The latest information on the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak, curated for the trades by ServiceTitan:
Updates from around the industry:
» More on small business loans: This week’s episode of The HVAC Jerks podcast explains what government programs are available to help small businesses survive and how to get them, as explained by the experts at HARDI. Listen now.
» From HVAC News: Tips for HVAC companies to thrive during Coronavirus outbreak — a list of methods for those in the HVAC industry to weather the crisis.
» From EGIA: Their new Navigating Turbulent Times webinar series focuses on adapting to the ongoing crisis and challenges in business. The hub for that series, updated weekly with new virtual trainings and live “Ask the Experts” session recordings can be accessed here. The virtual training is for EGIA members, but the weekly Ask the Experts webinar each Wednesday morning is free.
» State by State action on Coronavirus — at a glance. (NCSL)
Paycheck Protection Program Rollout Sputters; One Bank Halts Request Acceptance
Mike Lousteau, general counsel for ServiceTitan, advised home services leadership on a webinar hosted by the company on Thursday to use their normal bank, to eliminate the need for onboarding and other startup activities, and to apply quickly.
In the case of the customers of one bank, that movement without haste was particularly important.
Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks, halted the acceptance of PPP loan applications through the CARES Act on Sunday when requests to the bank hit $10 billion. According to BusinessWire, the company was limited in its ability to serve customers by “an asset cap imposed by its regulator due to actions of past leadership.”
From the BusinessWire article:
“We are committed to helping our customers during these unprecedented and challenging times, but are restricted in our ability to serve as many customers as we would like under the PPP. While all businesses have been impacted by this crisis, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and nonprofits often have fewer resources. Therefore, we are focusing our efforts under the Paycheck Protection Program on these groups,” said Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf.
The PPP, part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act relief package agreed to by Congress and signed by President Trump, was designed as a forgivable loan program to encourage companies with fewer than 500 employees to keep people on the payroll as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the world. The program was to begin last Thursday at midnight, but many banks were not yet ready.
That has made the rollout of the PPP lifeboat sputter so far. Funds were scheduled to be released starting at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. And with all but essential workers being instructed to stay home in many areas, job losses and economic uncertainty have staggered many.
Where Sunday’s move leaves Wells Fargo customers in the trades is unclear. The bank focused on nonprofits and small companies of 50 or fewer employees and says loan requests received after Sunday won’t be considered. With many banks accepting applications only from current customers, Wells Fargo, which funded the most small business loans than any bank in the country in 2019, could be shutting out many customers who have not yet applied.
Other banks have struggled as well, including Bank of America, was slammed for offering PPP loans only to small business customers with business credit cards or loans, not simply checking accounts. They relaxed that requirement in response to customer concerns, and as of Sunday had accepted 145,000 applications for more than $30 billion in funding.
Small Business Association administrator Jovita Carranza told Newsweek, though, that more than 17,500 loans worth at least $5.4 billion have been given out. And if banks can’t handle the entire load, it’s possible other financial services companies could step into the fray.
Whatever the situation, if your home services company hasn’t yet applied for PPP relief, follow Lousteau’s advice and do it now.
If you have a home services company and would like to share your PPP loan experience, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using Zoom for meetings with your newly remote workforce? Beware hackers
Is your work-from-home home services company using Zoom virtual meeting software? Beware, because hackers might be trying to join.
Zoom meeting crashers have taken over presentation screens, sharing inappropriate material and causing a general ruckus, but there are ways to protect yourself, and your company, from the Zoom-bombing.
Inc. Magazine suggests these five methods (and offers step-by-step instructions) for keeping your Zoom meetings hacker-free:
Disable guest screen sharing.
Require the host to be present.
Keep your personal meeting ID private.
Use a password.
Require a waiting room.
Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to Zoom asking about its data privacy and security practices, the New York Times reported. The Times, which obtained a copy of the letter, said it expressed concerns about security issues “that could enable malicious third parties to, among other things, gain surreptitious access to consumer webcams.”
Other links and resources
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Johnson Controls institutes furloughs Key takeaway: Johnson Controls, which manufactures HVAC and other building control systems, is implementing two-week furloughs in May because of the financial challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Journal-Sentinel cited an anonymous employee not authorized to speak on behalf of the company.
KSL.com: ‘Essential’ businesses still seeing big changes in age of Coronavirus Key takeaway: In Salt Lake City, Dax Steenbergen, marketing coordinator for Whipple Service Champions, a 24/7 plumbing, heating and electrical company, says that although it has been business as usual so far, that could change in coming weeks.
