Ductless technology, much like any other piece of HVAC equipment, requires proper training and education for contractors and technicians alike.
“Training is the key to any equipment being installed properly,” said Mark Harte, technical training manager, Daikin North America LLC. “With all the new technology out in the field, being properly trained to not only install equipment but to properly troubleshoot equipment is a must. The days of charging a system to ‘beer can cold’ are in the past. To give end users a properly charged and operating system that will efficiently heat and cool their homes, training is the first step.”
According to Harte, Daikin offers a comprehensive three-day class that covers installation and start-up, troubleshooting, and new products.
“Daikin will also be building a state-of-the-art ductless training lab in the new Daikin Texas Technology Part (DTTP) facility in Houston,” he said. “This new ductless training lab along with the existing VRV [variable refrigerant volume] training lab that has been operational for six months gives contractors many options on which training they want to attend. These classes are for teaching the proper installation and service on the Daikin products. Many subjects are covered, some of which include installation of the indoor and outdoor units, low- and high-voltage wiring, proper evacuation procedures, proper refrigerant charging, proper start-up procedures, use of the Daikin Diagnostic tools for service and troubleshooting, and more.”
IMPORTANCE OF TRAINING
Residential ductless training is important because each manufacturer has its own unique twist on each product, said Tai McKinney, ductless portfolio leader, Trane, an Ingersoll Rand brand.
“Because these are inverter-driven, variable-speed systems, each one behaves a little differently and has its own limitations and capabilities,” he said. “Making sure you stay within the manufacturer’s guidelines for each of the products you’re installing is key. Additionally, ductless products can’t be used everywhere. You have to understand the limitations of the product. It sounds like it’s a perfect fit for everything, but it’s not going to work in every scenario. So, application training is important to ensure contractors walk away with solid performing products.”
Trane offers technical and sales classes that are available through distributors and at the corporate level.
“We offer classes specific to VRF [variable refrigerant flow], which is a fast-growing segment within the ductless market, as well as technical classes covering everything from installation and troubleshooting procedures to designing the system,” McKinney said. “On the sales side of the equation, courses cover the product benefits, market information, how to leverage and grow ductless, and product specifications and application guides, which ensure the products are applied appropriately.”
Training is integral to any contractor’s success, because you only have one chance to install a product correctly, noted Shilai Xie, manager, product management group, Bosch Thermotechnology Corp.
“Training gives manufacturers the opportunity to explain the details of selecting and sizing their units properly,” he said. “When it comes to residential ductless products in particular, installing a multi-split system is quite different from a conventional forced-air unit. There are several zones, and each zone has to be connected to the refrigerant line. Contractors also have to wire the communication cables. Training helps explain all of the complexities associated with the installation and getting contractors comfortable with the product. For dealers and distributors, it creates confidence in the product and helps them successfully promote the technology.”
Bosch Thermotechnology offers web-based and on-site training that covers all of the features and benefits of the products along with usage, operation, selection, sizing, application, installation, troubleshooting, diagnosis, and service. In-person trainings typically take place at a dealer’s or contractor’s business or a distributor’s branch office, Xie said.
“At these locations, Bosch has a fleet of training trailers with different products,” he explained. “In these trailers, contractors can fire up the unit, live-test it, and simulate the troubleshooting, diagnostics, and installation servicing.”
It’s important for contractors to learn best practices for installation and service, noted Chris Magee, ductless split system product manager, Friedrich Air Conditioning.
“Contractors can be creatures of habit,” he explained. “When we get settled and comfortable in our day-to-day jobs, we can go into that auto-pilot mode, potentially causing grief when it comes to installation quality and the future product reliability. With proper training, contractors learn best practices for installation and service, which is incredibly valuable to customers.”
Friedrich’s Ductless Academy, located within the company’s Advantage Program, offers three tiers of training, including Product Knowledge; Advantage Basic, Service and Installation; Advantage Plus; and Advanced trouble shooting, Advantage Premier.
“Depending on the training, we cover our product lineup and specifications, installation and applications, and advanced troubleshooting,” Magee said. “Most trainings have hands-on learning opportunities and plenty of open forum conversations to help contractors dispel any errant knowledge or rules of thumb.”
Additionally, many contractors have been trained using traditional unitary systems, and although there are many similarities, mini-split systems have some unique differences, explained Victor Gomez, vice president, technical service & aftermarket, Fujitsu General America Inc.
