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March, 2018 - Smart Service

What Smart Thermostats Mean for the Future of HVAC

On March 29th, 2018 by

Household climate was once accepted as static, like that draft in the living room that you always find in the same place. However, thanks to the smart technologies of recent years, even HVAC systems have come alive, gaining brains just like the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. That’s right, I’m talking about smart thermostats.

Smart thermostats like Nest can do all the things normal thermostats can do, just more and better. Because smart thermostats are connected to your phone and other devices, you can control your HVAC from virtually anywhere. They save households money, look sleek, and are compatible with most HVAC units.

As a result, smart thermostats have taken shack in 17.5 million homes across North America, and they’re not stopping. Numbers are expected to nearly double in the next two years alone as people seek for more interconnectivity between everyday devices and activities.

When any industry is faced with change, people tend to freak out. “What will this mean for my job? For my business? Am I—*shudders*—redundant?”

Sometimes change can be for the good of everyone. In this case, the HVAC industry has nothing to worry about, and, perhaps, everything to look forward to.

IoT in Our Homes

When more than 40% of Americans have smart home technology and 16% have a smart speaker, it is obvious that IoT, or the internet of things (the network that connects all our smart devices), is here for the long run.

It makes sense; smart technology makes life easier. Communication between our smart devices can make us healthier and happier, encouraging us to reach those 10,000 steps a day, save money on our energy bills, and even remember to pick up the kids at 3 PM. Once you’ve tasted the apple, it’s easy to fall into the luxury and ease that IoT offers.

Smart thermostats are no different. They provide transparency to a construct that people didn’t even think about prior to their invention.

With smart thermostats, people can suddenly see the cause and effect of their actions (or lack thereof) on their energy bills. Your AC unit needs maintenance? That’ll show in your energy usage. Your heater needs cleaned out? Yep, that’ll appear in air quality.

Consequences, and the rewards when good habits are maintained, contribute to active consumer involvement and interest in HVAC.

The Prominence of Smart AC Units

While people have taken to smart thermostats, this technology only scratches the surface of smart HVAC. Smart thermostats represent just the user interface of a larger system. Smart HVAC tech will become more widespread, down to the units and even vents.

Because HVAC units are not as easily replaceable as thermostats, it could be a while before smart HVAC units become mainstream. However, since HVAC companies deal with lots of system replacements and new construction, smarter systems will ultimately become a prominent part of HVAC industry revenue.

People Caring More About Their Systems

It is easy to forget about something when you can’t see it, but when your trustworthy smartphone tells you a filter needs changed, suddenly the matter becomes much more pressing. You can’t be blissfully ignorant when you have all the data in your hand.

This will result in people taking more of an active interest in the maintenance of their HVAC units. That means more preventative maintenance agreements and regular work for HVAC companies. Consumers will no longer wait for a unit to stop working entirely before taking action.

Maintenance Repairs Based on App Diagnostics

With the prevalence of automated subscriptions and services, it is unsurprising that the same industry shift will occur in HVAC. If people can get oil changes brought to them, the same thing can occur with HVAC needs.

In the near future, it is possible that people will “subscribe” to HVAC companies. HVAC maintenance plans can go one step further than they do currently. How? By receiving diagnostic information from your customers’ smart technology. If something goes awry, HVAC companies can call the customer directly to see if they would like the issue taken care of instead of waiting for something more damaging to occur.

Conclusion

Times are changing, but if you’re working in HVAC, there’s no need to be worried. Smart thermostats are just the start of what will be a huge shift in the way people think about and use HVAC systems. Smarter HVAC means more concerned consumers and better diagnostics. As houses become more interconnected through IoT, so will your HVAC company to your customers.


The Smart Service Guide to Spring Cleaning Your Field Service Technology

On March 28th, 2018 by

The Smart Service Guide to
Spring Cleaning
Your Field Service Technology

By Mahrukh Karimi and Ben Yackshaw
In the mood for some Spring Cleaning?
Don't forget to take care of your computer (and the rest of your field service technology)! The tips in this handy guide will help get your machines running silky smooth!

After a long, hard winter, the birds have finally begun poking their beaks from their nests to herald the beginning of spring. As their chirps rain down, you may feel a sudden motivation to leap to your feet for some spring cleaning. Go on! Indulge that urge. Make your home and office all spick and span. Just know that even after you’ve whisked away all the dirt and dust, a few ghastly cobwebs and creepy-crawlies might remain undetected…

 

Now, don’t go tracing your fingers along the windowsills to see if you’ve left any dust. We’re talking about a different kind of muck. The kind found hiding… in your technology! *scary music*

Your field service business relies on functioning information technology to operate at its full capacity. Don’t let misuse and neglect slow you down!

 

Follow The Smart Service Guide to Spring Cleaning Your Field Service Technology. Once you’ve optimized your hardware, software, and mobile devices, you can much more comfortably sit back, crack open a cool beverage, and enjoy the warmer weather.

1. Deep clean your tech.

Hey, this is a spring cleaning article, after all! Why not start with the most literal piece of advice? We sometimes think of technology as impervious to all things short of water and concrete floors (RIP, my old iPhone 7), but dust can do some serious damage as well. Computers generate heat and rely on internal fans to cool them down. Dust can obstruct airflow, causing overheating. An overheated computer can slow down or stop working entirely.

 

The solution? If you’ve got a desktop computer, open that sucker up and blow the dust away with some compressed air. Do the same thing with your keyboard. Scrape the gunk out of any crevasses in your mouse. A clean computer is a happy computer.

cpu and air duster
folders in trash can

2. Delete unnecessary files.

A computer or mobile device approaching its storage capacity will start to suffer, performance-wise. If your computer has been running slower than usual, all the old files that have accumulated over the years could be to blame. Old, unused apps, unnecessary pictures, and ancient emails can hold you back—quite literally! US adults waste an average of 16 minutes a day waiting for a slow computer to load. That’s 4.1 days a year! Delete some files and you’ll feel lighter (and kind of/sort of keep your New Year’s resolution to lose “weight”).

