I love me some good bad photos. You know, good photos of bad stuff. If you’ve been here a while, you’ve seen some of the doozies I’ve posted in the Energy Vanguard Blog. Take Stumpy, the duct amputee or Release the Kraken or the ice chest in the duct system or any of a number of building enclosure failures. They can be funny and instructive. In 2012, Ralph Harmon started HVAC Hacks and Other Screwups on Facebook and took this thing to a whole new level.
The origin of HVAC Hacks
I was still active on the personal side of Facebook back then and started seeing things like that photo above show up in my feed. They were amazing and horrifying and they just kept coming. The page quickly grew, and I was in awe of the numbers of likes, shares, and comments these photos were getting.
Last week I was in Orlando at the AHR Expo and got a chance to meet Ralph Harmon and learn the backstory and find out a bit about where he’s going with it next. Harmon is a second generation air conditioning guy. (In central Florida, there’s not a lot of heating work.) Like I did with my grandfather, he went out on service calls with his dad when he was growing up and learned the trade at an early age.
“Well, how it started was kind of by accident,” he told me. He’d been collecting photos of poor quality HVAC work and got the idea to post them online when a professional wrestler buddy of his started a Facebook page. Then it got competitive, with a race to see who could get the most likes for their pages.
It didn’t take long before someone in Texas saw his numbers and asked if he’d run a contest to give away an iPad. So he did and got paid $500 for doing so. “That’s when I’m like, OK, there’s a little bit of money in it.”
How big is it?
HVAC Hacks, in all its forms, has a huge following. The Facebook page is about to crack 40 thousand. He’s got about 16 thousand followers on Twitter and another 18 thousand on Instagram.
When new photos go up, they often explode. Take that photo below. You can see the current numbers there, but in less than a day it had been seen by nearly a hundred thousand people and garnered about 1,000 likes, 200 comments, and 500 shares. Wow!
This site has really taken off, and Harmon has plans to roll out some new stuff, too. (See below for a hint of what’s to come.)
Yeah, but does it help?
Posting photos of shoddy work done by others is fun, but is it moving the industry forward? I asked Harmon about this.
“We do post some of the bad stuff, trying to drive some of the idiots in the industry out. There’s nothing worse than going to my page and seeing your work up there. It wouldn’t be a good thing. I know I’d have to hide my head in the sand if any of my work went up there.”
But it’s more than that, too. “People are definitely learning from it,” he told me. People aren’t afraid to comment and point out what’s wrong in a photo, although sometimes you have to wade through a whole bunch of snarky comments to find the explanation of what’s wrong.
And then people will post photos of their own work and and ask for feedback. For example, here’s one titled “Ok let the criticism begin!!” That one looks like a good install, but I’ve also seen photos of not-so-good systems from people who are fairly new to HVAC, and they’re asking for others to let them know how to improve.
What does the future hold for HVAC Hacks?
Harmon’s got plans to improve the site and add new features. For example, he’s working with a HVAC instructor to create some quizzes. “Every 2 to 3 weeks, we’ll post 20 questions as a Test Your Knowledge feature. We’ve got these people that know it all, so let’s see if you really know it all,” he said.
They’ll have rankings posted on the site so you can see where you stand against other participants. Occasionally they’ll give away prizes to the leaders.
And there’s more coming, too.
“I’ve got some stuff that’s going to be released this year on the website that’s really really going to help a lot of [HVAC] techs out. Top secret!”
If you have anything to do with heating, ventilating, or air conditioning, check out HVAC Hacks. Just don’t be a hack!
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