“Placement of metering devices and control of compressor and fan speeds to modulate capacity and wiring of systems, which share power and communications signals, requires attention to detail that’s unlike traditional unitary wiring and piping,” Gomez said. “If the instructions are not followed, problems can occur — both immediate start-up problems and issues that may happen after the installer leaves the job. This causes frustration for homeowners as well as HVAC companies. Attending training that highlights the unique installation and start-up information provides the opportunity to learn from an instructor instead of from one’s own mistakes.”
Fujitsu General America Inc. offers classroom, seminar, and online training as well as custom classes based on local needs. Fujitsu provides regional classroom-style trainings across North America. The regional training classes are provided by trained and qualified instructors who have taken the company’s Qualified Instructor program courses. They range from one- to two-hour instructional seminar-style classes to the two-day, intense Application, Service, and Diagnostics course, which is held exclusively in Fujitsu Training Academy-branded facilities.
“Traditionally, courses are a complete, full-day course covering the same information whenever it’s taught,” Gomez said. “However, contemporary Fujitsu training features built-in modules, so instructors can teach content that’s needed for attendees. Fujitsu training materials typically start with modules about available products and application of how and where it can be used. This is important because applying the product correctly provides the best comfort and reliability for years to come. Courses vary from sales training to installation, service, maintenance, and troubleshooting training modules. Online training provides 24/7 access through the ‘Contractors Toolbox’ on Fujitsu’s web portal.”
Lennox also emphasizes training when it comes to residential ductless products, noted Vickie Ashmore, manager, training delivery, Lennox.
“Many Lennox dealers are very knowledgeable about mini splits; however, some may still require training as it is a relatively new product for North America,” she said. “Also, the product life cycle for mini splits can be shorter than traditional ducted units. Mini-split training is key to staying abreast of the latest products and technologies in the industry. Lennox offers free residential ductless training for all registered Lennox contractors. Lennox’s training features a broad range of both technical and nontechnical courses. The training also includes the opportunity for Lennox dealers to become NATE [North American Technician Excellence]-certified.”
The demand for duct-free solutions continues to grow as homeowners become more educated on what new technologies in HVAC systems are available, said Don Fort, national training manager, LG Air Conditioning Technologies.
“In order to meet this heightened demand, contractors need to know how to effectively sell and install these systems as their performance and efficiency depend on proper installation,” Fort said. “So, LG focuses on supporting our contractors in lots of ways, from participating in advocate organizations, such as ACCA and MCAA [Mechanical Contractors Association of America], to investing in our own training academies and partner facilities. LG is making a greater investment to provide contractors the tools and resources to confidently and effectively sell cutting-edge HVAC solutions that increase their profitability.”
LG offers a number of training options from in-person training classes in one of its training academies or partner academies to online classes that can be taken anytime. There’s even greater access to training for LG Excellence contractors, which allows them to keep their skills sharp and on the cutting-edge of ductless technology and control systems.
“In addition to the training we provide to the field, we’re also working with technical schools to help develop more robust curriculums around duct-free technology so that the next generation of contractors is better prepared to sell, install, and service equipment in the future,” Fort added.
Mitsubishi Electric US Inc. Cooling & Heating Division also offers an array of residential training courses, according to Michelle Robb, director of residential marketing.
“Mini-split systems require different sizing and installation parameters than traditional cooling and heating systems, which makes training highly encouraged,” she said. “Mitsubishi Electric supports contractors through design software, online resources, and extensive in-person training. We run eight regional training centers across the country, and each is equipped with functioning systems for demonstration and instruction. Though these centers range in size, each is identical in layout to ensure that visiting contractors receive uniform training regardless of location. Facilitators don’t cut content but will tailor their presentations to emphasize features that are the most relevant to the region, such as hyper-heating in the Northeast.
“We encourage our contractors to participate in Mitsubishi Electric training courses — our residential HVAC contractors experience two to three days of application and service training — along with requiring them to meet all local and state compliance and licensing requirements to ensure they provide the best service possible,” Robb added.
Training is usually the first exposure individuals get with any manufacturer, Harte noted.
