Why my HVAC certification lets me write my own ticket

My first job was in a shopping mall.

This was back in the late 80s, when shopping malls were giant, out of control behemoths the size of city blocks.

It was busy work, but a fun way to spend my evening and weekends and make a little spending money. One day a customer was rude to me, so I was rude back. When the manager demanded I apologize, I told him to go to hell and I quit. I was very proud of myself that day. It was that feeling of independence and power that drove me to getting my HVAC certification. I came to realize, not after that shopping mall job, that if I learned a specialized set of skills, as with HVAC repair, then I could have total control over my work. I would not have to eat crow, or mince my words, because my HVAC skills would give me value. That took some work, but I was bound and determined to get my HVAC certification and start looking for a good job. I could be freelance, and just pick up whatever work I could find, or I could go to work for an HVAC contractor for guaranteed pay and benefits. One day I plan on being my own HVAC contractor, but I still need years of experience to get to that point. Even when I do work for another HVAc contractor, I am still essentially my own boss, and won’t have to take any jobs I don’t want to. That kind of freedom is important to me.


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It’s all about who you know

If you know the right person, you can get anything done.

Once I had a major car issue late at night on a Sunday, just before a holiday, and I thought I was screwed. A friend of mine said he knew a guy who could help me. After a quick phone call, I went to an overnight garage, where there was a full crew of car mechanics working graveyard shift. They were able to hook me up and I drove away within two hours… all because of knowing the right person. Some weeks ago I had a similar experience involving my central HVAC system, one that was only recently resolved. It seems that the previous owners to this house had managed their own HVAC system over the years. Instead of having it done by professionals, they had tinkered with the air conditioning and the furnace and modified them in their own ways. What this meant now, after many years of experimentation, was that the central HVAC system was a Frankenstein’s monster of parts and pieces from different systems. None of the HVAC techs I talked to would help me out, their own response was that I needed a completely new system. Finally I talked to a friend of a friend, who had his own history with custom-building air conditioners. He was a weirdo and a stoner, but was also amazing with breaking down and rebuilding old cooling systems. I still couldn’t afford a completely new HVAC system, I just needed this old rickety pile of junk to start working again!

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I was lucky enough to find a mentor in the HVAC industry

When I started this job, it was just a job.

Maybe you remember how it is – young, needing work, not really caring what that work is as long as it pays! I had no idea what I was doing on my first day, but the senior tech in charge was a good dude.

He pulled me aside and said to be quiet, to listen, and to pay attention to everything he and the other guys did. His name was Max, and he said if I worked hard and did as told, he would teach me how to be an HVAC tech like him. Max was an older guy, and had been in the HVAC industry for twenty years, but he was also a joker and a lunch-break toker, if you know what I mean. The point is that outside of work Max was a cool guy, and on the job he was a focused HVAC professional who always delivered top flight results. Although we got to be friends over time, I kept my perspective at work and stayed focused on learning as much as I could about HVAC systems. It took me weeks just to learn all the specialized tools they use on their ductwork jobs. Max was my mentor, and he always did right by me, until it got to the point he thought I was ready to get my HVAc certification and “step up to the big leagues” as he liked to say. Now I run my own HVAC work crew, and Max and I only see each other on weekends.

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In the meantime, I have to use a tiny little AC unit

I will admit that this is more house than I really needed.

It was a great price, so even though it was a lot larger than I had planned for, I could not pass it up.

What could the down side be for having too big of a house, right? We know how bad it sucks to live in a space that is too small, but too large shouldn’t be any sort of problem. Well, it turns out I was mostly right, there aren’t a whole lot of problems that stem from having too much space… except for the utility bills. I need to crack down on my energy saving tip these days, because trying to pay the monthly bills for heating and cooling this place are driving me to the poorhouse! I had an HVAC tech come over and give the place an inspection, and he says that I will need two new systems. I about choked on my tongue when I heard that – two HVAC systems? He explained that the house was so big there were two complete HVAC systems in the house, one for the west wing, one for the east. I would really need to get both of them replaced, and he gave me a price quote of about twenty thousand bucks for everything I would need to get done. I thanked him, and then drove to the closest Walmart and bought a couple of space heaters and a couple of portable air conditioners. Until I win the lottery, I will have to make do with these smaller units of heating and cooling!

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Still saving up for a new air conditioner

Coming up with five thousand extra dollars is no small thing for a guy like me.

This economy is tight as a drum, everyone knows that.

The price of living is going up fast, the rate of pay is staying right where it is. It’s hard enough to make ends meet month-to-month, nonetheless saving up a few extra grand for my home repairs. If I would stop drinking beer and smoking weed I could save some money – yes I agree that is true – it still wouldn’t get me close enough to five thousand bucks! Instead I bought a $200 air conditioner from Walmart that is little, but can cool off one room very effectively. It plugs into a wall, is about the size of a space heater, and I can move it around with me when I go to a different room for a while. Is it anywhere near as nice as having a proper central HVAC system? Of course it isn’t. The portable air conditioner is a stop-gap measure, to fill the void until I can get a new central system. Since I am not saving up any money at all, the due date on that central system might be a few years from now. If anything, I might just buy a second one of these little A/C units, one for the bedroom and one for the living room. At least that way I wouldn’t have to keep lugging the air conditioner around with me when I go to bed. Now all I need to do is save up $200 for that.


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Climate control is just the beginning

My girlfriend’s dad has become my best friend over the last few months.

  • He and I never really got along before, and then we had a couple of crazy years, and somehow a friendship was forged.

