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Commercial contractors in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing industry have been challenged by a shortage of skilled labor for several years. In the last 18 months, a perfect storm of unprecedented circumstances — among them are COVID-19, materials shortages, materials price increases and supply chain interruptions — has exacerbated the labor gap and pushed our Read more

Commercial contractors in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing industry have been challenged by a shortage of skilled labor for several years. In the last 18 months, a perfect storm of unprecedented circumstances — among them are COVID-19, materials shortages, materials price increases and supply chain interruptions — has exacerbated the labor gap and pushed our industry into an ongoing state of crisis.

In addition to revealing deep structural vulnerabilities, the unforeseen difficulties of 2020 and 2021 have underscored the urgent need for commercial contractors to implement new efficiency strategies and processes in order to stay competitive. It’s more critical than ever that they find ways for their teams to operate more effectively and maximize productivity in order to shore up profit margins.

One of the top priorities throughout the industry is reducing the amount of time that team members spend on tedious, time-consuming tasks, freeing them to do the meaningful service work for which they’re trained and hired.

The specific needs of every contractor are different, depending on their company’s size, location, specialized focus and long-term goals. Nevertheless, a few proven strategies for streamlining and building efficiency apply throughout our industry and can, if implemented intentionally, make a noticeable difference in operations and show results for almost any contracting business.

Improve communication

Sounds easy, right? But teams working on commercial mechanical, electrical and plumbing projects face a host of obstacles to efficient communication. For contractors, maintaining effective open channels between jobsites and the office is a major ongoing challenge that creates friction and slows productivity. And since time is money, one of the simplest ways to increase profitability is get your communication processes down pat.

We know that an array of technology solutions are available to help field techs save time, reduce expenses, and generate more revenue. But they aren’t the only team members who can benefit from technology. Contractors whose technology investment is limited to an app for technicians could be missing a significant opportunity to increase their company’s productivity across the board.

Office staff plays a critical support role that makes field service calls possible. From scheduling and dispatch to sales, management and accounting, empowering the behind-the-scenes team to perform more efficiently and effectively is an essential component of any strategy for increasing revenue and supporting growth.

On top of that, the sheer number of stakeholders involved in a commercial project can complicate the flow of information, increasing the risk of delays, inaccuracy and cost overruns. Integrating an all-in-one system that connects field technicians, back-office staff, account managers, finance and accounting teams, owners, and customers fosters transparency and accountability, encourages faster decision-making and reduces errors, which all adds up to completing more jobs and staying under budget.

The best all-in-one operational software solutions for modern commercial contractors can help the average company save several hours of work a week, giving you and your team more time to focus on growth and increasing revenue opportunities.

Streamline workflows

Guided and gated workflows help contractors develop standardized approaches for their field service teams for a variety of jobs and conditions. These automated workflows and associated benchmarks for performance contribute to operational efficiency across the board: techs can provide real-time information about every job at multiple points, building an internal knowledge base and full work history for each client.

Successful contractors are juggling multiple projects simultaneously. That can be difficult enough to manage, especially if you rely on manual processes. This can result in resource capacity shortages, scheduling conflicts, and missed deadlines. Pen and paper are dead; operational software can completely change the way your company gets work done. With software, all the essential information is organized in one place – all relevant data and information are just a few clicks away in one database that acts as your “single source of truth.”

With the right HVAC software in place, you can automate your operational processes, freeing up your employees to tackle more productive (and more lucrative) projects. For example, automated reporting makes it easy to measure productivity across the board, shining a spotlight on potential areas for improvement, while smart task lists and work queues make daily work prioritization a snap, so everyone can get right to work on the tasks that matter most. With project status always available at everyone’s fingertips, nobody wastes time manually checking on progress or sitting in meetings that are a waste of time.

Advanced field service management software provides sophisticated built-in automation for various tasks, including smart scheduling and dispatching, workforce and resource planning, live updates on field team status, and more. Integrated features combine quoting and invoicing, workflow management, asset tracking, and customer management, which allow for total visibility at a glance.

