The Skills and Qualities of a Good HVAC&R Technician
There are mediocre HVAC&R technicians then there are good HVAC&R technicians. Here are some skills and qualities possessed by good HVAC&R technicians.
Of course there is the basic fundamental knowledge of physics that every good HVAC&R tech MUST have that includes thermodynamics, gas laws, chemistry, electrical theory and the ability to understand the effect one has on the other in a complete system. Whether it is a small 1/2 ton “window shaker” a residential apartment or a 1000 ton multistage liquid chiller used for processing industrial products, the competent tech can use the same fundamentals to reach logical conclusions. It takes critical thinking skills for an HVAC&R troubleshooter to first safely access system parameters with a sound knowledge of each of these scientific disciplines and then be able properly assess the conditions for a logical conclusion as to what the system problem/s may or may not be. He must be level-headed in extreme conditions, whether he is working on a subtropical rooftop package unit at 110°F or inside a food storage facility at -40°F. The competent tech must have the tenacity to follow through searching for the ultimate problem on a system, not just the first deficiency he/she finds and not by being a “parts changer” until the machine mysteriously runs.
The competent HVAC&R technician needs some hands-on skills as well. The tech ought to know how to safely use a torch for precisely bevel-cutting steel chill water pipe, heating a seized bolt in a machine so as to not cause other component damage and also properly braze copper to steel using expensive silver bearing brazing material. The superior technician can not only precisely bevel a chill water pipe with a torch, he can also weld that pipe connection in position on a 45 degree angle without it subsequently leaking or breaking and with a uniform appearance. The technician can read a set of blueprints and properly discern the engineer’s intent as well as improve upon the engineer’s design when necessary. The technician can fabricate copper, steel or stainless steel piping with precise bends and offset angles. He can use trigonometric equations to calculate precise material lengths so as to not waste expensive resources as some mediocre techs do by rule-of-thumb guess work. The competent tech can fabricate threaded steel gas pipe as well as construct an ogee duct offset from sheet metal and properly insulate it. The HVAC&R technician can disassemble a machine, inspect, repair and reassemble it to full functionality, often with what he has on his service van. He is adept in precisely aligning mechanical machines as well as capable of machining metals to make special tools or simple replacement parts. The tech will be required to safely rig large pieces of equipment, lifted by crane or helicopter. He can use an accelerometer to record and decipher vibration levels on large rotating equipment or service and calibrate gas spectrometers. He understands the chemistry treating water in a cooling tower so as to limit corrosion, bacteria, algae and scaling. He can construct and install electrical conduit and distribution systems. Not only can the tech wire a new system, he can troubleshoot complex electrical and electronic circuitry. He can safely service a wye-delta motor starter or a variable frequency motor speed controller. He can read and understand electrical schematics as well as some computer programming language and micro-control processes. Whether it is a programmable logic controller operating the HVAC and lighting systems of a 70 story office building or a simple home thermostat, the good HVAC tech has the skills to install, maintain and troubleshoot the internet age control systems. In short he must have the hands-on skills of a mechanic, electrician, pipefitter, welder, plumber, fabricator, duct mechanic, insulator, rigger, analyst, electronics technician, chemist, computer programmer, computer technician, millwright and machinist.
The good HVAC&R tech must have good interpersonal skills, able to communicate with customers so as to inspire confidence and display competence. He understands that a major part of professionalism is appearance, keeping himself and his workspace neat and orderly while on the Customer’s dime. The good HVAC&R tech understands that not only should he provide the Customer with value, he must also strive to help his company be profitable, whether it’s his own business or someone else’s. In a competitive economy HVAC&R businesses live or die ultimately based on the Customer’s satisfaction with the technician’s product coupled with the ability of the HVAC&R business to pay its bills and his wages. The competent technician knows and complies with local, state and federal laws, codes and regulations applied to his trade. Safe practices are second nature to the good technician. He doesn’t need to be constantly told to wear protective equipment. He approaches the simplest tasks with the safety of himself and his co-workers in mind. The good technician can write legible service tickets for the Customer as well as provide an accurate accounting of the parts and materials used to complete the project. The good tech is a self-starter capable of accomplishing complex projects without being micromanaged while at the same time adhering to the project goals and communicating necessary changes to his superiors. The good technician will seek to answer his own question by performing his own research but is also willing to ask for help when he has exhausted his own efforts and expertise. The good tech keeps current with new technology, improves his knowledge by not just on-the-job training but by taking pertinent courses on his own time. He gathers information like product data and service manuals of the equipment he is working on, archiving it for himself or sharing with other like-minded techs. The good HVAC&R technician takes care of the tools, equipment and vehicles under his stewardship whether they are his own or someone else’s. The good tech trains others when there is the opportunity, understanding that by helping new or mediocre techs become great techs is good for everyone.
The good HVAC&R tech is truly a renaissance man (or woman) having extensive knowledge and practice of many trades, scientific disciplines and character of noble creeds. He is honest, hard working and dependable. In short, a good HVAC&R technician is nothing short of Superman.