I think of him as my father-in-law already. During COVID he lost his job, and because of his age they just pushed him into early retirement. He was pretty pissed about it, and then he discovered medical marijuana, and that’s when we started hanging out. He had worked as an HVAc repair tech for almost four decades, and now he was at loose ends about how to fill his time. He liked smoking pot, but missed having something meaningful to do. I told him flat out that my house was in dire need of a new central HVAC system, and that I would pay for all the materials if he did all the work. It took him a while, several weeks, and we spent a good portion of every day smoking pot, but finally he got my new climate control system working perfectly. I was genuinely impressed with his work, and started thinking about other HVAC based projects he could help me with. I also put him out on social media, asking friends and relatives if they needed any HVAC work done to send this guy a message. Personally I don’t know the first thing about air conditioners, but now that I have him in my life, I really don’t need to know anything! This guy works for free, and gets me stoned, too.

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More than just heating and cooling work needed

My kid thought we had ghosts in the attic.

I wish it was that simple! We moved into this remote farmhouse knowing that it was a fixer-upper, but we really didn’t know how much fixing was required.

The place had been empty for years, so while it had not been damaged, it had not been cared for in quite some time. My wife and I thought we could handle anything except for maybe the specialty work that would come later. Even though the central system was antique, the furnace in the basement still worked fine. Air conditioning would be a problem for another month, there were too many other things that needed fixing first. The first night there, little Jane said there were ghosts in the attic, but what she was hearing was the pitter-patter of squirrels in the air ducts. The ductwork had been infested with generations of squirrels while the house was empty. Thankfully they had never ventured down into the house itself, but all of the ductwork would need to be removed and replaced. That couldn’t happen until the ductwork was free of all living creatures, which was something none of us knew how to do. If we poisoned them or gassed them, then we just have air ducts jammed full of dead squirrels, which is not much better than what we have. We actually have no problem removing the ductwork and putting in the new set ourselves, but we are clueless about how to clear them out! Anyone have pointers on how to get squirrels out of ductwork?

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A very unusual problem with the ductwork

If you are just scanning down the page looking for something interesting, let me hit you with the long story short version – there wasa vicious family of raccoons in our air ducts, and it turned into a war between us. In general I like animals, although we don’t have any pets because my wife is allergic to pet dander. A few weeks ago we noticed that her allergies were getting worse, as if there was an animal here when there wasn’t. Soon after we heard the noises in the attic, as raccoons moved through our upper air ducts. It was dangerous on several levels, mostly because they were contaminating our indoor air quality with their disgusting fur and mites. We switched off the central HVAC system to halt the air circulation, and started making some phone calls. We would need an HVAC tech to inspect our entire system and make sure that it was cleaned and decontaminated. That would have to wait, of course, because no HVAC work could be done until the animals were all removed. I had no idea how hard it was to find animal removal services, and someone willing to pull so many possibly rabid critters from my air ducts. I had no luck with local businesses, and ended up posting an ad on Craigslist asking for someone to remove raccoons from my ductwork. One of the many responses I got was from a man who was also an HVAC tech for a local company. He offered to remove the creatures and inspect the HVAC system in one visit.


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The old lady still cools herself in style

Grandma June never had a problem with style and class.

We grew up pretty poor, and it was June who was my role model.

She proved that it didn’t take money to have class, and to come across like a queen. Her clothes might have been simple, often hand-made, but they were colorful and clean and well-tended. She always carried one of those little hand fans with her, like the Southern Belles of yore would use. A lot of time has passed, and the family is not as poor as it used to be. Now we have been able to give June a better form of cooling than a hand held fan. She always seemed so at peace, and never asked for anything, and that made me want to spoil her all the more, especially now that she had high blood pressure. I started off with giving her a smart thermostat for her home, which I of course installed and programmed for her. I got a smart thermostat that takes voice commands, because June is in a wheelchair and can’t stand up to look at the device. She can ask for the reading, and adjust the climate control with a handful of simple voice commands. That wasn’t enough, though, because June likes to be outside so much I had a small cooling component put in under her wheelchair. It works like a swamp cooler, and will gently blow cold air over the backs of her legs when she is outdoors. I am so glad I can help Grandma June cool herself in class and style.


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Upgrading control unit

I am always working on the interior plus exterior of our beach house plus looking for new ways to make improvements.

I appreciate to focus on the appearance, comfort plus efficiency of our home, but since the people I was with and I purchased the property, I’ve upgraded all of the windows plus doors, painted every room plus added gardens all the way around the outside.

I’ve pulled up the outdated carpets plus restored the hardwood floors. I spent quite a bit of cash to install a new gas furnace plus air conditioning system. One of the most worthwhile cabin improvements has been a new control unit. For various years, the people I was with and I managed with an old-fashioned, manual control unit. It was little more than a plastic dial. For some reason, it never occured to myself and others to upgrade it. The Heating, Ventilation & A/C supplier who installed the new gas furnace plus air conditioning system mentioned the outdated control unit, and he said that a smart control unit would get more out of our new heating plus cooling system, helping myself and others to save cash through superior energy efficiency. I immediately started researching control units. I was surprised by how costly they’ve gotten. A smart control unit runs various hundred dollars. However, they give a wide range of very amazing features. I chose a model that includes geofencing. The control unit uses GPS to track the location of family member’s smartphones. It automatically adjusts according to our location, conserving energy when the beach house is empty plus welcoming us cabin to ideal temperature. Because of wireless connectivity, I can make fluctuations to programs plus check up on things through an app on our phone. I receive reminders when it’s time to schedule repair or change air filters. I get alerts if there’s a complication such as a temperature fluctuation or power outage.

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