I was born and raised in the Southern California area (L.A.). After serving in the Central Pacific in the U.S. Air Force, I was stationed at Davis-Monthan air base in Tucson where I met and married my very beautiful wife, Gloria. Leaving the Air Force after my four-year tour of duty was up, Gloria and I moved back “home” to a suburb of Los Angeles called Temple City. Gloria loved the damp air and cloudy weather and of course, all the attractions that Southern California has to offer. We returned to visit Gloria’s family in Tucson several times a year. We both enjoyed the friendliness of Tucsonans, and the lack of traffic jams, and laughed about how we felt getting up in the mornings feeling like vampires due to the extra bright Tucson sunlight. So after a few years, we decided to move back to the Old Pueblo. The problem was in the early seventies, a couple of years of college and no degree meant you could only find a well-paying job, at best, in the copper mines If you were lucky. I was once offered a job as a hod carrier (think bricklayer’s assistant). I needed employment that was in demand in the Arizona desert.
Becoming an HVAC
Given my predilection for falling asleep during my college classes, I decided to learn a construction trade, specifically air conditioning installation, and repair. While working full-time in Hollywood CA at night (I dispatched men to deliver telegrams, so you can see why I received few job offers in Tucson), I went to a full-time trade school during the day. I must admit, I did snooze sometimes during class, but only when the teachers repeated themselves. After learning as an apprentice and then working as a journeyman, I not only learned my trade but also why customers would call again and again. It was not just a question of just being friendly, but of treating customers fairly, telling them the truth, and never, ever, speaking down to them. I loved the work and I thought I could do a better job than my bosses, so I started HeatWave Air Conditioning and Heating in 1978 with the intent to do just that.
What Has Changed in the HVAC Industry?
The basic principles of compressed gas air conditioning have stayed the same since I was an apprentice. What has changed is some of the equipment controls and certainly refrigerant handling practices. One thing that has not changed is that if you respect your customers by treating them fairly and honestly, they will call you again and again for a lifetime, maybe longer. We regularly receive referrals from parents and sometimes even grandparents which are the greatest referrals in the world. Diagnosing problems with air conditioners is usually not very difficult. One of the greatest tools I use is my ears. What I mean is that I listen very carefully to what the customer tells me, after all, they live in the house and know when something is not quite right. I carry a variety of diagnostic meters, gauges, and other tools in my service truck but I rely on my customer’s input to help me do the job quickly and economically. They are the key to good troubleshooting practices.
First thing every morning, I prioritize the workload and dispatch the techs and installers accordingly. The next thing to do depends on the workload, I either: 1. Run some repair calls or estimates myself 2. Help with or install/replace a furnace, heat pump air conditioner, or evaporative cooler 3. Prepare estimates for new or replacement heat/cool systems 4. Perform a myriad of administrative, clerical, bookkeeping, bottle-washing, etc. functions. It is easy to work any amount of hours per day since there is always a task for the customer or company to perform. The hours are long, and many customers question how I can take the heat of Tucson’s brutal summers. I confess that I did have to get acclimated to working in 100-plus degree weather. As for the hours, I have been constantly working since I was seventeen and have always worked overtime so it was no big change. I love doing this line of work because my customers are always happy to see me. Rather than work inside an office all day, I get to spend a lot of time outside in the fresh air. Just because Tucson’s summers are brutal doesn’t mean that the rest of the year is the same. The weather is gorgeous with comfortable temperatures, clear air, and beautiful scenery. Compared to folks in the east, we are actually excited and happy to get one of our rare snowfalls turning the desert into a winter wonderland for a day or two. I especially enjoy interacting with my customers who are a microcosm of America and the world. I have heard so many cool, funny, insightful, and crazy stories about the Midwest, Europe, the Far East, and most places in the USA where winters are REALLY frigid. Sometimes I think I should have written a book about the stories my customers have told me about their experiences, the work they have done, or people they have known that bring a smile to my face every time that I am in their neighborhood. I can barely wait for “social distancing” and covid-19 masking to go away or at least moderate because distancing makes us shout and those darn masks muffle everybody’s voice.