 

But how do you know what to delete? Free tools like WinDirStat (for Windows) and Disk Inventory X (for Mac) can help you identify and isolate which files on your hard drive take up the most space. Once you see this, it becomes clearer where you need to make cuts.

 

Your downloads folder (typically found at C:\Users\UserName\Downloads on Windows and Macintosh HD > Users > User Name on Mac) often contains entire gigabytes of install files, old email attachments, photos, and other things you don’t need anymore.

 

Finally, both Windows and Mac feature built-in disc cleanup tools to help you get rid of temporary and unnecessary files. Use the Disk Defragmenter and Disk Cleanup tools on Windows (Mac computers defragment automatically) to tidy up your hard drives.

3. Get with the times.

You know how your apps will occasionally pester you to press an update button? Well, guess what? At some point you actually need to say yes to that pesky popup! If certain programs on your computer or mobile devices aren’t working to their full potential, you may be past-due for some software updates. So, check all the devices you use to see if any updates need to be made. 40% of adults don’t upgrade their software—don’t contribute to this sad statistic!

 

Using Smart Service? Check to see if it’s up to date. Then, take a look at other programs and devices to see if they need to level up. A lot of times, software updates mean cool new features, so don’t miss out! (Smart Service customers should also check their email signatures on emails sent through the program. Make sure the contact info listed is still valid and that all signatures remain stylistically consistent, company-wide.)

 

Of course, software won’t do a whole lot for your company if no one knows how to use it. Check your software provider’s website for new tutorial or instructional content (especially as it applies to new features). Smart Service users should consider attending a free monthly training webinar or scheduling a one-on-one training session. (We recommend undergoing two hours of private training every two years to ensure you keep using the software to its full capacity.)

 

Another thing you might need to update? Your online storefront. Take a quick look at your company website. Has it been updated recently or does it look like it launched when the internet first started? If your photos, employee list, and biographies are barely recognizable, it’s time to replace them. We know, we know. Five years ago you looked… well, five years younger. However, your age shows your wisdom and you don’t want your customers looking shocked when someone older than they expected shows up at their door.

computer updates
apps on mobile devices

4. Gear up!

Take a good, hard look at your job process and figure out if you could modernize any aspects of it. What do you do by hand right now that technology could help streamline? Do you still carry clipboards to the job site? Do you still print work orders? Do old customer records still end up in cluttered filing cabinets?

 

If you haven’t gone paperless yet, it’s time to spring clean that mess up! A good field service management software will organize your files and information for you, leaving you free to focus on more exciting work (like, say, cleaning the company bathroom). Mobile apps like iFleet (the Smart Service mobile app) save small business employees 725 million work hours per year.

5. Perform a quick safety check.

Did you know 60% of businesses go under after losing their data? Or that 140,000 hard drives fail in the US weekly? Given these numbers, you can’t afford to take chances. You need to perform a quick safety check to make sure your data, devices, and passwords remain secure.

 

Your customer and company data serve as your business’ lifeblood. If you only have this information stored on a single office hard drive, you’re gambling with your business’ future. (Want to know how safe you are? Take our (slightly out of season) quiz to see if your company has a secure backup system.)

You’ll definitely want redundant hard drives if you keep data on your office computers. If possible, look into a cloud backup solution. This will protect you in the event of a calamity (such as a fire, flood, or robbery) that impacts your entire office building. If you use Smart Service and QuickBooks, you can secure your data with our nifty Smart Backup service.

 

These days, working in the field service industry means using smart phones and tablets in the field. Obviously, you don’t want these devices to go missing (especially if they contain sensitive company information or correspondence). To mitigate damage in the event of a lost or stolen phone/tablet, use your device’s built-in security features. Apple devices have a “Find My iPhone” or “Find My iPad” feature in settings. Android devices have a “Find My Device” setting. These features allow you to locate, lock, or wipe your device should it become lost or stolen.

 

Finally, make sure you reset your passwords and update your passwords list. Yes, this is annoying, but it makes a big difference in terms of keeping your company secure. You know your passwords like the back of your hand, but keeping them static increases their exposure to potential hackers. Refresh your passwords and compile an organized list (services like TeamPassword work well for this) so that you don’t forget what they are.

password reset
new computer in box

6. Replace outdated technology.

Does your computer look like it belongs in a history museum? Do you still flip your phone shut after calls for dramatic effect? If so, it might be time for an upgrade!

 

Following the above tips will help you get more mileage out of your current technology, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and buy something new. We get it. Technology sometimes seems to change as soon as you get used to what you already have. It can be tempting to ride old devices until they give up the ghost, but maintaining outdated devices can sometimes cost you more than buying new ones. Would you rather pay a few hundred bucks for a new computer or pay an employee that same amount every month to twiddle their thumbs in front of a loading screen? Working on an old computer that takes a long time to boot or perform basic functions can lead to a lot of wasted time. Using a machine that works at the speed of thought allows you to… well, work at the speed of thought.

 

Another thing to note! Some vital programs (like the ubiquitous accounting software QuickBooks) or accessories might not support old technology. Running an older operating system like Windows XP or Vista can hamstring your ability to grow and keep pace with competitors.

Conclusion

When spring cleaning this year, go out of your way to give your technology some love and attention. This will help you get more mileage out of your hardware and software, increasing the value of these important business investments. Get your tech in tip top shape now so you have more time to enjoy the spring weather!


HVAC Interview Tips That Work

On March 26th, 2018 by

Whether you just graduated from an HVAC program or have been working in the business for 50 odd years, interviews can be scary. How you present yourself at an interview can make or break your chances with the HVAC company hiring you.

