The contractor’s responsibility

A brand-new hydronic system is a source of pride – it’s up to the contractor to ensure that the owner knows how to operate and maintain it.

A brand-new hydronic system is a source of pride – it’s up to the contractor to ensure that the owner knows how to operate and maintain it.

Ensuring the customer knows what they need to know

By Roy Collver

So, it’s Friday afternoon at 4:50 PM and you finally fired up that new boiler you started to install this morning. Things seem to be working okay; it isn’t up to temperature yet, but you gotta run if you are going to make it home in time to change and head out to the hockey game. But wait! – you’re not done yet!

Many installation codes mirror what is found in the CSA B149.1 gas code, Section 4.3 – Responsibilities of the Installer. Section 4 is simply called ‘General’ and for some reason many people – especially people with years of experience – tend to jump over any section in any code-book or I&O manual that is so titled. Not good. ALL of Section 4 is critically important, but likely the most important clause in the whole book for installers is 4.3.1:

“Before leaving, installers shall ensure everything meets code and is in safe working order.”

That’s a condensed form, but you get the gist. Please refer to the actual code book rather than my condensed versions in this article.

(Important Note – if you or your shop does not have the current applicable code book for the work you are doing, please go to the CSA website and buy it without delay. The current $299 price tag for the B149 is indeed painful, but you can’t do your job without it.)

On code committees, you quickly learn that the word “shall” leaves no wiggle room. It is a command and you must obey – period.

Instructions for the customer should also include other components in the system.

Instructions for the customer should also include other components in the system.

So simply put – the installer shall install according to manufacturer’s instructions and applicable codes.

Although usually diligent about conforming to the above-mentioned clauses, all too often, people skip the next two “shalls”:

4.3.2: Installers “shall” instruct the user in the safe and correct operation.

4.3.3: Installers “shall” ensure that the manufacturer’s instructions are left with the user.

A couple of true stories:

1) During a contractor seminar years ago, while teaching about hydronic controls and how to install and set them up, I posed the question: “Once the installation is working, what is the next step?” Blank stares ensued, although one participant suggested – “go to the bar, ’cause you’re done for the day”.

Not quite, says I – “what do you tell the customer about their new control?” The only respondent (in a thick New Jersey accent) barked “You tell ‘em to keep their F*#@in’ hands off it, or you’ll break their fingers!” – triggering roars of laughter and affirmative nods all-around.

Pointing out that the control actually belonged to the customer, I spent the following ten minutes unsuccessfully defending the notion that users should be taught how to make basic adjustments themselves – just one of the many times I had the same “discussion”. These groups also suggested that it was foolhardy to leave instructions lying around because the customer would just “get into trouble” reading them and then messing with stuff.

2) A plumbing contractor I briefly worked for dispatched me to an address where a very frightened young lady had started her brand-new gas oven, immediately filling their trailer with smoke. Our company had installed the range that morning. The smoke was from the smoldering packing materials, (cardboard, plastic and shipping tape) wrapped around the broiler pan below the oven burner. The installer had failed to advise and instruct, or ensure safe working order.

This should have included, among other tests: turning on the oven, examining the flame and letting it reach temperature to cycle on the oven control. The instructions were sort-of left with the user, only getting slightly charred in the broiler “accident”. I refused to bill the customer as commanded, ignoring the comment that “they were too stupid to check the broiler before starting the oven.” I moved on to greener pastures shortly thereafter.

Instructions for the customer

Enough stories, 4.3.2 and 4.3.3 are important – they’re not optional.

There is really no mystery to 4.3.3. Appliance or device manufacturers include instructions with each piece of equipment – part of the appliance certification. Additionally, they can include warranty information and supplemental literature, such as users manuals and control set-up guides. All this stuff is to be left behind with the appliance, bringing us to clause 4.3.2.

What is involved in “advise and instruct the user”? How much do you tell them? What do you tell them about? There are two main topics that the installer is required to teach the user about:

1) Safety

2) Correct operation.

Safety first:

The user should be instructed in how to shut the appliance off in an emergency. Appliances today are required to have a huge safety label with shut-down instructions as well as lighting instructions (for fuel burning appliances). Normally, it’s gas off, electricity off and a proper sequence of shutting-down other components.

Show the user where this label is and point out the applicable shut off valves and electrical disconnects – label them for quick identification.

Discuss when emergency shut-down might be necessary and what things to look for (flame roll out, water leakage, burning smells – whatever signs of trouble may manifest with that particular appliance). You aren’t trying to scare the heck out of them, but just make them aware of possible signs of trouble and how to react calmly and properly.

Explain what not to do: don’t cover up air-intakes, don’t put combustible stuff against surfaces requiring clearances, don’t block access, keep contaminants away from appliances and combustion air sources.

Back to 4.3.3 – don’t leave the literature in a heap on the floor – organize it, and hand it to the customer. The safety stuff will be detailed in the appliance manuals. Point this out and encourage the user to go through looking for the caution, warning and danger notes.

Basic maintenance items will also come into play here and this is your opportunity to give the user some “buy-in” and take some responsibility. Checking condensate traps to make sure they are filled, exhaust and intake terminations are clear, filters are checked and cleaned – whatever they feel comfortable doing. Some folks want nothing to do with appliance maintenance, at which point you get to sell them a maintenance plan.

User manuals and other literature should be left for the owner.

User manuals and other literature should be left for the owner.

The right person

The term “user” is important here. Although an installer can’t be responsible for tracking down everyone who might use an appliance, every effort should be made to get the information to them. This is easy when you are doing a replacement and the actual owner or user is right there. It’s more problematic if you are installing for a builder. Include an orientation session in your price to a builder. Giving a small brochure to the builder to present to the new owner is a great idea. Enclosing all the appliance manuals, warranty, etc. in a binder or mechanical room “pocket” attached to the wall in a prominent location is an easy way to encourage information to get passed along to future users. Many manufacturers include User Guides with their literature packages. Try to hand these directly to the user and offer to review with them.

Correct operation

What is “correct” when operating an appliance? Clause 4.2.1 (condensed) states: Appliances are to be approved for the specific purpose they are used for. In other words, no using a gas range for space heating, cooking burgers over a gas fireplace, using a gas dryer to cure marijuana, using a heating boiler to directly heat a swimming pool. I’ve seen all the above – just a few examples of user creativity.

Correct operation goes further. What does the user directly sense and control? Space temperature and water temperature are the main items. Discuss critical thermostat settings. What is normal and what is out-of-line? Make them aware of dew-points, air conditioners in very humid climates set too low can destroy a house as quickly as humidifiers set too high in cold weather. Domestic hot water temperatures shouldn’t be set to dangerous scalding levels.

System documentation is a big help for future service technicians.

System documentation is a big help for future service technicians.

Space heating temperatures set too high or low can waste energy and/or lead to discomfort. Show the customer what they should adjust, and what they should be aiming for regarding comfort, energy saving, etc. Then explain things like fan on or off, cycle times, schedules, etc. And yes, what they should not touch – things like high limit settings, operating differentials, or any other “installer only” settings.

Finally, show them what is correct, so they know. Document normal temperature and pressure readings for example. Get them to feel, smell, hear and see what the appliance should be like when it is happy. Make sure they have your number, so they can call you when things aren’t.


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