Winter’s just around the corner, meaning for HVAC contractors, it’s time to brace for a slew of heating repairs and installations. How best to prepare for this? Kirk Peterson, author of the ZenHVAC blog, tells us three tips for gearing up for cold season. (Also read our tips for getting through “shoulder season.”)

1. Change Out the Trucks

Starting about mid-October, Peterson says most calls start switching from cooling requests to heating ones. That means it’s time to switch out the gear used on air conditioners, and start stocking up on gas valves and other common heater parts.

“You don’t want to spend money on fuel toting around parts you don’t need,” Peterson says. “Plus, your parts can get beaten up riding around on the truck shelves, so you don’t want those getting destroyed.”

The switch should only take an afternoon to do — but it can save a big headache down the road.

“Heating’s much more critical than cooling,” Peterson says. “For a cooling call, it isn’t that big a deal if you have to come back to get a part. But up here in the Northeast, for a heating call in the winter, you want to have those parts on you, especially if it’s an issue of frozen pipes or something serious like that. So you’ve got to make sure the truck stock is adequate.”

2. Give Refresher Courses

After six or seven months of focusing entirely on air conditioning, it’s probably a good idea to give technicians a refresher course on common heating issues and repairs, Peterson says.

Peterson says it’s also a good idea to review common “pull-through”-type work, or repairs outside the terms of a basic maintenance contract. Chimney sweeps, setting or resetting heating controls based on outside air temperatures, and checking circulator-pump seals to see if they’re weeping are all common and important issues that are typically outside the bounds of billable work. If a tech is going to make a call, it makes sense for this type of maintenance to be done at the same time.

One last tip: Check if the local utilities are offering any rebates for homeowners who upgrade to a more energy-efficient HVAC unit, especially in areas that don’t rely on propane or oil for heating. That’s good knowledge to have if you’re attempting an up-sell.

3. Set Vacation Schedules

Everyone’s going to want a few days off around the holidays, but HVAC emergencies unfortunately don’t always plan around that. There isn’t a right or wrong way to handle vacation schedules but it’s important to have guidelines for dealing with it so you don’t end up grossly understaffed.

“There’s as many ways to assemble that as there are stars in the sky,” Peterson says. “You can go by seniority, or who put in for their request first. But it’s best to set a precedent before anybody asks. You can’t make up a rule after five of six people ask for the same day off. You’ve got to make sure the rule’s in place before that.”

Got any other tips for dealing with the winter months? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

More: Three Ways HVAC Companies Can Maximize Seasonal Downtime.

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ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.