Sealing the deal requires a delicate balance of people skills and technical skills that can be difficult to master. Since you have the HVAC skills down pat, here’s how you can ensure your new role.

Focus on these parts of the interview:

  1. A Convincing Resume
  2. An Appropriate Outfit
  3. Proper Interview Etiquette
  4. Thorough Preparation
  5. Well Thought-Out Answers
  6. Important Questions
  7. Saying “Thank You”

HVAC Resume Tips

Since your resume is your ticket to an interview, you should spend time refining and perfecting it. While you should always tell the truth on your resume, you should pull out all the stops to present yourself in the best possible light.

Use choice wording and highlight skills that are required for the job you are applying for. Keep in mind that a resume should be catered to a particular job. Try going through the job description to see if each qualification they are looking for can be aligned with a point on your resume. If the job description says, for example, that the company wants an “HVAC trade school graduate with a 3.5 GPA,” but your resume normally only says “HVAC trade school,” edit your resume to include your GPA when applying to that particular job.

What should you wear to your HVAC interview?

Opinions vary on what one should wear to an HVAC interview. Depending on the HVAC company you are interviewing with and the position you have applied for, your interview outfit can range from a professional suit and tie to your regular working garb.

Companies have different sizes and cultures. If you don’t know how to dress for a particular interview, the best decision is to call before and ask what you should wear and what (if anything) you should bring. It is common to show your technical skills after a typical question-answer session, and you don’t want to recuse yourself from such activities just because you’re afraid of ruining your favorite business suit.

Regardless of the outfit you wear, make sure you look presentable and clean. If you can, get a haircut prior to the interview. It is good to look like you’ve put effort into your appearance because it means you are serious about working for the prospective employer. Even if you wear normal working clothing, make sure it is ironed and clean.

When in doubt, dress up. If your interviewer questions your ability because you look too professional, assure them that you can show what you can do—even if it means rolling up your sleeves and getting a little dirty. Bring in your tool box in case they ask you to prove your skills!

HVAC Interview Etiquette

First impressions are everything, so one should always do the best they can to put the best version of themself forward in a job interview. We covered part of this in the previous section, now let’s talk about the rest.

What to remember:

  1. Don’t forget to make eye contact! You don’t want to appear nervous. People skills are important when you’re working in HVAC, so show your interviewer that you are capable of connecting with your customers. Eye contact is the first step.
  2. Listen carefully to what the interviewer is saying so that you can respond properly.
  3. It should be a given, but brush your teeth before your interview. Don’t eat or drink anything directly before. If you do, brush those shiny whites again. Pop a mint in before the interview. If you’re chewing gum, spit it out beforehand! You don’t want to get caught with a leaf of lettuce (or something else equally silly) stuck between your chompers.
  4. While using profanity can emphasize a point, it’s best to leave the foul language for when you’re with your friends. Keep the language professional and appropriate.
  5. Smell good! Shower before your interview and remember to use deodorant. If you want, use your favorite cologne or perfume—just don’t overdo it! A spray or two is more than enough.

Be prepared.

You should prepare for your interview as if you are preparing for a test. Find out more about the company’s background and the person who will be interviewing you.

If you are new to the field, become familiar with the lingo. You don’t want to draw a blank when put on the spot! If you rehearse your answers to common questions you will appear more confident to the interviewer.

How do your qualifications line up with the job description? Take a look at your resume and compare it to what the company wrote about the position. Every requirement or characteristic should be matched to a bullet point on your resume. If you do not meet a certain qualification, know what strengths you have that can make up for this shortcoming. Show that you are eager to learn more!

If you need to bring in any paperwork, make sure you have that on you when you go to the interview. Most HVAC companies require technicians to have a good driving record. Printing it out prior to the meeting will show that you are proactive and responsible (the DMV website has state-specific information for how to obtain your driving record). Bring in whatever other paperwork or recommendations you need along with copies of your resume.

Common HVAC Interview Questions

Practice these questions to prepare for your HVAC interview:

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What was your last job?
  • What was your favorite project in school?
  • Why are you interested in working in HVAC?
  • What qualifications do you have?
  • What’s your greatest weakness?
  • What’s your greatest strength?
  • How is your driving record?
  • Draw a refrigeration cycle.
  • How would you handle a difficult customer?
  • What is Ohm’s Law?
  • What is the first thing you check on a service call?
  • How do you take care of your tools?
  • What is cooling or heating load?
  • What factors would you consider if you had to design an HVAC system in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China?

ASK good questions.

While you should always be prepared for questions an interviewer may ask you, it is just as important for you to get a taste of who the HVAC company is as an employer. Try to understand if they are a good match for you. At the end of the interview, ask the interview questions about company culture, safety in the workplace, and job expectations. If you don’t show up with any of your own questions, the interviewer could interpret this as a lack of interest in the position.

Send a thank you note.

After the interview, send a thank you note to show your interviewer appreciation for their time. If you have been corresponding through email, an emailed thank you will suffice. You can send this email as early as the evening after the interview, but no later than three days afterwards. The note will remind the interviewer of your application and angle you as respectful and responsible. Sending a follow up will also help distinguish you from the vast majority of competing job seekers.

Conclusion

While interviewing for an HVAC role can be scary, hopefully these HVAC interview tips and tricks were helpful in preparing you to win your next job. Even if you’re the most skilled technician the world of HVAC has ever seen, it is still necessary to excel in the interview so that you can seal the deal. People skills matter. If you can’t bring them to the interview room, your prospective employer will assume you can’t bring them to customer interactions. First impressions make a difference, and with the right preparation—and your killer HVAC background—you can win the job of your dreams.


Activity Ideas for Construction Safety Week 2018

On March 23rd, 2018 by

In 2014, leaders in the construction industry created Safety Week to lessen the number of injuries and deaths that occur in the field. Since then, the event has grown and is now regarded as an industry standard, educating construction workers on proper safety protocol and precautionary education.

