself will usually have an overload that specifically protects the motor. This is why when a compressor is locked it is much more likely to shut off on thermal overload than it is to trip a breaker even though it will draw far higher amps than the breaker rating on startup. In these cases the thermal overload is designed to respond quicker than the breaker.

If a breaker is tripping because of an overload condition it will usually be after several seconds, minutes or even hours of operation. It will not be “instantaneous” unless someone installed the wrong breaker or fuse and used an “instantaneous trip” instead of a typical “slow blow” or slow acting type. This would be quite rare.


Ground Fault

A ground fault is a short circuit (no load path) between an energized circuit and equipment ground.

A ground fault is the most common cause of instantaneous breaker tripping

In most ground fault situations there will be very amperage, very quickly resulting in a breaker that trips right away.

Common cases would a shorted motor, such as a shorted compressor or a rubbed out wire.

A combination of visual inspection, isolation and ohm measurement to ground and megaohm / hi-pot tests or hot verification as needed is the best way to diagnose a short to ground (ground fault).

Leg to Leg Short (Bucking Phases)

When you have two legs of power that have different sine wave patterns such a 240V single phase or 3 phase power you must prevent the legs from coming into contact except through a load.

If they do come in contact there will be an enormous transfer of energy and a significant arc.

This can happen when two wires rub out, when switch gear becomes compromised or within a motor.


Many times techs will look for short circuits from “leg to leg” or “winding to winding” in a compressor or a motor without first measuring to ground.

This is not a good idea
Even when a motor does short “winding to winding” it is rare that it just stays shorted. Usually it will ALSO be shorted to ground or it will be open after the arc flash that resulted from the short.


Think of a circuit board. Circuit boards short out all the time and the result is a big black spot on the board and nothing works anymore (open). It rarely results in a continued short circuit because the arc from the short blew the connection apart.

The reason I encourage caution is because I have seen many junior techs condemn good compressors due to a “leg to leg” short just because the ohm reading between Run and Common appeared low to them.

The only way to know if a single phase compressor is shorted “leg to leg”  with an ohmmeter is to know what the windings should read in the first place.

On a three phase motor all three legs should read the same ohms leg to leg which makes it considerably easier.

When you do encounter leg to leg (only) short circuits it is more often on fan motors than on compressors.

Breaker Issues

Because most breakers trip due to heat, anything that causes the breaker to get hotter than normal can result in tripping.

This can be due to a poor connection inside the breaker itself, but often it is due to a poor wire connection on the breaker or a poor connection between the breaker and the bus bar.

Usually these types of breaker issues are caused by installation problems such as loose connection, wrong breaker type, failure to use anti-oxidation paste on alum to copper or excessive tripping / using the breaker as a switch.

Here are some tips for diagnosing a tripping breaker

Tripping instantly

  • Perform a visual inspection of all wires and connections. Look for signs of rubout, damage and arcing
  • Isolate components and ohm to ground
  • If you are unable to locate with an ohmmeter use a megohmmeter to ground (with caution especially on scroll compressors)
  • Finally, once you believe you have identified the cause, fully disconnnect the shorted component and power the unit back up and make sure everything else functions.

Tripping intermittently or after more than 3 seconds

  • Visually inspect all electrical connections and ensure they are clean and tight.
  • Inspect the breaker and bus bar connections
  • Check breaker and wiring size
  • Measure running voltage and ensure it is within +/- 10% rating
  • Measure for voltage drop during startup (less than 15%) as well as between the power source and right at the unit (less than 5% overall)
  • Measure component amperages while starting and running and compare to manufacturer specs
  • Measure motor and compressor temperatures and watch for temperature increase over time. Infrared and thermal imaging can assist with this
  • Watch for anything that can cause overload such as failing bearings, belts too tight, or sheaves adjusted for too much RPM
  • Measure current right at the breaker, if it remains below the breaker rating and the breaker STILL TRIPS, only then replace the breaker.

I also learned recently that AFCI (Arc Fault) breakers generate heat internally which mean that you will see a hot spot on them with a thermal imaging camera or IR thermometer.

Don’t replace a breaker unless you know it’s failed and don’t condemn a part as being shorted unless you can isolate it out of the circuit and every other component still functions (as possible)

— Bryan

 

Flowing nitrogen while brazing and pressuring with nitrogen are both great, but nitrogen in with the refrigerant? Not so much. Nitrogen is a “non-condensable” gas because it cannot be condensed (under normal conditions), but Nitrogen isn’t the only non-condensable.