Crucially, these workflows enable the collection and analysis of critical job and customer data that empowers contractors to deliver best-in-class customer service and optimize operational efficiency.

Measure performance

Collecting data is the first step to making smart business decisions. Having the right data organized and accessible can supercharge a team’s productivity by providing key information about where your business stands in terms of costs, revenue, efficiencies, bottlenecks, and more so you can see how your crew is performing, which job types bring in the highest profit, and key areas for development (aka: your weakest link).

The top all-in-one platforms for our industry are designed to manage all your operations and deliver actionable data collected from all departments, customers, employees, and projects. All of this information is available in real-time, offering up-to-the-minute insights into any and all aspects of your business. There are endless possibilities for fast, accurate, accessible data and analysis that can improve performance and drive increased revenue and growth.

Using a reliable reporting system, commercial contractors can collect and understand the data they need to optimize their operational efficacy and ideally reach operational excellence. With in-depth insights into quotes, events, revenue, time, and maintenance, contractors can effectively identify bottlenecks and other issues. From there, they can take the necessary steps to eliminate those issues and get the most from their operations.

You hire your teams for their skill and experience. Every second they spend filling out paperwork or performing tedious data-entry tasks is a second when their value isn’t being realized. That’s frustrating for them — and expensive for you, especially during the current challenging economic climate. Reducing the amount of time that team members spend on tedious, time-consuming tasks and freeing them to do the meaningful service work they’re trained and hired for can distinguish the top service companies and position them for continued growth and success. The goal here is to achieve increased team morale, higher profit margins, and for business owners, a greater sense of confidence in scaling the business.

Author Bio: Alok Chanani is an entrepreneur who spent nearly a decade as the Founder/CEO of USA Commercial, a construction company that built apartment buildings in major cities across the US. During this time, Alok realized how innovative technology could change the lives of the specialty contractors he was working with and inspired him to launch an incredibly modern, robust software solution (what BuildOps is today). A former U.S. Army Captain, Alok served as an infantry platoon leader, combat engineer, and Unit Commander in Baghdad – spending a year moving large amounts of currency around Iraq. Alok has a BS from Cornell University, and an MBA in real estate from the Wharton School.

Fall is here and winter is approaching. That means we are officially in heating season. While accidents happen, there are a few ways to remain cautious for a safer, incident-free winter. Working in colder climates has some obvious challenges. For one, HVACR professionals deal with extreme weather while working long, tiresome hours near components that Read more

Fall is here and winter is approaching. That means we are officially in heating season. While accidents happen, there are a few ways to remain cautious for a safer, incident-free winter.

Working in colder climates has some obvious challenges. For one, HVACR professionals deal with extreme weather while working long, tiresome hours near components that could be red hot. They also deal with potentially deadly gasses like carbon monoxide, propane and natural gas.

HVAC, HVACR, heating season, boilers, furnaces, electrocution, HVAC tips, HVAC hazards, jobsite safety, jobsite accidents, workplace safety

Old worn, copper gas boiler without protective casing in operation mode could lead to carbon monoxide leakage and poisoning.

Here are some ways to make sure technicians work safely around the most common HVACR industry hazards faced:

CO Exposure — This is the biggest danger, both to you and to the homeowner or building occupants. Carbon monoxide (CO), a natural byproduct of burning natural gas, is an odorless, colorless gas that is rightly known as the silent killer. While prolonged exposure can lead to death, breathing air saturated with CO for even a short time can quickly overwhelm and incapacitate you. When working around heating equipment, you should use a CO tester to confirm you’re not being exposed. Be sure to follow all safety guidelines while installing a system to ensure no CO gets into the home or the conditioned space.

Burns — There are multiple ways an HVACR tech might burn themselves — especially in the winter. Working close to open flames and hot elements, heating systems can put out a lot of excess heat. Plus, techs often find themselves needing to solder connections and other components — the opportunities for burns are endless. The best way to stay safe is to know where the sources of heat are and work carefully and deliberately around them. Don’t rush your work and don’t guess if something has cooled off enough to touch.

