By Mark Cornelius

As a long-time restoration industry member and instructor, I have observed an alarming trend of restorers looking at industry tools and restoration equipment as printing machines for cash. The power-on button has become “the money button.”

Increasingly, owners are purchasing tools and equipment based on how much they can charge per day for the item and how many of the machines they can stack in the back of the van. I have heard several students recently say they do not actually care about the function of the item; they just wanted to know how much money they can make off it. The same comments apply to every tool and piece of equipment from the dehumidifier to the thermal imaging camera all the way down to the hammer.

But it is essential for owners—and their technicians—to understand the capabilities of their resources, including how to use each piece of restoration equipment to its maximum efficiency. Those who do ultimately will make more money through proper utilization than competitors who load up the job and hit the money button. Not only will the informed owner observe higher profit margins, but also clients will be better served, with their property quickly and efficiently restored.

How much do you know?

Let’s focus on a specific tool for a moment. First, some classroom-style questions: What is an LGR dehumidifier? Now, what makes an LGR “low grain?” In what conditions do refrigerant dehumidifiers work optimally?

Recently, in a class I taught, we had access to multiple models and manufacturers of LGR dehumidifiers. I asked the students if they knew the differences between the three manufacturers and the five different models. Then we talked about what they knew about how to make the LGR work optimally. The first thing the students remembered was the optimal temperature range of 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

The next question regarded what needed to be done to make different models of one manufacturer’s LGR work more efficiently if the ambient air was warmer than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. A couple of students said to turn the air conditioning unit on to reduce the temperature, which is the best answer, but no one could explain the specific steps needed for the units to work more efficiently if the ambient temperature could not be brought within the
optimal range.

Why does this matter? If the number one way to prevent microbial activity in a wet environment is to get it dry quickly, then it makes sense to understand the playbook and give your team the best possible conditions to produce a win.

Why should you learn?

Let’s look at a scenario: The phone rings, and a new water damage claim is taken. The project is sent to the first available technician. All the technician knows is, if he pushes a particular button, air comes out of the airmover. He gives little thought to which style of airmover might work best for this job. He also knows he needs a dehumidifier to put on the truck, so he grabs the dehumidifier from the closest shelf in the warehouse. He does not realize the dehumidifier needs to have a magnetic strip moved to make it work optimally. He only knows it is the first one in the line.

This discussion can be repeated with every piece of restoration equipment and tool we buy. A salesperson tells us all the pretty things about the item we are interested in purchasing, we ask how much we can charge per day for the unit, and that is the end of the discussion.

No matter how good an item is, nothing is perfect, and few things are as simple as we expect. Even the best thermal hygrometer requires acclimation time to give an accurate reading. If a technician does not understand the device might require two to four minutes or more to give an accurate reading and, therefore, only allows 30 seconds to obtain data, they will misdiagnose the situation.

How can you keep up?

The last 15 to 20 years has seen a massive entry into the industry from people who chose to exit past careers. The last five to ten years have been dominated by investment capital acquisitions. For the most part, the driving force to be the best in the industry has changed to who can make the most money. There must be a deeply rooted desire from a company’s ownership that spreads to even entry-level technicians to become proficient with the tools and equipment necessary to successfully perform industry work. There also must be someone in the company who is the expert in technical proficiency with each item.

In a start-up company, the owner does not always have a lot of resources or time to be the expert on all tools and equipment. Designate someone in the company to be the expert on the dehumidifiers, someone to be the expert on the thermal imaging camera, and someone to be the expert on the moisture meter and thermo-hygrometer. They should then train others in the company to become competent, proficient, and eventually experts.

It is called the “power button” for a reason. When you push that button, it unleashes the potential power of that piece of equipment to not only do the job with the best quality and accuracy, but also yield the maximum profits. The key here is, for the power button to truly be the best money button you have, you must take the time to become proficient and use the tool efficiently. Once you have mastered the function and use of a device, your equipment will blow more dead presidents into your business than you ever thought was possible.

A smartphone is only as smart as the trained or untrained hands that wield it. The same is true for airmovers, moisture meters, and all of our tools. They are just plastic, metal, and wires that depend on expertise to work.

I challenge you to first learn the restoration equipment. Then use the power button to sit back and watch the results stack up in your bank account.

Mark Cornelius has been in the restoration industry for more than 38 years. He is president of Disaster Recovery Industries Inc. and owns Emergency Mitigation Technician Academy. As an IICRC triple master, Cornelius travels the world teaching IICRC approved classes. He is a member of the 2021 IICRC Board of Directors, a co-chair of the OCT committee, and on the committees for the IICRC S540, AMRT, MRS, and FSRT standards.