There's no doubt that Quality Maintenance (QM) standards are good for our industry, but many contractors attempting to comply have more questions than answers when it comes to delivering on them. The key is to take an honest look at what can be done within a reasonable period of time, and where the lines should be drawn between different levels of quality when it comes to delivering maintenance.

I've been discussing these issues with contractors around the country over the past few months, which prompted me to assemble a list of questions we need to start asking ourselves, as well as those who wrote the standards.

Many of these questions may seem rhetorical. However, let's pose them anyway to help us think through potential challenges ahead, as we attempt to translate the new standards into practical, achievable procedures with distinct lines drawn between various levels of delivered quality.

10 Questions About QM
The following initial list of questions is not meant to point fingers, cast aspersions, or diminish the fine work that's been done thus far, but rather to help provide a road map of what needs to be done to make QM work in the field:

1. Are current published standards practical enough for the real world? Is this work sellable to customers, or do we need to create a more comprehensive set of procedures and parameters to make them more usable in the field?

2. Do existing standards do a good job distinguishing elements of basic maintenance versus premium services that should have an associated charge? These premium services might include coil cleaning, preventive replacement of borderline components, filter redesign, adding or removing refrigerant, tuning combustion efficiency, etc.

3. Where does basic quality maintenance stop and "premium" work begin? What level of "cleaning and adjusting" is part of standard maintenance, and what constitutes additional work at additional cost?

4. If existing ANSI standards are to be used for incentive-based programs, can they be broken into smaller parts including basic and advanced maintenance work, or will it be all or nothing?

5. If all or nothing, are the standards destined to fail without heavy subsidy?

6. If maintenance that meets Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Residential QM Standard 4, or American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, Airconditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)/ACCA Commercial Maintenance Standard 180 takes a lot more time to perform than typical maintenance, will contractors be offering a QM-based service at a premium over non-QM-based service?

7. If the above is the case, does that put contractors trying to do the right thing in a compromising position with their customers, as they might be perceived as saying, "I can do a substandard job for X, or a quality job for Y?"

8. What challenges will contractors who deliver QM face in terms of competing with contractors who choose not to participate?

9. As a contractor, will you take a stand and tell your customer, "We only perform to QM standards," and refuse to do maintenance that falls below the standard? Will that reinforce integrity and build loyalty among customers, or could it cause significant loss of business?

10. Which provides more value to customers: delivering maintenance work that meets the "prescriptive" standards of a QM checklist, or delivering work that’s measurable by a specific "performance" standard of comfort and delivered Btus per unit of energy consumption?

There are many more questions that performance-based contractors will ask as we continue to dissect these and other standards and practices that are beginning to sweep our industry. It's important to keep a cool head about this and understand it’s a natural process as our industry continues to mature and embrace higher levels of quality.

So What's Next?
The answers are out there. The key is to diligently research and test theory against real-world practical application, and find feasible, profitable ways to deliver on the promise of quality in our industry. Sounds like an incredibly exciting opportunity! I know a bunch of folks who are up for the challenge. Be sure to attend David Richardson’s session on Quality Maintenance at HVACR Week this September in Indianapolis. You won’t be disappointed!

Dominick Guarino is Chairman & CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com), a national training and membership organization focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. Email him at domg@ncihvac.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058.