Small and large construction companies use Construction Safety Week, which takes place from May 7-11, to increase their level of safety through various activities and events. These events save lives and set new industry standards for health and safety.

While you can organize safety week activities for your company on the cheap, you should also consider going all-out. Increased safety education for construction workers will save your business costly medical bills, protect your employees, and mark your company as one with a positive and safe work environment.

Activity #1: Trivia

Games are a great way to make a serious matter fun. The best part of a game? They usually come with a prize! Incentivizing an event encourages participation and engagement.

Games like Trivia or Bingo are ideal for logical reasoning and active learning. More than just fun teaching tools, these trivia games can highlight areas of safety that need more work. (Consider finding on online research for questions like this list of construction safety questions and answers.) If the results of the quiz show that nobody on your crew knew about the hazards of air compressors, you’ll suddenly know what you need to teach them!

Activity #2: Fire Hydrant

How cool would it be to use a fire extinguisher to put out a real fire? So cool. As long as there’s no risk of getting hurt, playing fireman sounds like a lot of fun.

However, when you’re in an intense and potentially life-threatening situation, it can be difficult to react appropriately. That is why it is important to practice out life-saving procedures so that if the worst happens (And it will happen. Thanks, Murphy.), you and your crew are prepared.

The good thing is, thanks to your local fire stations, your construction crew can actually practice using a fire extinguisher—in the fun and cool way. Firemen set up controlled demonstrations so that your techs can put out real fires and develop their muscle memory in case disaster strikes.

Activity #3: Cable/Fall Prevention

This demonstration is also best done with a specialized professional. Seek out construction harness brands you trust and ask whether they would come out and show your crew how to properly use their gear. Since it is easy to become numb to the true danger of heights in construction, it is good to remind your construction workers the dangers that come with working off the ground. We might laugh when our stomachs sink after we step into the air at the top of a staircase, but stumbling 12 inches is a lot different than stumbling 12 feet.

Activity #4: Watermelon

When I was a kid I went to a newly opened toy store with my aunt. We were perusing the aisles when a coconut shell fell from a beam in the ceiling and hit my aunt on the head. (Yes, a coconut shell.) That day, I learned a valuable lesson. Falling objects hurt, even in the safest of environments.

Of course, falling objects on construction sites can pose quite a bit more danger than a rogue coconut shell! When a sharp screwdriver falls from three stories above you, the last thing you want is for it to torpedo into your head. The good news? There’s this fancy new, high-tech invention called a “helmet” that can prevent damage to your precious scalp. Nifty, huh?

Show your employees why it is so vital to protect your vitals with a simple watermelon demonstration. This can be done on your own or with a helmet brand representative. Put a helmet on a watermelon and leave another watermelon without protection. Drop a sharp object on both. See what happens.

(Then enjoy a yummy snack while your crew recounts all the times they saw their lives flash before their eyes because they weren’t wearing protective headgear. Chances are, you’ll hear some stories that top even my silly coconut anecdote!)

Activity #5: Boots

This activity can also be done with a representative. Put putty in the toe section of both safety toe boots and in the toe section of boots without steel protection. Then, drop a heavy object onto both. Finally, show the damage to the putty did to your crew.

Activity #6: Family Picnic

family wants safe construction work
A family picnic is a great way to show your employees that you care while instilling a valuable safety lesson at the same time. Invite your employees to bring family and friends for a company Safety Week picnic. This is a good reminder of the best reason to be safe while working construction. You can even schedule safety activities throughout the day—just make sure to keep the activities light and fun. You don’t want to scare any of the children or spouses!

Activity #7: Lessons

Teaching is often viewed as being an effective method of learning. Assign each person a topic in construction safety and have them give a lesson on it to the group. This activity works well for Construction Safety Week, and it can be reused in meetings throughout the year to keep your employees active in ongoing safety training.

Activity #8: Health Screenings

Staying safe on a construction site means more than just preventing accidents. Your internal health can also suffer given the rigor of the job and environment. Health screenings can help identify problems for people at more risk of a heat stroke or a heart attack. Overexertion is common in the construction industry, and checkups can help make sure everybody remains healthy and able to work.

Daily stretches can also be incorporated into work routines as a way to prepare your body for physical work. They can also be used as a means to identify employees who may be trying to hide an injury.

Activity #9: Trainings/Certifications

Safety Week can be a good time for continued education through trainings and certifications. To maintain certain accreditations like CSM or SMT through the National Association of Safety Professionals, some of your crew may be required to undergo relearning every few years anyway. This might as well coincide with Safety Week! (Hey, nobody ever complained about hitting two birds with one stone, did they?)

Something like CPR training would be useful for the entire staff and could potentially save someone’s life.

Conclusion

Construction Safety Week is an excellent way to reinstill valuable and potentially life-saving lessons on construction site safety. While this can be done through lectures, activities can make this week of learning more fun and memorable. Safety Week is important, but the ideas should carry on throughout the year to maintain a healthy and safe work environment.


Smart Service Spotlight: Lucas McCarty

On March 20th, 2018 by

I met with Lucas McCarty, former implementation specialist, new account executive, and almost-dad, to play pool and talk about work and life. In addition to his skills at the billiards table*, Lucas has some other hidden talents (bowling, dancing, and connecting with customers to name a few).

What’s the most exciting thing going on in your life right now?
I’m experiencing a big career change and I’m looking forward to my first child that will be due in May.

What is your role at My Service Depot?
I was the implementation specialist, but I am going to be moving to the sales department at the end of the month. There I’ll be handling individual customer accounts and making sure customers have everything they need to use Smart Service effectively.

What are you listening to these days?
Sports radio. All day, every day. Go Buckeyes!