Magazine encourages readers to ask about safety measures. Do you have an answer? Key takeaway: Does your home services company have a script for CSRs should customers ask what steps you are taking to keep them safe during your service visit to their home? Sarasota Magazine is among the publications recommending consumers ask that question before allowing a worker into their home.
CISA Updates ‘Essential’ List To Include Plumbing and Mechanical Supply Chains
The U.S. government on Tuesday fortified the supply chain for HVAC companies, plumbers, electricians and others in the trades by adding those workers to the list of “essential” businesses.
The move protects those who provide supplies and equipment for the skilled trades, which were previously part of the list.
While the Cyberstructure and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the Department of Homeland Security, notes that the list is “advisory in nature,” most if not all of the areas that have instituted “safer at home” or “shelter in place” orders have followed the CISA guidelines.
The move to add supply chain workers to the essential list came after a recommendation from the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.
From the PHCP Pros website:
“This is big news not only for IAPMO, but the entire plumbing and mechanical industry,” IAPMO CEO GP Russ Chaney said. “By explicitly citing the entire supply chain for plumbing products as essential, the federal government has clarified how important each facet of the industry is, from manufacturer to distributor to plumber.”
Infrared thermometers from HVAC supplier help Coronavirus fight
An HVAC supply company in Mentor, Ohio, had more than 200 infrared thermometers, and they’re being used by Lake County officials to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The devices, which will allow for the quick screening of individuals for fever, were found at Johnston Supply and cost about $45 each, according to the News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio.
“We needed a quick and reliable way to measure people’s temperature, but no one could find the thermometers,” said Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck. “I refused to give up and found 123 infrared thermometers in the warehouse of an old supplier of mine who is in the HVAC business.”
He found another 98 at another supplier, giving the county 221 in all.
“The beauty of these thermometers is that they allow you to take someone’s temperature but never actually have to come into physical contact with them,” Jason Wuliger, president of Nachshon Ventures, told the newspaper. “They also provide a nearly instantaneous result. Having these in the county toolbox is a great step forward.”
Top industry links for Tuesday
ACHR News: Tips for transitioning an HVAC company to remote work amid Coronavirus Key takeaway: Tips for helping employees accustomed to working from an office adjust, finding new ways to communicate effectively, cultivating company culture in a remote setting and more.
ACHR News: Clear Seas Research provides snapshot of HVAC industry concerns Key takeaway: Respondents to a Clear Seas Research Survey are most worried about the current economy and achieving business goals in the next six months, given the COVID-19 outbreak. Respondents report a drop in new business development activity.
After Tesla and SpaceX, you’ll never guess what Elon Musk wants to revolutionize next Key takeaway: Elon Musk has begun tackling electric cars and private space flight. Now he wants to revolutionize HVAC systems, according to Inverse.com. Specifically, he wants them to be quieter and more efficient. The units would be based on the same technology as the heat pump in the Model Y Tesla.
Water Trade Association: Industry ‘assured broadly’ it’s essential Key takeaway: The Water Quality Association is working with states that have issued Shelter-in-Place directives to their residents. The WQA says its has been assured that, broadly, water treatment products and services fit within the category of essential services designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which are allowed to remain open for business due to their role in safeguarding America’s drinking water.
HVAC School releases a guide to business during Coronavirus outbreak Key takeaway: With the world’s understanding of the outbreak evolving, this guide will update as new information becomes available. The best resource for general information regarding prevention and care is available at the CDC website.
Goettl Air Conditioning and Plumbing making big gift to employees Key takeaway: Goettl CEO Ken Goodrich is installing $1.5 million in air purification equipment in the homes of employees to thank them for their dedication and hard work. More than 600 employees in the Southwest will get UV germicidal lights.
Google offers five guiding principles for marketing during the Coronavirus outbreak Key takeaway: Google shares five principles developed internally to evaluate media campaigns during the Coronavirus pandemic. The company’s global VP for Media, Joshua Spanier, shares the five and explains how the company uses them.
Google pauses reviews amid Coronavirus outbreak
In a note to businesses, Google announced that work-from-home requirements because of the Coronavirus pandemic mean reviews on the platform will be paused for now, and some Google My Business updates will be delayed or unavailable.
The reviews should be posted when the situation normalizes and the reviews can be properly handled by Google. Other review platforms have not followed suit.
The company is also pausing some software updates, including a new version of Google Chrome.
Key takeaway: Cuomo’s shift followed a rush of protest from construction workers and their family members. Significant numbers had begun refusing to show up for work, sources said. Word traveled on Facebook among workers about positive cases on job sites and an electrician’s death.
Key takeaway: While contractors want access to financing to get through this period, it carries risk. Many common contractor corporate structures, such as S-corps, put the owner’s personal finances on the hook in the event of a loan’s failure.