Fatigue — Getting tired comes with the territory when crawling around in the dark and lifting heavy equipment. To avoid fatigue, get plenty of rest before starting your workday. Also, working safely is often the first thing overlooked when working tired. While shortcuts to remove extra steps may sound like a better option when exhausted, this can lead to incidents that put yourself or others in harm’s way. If you’re too tired to work safely, you’re too tired to work. Don’t risk it.

Extreme Weather — Until furnaces start shutting down, you’re most likely working in cold crawlspaces and attics, and on slippery surfaces like ice-covered sidewalks. When the temperature drops this time of year, dress for the conditions. Durable, warm work boots can give you firm footing on icy steps. Also, cold fingers can easily drop tools, so wear warm gloves.

Electrocution — If you’re working around electrical circuits or with live wires in an HVACR system, it’s best to turn them off at the panel. Then, hang a tag at the panel so no one accidentally turns it on. If you work with live wires, wear the correct PPE and follow all safety precautions.

Heating season is no joke. Your safety, and the safety of others, is in your hands, so keep these tips in mind when conducting service and repair calls.

By Tony Gonzalez Technical Training Manager for Fieldpiece Instruments. Tony has more than 20 years of industry experience with Fieldpiece developing new products. Most recently, he led the Job Link® App development team and developed Fieldpiece’s wireless power clamp meters. He is committed to training on best practices to help the HVACR professional do their job easier, faster and better. Tony enjoys road cycling and rooting for his hometown LA Dodgers. 

Dating back to the early 1900s with his great grandfather, you could say that plumbing runs in Bobby Drescher Jr.’s blood. Drescher (@theplumberlorian on IG), alongside his brother, has run a family-owned and operated plumbing service and repair company since 2005, which was started by Drescher’s father. Drescher started in the plumbing trade as a Read more

Bobby Drescher, The Plumberlorian, Instagram, social media, plumber, plumbing service, plumbing repair, plumbing tradeDating back to the early 1900s with his great grandfather, you could say that plumbing runs in Bobby Drescher Jr.’s blood. Drescher (@theplumberlorian on IG), alongside his brother, has run a family-owned and operated plumbing service and repair company since 2005, which was started by Drescher’s father.

Drescher started in the plumbing trade as a part-time apprentice while he was attending college, and once he graduated, he decided against pursuing a career with the Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications he obtained, and became a full-time, licensed journeyman plumber, eventually getting his Master Plumbing license. “I learned most of my skills from working alongside my father as an apprentice; from there it was a matter of repetition and different experiences on the job that eventually led to me getting my journeyman’s and feeling 100% comfortable running a service truck on my own. I later got my master’s and here we are over 16 years later.”

Family is a big part of who Drescher is, and it’s also what keeps him grounded. “I have a loving wife, and two beautiful boys whom I hope to pass down my skills to when they are old enough. I enjoy what I do every day, but for me, it’s not just about the work I do, but also the people I get to meet and help along the way,” says Drescher.

Bobby Drescher, The Plumberlorian, Instagram, social media, plumber, plumbing service, plumbing repair, plumbing tradeDrescher says it’s always tough to keep a good work/family life balance. “If there’s work related stuff I need to discuss at home, I’ll get that out of the way usually once I get home, but for the rest of the evening I focus on my family, while trying to stay engaged with my wife and kids. I’m all for working late from time to time to get the job done, but you definitely have to find balance. The kids are only young once, and I intend on being there for them and my wife as much as I can,” says Drescher.

And it’s that family unit that has helped Drescher throughout his plumbing career. Drescher owes a lot to his father and his brother, both of whom have guided and helped him. “My father would be my biggest mentor in and out of the trade for sure, being a licensed master plumber himself,” says Drescher. “My brother, too and that’s weird to say because he’s my younger brother, but we grew up learning the plumber trade together, and we bounce ideas/tips off each all the time, which is always helpful.”

Does Drescher consider himself a mentor for others? He does now, chuckles Drescher. “I started the Instagram account to blog my journey, but over just a matter of months, I’ve had a dozen or so reach out to me saying they love what I’m doing on social media and that it’s inspiring. It always catches me off guard when I hear that and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. I want to reach more people on here, not just those in the trade already.”