Do you have any pets?
I have a cat that I hate to love and love to hate. He’s 13. He’s a spoiled brat.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I’d probably want to learn to skydive.

What is your favorite food?
Anything with soy sauce and rice—I’m all about Asian food.

And your favorite drink?
Besides a guinness? Black tea. No milk, lots of sugar.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Punctual, enthusiastic, and positive.

What did you want to be growing up?
A professional bowler.

Do you have a hidden talent—besides bowling?
I can dance! I took like 7 years of ballet, 6-7 years of hip-hop. I liked it a lot. I’ve tried to get back into it a couple of times, but I have a really bad right knee that scares me.

Are you going to make your kid dance?
I don’t know. If I force my kid to do it, they might not like it at all. I’m kind of torn between that. I would love to see her play instruments. I absolutely love piano. My major in school was actually music composition. So I know how to play a lot better than I can actually play.

Before working here, what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
Working on a golf course. I got to do a little bit of landscaping, plumbing, and irrigation. No day was standard.

How would you describe My Service Depot?
We’re a family. We’re very professional, but it’s very tight-knit. I think we do a very good job keeping the friend vs. employee relationship kind of separate.

What has been your favorite interaction with a customer?
One time I had a call with a pest control customer. They were going out to do an ant job and I proceeded to tell the woman jokingly that I wasn’t able to help her because I have a deep love for ants. She laughed and asked a couple questions about my interest in ants. It was a funny interaction.

What has been your favorite project to work on at My Service Depot?
The webinars. Our customers really respond to them. Plus, it’s a free service and I feel like our customers get a lot of value out of it.

Any random fact about anything you could share with us?
There are more visible stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the earth.

*For those of you wondering, Lucas beat me at pool. Twice.

Previous Smart Service Spotlight profiles:
Nuwriy Nienkirchen, Customer Support Manager


5 Ways to Use Your 2018 Tax Refund to Reinvest in Your HVAC Business

On March 16th, 2018 by

As an HVAC business owner, you know your seasons. There’s the cooling season, the heating season, and that hectic period in the middle we like to call tax season. Tax season is a time of great stress, hasty calculations, and then, at last, HOPEFULLY getting a little something back into your account. In the United States, the IRS reported in 2016 that the average tax refund an individual gets is about $3,500. When you’re running a small business, it can be much higher. With your HVAC accounting done, now comes the question, what should you do with that cash?

The easy answer is a boring answer. Put it all into savings. Pay off your debt. Yada yada yada. You know the drill. However, sometimes being responsible may not actually be the most responsible thing to do. Investing the money back in your HVAC business could hold better returns than those “boring” choices.

1. A New HVAC Truck

If you have more work orders than you can handle and enough technicians, purchasing another truck for your fleet could have significant benefits. You would be able to continue to expand your business’ reach and hold on the market. Or, if one of your trucks has taken a beating, it might be time to retire and replace it with a newer one. You put a lot of miles on a vehicle driving it from job site to job site, it’s time you reward yourself with some shiny new wheels.

2. Your Team

Your team of technicians are like your family. Investing in your family is investing in your business. You want them to be happy with what they do and how they do it. You can accomplish this by investing in more training for them, hiring a new worker, and finding ways for them to gain more knowledge on the industry.

If your business has more than enough work, it might be time for a new addition to the team. Hire a new worker so that your business can take on more work orders and continue to grow.

Investing in training for your employees can advance the skillset of your entire crew and the services that your business offers. It also boosts employee retention for your HVAC business. Like Richard Branson says, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Send some of your technicians to a trade show. This experience can inspire them to take more of a lead in your business and think in a more innovative way.

You could also show your technicians how much you care by using your sweet tax refunds on bonuses or raised wages for them. After all, a happy crew is a happy you.

3. New HVAC Technology

Is your phone on its last string? Is your laptop so chunky people mistake it for a lunchbox? If so, it might be time for an upgrade. When you’re running a business, communication is key. HVAC companies and small businesses use smartphones for everything from phone calls and texts to emails and dispatching applications. So it is important to make sure you have the proper equipment! This could mean a rugged phone, or just one that can do more (and do it more efficiently). Or, if you need something bigger, maybe it’s time to get tablets for your HVAC business so that customers can read and sign forms more easily!

Communicating efficiently can be difficult when you spend more time waiting for your phone to load than you do actually using it. Tom, a 96 year old customer, could be dying of a heat stroke while you wait for your phone to tell you that you need to fix his AC! Upgrade that equipment and go save poor Tom.

If you haven’t caught up with the current century yet, it’s time. Paper forms are old news. (Heck, even paper cash is old news nowadays.) It’s time to digitize, my friend. Business management software lets you dispatch more effectively and manage your team outside of the office. This can lead to some serious return for your company. Bada-bing, bada-boom.

4. HVAC Marketing

A refund could be the perfect opportunity to work on marketing your HVAC business. You’ve been putting it off for a while, but now you have no excuses. Revamp that website! Hire someone for social media! Get those new uniforms! Put your logo on that truck! The world is your oyster.

5. A Smart Office

You spend your days selling energy efficient AC units and setting up smart thermostats. Why not practice what you preach? We’ll save the pitch for this one, you know it like the back of your hand already, don’t you? Take the smart HVAC system one step further and install solar panels! Yay for going green! (Plus you can now advertise your HVAC business as a green HVAC business. Hoorah!)

Conclusion

Tax returns provide an opportunity for you to reinvest into your HVAC business, propelling you into the following tax year. Whether you decide to invest in HVAC software, get a new truck, or go the (boring) route of paying off debt, you’ll be sure to be a step further than you were before. This sure puts a nice twist on “spring forward,” doesn’t it?


