Developing and working on such processes is all part of a significant cultural change we began making at T.E. Spall years ago. It started with learning about the High-Performance HVAC contracting method from NCI and continues through regular training and practicing it daily.

Part of our process is knowing how to use the right instruments for the job. For combustion testing, we primarily use Bacharach Insight analyzers. We issue one to every service technician and lead installer. Another part of the process is that all our field personnel use our analyzer as a personal protection device, zeroed outside and then brought into the home.

The bottom line is that as contractors, we don’t know what we don’t know. All of us in the industry who work on combustion appliances are responsible for educating ourselves to ensure the safety and health of our customers and our team. This is not an option for me!

The Need to Communicate

Stopping CO poisonings should be key to every high-performance HVAC contractor.
Stopping CO poisonings should be key to every
high-performance HVAC contractor.

Another aspect of getting ready for the CO season is to let your community know you offer these services. At T.E. Spall, we do this through marketing and advertising using traditional print media, some television, and radio campaigns, and sometimes we use billboards around town.

Social media is another way we try to reach customers and explain the importance of getting their systems checked regularly.
Another part of what we do to protect our customers is to give them access to top-of-the-line CO monitors. We are an NSI 6000 reseller for NCI, and we include information about these monitors and what makes them different than store-bought detectors on every service and maintenance call. We promote their use through all of our customer communication channels as well.

Being Prepared Saves Lives

Late Fall one year, one of our customers’ store-bought UL CO detectors went off, and she called the fire department. They came out to her house and could find nothing wrong, so they recommended she contact us to identify the problem. The woman was a new mother with a five-day-old daughter.

When our technician arrived on the scene, he immediately performed combustion testing and determined that a steam boiler with improper venting was the issue.

As we know, typical UL detectors can see up to 70 ppm of CO for up to four hours before alarming occupants. This is extremely dangerous for any newborn baby who doesn’t yet have a fully developed immune system.

We red-tagged the appliance and provided an estimate for repairs, which we couldn’t do until the following day. However, we provided the customer with a Low-Level CO monitor for the evening to protect her and the baby (and would allow me to sleep that night).

Our team returned to the house the next day and performed draft modifications and final testing.

This could have been an awful situation. I have had many stories like this in my 19 years of practicing the principles that NCI teaches.

If you don’t already do combustion testing and CO safety training, I advise you to get started. Attend an NCI training event, adopt the procedures they teach, and train your people. A fish stinks from the head down: as your company’s leader, you need to be fully onboard, or any efforts to be prepared for CO situations are doomed to fail.

I am forever grateful for the knowledge I’ve gained through my training experiences. It has helped our company and me to rise above the mediocrity of the world around us.

Tom Spall is the owner of Carbondale, PA_based T.E. Spall and Son, a 38-year-old HVAC and plumbing company with a gross sales volume of $6 million. He’s been a member of NCI since 2003 and is a strong proponent of High-Performance HVAC Contracting. He can be reached at