“I myself have attended many different manufacturers’ training over the years,” he said. “The benefit of attending training is not to be flooded with massive amounts of death by PowerPoint information but to get those little tips and secrets that the instructor knows — the things that will make any install go faster and smoother. As the technical training manager for Daikin, I believe quality and craftsmanship go hand in hand. Our instructors must go through an auditing process before they are allowed to train our customers. Everyone trains at different levels and paces. Daikin’s goal is to have the same level of training at every location no matter where the training is attended.
“After leaving the class, contractors have a working knowledge of how to properly install, start-up, and troubleshoot the equipment,” he continued. “As a contractor in the past, I truly believe that when I or my technicians were dealing with equipment that was new to us, getting the proper training was the first and most important step.”
The end goal is to ensure contractors and homeowners have the best experience with the product, McKinney said.
“We want them to walk away feeling good, not having to worry about a nuisance call later, and have homeowners excited about the product,” he said. “From marketing and training to the start of the sales process through the installation and maintenance, training gives contractors all the tools to successfully integrate ductless into their businesses and eliminate potential nuisance calls.”
It’s also important for contractors to touch and feel the products to fully understand them, Xie explained.
“Our trainings go through the entire installation process and help installers understand and appreciate the features and benefits unique to the Bosch mini-split systems,” he said. “Our training helps contractors understand how Bosch Thermotechnology’s products allow for improved installation and servicing. For example, when servicing and cleaning the units, contractors don’t have to open up the front panel; they can just pull off the filter from the top. There’s also more room for wiring and for the refrigerant connection in the indoor unit area.”
Additionally, attending manufacturer training ensures contractors get the latest information, Fort said.
“Going through LG training ensures contractors get the latest and most accurate information on all of our solutions,” he said. “By knowing how to correctly and efficiently install a solution, it reduces the time spent on a job site and helps improve customer satisfaction with a system that’s been spec’d and installed properly so it runs optimally from the start.”
Gaining hands-on experience is also a plus, according to Robb.
“Mitsubishi Electric training provides contractors with hands-on experience for all products, including controls and application knowledge, which is a critical component when installing zoned comfort solutions,” she said. “Contractor knowledge will result in reduced installation time and properly designed and installed equipment, which results in a high-quality installation and positive experience for contractors and owners. Contractors should also consider the competitive advantage gained by offering ductless systems. Demand is growing in this market segment, which has allowed contractors to stand out among their competition. Additionally, a Diamond Contractor trained by Mitsubishi Electric receives several benefits, such as priority tech support and the ability to offer extended warranty programs for homeowners, which incentivizes homeowners to go through the professionals in our extensive nationwide network. There are also many opportunities for contractor development.”
Friedrich’s Ductless Academy coincides with Friedrich’s Advantage Program. With each level of training comes increased benefits and rewards.
“Contractors not only grow more comfortable installing Friedrich ductless products but also gain monetary rewards and opportunities through the Advantage Program,” Magee said. “As a skilled tradesperson, you should continually reach out to learn more about the newest technology, tools, and techniques to grow your profession. While Friedrich’s trainings focus heavily on our line and products, we keep the information applicable to the industry. For the ductless system industry to grow, it’s important to help contractors increase their confidence from basic functionality to high-level troubleshooting, so they can get the job done right and be proud of the result. At Friedrich, we want contractors to be empowered to install and service the latest technology and not shy away from them simply because they may not be as familiar with them.”
Ashmore said Lennox also recommends its training to ensure proper understanding of its products and how best to install and service them over time.
“The product life cycle for mini splits can be shorter than traditional ducted units,” she said. “Mini-split training is key to stay abreast of the latest products and technologies in the industry. Lennox’s only training requirement is if contractors would like to become Lennox Premier Dealers, they must undergo 40 hours of training to achieve Lennox Premier dealer status.”
“To be forewarned is to be forearmed, as the saying goes,” Gomez added. “Reading the installation instructions is key to the proper installation of any heating and cooling system. After holiday seasons, when gifts are given and received, there are often cartoons in the funny papers depicting misassembled children’s toys because the instructions were not followed. An air condoning and heating system is far more complex than most toys. Even with experience in the HVAC field, training on mini-split systems may need clarification on which part of the instructions they need to follow for a specific application. It can also provide instructions for the instructions. Reading the instructions does not provide the applicable understanding how to accomplish a task that is detailed in a document table or paragraph of text. Training is like insurance. You spend some time, effort, and money to take training and ensure the installer is confident and can do it right the first time. Callbacks cost money. Training reduces callbacks, saves money, and keeps customers happy.”