First, let’s talk about what a non-condensable gas is.

Any gas that does not condense (change from vapor to liquid) under the normal compression refrigeration conditions is called a non-condensable gas or NCG. These would commonly be air, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, Argon and Oxygen.

Non-condensable in the system will result in high head pressure / condensing temperature and occasionally high side pressure fluctuations as well as decreased cooling capacity and efficiency due to higher compression ratios.

The only way to remove non-condensables COMPLETELY in a small air conditioning or refrigeration system is to recover the entire charge and recharge with virgin refrigerant. You can recover the charge, let it sit in the tank for a while and then recover the vapor off of the top into another tank and recharge with liquid only to remove most of the non-condensables but it’s a pretty inexact science.

You can’t remove non-condensables with a line drier and while you do remove air with a vacuum pump you only remove the air that entered the system once you open it. The vacuum does nothing for the refrigerant you already pumped down or recovered as the non-condensables remain mixed with the refrigerant unless you are dealing with large volumes where they can actually be separated and the NCGs removed.

Non-Condensibles Don’t Cause Restrictions 

However…

Non-condensables is often a term used by techs to mean ANYTHING in the refrigerant that shouldn’t be there, such as moisture, solid contaminants and other refrigerants.

Carbon buildup from brazing is a solid contaminant, not a non-condensable. Moisture in the system is moisture in the system, not a non-condensable. A high glide refrigerant blend (such as R-407c) charged in a vapor instead of liquid is a fractionated charge…. not non-condensables

I think you get the point.

When we use a term like “non-condensable” as a replacement for “anything weird going on in the system we can’t explain” then it becomes a useless phrase, like saying a compressor is “bad” rather than explaining the actual fault.

–Bryan

Before we jump into the stuff that will make folks angry, let’s start with some common ground.

Can we agree that the desired result of education in the trades is –

Knowing what you are doing and doing it as safely, efficiently and correctly as possible

 If we can agree that we all have this common goal in mind, can we also agree that any way we can achieve this result in a faster, broader and more effective way would be a good thing?

Great!…

Now what follows is admittedly one perspective on how we can better achieve these outcomes. This isn’t scientifically quantified, it certainly contains some confirmation bias, but I can state with all honesty that it comes from a desire to help the trades achieve these goals.

TEAR DOWN THE GATES!!

10 years ago when techs first started putting HVAC/R videos on YouTube there was a huge backlash. For any of you that were on HVAC-Talk back then, you remember all of the doom and gloom.

Homeowners were going to use the info and kill themselves, bad practices were going to take over the trades, guys were going to go to “YouTube University” and think they know it all.

A decade has passed and those prophecies just haven’t come to pass at any significant scale.

The reason for this (in my mind) is the people who actively seek answers to questions are far better off than those who simply swallow what they are told by their teacher or the old timer who trained them.

Out in the light of day ideas have a chance to either thrive or die on their own merit rather than festering in the cold damp corners of “that’s the way I was taught” or “it always worked for me”.

Sure… there have been some bad actors teaching some silly and dangerous stuff along the way, but there have also been some excellent resources that have started discussions and brought ideas to the forefront that could have NEVER spread so quickly without the free sharing of ideas.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” ~ Mark Twain

Guess where some of the bad ideas that have persisted for generations came from before the YouTube and social media era?

In my experience, it was bad teachers and bad “senior” techs sharing poorly formulated ideas under the protection of intellectual isolation.

In other words, bad ideas formed and grew due to lack of scrutiny, or “peer review” if you prefer an academic term.

What are the gates and who are the Gatekeepers? 

They can be trade schools, manufacturers, traditional book publishers, universities, governing bodies, regulators, educators and the list goes on and on…

Anyone who intentionally places barriers in front of education is part of the problem in my worldview.

What I’m NOT saying –

  • Education should all be free
  • Formal education is worthless
  • The system is the problem
  • Poorly prepared workers should be thrown into the workplace

What I AM saying

  • Learning and progress should be heralded over certifications and degrees
  • What you know and can do is more important than how long you’ve been doing it
  • A lot of time and effort is wasted in bureaucracy and red tape rather than actually reinforcing learning and a passion for learning
  • Self-education is a lifelong skill that should be fostered at every opportunity

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” – Socrates

Self Education is Worth Promoting

Whether or not you are formally educated, self-education is paramount to success.