Bobby Drescher, The Plumberlorian, Instagram, social media, plumber, plumbing service, plumbing repair, plumbing tradeDrescher has met a lot of amazing people on social media, and he admits he was a “babe in the woods” starting off, yet he was fortunate to have a few people who supported what I was doing right in the beginning. “I have made some solid friends for sure. A few that I talk to on a daily basis, which is so awesome. I have also picked up a few tips and tricks as well from other plumbers on here. I think that’s one of the coolest things from a trades’ standpoint is that we can share with others so easily things we have learned.”

And while Drescher’s most trusted tools on the truck are his torch, pliers and tape measure, “it’s great that some of these tool brands and others I have used for years are so engaged with their audience. That’s another positive of social media, that it gives them a way to interact with their users, whether it’s just purely for entertainment purposes or their trying to shed some light on a new tool or product. I’ve had the opportunity of having some of my videos shared, which is always great.”

Speaking of social media, the handle @theplumberlorian is such a cool name. “Well, I am a plumber, and a big fan of The Mandalorian. I also can relate a lot to the main character Din or “Mando” in the show. It’s twofold for me: here you have this guy who goes on missions each episode and somehow the mission goes sideways at some point. Being a service plumber, I can definitely relate to that. I’m sure other trades can as well. Some jobs go smoothly from start to finish, but then there’s others that aren’t that way at all,” says Drescher.

Bobby Drescher, The Plumberlorian, Instagram, social media, plumber, plumbing service, plumbing repair, plumbing trade“The important thing is to have the knowledge for when they aren’t straightforward missions, and you can adapt to the changes in front of you. Mando also becomes sort of a father figure to Grogu, this child-like creature he stumbles upon, and being a father myself, there are some scenes that choke me up because in the end, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do to keep our kids safe. He’s a relatable character for a lot of people, and I think that’s why the show is as popular as it is. This is the way.”

In the end, Drescher says the plumbing industry needs to do a better job attracting people to the trade; there’s a negative picture painted of blue-collar work by a lot of people who pass it down to their children. “It starts in the home really and it’s a tough nut to crack for some. I’ve met plenty of people who have a positive viewpoint of the trades, but I’ve met others that acted as if it’s beneath them,” says Drescher.

Drescher says that social media is one outlet for individuals to show blue collar work can be cool, and show a different side of things. “I’ve had so many people reach out to me that I inspire them. Which is crazy to hear, and never gets old. Some have been in their trade for years, others just starting out. That’s what keeps me going, just knowing that maybe I’m making a difference on there. We need more people out there investing in our youth and keeping a positive spin on the job,” says Drescher.

But it starts in the home. What picture are the parents painting, asks Drescher? “College isn’t the only option, and it may not even be the best option for some so why keep pushing it on your kids? Because that’s what they have stamped in their brain. We have to reach them somehow and change that line of thinking.”

Drescher went the college route because that’s what society was pushing on him, but it’s not for everyone. “You can have a successful life going into the trades, and I will always be an advocate of that,” says Drescher.

In an unprecedented time, newly elected PHCC president Joel Long says it’s time stop living in fear, and getting back to work is a top priority. Recently, Mechanical Hub had the chance to talk with Joel Long, co-owner of GSM Services, Gastonia, N.C., and PHCC president-elect. Running the nearly 100-year-old business with his brother Steven Read more

In an unprecedented time, newly elected PHCC president Joel Long says it’s time stop living in fear, and getting back to work is a top priority.

PHCC, plumbing-heating-cooling-contractors, plumbing, heating, plumbing & heating, plumbing and heating, plumbing associationRecently, Mechanical Hub had the chance to talk with Joel Long, co-owner of GSM Services, Gastonia, N.C., and PHCC president-elect. Running the nearly 100-year-old business with his brother Steven. Joel started to work for the family business during high school summer breaks and fell in love with the business. After high school, Long attended North Carolina State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Civil Engineering and Construction and started working for the family business upon graduation. In the following Q&A, Joel talks about his vision for PHCC and some critical issues facing contractors today.