The Guidebook to Record Keeping Using HVAC Software

On March 13th, 2018 by

When you’re running a business, good records matter. HVAC is no exception and often requires even better record keeping than other businesses. Keeping your receipts, tracking your miles, and keeping an ample stock of photos of your work can make all the difference. While most HVAC companies keep excellent financial records, many forget that customer and photographic records can be just as important.

Financial Records

Keeping good financial records becomes easy with software like QuickBooks. It acts as your accountant, generating invoices and helping you keep track of money coming in and going out.

Keep receipts and invoices of all your business transactions. You never know when you will need to show proof of a purchase. Besides, these receipts can be useful come tax season. Did you purchase a new truck for transporting all those heavy AC units? Or maybe new HVAC software for all your scheduling and dispatch needs? Keep the proof and say hello to tax breaks!

While April 15th can be a stressful day for some, good record keeping can help it pass like an easy summer breeze. When you’ve been putting in the effort year round, there isn’t a last second rush to count your expenses and profits the night of April 14th. Nobody needs that stress in their life—and definitely not a busy business owner like you. When you keep good records year round you get to keep your cool (pun intended) year round.

Customer Records

Maintaining good records for customers and equipment allows you to create jobs faster on your management software. HVAC management software like Smart Service automatically fills out jobs and work orders with customer information so you don’t have to. Putting in the effort now makes a world of a difference later on.

When you’re on the job, taking notes on the equipment you use (and anything else that is worth jotting down) can be very helpful when creating an invoice. These notes can also act as a reference for future jobs.

Photographic Records

Record keeping goes further than numbers. Pictures provide more than 1,000 words of evidentiary material both as proof of your work and as marketing assets for your HVAC business.

HVAC Marketing Ideas

Before and after pictures of the work you’ve done are an excellent way to show potential customers the climate-controlled improvements you can make in their lives. Choosing your company could come down to nothing more than you showing off your work online.

Put pictures of your completed HVAC systems or your most recent project on your websites and social media to develop leads. Want to secure the leads? Create a portfolio of your work for in-person prospect meetings!

Successful HVAC Business Through Customer Satisfaction

While photographic records can help secure a new client, the pictures can also be useful in ensuring customer satisfaction. Show your customers evidence of the work you’ve done to instill your work ethic, commitment to quality, and your continued progress on their project.

Completing a multi-job project? You can show day-by-day progress of your work. Construction HVAC system installations can seem like they take forever to go from point A to point B. Keeping your clients in the loop is good for morale both on the site and off. Photographic evidence helps to maintain communication and establishes trust between you and your customer.

Guidance for your HVAC Tech

Taking lots of pictures can also be useful to your crew on the job. Multi-stage projects can take a lot of time. On certain jobs, it can be easy to forget what you did the last time you were there. And remembering what equipment you used? Nearly impossible! Take pictures of the equipment you use or work on and attach them to your job notes on your HVAC management software app. It’s easy as 1-2-3!

Conclusion

Record keeping for your HVAC business isn’t stressful if you stay on top of it, and it can be made easier still with HVAC management software. Always remember to be keep your records as accurate as possible, and most importantly, backup your data!


How a Shortage in Construction Workers is Opening Doors for New Construction Technology

On March 12th, 2018 by

Shifts in the workforce, technology, and politics have created an exciting climate for the construction industry. While newness can be scary, these changes can also result in industry improvements. The shortage of workers and rising material costs poses problems, but the need for a solution has already begun to inspire innovation.

The Problems Facing the Construction Industry

Shortage of Construction Workers

If you are in construction, you are more than familiar with the shortage of skilled construction workers. After the great recession in 2008, many people left the construction industry. However, when the construction jobs started to come back, the workers didn’t. Over the past 12 months alone, there have been over 226,000 new jobs in construction. Unfortunately, those positions are not being filled. This has left construction companies understaffed and overwhelmed.

Rising Cost of Steel and Aluminum in Construction

As the president imposes tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, many American construction companies do not share the current enthusiasm felt by American steel and aluminum companies. Cheaper sources of steel and aluminum will rise in price, increasing the production cost for construction companies.

While this tariff for 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum will increase general construction costs, it shouldn’t have much of an effect on residential properties. However, it can greatly increase the cost of larger construction where steel is required to provide structure.

Solving These Issues with Innovative Construction Solutions

Internet of Things

Internet of things (or IoT) has been a buzzword since 2013, with ever-increasing resonance today. This term refers to the network of connected devices that aim to use data to make life easier and more productive. Besides at-home technology (Say hi, Alexa), IoT can be found in management software, apps, wearable technology, drones, BIM, and more. This technology enhances performance for construction companies, allowing workers to get more done and make up for industry shortages.

Software and Apps

The connected world can be a useful tool for a construction company, especially when managing a team of contractors. Softwares and apps can provide tools and information for construction workers to use in the field. Scheduling and dispatch software like Smart Service allows workdays to become more productive through seamless communication between the home office management software for construction and the mobile app for field workers. Other apps connect construction workers to their biometrics, AR, BIM, vehicle fleet locations, and more.

Wearable Technology in Construction

Wearable technology has become commonplace as accessories like the FitBit and smart watches have taken over. The potential of such objects in the construction industry has clear merit.

Construction Helmets and Glasses

Though Google Glass didn’t take off commercially, one can understand how similar devices can be beneficial in construction. Helmets and protective glasses like Daqri Smart Glasses can provide protection from debris while assisting construction workers with on-site augmented reality. Hands-free interaction with digital tools allows construction crews to perform more effectively. Google Glass has even taken an industrial turn as it caters to more mechanical operations. AGCO has reported a 25% reduction in production time on low volume, complex assemblies. Such tools, though used in agriculture, have game-changing applications in field service as well. Working with your hands has become a dynamic and revolutionary field.

