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Fall heating service


An apprentice practices his precision tune-up skills under the watchful eye of judge Anthony Quan of Enercare Home Services during the 2018 CMPX show in Toronto. HRAI volunteers organized the HVAC Skills Competition.

By Glenn Mellors

This is one of the most confusing questions service technicians ask, and the standard answers they receive tend to confuse them even more. So, if your technicians can’t explain the difference between a precision tune-up (PTU) and a maintenance plan, then how is your customer going to understand the difference? The best way to educate your staff when they ask the question is to break down the question into two parts, the terminology and the tactical.

Tactical, the easy part

If we focus on the furnace and air conditioner for this exercise, it will become clear that from the tactical side both the precision tune-up and maintenance plan visits are the same. Our goal is to provide a service that will put the piece of equipment in a condition to deliver optimum performance, efficiencies, least opportunities for mid-season failures and safety.

For the furnace, the PTU typically consists of:

  • Check, level and adjust thermostat
  • Check all safety controls and wire connections
  • Clean and inspect burners and burner compartment
  • Visual inspection of the heat exchanger
  • Clean and check thermocouple/flame sensor
  • Clean and check ignitor / spark electrode / pilot
  • Check filters and offer replacement
  • Remove and clean blower/test run capacitor performance
  • Adjust dampers for heating/cooling mode
  • Check and flush condensate drains/traps
  • Inspect venting system for leaks/slope/support/debris
  • Check for required service access/clearances to combustibles
  • Check for adequate combustion air requirements
  • Lubricate all moving parts
  • Cycle furnace and monitor ignition and flame
  • Check and record manifold pressure/clock input
  • Check temperature rise and adjust blower speed as required
  • Perform CO test – circulating air/free air/vent and record all readings.
  • Review results with the homeowner

The technician goes through a similar procedure with the air conditioning, either at the same time as the furnace PTU or in a later visit as AC season approaches:

  • Check/level/adjust the thermostat
  • Wash and check condenser coil
  • Check/clean contacts at the contactor. Record voltage at contactor
  • Check electrical connections
  • Check capacitor(s) for oil leaks/test performance
  • Check furnace filter/offer replacement
  • Check circulating air blower for cleanliness
  • Adjust heating/cooling dampers
  • Check/clean/test condensate drain/pump
  • Lubricate all moving parts
  • Record indoor and outdoor ambient temperatures
  • Measure/record indoor R.H./wet bulb reading
  • Check temperature drop across evaporator/adjust blower speed
  • Check refrigerant level
  • Check for refrigerant leaks at service valves
  • Apply silicone/wax to condenser cabinet
  • Clean around outdoor unit and furnace
  • Check for manufacturer’s installation/operating manuals
  • Review utility costs/equipment life expectancy with a homeowner
  • Offer replacement batteries for smoke detector
  • Check for CO alarm / blue flame certification (CSA 6.19-01)
  • Review and document results and recommendations with client

Either of these precision tune-ups should take approximately one hour per piece of equipment. however, some time savings may be encountered should the service involve both pieces of equipment at the same time.

All the same steps as listed previously will complete a maintenance plan visit.

Well, that was easy, wasn’t it? Now for the more difficult part; so, what’s the difference?

First, let’s talk about terminology. A PTU is not pre-planned or pre-scheduled, but rather a byproduct of an inbound call for a pre-season tune-up or a no heat/cool situation. The technician diagnoses the failure as a lack of care and maintenance, revenue is collected onsite after the visit.

On the other hand, a maintenance plan visit is prepaid and pre-planned, booked by an outbound call from your business to schedule the visit at the homeowner’s convenience to perform the service.

It all starts here

Anything one reads about HVAC business growth opportunities all point to collecting as many prepaid maintenance customers as possible and securing them for future business to build up your client base.

The PTU service is a low cost/low-risk service you provide to your customers to ready their homes for the upcoming season. The only problem is that peak reminder time for consumers is after the first need for heat/cooling, also the busiest time for your service department, be it 10 techs or just you!

Quite often the PTU is part of a demand service call and, once the diagnosis is complete, many of the possible repairs would be covered as part of the PTU tactical service. As an example, you go into a no-heat call and, after diagnosis, you find that the flame sensor is dirty and no longer proving flame, so the furnace shuts off on safety. You clean the rod and leave the home having collected your diagnostic fee and 15 bucks for cleaning the flame rod, and even then, your technician side of you feels you overcharged for the repair.

Then let’s make the situation better for our customers. Explain that all the repairs today could be covered under a PTU and that the additional benefits would also lead to energy savings and prevent nuisance break-downs and, for this service, we charge X dollars and it will take about an hour to perform. This will give your customer better value and you can feel good about what you did for the fee you collected!

The courtship

Now that we have established that a PTU is in the best interest of the consumer, make it memorable, like a first date. Have the homeowner sit beside you while you perform the PTU, explain everything you do and why you are doing it. Take the opportunity to talk about the value of this service being performed on an annual basis.

Provide anecdotal stories about how many of your customers take advantage of this service, that not only will you call them to remind when the service is due, but that they will receive a discount on the PTU if they prepay the visit for next year. Not only will they save on next year’s visit, but savings on any future repairs and priority service are part of a maintenance plan subscription!

To assist in converting PTU one-time clients into annual maintenance plan customers, you may choose to offer a one-time deep discount if they enroll today. After all, once they have signed up for your maintenance program, you now have a commitment to and from your latest maintenance plan customer! After all, long-term relationship customers prove to be our best customers!

A quick recap

So, let’s do a quick recap:

A precision tune-up

  • All steps outlined in “standardized” tune-up list
  • Payment is collected on-site
  • Can be part of a service call
  • Billed after the diagnostic
  • Can be discounted
  • No obligation between customer and company

The Maintenance Plan

  • All steps outlined in “standardized” tune-up list
  • Payment has been received six months to a year prior to today’s visit
  • Monthly payment is the preferred method of payment
  • This is usually not part of a service visit but sold as an add-on to a PTU for next year’s visit
  • Company and customer remain obliged to each other for the duration of the agreement

Now that wasn’t too hard now was it?


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