 

MH: What does the position of PHCC president mean to you?
LONG: I am honored to have this opportunity to serve our industry and association after it has given so much to our company and to me personally.  I am thrilled to such a big opportunity to continue the work of those who have served before me and to make a little progress for our members and partners.

We are in a unique position to understand the depth of caring from the PHCC family. As many may know, tragedy befell GSM Services in April of this year with the murder of two of our coworkers. It was devastating to say the least, but PHCC members supported these two families on a massive scale and proved once again there is more good in the world than evil.

MH: What are some things you can take from your career that you can apply in the next chapter as president of PHCC?
LONG: There is nothing quite like the experience you gain while growing up in businesses like ours and then growing into a leadership position in that same business. I have spent a lot of time at the state and national levels seeing what works, what causes issues, and what is broken.   I am going to use that experience to hopefully continue to move us forward.

MH: How do you think being in the trades will guide you as the next president of the PHCC?
LONG: I think I fell in love with our trade because the people at all levels are just the best of America. I have always loved how we have a “can-do” attitude and can conquer anything while focusing on our families and doing what is right. PHCC will be operating that same way in my year as president like we have since our founding.

MH: The last 18 months has been quite the experience. What do you tying will be some of your initiatives going forward as we seem to be moving post-COVID?
LONG: I would say we may look back and see these two years as some of the most challenging in our careers.   Our members faced many challenges related to the pandemic and PHCC was able to provide a ton of assistance on those fronts.

Our members were deemed essential during the pandemic and continued to send our workforce into client’s homes and businesses as the disease raged.  Protecting both customers and coworkers was a major concern all-across the country.  PHCC got out front early with our Covid Recovery Center and our members were able to use our center to stay informed of changes and best practices to overcome the pandemic issues.   We will be continuing that effort.

I also believe it is time to get back out on the road and live without fear. We are going to lead by example and get our association moving back in a pre-pandemic mode. We must be as safe as possible and respect the concerns of the public, but at the same time we must get back to work on a full-size scale!!!!   It’s time to go!

MH: What is your vision to take PHCC to the next level?
LONG: PHCC is a federation of state and local associations and I believe it works best when each level is openly communicating and helping each other reach our individual and combined goals. Communication and collaboration are key to our mutual success. There are so many different opportunities across the country, and we must be very nimble and targeted in our approach to help our partners. We are here to serve our contractor members first and foremost, but our customers are also our state associations. Strengthening those relationships and building on small successes is how we will take PHCC to the next level.

MH: What are some critical issues facing contractors today?
LONG: I have heard from contractors all over the country and they are concerned about how they are struggling to get back to work through all the roadblocks we have been facing this past year or so. We will obviously continue to see the pandemic making us adapt our businesses going forward, but there are also opportunities for growth all around if we continue to search for them. I encourage our members to use PHCC and our members as resources to help find new growth opportunities and information to help your business thrive.

MH: How do we find and inspire the next generation of coworkers?
LONG: I love the movie The Untouchables with Kevin Costner and Sean Connery. One of my favorite scenes is when they are trying to find uncorrupted new recruits for the Treasury Department and they decide to go to the academy to get untainted recruits. We need to do the same to find the next generation.

Before the pandemic, PHCC had developed our online apprenticeship program and we were already having good success in giving students a pathway for a career. As the pandemic grew, our members really started using this as a recruiting tool to convince high school students and their parents that a career in our industry made a ton of sense without the college debt.

I believe today’s youth is looking for a career that helps them grow intellectually, gain financial independence, give opportunities to improve the world, and have opportunities for career advancement. We must continue to get he word out about how our industry can help them achieve their goals.

We must also continue to expand these efforts by widening the exposure of this program to other avenues on a state be state level. We will be encouraging our chapters to partner with as many local school districts, community colleges and HBCU’s about how to expand our opportunities.