Bionic Suits

With 625,000 occupational injuries due to work in manufacturing and construction in 2015 alone (and an accompanying 21 billion dollars spent on workers’ compensation), it is clear that the physical toll construction takes on a worker is intense. Bionic suits act as an exoskeleton on part of or the entire body. They have been used in medical research for paraplegic individuals and are now also being used in construction work. Use of these bionic suits in construction will lower the amount of pain incurred by construction workers by literally carrying part of the burden. A vest can support up to 36 lbs of extra weight; this makes a huge difference in productivity and health.

Biometric Checking Through Construction Gear

Construction is a dangerous field. Workers can become seriously injured when working in the heat or as the result of on-site accidents. With biometric checking, symptoms of heat exhaustion can be identified prior to severe injury (sometimes making the difference between life and death). These systems can also alert coworkers when someone is in potential danger. This can effectively make construction a much safer field, resulting in more active interest in construction as a career.

Imaging

Technology has vastly improved the concept of a standard construction blueprint. Drones and building information modeling have transformed the preparation process for construction, resulting in better prepared construction crews and faster build times.

Construction Drones

While some use these for hobby flying, drones have clear benefits when used in construction. Construction drones survey land, create models for building information modeling, and can act as a marketing tool when showing potential customers your work. While some companies use drone rental companies as needed, it can sometimes make sense for a construction company to purchase one. One can even use VR headsets to attain first-person aerial views of a construction site! It is important, however, to consider local the legal implications of construction drones as flying laws vary state to state.

Construction BIM

BIM (building information modeling) is used in construction to create digital representations of actual building functionality. BIM can be extremely realistic and often incorporates real-world settings through drone and other BIM construction area-scanning technology. These models are used as very thorough plans. Designing functionality beforehand allows for quicker, safer, and better-developed construction.

Building Faster

With less construction workers on site, many construction companies are looking for faster ways to produce buildings. Revolutions in 3D printing and modular building have allowed construction projects to reach completion in less time while maintaining a high quality of work.

3D Printing

>We’ve all seen videos of 3D printers creating unique items, models, and toys. Well, the same technology has been scaled to building-sized proportion for the construction industry, using concrete to 3D print entire houses. A 3D printed house can save time and money for construction companies while lessening the burden on construction workers so that they can work on the details.

Modular Building

While modular buildings used to be thought of as cheap and low quality, they are now being sought as a faster alternative to on-site construction. Parts of buildings are manufactured in an off-site factory, then put together like puzzle pieces on the construction site. The quality of modular buildings has gone up as well, lessening construction time while maintaining the level of quality that many homeowners seek.

Conclusion

While there are shortages in construction workers and rising costs in production, the solution to these problems might prove to be revolutionary. Technology is taking construction by storm, making the industry safer, more lucrative, and more effective. Ultimately, as construction becomes a more appealing career to young individuals entering the workforce, these investments in technology will prove to have great return.


The Best Portable Restrooms at the WWETT Show

On March 6th, 2018 by

The Smart Service team went to the WWETT Show in Indianapolis looking for inspiration, and the portable bathrooms on display there more than did the trick. We compiled the best in a list (and took pictures!) so you can revel in the delight that is the luxury porta potty business. So whether you are a portable bathroom rental company looking for new pieces to put in your showcase, a construction site manager with an on-site office, or just somebody interested in the comforts of home away from home, you’ll want to see these. In fact, you’ll have to see it to believe how beautiful some of these bathrooms truly are! Don’t mind the number ones and number twos, here are, in no order, the best portable thrones for you to sit back and… relax on.

1. Forest River Mobile Restrooms

The sleek gray exterior of the Forest River Mobile Restrooms unit is understated, but modern. A color-coded vacant/occupied sign lights up, telling you whether or not you should head to the trailer or find a secluded, well hidden area to do your business.. This unit shines when servicing big crowds or a large construction site. The trailer features two separate doors leading to single-stall halves. So one person at a time, people!
porta potties constructionvacant or occupiedurinal and toilet

2. Rich Specialty trailers

The Rich Specialty Trailers are beautifully crafted. Finished with modern sinks and a warming electric fireplace, they sure are top-of-the-line! Your customers will be shocked to see that the inside of this restroom trailer is decked out with the sweetest finishings. Not to mention, the fireplace actually functions! No need for roughing it; turns out doing nature’s business can be quite the luxurious experience.
restroom trailerfireplace in bathroom trailerrestroom stall

3. Jag Mobile Solutions

Jag Mobile Solutions units are beautifully designed with different themes to suit various events. They even have shower units for customers with extended-stay restroom needs! So whether your customers prefer handling their… personal business in country-chique or masculine-modern settings, you can rest assured that your company can suit their needs!
country chique restroom trailershower in restroom trailer

4. Ameri-Can Engineering

This has to be the prettiest exterior to ever grace the porta potty rental realm. (Rumor has it, this is the cottage that trapped Hansel and Gretel with its inviting quaintness.) This Ameri-Can Engineering trailer, besides having a hilarious brand name, looks like a cottage out of a fairy tale and is perfect for customers who want a restroom trailer without the restroom trailer look. There are separate stalls inside, each fitted with its own sink and toilet!
luxury bathroom trailer cottage stylebathroom stall in portable trailerrestroom trailer multiple stalls

5. Polyportables

Yes, there are luxury porta potties too! A step above the standard porta potty, Polyportables makes units perfect for any construction site manager who wants to find something a little better for their workers. Each porta potty is spacious and provides thoughtful conveniences. There are also portable hand washing stations and portable showers! If you need a construction site porta potty, this is the one for you. Your construction workers will thank you, and your nose will thank you too.
porta potties for construction sitesbest porta potty for construction workersportable shower for construction sitehand washing station for construction site

Conclusion

The WWETT Show may have ended, but you can still get some much-needed inspiration from the proceedings. Whether you want some porta potty rental business ideas, cater to a luxury portable bathroom rental market, or want to purchase a porta potty for construction, this list of luxury porta potty trailers serves as a great starting point!


