The COVID-19 virus is still spreading across the US as you read this, and the extent of its damage won’t be known for a long time. Suffice to say, this is not business as usual.
Individuals, businesses and government agencies are all pondering the same question. How do we weigh the risk of exposure against the need for essential services and the economic fallout resulting from social distancing and quarantine?
Authorities wisely consider professional HVAC and plumbing contractors as essential. In most parts of the country, you can legally conduct business any way you like. Some companies have shut down entirely. Most remain open with limited services. After all, equipment will still fail and plumbing will still leak.
If you’ve made the decision to remain open, your next consideration is which calls to respond to and how to address safety on those calls.
Numerous contractors around the country have anonymously responded to a questionnaire we sent out. Their responses were very similar, many of which are listed below.
Which calls are you responding to (or not responding to)?
“We’re taking emergency calls only. If the heat’s not broken or there isn’t a leak, we’re not responding. This is not the time for maintenance or upgrades.”
“We’re only serving our existing customers. For the safety of our technicians, we want to take as few calls as possible right now.”
“Only calls that pass our screening will get attention. We ask about the customer’s recent travel history, the health of everyone in the home, location of the system and whether or not we can gain access without lots of exposure within the home. We stress that they must be honest with us. Our technicians have families, too.”
“We are completely ignoring people who get angry or pushy. We don’t want to waste time that could be spent helping someone who is calm, respectful and has a legitimate need.”
What, if anything, are you asking customers to do?
“Give us as much information over the phone about the system and the problem as possible. Send photos of the entire heating or cooling system. If possible, locate and photograph the model number for the equipment, along with a data/service log if present.”
“Describe the most direct way to access the heating or cooling system. Because the goal is to minimize contact between the technician and the homeowner, no extra time should be spent in the occupied space than is necessary. If the system is in the garage, open the garage doors for access. If it’s in the basement and there’s outdoor access, use it.”
“Move personal items out of the way; boxes, toys, furniture, etc. Make a clear path from the door to the unit. Do not make the technician touch your belongings.”
“If supplies are available, disinfect everything that the technician may come in contact with; door knobs, banisters, the equipment they will be working on, etc. He will do the same to everything he touches before he leaves.”
“Keep a distance. For the safety of the technician and the homeowner, contact should be minimal or non-existent. Provide entrance to the home and vacate the mechanical space. If they must speak with the technician while they work, do so from a distance or over the phone.”
What safety precautions are you taking?
“We’ve adopted the mindset that there is deadly poison on every surface we come in contact with. No touching our faces, constantly sanitizing, etc. We’re all thinking of the transmission chain and reminding each other of it constantly.”
“Proper PPE is extremely important. Masks (if available) are being worn, in addition to goggles and disposable gloves. If masks are not readily available, they can be used multiple times, though care must be taken not to touch the exterior surface of the mask, and be aware that this severely reduces the mask’s effectiveness. Discard/remove all PPE before touching the handle of the service truck or getting inside.”
“We are wiping everything down with disinfectant, including HVAC equipment, phones, keys and tools. Spraying boots is also a good precaution.”
“Upon returning home, technicians should remove their clothing and leave them outside or in a remote corner of the garage for several days before handling them again. They should also take a shower directly after returning home, touching as few objects/people in the home as possible before showering. Also, family members must not touch the service vehicle if it is driven home.”
“We are mailing or emailing invoices exclusively. We do not want the technician and the homeowner to physically exchange clipboards, pens, paper or credit cards.”
“We’re requiring suppliers to deliver product to our shop, no exceptions. Having them drop product at our back door requires no physical interaction. Running to the supply house exposes us to workers there, and vice versa.”
“We’re allowing technicians to elect whether or not they want to work. Some of our older techs are laying off. One young technician in particular, who does not have children, has offered to run all of the calls for the time being.”
As Coronavirus continues to threaten life, livelihood and way of life in this country, it’s important that everyone in this industry take pause and assess how we’re conducting business. What can we do to ensure the safety of our customers, our families and our businesses? If there’s a way to use this slower time to strengthen our companies, we should be doing it. One contractor shared his feelings about the situation, and it’s one that we could all benefit from.
“In some ways, being ‘essential’ during this crisis is an honor. Treat it as such. Take care of the people you can. The sooner we can stop the spread of this virus, the sooner we can go back to serving our communities at full capacity.”