MH: Finally, what do you like to do in your spare time?
LONG: I am a sports nut and love college football.  I have followed NC State athletics since elementary school and continue to follow today, and as I say every year, this is the year we win the College Football National Championship! Eventually I’ll be correct, right? Also, if you bump into me and have an extra hour, just ask me about being at State when Jim Valvano was our basketball coach.

I also love fishing. Grew up with my father fishing on many Saturday mornings,  and I love the time to unwind and reflect from the business. I also love the variety of fishing in N.C. We have wonderful fishing in the intercoastal waters, fresh water lakes all over the state, and my current favorite, trout fishing in the North Carolina mountains.

When servicing customers after a disaster, it’s best to go above and beyond to provide them with the comforts of home. Make the effort of giving them peace of mind during an emergency, and they’ll return to you for business in the future. Consider these five measures when working with customers, and they’ll thank you Read more

When servicing customers after a disaster, it’s best to go above and beyond to provide them with the comforts of home. Make the effort of giving them peace of mind during an emergency, and they’ll return to you for business in the future.

Consider these five measures when working with customers, and they’ll thank you for your hard work and thoughtfulness.

1.  Arrange a Ride Share

Families might not have access to a car following an emergency, making it impossible to get groceries or connect with loved ones. Lyft remedies this problem by providing free rides to those impacted by natural disasters. Spread the word to your customers and let them know about Lyft’s disaster relief access program. You’ll be linking your customers to a helpful service and giving them great peace of mind in a turbulent time.

If they’re unfamiliar with Lyft, inform them that they’ll need to download the app on their smartphone to hail a ride. From there, the app explains the process.

2.  Rent Restroom Units

Consider renting portable restroom and shower units for families whose homes were damaged so much that they no longer have water access. One of the primary human comforts in the privacy of one’s home is the bathroom. No longer having access is a real struggle for all who’ve experienced a disaster. By providing sanitation services, you’ll give this comfort to your customers, and you’ll ensure their basic hygienic needs are met.

If you’re providing emergency maintenance for multiple residents of a neighborhood or for a multifamily housing unit, consider renting a larger portable unit to put in a centralized location. You can find units of various sizes depending on how many people have been displaced by the event and whether they will need ADA-compliant facilities. Many large units can hold up to 10 people at a time.

3.  Coordinate Donation Delivery

In times of crisis, local food banks go into overtime responding to the needs of citizens. Resources can be easily taxed out or not distributed to all who need them. Sometimes people are even unaware of all services available to them in times of crisis. Make your customers conscious of these nationally accredited disaster-relief organizations — the United Way, the American Red Cross and Team Rubicon.

Assist your customers by working with local food banks and arranging donation delivery, saving them the hassle of driving to the center. Consider doing the same for a local diaper bank if your customers are a young family. Helping them procure diapers, wipes and formula for their baby will bring them great peace of mind. Additionally, work with your local animal shelter to help families with dogs or cats care for their furry friends.

4.  Organize Alternative Housing

A natural disaster may leave many properties unsafe for living. Some families may not have local connections where they can live while you’re completing their home renovations. Airbnb supports housing for people impacted by emergencies or natural crises.

You can work within your community to set up local stays for families in need. Your town will also appreciate the opportunity to help people impacted by the recent natural disaster. Tell your customers about these opportunities, and give them shelter and peace of mind while renovating their homes.

5.  Set up a GoFundMe

If you find your customer has endured a challenging time during their emergency, consider going the extra mile and setting up a GoFundMe. This online fundraising platform easily allows you to tell someone’s story while requesting community donations for aid. You can share the link for donations through social media like Facebook and Twitter and easily reach your financial goal.

Each account is secure and encrypted, keeping the online donations safe and the money stored until it’s ready to be withdrawn. Your customers will be awed by your thoughtfulness and community generosity.

Give Your Customers the Best

You want to offer them the best service possible when working with your customers following an emergency. Give them your highest quality work, but take it a step further — offer your customers a measure of comfort during a difficult time. They will thank you.

Author April Miller is a managing editor at ReHack.com who specializes in engineering and construction technology. You can find her work published on sites like Open Data Science and The Society of Women Engineers.