Is the Future of Plumbing Female?

On March 1st, 2018 by

As a woman working in the field service industry, the lack of diversity in the field is hard to miss. The stereotypes surrounding “female jobs” tend to prevent women on the hunt for a job from even considering anything adjacent to “manual labor.” I’m convinced, however, that the stigma surrounding women in plumbing and other field service industries can change without resorting to rebranding the term to “womanual labor.”

Attending the WWETT Show for the first time this past week, I was surprised to see a good representation of women throughout the show. Upon discovering that the WWETT show planned to feature a “Women in the Industry” networking event, I knew I needed to meet the faces behind this growing demographic of wastewater plumbers, pumpers, and administrators.

At the event, I sat with four other women working in the industry: Lisa, owner and boss lady at Commercial Pumping Services, Christina and Ellen of Zoom Drain, and Pamela, self-proclaimed “recovering lawyer,” sewer technician, and owner of Men in Sewers. Sipping wine and eating appetizers, they spoke of their experiences working in a male-dominated industry by overcoming adversity and standing up to stereotypes.

A Changing Industry

The Growing Need For Plumbers

The concept of a job being defined by its gender expectations is slowly but surely becoming obsolete. The plumbing industry is no exception, (even if it seems a little bit more resistant to answering change’s beck and call). Even though plumbing jobs are projected to increase by 16% by 2026, only half of the labor force in America (the men) generally even consider the field as a possible career choice. With the need for plumbers ever-increasing and the population (along with the number of toilets) ever-growing, now should be a great time for anyone to enter the field.

Because of the ever-increasing demand for plumbing jobs, more women joining the field are a clear solution to filling the gap. Women in construction and other related trades such as plumbing and piping rose from 2.2 percent in 1978-1983 to 2.6 percent in 2012. This number, though increasing, is not high enough. Even though more women are entering the field, the stigma that women aren’t “strong” or “tough” enough for the work inhibits many others from starting a career in the sewage industry. Jobs are available, but most women don’t even view them as an option.

But why shouldn’t they? The grossness factor shouldn’t be an issue. After all, look at nursing! Nurses deal with far worse—and sometimes even smellier!—work than those in plumbing, and women dominate the nursing field. Ultimately, it is an issue with the idea of the work and not the work itself that prevents many women from considering plumbing as a career option.

Internet as a Modern Office

Before the unforeseen prominence of the internet and social media, one’s first interaction with a plumbing company was through the phone or at their doorstep. Nowadays, Yelp is the first face we see.

Because one’s first interaction with a company is online rather than through face or by phone, customers’ first impressions are created through that platform as well. Pamela of Men in Sewers, understanding the stigma of women in the plumbing industry, uses this knowledge to her advantage, “There are no pictures of me on the website. My name’s not on the website. Because I want people to know the company and not be turned off if they see a minority woman. Being a woman in the industry, that’s one thing. Being a minority woman in an underrepresented industry is a whole different ball game.”

Therefore, it is no surprise that some women are now able to flourish in a field that was once hostile to them. Internet and social media have allowed women to start at the same level as men, relying on their work and reviews rather than their appearance.

When do women enter the industry?

Both Pamela and Christina recounted what it was that first drew them to a career in sewage. As a child, Pamela’s grandfathers taught her skills in handiwork. “One of them was a plumber and one was the neighborhood handyman. They were like, ‘I don’t have anyone else to go with, so you come with me.’ I had kind of been around it.”

Christina shared a similar introduction to the wastewater industry. She reflects, “I would not have even thought of this as a career unless my dad and his brother started [Zoom Drain]. It’s always been something that I’ve grown up with.”

While this shared childhood familiarity with the industry seemed coincidental at first, upon reflection it makes more sense. Typically when growing up, boys are the ones to learn mechanical and practical skills. While this isn’t always intentional, this early skill development can lay the foundations for future learning and career options. After all, if someone has never been given a wrench, you can hardly expect them to feel comfortable deciding on a career path that makes that skill a priority. Thus, women who have been introduced to this skill set by their family while young have felt more comfortable and adept entering the field.

Problems Women Face in the Industry

Ellen has felt nothing but support in the plumbing industry. “I have felt very lifted,” she says, reflecting on her time working for Zoom Drain. Pamela, the owner of Men in Sewers, agrees. Speaking about her technicians, Pamela recounts, “My guys… are very protective of me.”

While the plumbing industry is opening up to more women in technician roles, there’s still progress to be made, particularly with the stigma surrounding women working in the field. Though Pamela has received unsurmounted support from her own crew, that support can sometimes be tempered by customers expecting a more… masculine technician. “[They] don’t believe that I’m the owner,” Pamela states. “Some guys on the job are like ‘I want to talk to the boss.’” She laughs, “I am the boss.”

It is no surprise that clients have expectations of male technicians. Plumbers have been predominantly male since the invention of the sewage system, and it will take time to change the societal expectations regarding gender roles in field service work.

Though these women in the plumbing industry love the field they work in, they can understand why some women wouldn’t be interested in facing the adversity. Lisa from Commercial Pumping Services notes, “When a woman applies for a technician role…she knows she’s going to have to fight the same battle [we did getting into the plumbing industry]. Who wants that?” While this thought is scary, the crowd of women at the WWETT Show proves that many do want to face these challenges, and that their number is, in fact, increasing.

What this Means for the Plumbing Industry

The plumbing industry, along with other field service industries, is changing. With the development of technology, the increasing prominence of the internet, and evolving gender expectations, it comes as no surprise that businesses are progressing with the times as well.

These industry changes provide the perfect climate for women to emerge in the plumbing job market. The plumbing industry is in need of more workers and women offer an untapped labor force. There are careers to be found here, and there are some amazing women doing riveting things in plumbing that all industry workers should be proud of and support.



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