March 24 Tips for the trades on staying safe AHR Expo emailed a two-page tip sheet for those in the industry seeking to stay safe during the Coronavirus outbreak. It’s applicable to other trades, too.
Beyond the usual tips, some of our favorites applicable to home services companies:
Notify your employer if a family member is sick or experiencing symptoms, someone you have been in contact with becomes sick or tests positive, so that protocols for informing others in the business can be followed.
It’s OK to inquire if anyone at a dispatched job site has recently been sick or symptomatic, and reschedule appointments that are not urgent. Take time to let customers know you are well (and, we’d add, about precautions you are taking).
Limit contact with customers to a minimum. Touch only what you must to complete the job.
Booties and gloves are recommended when entering residences.
Take time to wipe down mobile devices, tools and surfaces in homes and in your service vehicle.
What do the symptoms mean? Wondering how you or your employees can know how to recognize Coronavirus, or know what actions are appropriate based on symptoms? The State of Florida has developed an online self-checker.
Which states have ‘safer at home’ orders? This map from the New York Times has details, and a pulldown lets you select your state for specific rules. The trades have been ruled essential businesses and may remain in operation in most if not all areas.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, and has provided further detailed guidance on identifying essential critical infrastructure workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
Broadly, DHS included as "essential" all the roles workers in the water treatment industry play in delivering clean, safe water — including technical professionals, service providers, product installers, repair and parts replacement workers and supporting operations workers.
The Water Quality Association is reaching out to governors' offices across the country and has received direct commitments from several state governments recognizing the essential work of our industry. In addition, Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware and True Value have stated to customers that they all consider water treatment as "essential."
» WQA Convention: The WGA Convention, set for April in Orlando, has been cancelled, but the WGA is planning to proceed as a virtual convention. The WGA has a list of FAQs about the convention as well as information about the Coronavirus on its website.
The WQA has been actively advocating for water treatment products and services to be deemed essential services during this outbreak, due to their role in safeguarding America's drinking water.
Trades exempted as New York, Illinois join California under ‘safer at home’ order
California expanded a “safer at home” order to the entire state Thursday night, but electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians and many other tradesmen were on the list of exempted businesses because of their role in protecting public health and safety.
Gov. Gavin Newsom made the announcement of the plan, versions of which had been implemented in the San Francisco Bay area on Monday and announced for Los Angeles earlier Thursday.
“Staying in our residences, being aggressive about hygiene, and practicing safe social distancing are the most effective ways to protect ourselves, the people we love, and everyone in our community,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a release announcing that city’s move. “Each one of us is a first-responder in this crisis.”
New York joined California in the safer at home order on Friday morning. Friday afternoon, Gov. J.B. Pritzger announced Illinois would join them on Saturday. Such orders were originally referred to as “shelter in place,” but states are finding that that phrase alarms citizens. They do not constitute a total lockdown, as has been seen in China and Italy.
“We need everyone to be safe, or no one can be safe,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a news conference.
While “100 percent” of the workforce was included in the New York order, essential services such as those performed by the trades are exempted. The expectation is that order will be standard for states that issue such orders.
Those who do venture out to do business, whether in a safer at home order or not, should exercise best practices and limit contact with customers.
Dealing with the outbreak, trade style: Every business is challenged by the limitations posed by the COVID-19 outbreak, even those whose services are on the exempt list. ACHR News asked those in the HVAC industry how they’re adjusting.
In an email to ACHR News, Sarah Moscatello, owner of The Heat Pump Store in Portland, Ore., summed up her experience.
“I have to deal with a weird thing that I've never had to deal with, which is the coronavirus and how to communicate to my staff and my customers what we're doing to be prepared,” Moscatello said. “And it's just a very strange thing. It's coming down on everybody, and we’re feeling the weight of it.”
What can your business do? In a ServiceTitan webinar on Friday, attended by more than 500 participants, Jason Schlunt, CEO of Bellows Plumbing, Heating & Air in the San Francisco area answered questions about operating a home services business during the outbreak. Read the key takeaways from that webinar here.
Federal tax filing deadline delayed: The deadline for filing tax returns for 2019, for both individuals and businesses, has been delayed until July 15. Returns can still be filed earlier, but won’t accrue interest or penalties until the new date.
Update on Phones
ACCA manager calls on HVAC pros to be ‘a beacon of truth’ during Coronavirus
Matt Akins, the manager of HVACR education for Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), has posted a blog encouraging HVAC professionals to be “a beacon of truth and good faith” when it comes to educating customers during the Coronavirus outbreak.
That’s good advice. HVAC companies (and those in all the trades) build their reputation over the years and grow trust by educating customers. Destroying that trust for what we all hope will be a short-term problem with COVID-19 would be incredibly short-sighted.