About a year ago I received an application for a service tech apprentice position with the following listed under the previous education field.

Self Study: EPA 608, R-410a Certification, PM Tech Certification, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Technology, Commercial Refrigeration: For Air Conditioning Technicians, Blue Collar Roots Network podcasts

When he came in for an interview he was polite and quiet, I asked him how he got the certifications if he didn’t go to a formal trade school, he replied: “I just found where I had to go and went out and got them”.

Do you think he ended up working out well? OF COURSE, HE DID!

He’s a self-starter, he doesn’t need a gatekeeper to tell him when or how to learn something he just went out and learned until he understood.

Does that mean we threw him in a truck right away? NO WAY! You can’t learn to ride a bike at a seminar and you can’t teach someone how to be an HVAC/R tech with a book, podcast or video.

He had to practice and apply what he had learned before the learning could manifest itself into skills but he came to the table with the proper mindset which led to the inevitable result of skill and mastery.

The “CYA” or Lawyer excuse

I sent out an email not long ago to a well known OEM seeking approval to use small portions of their bulletin content (with attribution) for some tech tips. Last I heard their lawyers were looking into it.

We get this a lot in the education side of the trade, a fear of “plagurizing” or saying the wrong thing so someone gets sued and then out of the OTHER side of their mouths comes complaints about the “skills gap” and difficulties in education.

I have a piece of advice on the lawyer and copyright stuff surrounding trade education…

STOP IT!

Obviously, if someone is directly copying or republishing your content as their own then that’s a problem and needs to be dealt with. Other than that, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM!

If people are sharing excerpts from your manual or book or bulletin online, do you REALLY think that’s a risk to your brand or business?

Do you honestly believe that people who are excited enough about the trade to share or excerpt from something you made are a problem?

Are you HONESTLY concerned that overeducation of the general consumer is a valid problem to protect against in comparison with the growing skills gap in our trade?

Do you think that good quality traditional HVAC/R education is at risk of being replaced by people online sharing good training materials?

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing” ~ Warren Buffet

Risk Aversion

I have 10 kids and only one broken bone among them over 17 years (by the grace of God).

My kids hang from trees, ride bikes around the yard and on the driveway (with no helmet at times), ride our gas powered golf cart (too fast at times) and work with tools on all sorts of things. They cut veggies with knives for dinner, climb ladders to the attic, walk on trusses (the older ones) and ride skateboards with no kneepads.

Does this upbringing sound familiar to you? It probably does because that is the way that many of us were raised and it was certainly the way the generation that went to the moon strapped to a rocket were raised.

The point is that we all learn how to do fairly risky things SAFELY by being allowed to do them in reasonable low risk environments.

But HEAVEN FORBID we allow a 16 year old to job shadow or climb a ladder or use a saw.

How did we get to be so risk averse, especially in a trade where we melt metal with fire, run explosive gasses into buildings and set it on fire, freeze things and make sparks regularly.

If we didn’t want to take risks we should have become a hotel concierge, not an HVAC/R professional.

Now there is no reason to be foolish and we should look for ways to do things as safely as practically possible… but, COME ON FOLKS! Let’s not kill training and education before it can begin by running everything through the lawyers. We are the experts, let peer review and some common sense solve the unwise risks associated with the trade, not a bunch of legal jargon and red tape.

It’s human nature that once we have a good thing going it’s easy to get comfortable and stop taking risks. I get it, but we can no longer rely on the certificates, degrees and processes of yesteryear to solve the staffing problems at our doorstep. We need to actively recruit, share, train, communicate and collaborate from contractors, schools, publishers, OEMs, reps, trade publications and industry bodies.

We need to try new things, be open to taking risks and stop defending our little piece of turf.

“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” ~ Socrates

Conclusion

Do you want the trade to get better? Is it your goal to see techs progress more quickly? Make a real difference?

Tear down the gates and focus on inspiring the spark of continuous learning in the trades 

That’s what’s on my mind today.

— Bryan

 

 

 

Scroll to top
Translate »

Daily Tech Tip

Get the (near) daily Tech Tip email right in your inbox!
Email address
Name