Preaching to the choir or the congregation?

UNLESS YOU'RE LIVING on a deserted island by yourself you've been hearing about carbon monoxide and combustion testing. If you want to enhance your bottom line and separate yourself from the competition, read on. When I first wrote about combustion analyzers (August 2002, pg. 26), my column dealt with setting up combustion to minimize CO production while attaining the best efficiency for your customer's

UNLESS YOU'RE LIVING on a deserted island — by yourself — you've been hearing about carbon monoxide and combustion testing. If you want to enhance your bottom line and separate yourself from the competition, read on.

When I first wrote about combustion analyzers (August 2002, pg. 26), my column dealt with setting up combustion to minimize CO production while attaining the best efficiency for your customer's appliance. A second column dealt with CO and customer safety (October 2004, pg. 32).

Fellow CONTRACTOR columnist Mark Eatherton has issued a "call to arms" by asking that manufacturers require testing for equipment installations (January 2005, pg. 32). CO testing specialist Mark Hunt has challenged you to call several local competitors and ask if they're testing for CO or performing combustion testing with advanced electronic analyzers.

I was surprised to find many in my area are not testing at all.

No need to preach to the choir here, as you are well aware of the dangers CO presents and you're already testing. On the other hand, the congregation needs a wake-up call.

This applies to anyone installing and servicing any type of fossil-fuel-burning appliance. If you're a member of the congregation, why haven't you reacted to the message?

Apparently, many of our fellow contractors labor under the delusion that all appliances arrive pre-set for proper combustion or that cracked or clogged heat exchangers, deteriorated flue piping and clogged chimneys don't pose a real danger. According to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thousands of people are treated for CO poisoning each year with more than 400 deaths. Given the large numbers of CO incidents we have discovered and repaired with our customers not seeking medical care, I'd bet the CDC figures are only the tip of a large iceberg.

I'll share a secret with you: When we made the switch from liquid to an electronic analyzer, I had a tough time seeing the value. I figured we were already testing, so why spend a bunch of money on something that would cost more money for maintenance with batteries and expensive sensors? I owe Alan Mercurio credit for showing me the light — more like hounding me until I finally gave in!

I couldn't "see" the value in spite of Alan having preached to this thickheaded congregant for years. Alan lent me his own Bacharach analyzer, and I was hooked after we'd performed a few tests. I had yet to see, however, the value a certified, calibrated electronic combustion analyzer would bring to our customers and bottom line. It still "looked" like an expensive tool.

Seeing combustion results in real time, with changes registering while watching, made us keenly aware that switching from liquid to electronic analysis is like comparing a horse to a Corvette. Both will get you to your destination, but one does it faster and gives you lots of information about the trip. Testing for CO with an instrument that registers in parts per million gave us precision that led to saving lives. Talk about value!

Our technicians have had a number of dramatic life-saving service calls where, in one case, children sleeping in basement bedrooms were suffering from CO poisoning but their symptoms had been passed off as the flu.

Air sampling beyond the combustion flue stream gives our customers ironclad proof that it's time for new equipment. We literally sell dozens of furnaces and boilers each year that are directly attributable to testing. Include the infrared printer so that you can document the test and provide a copy to the homeowner or business. It's documented proof that you performed your work correctly — a CYA (cover your assets) method that can stand up in court.

The high-efficiency equipment available today benefits from precise analysis for obtaining peak efficiency; and proper set-up on your part avoids the aggravation of nuisance lockouts. Oil burner tune-ups and gas-fired equipment adjustments can be performed much faster and stray combustion leaks are quickly traced to their source. Customer trust in your services is greatly enhanced, and this leads to increased sales.

If you're performing annual service contract work, testing gives you a value-added edge the congregation can't match. Imagine a customer who's been getting reports from your competitors where the categories for CO, CO2 and O2 are simply marked "OK" and the efficiency listed exceeds the manufacturer's peak rating while your print-out clearly shows precise percentages for each category. Who gains the customers' trust and all their work?

We now own four electronic combustion analyzers: Bacharach, UEI and Testo. The profits from our increased sales more than offset the cost for the analyzers.

This year, we'll invest in more of these advanced consumer-protection tools. Your customers are becoming aware that anyone who doesn't test doesn't know what they need to know about their equipment and safety.

This issue is reminiscent of a wellknown TV commercial: Electronic combustion analyzers — expensive. Saving lives — priceless! Now you can add increased sales and boost profits. Please make this the year you join the choir or begin preaching.

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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