Some consumers are already noticing, taking to Twitter to lament the rise of sports talk radio commercials about UV eliminating “airborne pathogens.”
But what does being a beacon of truth look like? According to Atkins, contractors should educate clients on indoor air quality and the Coronavirus by telling them:
Source control is the first step. Customers should be advised to follow CDC guidelines on social distancing, handwashing, covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, etc. Same as with odor, mold or other contaminants — any virus within a residence or business is your virus. It won’t come from an external airborne source, or from the factory.
The air can spread contaminants. Viruses, including Coronavirus, as well as fungi, mold and bacteria can be spread through the air. Viruses, though, making it difficult for a standard air filter to catch them.
An HVAC system can allow biological contaminants to thrive. Your unit can provide the food (through skin cells in the system), moisture and the absences of ultraviolet light.
An ultraviolet system will not, by itself, keep your home virus- or mold-free. A limited “kill zone” can limit its effectiveness. Viruses can be particularly resistant, or not. And according to ASHRAE, the reduction level for viruses can vary over several orders of magnitude.
But an ultraviolet light system can be part of the answer, combined with proper hygiene, social distancing and improved indoor air quality. With customers frightened by Coronavirus, HVAC companies can shine a light, ultraviolet or otherwise, on the facts of indoor air quality.
Federal relief coming for small businesses, individuals
President Trump has asked Congress for $1 trillion toward Coronavirus relief, including giving the small business administration $50 billion in lending authority and potentially making $1,000 payments directly to U.S. citizens.
The IRS will also defer, without penalties or interest, tax payments that would have been due April 15 by 90 days for both individuals and businesses. Returns still must be filed by April 15, but payments won’t be due until July 15.
Here’s the link to the Small Business Administration’s Coronavirus loans page.
According to CNBC, the relief package could be worth over $1 trillion and include up to $550 in direct payments or tax cuts, up to $300 billion in small business assistance, up to $100 billion in airline and industry relief, and $250 billion for making direct payments to Americans.
Trades exempted from ‘shelter in place’
Seven counties around San Francisco ordered residents to shelter in place for three weeks, and they started doing so on Monday. A list published by the Los Angeles Times includes home services companies among those who are exempt from the order.
Specifically, that includes “plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining safety and sanitation.” Also exempt is the supply chain, which the Times refers to as “businesses that supply other essential businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate.”
Each state will likely have its own list, but in California and, presumably, Pennsylvania, and probably others, the trades would be considered essential.
That type of reaction could spread to other cities quickly. New York CIty Mayor Bill De Blasio said Tuesday the city should be prepared for possible “shelter in place” order within 24 hours.
Not sure what it looks like to shelter in place? Here’s what you can, and can’t, do.
Business impact: Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney expressed concern about the ability of small businesses in the city to withstand the impact of Coronavirus on its own, The Philadelphia Business Journal reported.
The city, and the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses for two weeks. At a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Kinney likened the steps needed to those taken during the Great Depression and World War II. And Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy got right to the point.
Reminder on recognizing the symptoms of Coronavirus:
Difficulty breathing (severe cases)
And here’s a handy checklist from the New York Times on what to do to prepare yourself and to stay safe and healthy.
Hope for a vaccine? The first trial for a vaccine for COVID-19 started on Monday, but widespread implementation could take 12-18 months. Four volunteers each got two doses of the possible vaccine, the beginning of a long process to prove the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. China has also begun vaccine trials.
Key takeaway: common sense still reigns supreme. Plumbers are advised to increase the frequency of hand washing and wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water (even longer hand washing time is good practice after contact with wastewater); avoid touching of the face; cover any open cuts or wounds and wear proper PPE. If you personally come into close proximity, or into direct contact with an infected person, immediately report the incident to your supervisor and to your doctor or healthcare provider.
Coronavirus prompts response in HVAC industry (ACHR News)
Key takeaway: For concerned clients, the priority will be keeping their employees, their facilities, and their families safe. Contractors should be aware of what the available technologies are and represent them in an honest and transparent way while noting that disease prevention cannot be solved by HVAC alone.
» Latest updates and news information for the trades about the COVID-19 pandemic at www.ServiceTitan.com/Coronavirus
If you have story ideas or questions, you can email us. We’d love to tell your story about how you’re helping in your community or dealing with these uncertain times, or just help answer your questions.
ServiceTitan is a comprehensive home services business software solution built specifically to help service companies streamline their operations, boost revenue, and achieve growth. Our award-winning, cloud-based platform is trusted by more than 100,000 contractors across the country. Contact our team to schedule a demo.