Estimating is one of an industrial HVAC contractor’s most challenging tasks. You have to come up with both equipment recommendations and numbers to please the client, meet specifications, and make a profit. The time spent preparing an estimate feels wasted if you don’t get the contract. But not spending enough time could be the cause of not landing the job, losing profit or eventually angering the customer because upon further review (now on their dime) of what was originally proposed just won’t work for their facility.
The best advice to keep in mind when estimating: Be thorough in fact gathering and remember that every facility has different HVAC needs.
We’re taught as children that the best way to learn something is to ask questions and there are no stupid questions. So when you’re asked to prepare an estimate, if you don’t know something, ask. Show and tell is as handy now as it was in kindergarten. Have potential customers show you their facility and, whenever possible, talk to the people who work in the facility ask for their input on comfort issues and air quality concerns.
To get you started down the road to smarter estimating, here are 14 questions to ask potential commercial/industrial HVAC customers:
- What do you do/make in this facility? Describe your processes.
- How old is the building you are purchasing HVAC equipment for? Is it all original construction or was it added on to?
- How is the space divided? Is there variation in ceiling heights?
- How well is the building insulated? Is insulation consistent in all parts of the building?
- How do workers in the space dress? Shirtsleeves or outerwear? Are they inside for the entire workday or do they go in and out?
- Are all workers comfortable or are parts of the building historically too warm or too cold?
- Is the air in your facility dirty or smoky as a result of your machines and processes? Are there contaminants in the air as the result of your processes that would need to be removed?
- Is humidity control a concern with your processes? Do areas of the facility smell musty or damp?
- Does your process equipment give off heat? Is that heat exhausted?
- Could heat in wastewater possibly be reclaimed anywhere in your plant?
- When no one is in the building, does the temperature need to be maintained at a certain level?
- Who are your electrical and gas providers? This question is important because some utilities offer rebates for the purchase of certain energy efficient HVAC equipment. Making a potential customer aware of this information may bring the cost of higher-priced equipment in line with equipment that has a lower initial price tag.
- Would they be interested in a formal maintenance plan? This can be an additional source of revenue for your business and help you stay up-to-date with your customers operation. Additionally, this will provide the opportunity to be first in line for new projects and help you earn business without the customer shopping around for the lowest possible price.
- By finding out the answers to these questions, you can provide a potential client with an estimate for a customized HVAC system sure to meet the unique needs of their facility. Accurate estimating reduces the chance of surprises down the road for both the industrial HVAC contractor and the customer.
While the estimate arrived at following a thorough investigation of a client’s actual needs may come in higher than a big name “cookie cutter” system, it will most likely save them headaches and money down the road. By working closely with customers as a partner throughout the estimating process, you will build their trust in what you design and install for them. You can’t put a price on that; offering the right industrial HVAC solution the first time will strengthen relationships with your customers and boost your profits for the long run.