HVAC presenter and architect wife share belief that education is the key for trades working well together.
Among the featured presentations at TecHomeX was the roundtable discussion on business collaboration. Representatives from the builder, architecture, integration, interior design, HVAC and electrical contractor trades discussed the pain points each experiences in working together to deliver the TecHome.
Eric Firman, the owner of The Smart Home Way, represented the HVAC and plumbing contractors on the panel. His main point of contention has not so much to do with cooperation. It’s how the tech and mechanical details always seem to be first discussed much later than they should.
“I actually don’t have problems with collaboration between trades. That’s not the challenge for me. It’s always the beginning of the process,” Firman says. “It’s how it gets kicked off and how we come in at the end.”
It’s a theme that was common among the TecHomeX guests, including Eric’s wife, Fernanda Firman. She experiences the same issues, but from a design perspective. She is an architect, and says when those tech plans are not brought up until after a project is designed, it creates problems for everyone involved.
“As Eric was mentioning, a lot of the times he is left with no room to put his ducts and to work with his system, and then here we go,” Fernanda says. “We have to change the design, so we have to accommodate and cut holes in the ceilings and move things around.”
When incorporating tech in projects that include multiple trades, waiting to bring up those tech options can cause problems beyond just the design aspect of the home. It can create a situation in which it’s unclear exactly who will handle even a small part of an install.
For instance, when contractors reach the point at which they need to connect a smart thermostat to the home’s HVAC system, they can be left looking at each other with confusion over where the electrical and integration responsibilities end.
“With something as small as a thermostat, it’s like, who’s doing it? So, the integrators don’t know how an HVAC system works, and a lot of the HVAC guys don’t know anything about integration,” Eric says. “It just seems like everybody’s running their own show.”
Having a clearly established tech plan before beginning a project can help avoid such headaches.
Taking Equipment into Account
Failing to create a plan early can be even more aggravating on the design side. Fernanda recently spoke with a client who wants to move the HVAC equipment in her home.
Fernanda discovered there is only a small area in the home that is receiving the appropriate amount of air from the system because the original builders failed to account for the equipment in the building process.
“The reason why she’s getting only 30 percent of what she should have is because nobody designed the system there before the house was built,” Fernanda says. “It was built in the 80s. So, with the limitations they had, the most they could have was 30 percent. She only has one small area of the house that is cold.”
Fernanda says she now will be able to take what she learned at TecHomeX to properly redesign her space around a fully-functioning HVAC system, including having a company look at the space before submitting her final plans.
Education, Education, Education
In order for different trades to work more collaboratively when discussing tech, Eric and Fernanda share the same feelings as many of the TecHomeX attendees – the more educated each person can be about the other trades, the more smoothly the process will flow.
They believe that education should start as early as school. Fernanda says when architecture students are focused only on design, they don’t understand what else goes into a project, and that’s where the disconnect begins.
“We are the first ones who have that connection with the client. So, if we are educated by the industry, for example, now I know more about, you know, the integration, and I will for sure start asking those questions when starting the design,” Fernanda says. “Are you planning on doing a home theater, even if it’s just going to be a small system? Are you planning on having cameras? What system are you thinking about?
“So, that kind of conversation should start when we are in front of the client and talking about design, so that way, it will open more doors, even for the client to start thinking about, ‘Oh, yeah. You know what? I didn’t think about that.’ Well, this is a good time because if we’re going to be building your houses and remodeling, we don’t want to be patching after we’re finished. Or if we put this wallpaper, and then we have to rip this all apart and do it again.”
The Firmans think the trades can help make it easier on everyone by educating each other. It could be as simple as visiting others’ offices or creating a basic marketing campaign video to bring awareness about what happens when tech is overlooked at the beginning of a process.
“I think that’s what Fernanda was talking about is, and this came up a lot, education, education,” Eric says. “There needs to be more cross-training, especially on the design side.”