Starting My Own HVAC Business – Get Your Contractor’s License First

Doing Side Work Without a License

This series is set up to compliment my video series from 2016, “Starting My Own HVAC Company.”  I  thought I’d review some of the things I talked about before and give you my thoughts on them now that I’ve been doing it for a while.


When I was starting my HVAC business, I didn’t realize how much I would need to know.  I was just another technician who was tired of working for someone who didn’t have the same values and ideas I did.  Some people don’t think the journey should be too hard.  Get a truck, get your tools, get some customers, and go to work.

It was a liberating feeling for me, at first.  I quickly found out if I wanted to grow my business, I would have to learn more about the business side of HVAC.  I knew I was a good technician. But I started developing a great desire for more input, more knowledge of the business side.

Getting off the ground seems like the toughest part of the process, but I can honestly say now, that it’s not.

Reviewing the Series

This series is set up to compliment the 2016 video series, “Starting My Own HVAC Company.”  I  thought I’d review some of the things I talked about before and give you my thoughts on them now that I’ve been doing it for a while.  If you want to see that series before reading this post, you can find it here.

Get a Contractors License

The first thing we should talk about is, if you want to this right, you’re going to have to get your contractors license.

In California, if you want to do any HVAC, plumbing, electrical, handyman, and other types of work for someone and you plan on collecting more than $500, you need to get your contractors license first.  Why?  Let me give you a few reasons.

First, and most obvious, it’s the law, and you can get arrested and fined thousands of dollars for contracting without a license.  If you get caught contracting without a license, it’ll make it that much harder for you to go to the State and apply for one with that strike against you.

Lending Credibility

Second, having a license lends credibility to your name and builds trust.  When your future customers see you’re legitimate on the government website, it shows people you’ve gone through the process like everyone else, and you don’t cut corners. You can control your own business and its reputation when you’re doing things the right way.

Setting a Standard

Third, contracting legitimately keeps the quality of work you do at a certain standard.  For any work that alters the electrical, plumbing, gas lines, or structure of the building, a permit is needed.  To get that permit, a contractor’s license is needed.  And when you’re done with that work, a local city or county building inspector comes in and verifies your work to close out the permit.

You’ve heard me talk (and complain) about the system of inspectors and administrative personnel in the building departments.  Even though I feel the way I do about them, I realize the need for inspectors to confirm the work we’ve done.  It’s a system of checks and balances which provides a separate set of eyes to see the job we did and give the homeowner their seal of approval based on the local building codes.

Protecting Customers

Finally, being a part of a group of people in your field who has gone through the steps of becoming contractors creates a force that inhibits non-licensed people from scamming and taking advantage of homeowners and endangering their property with shoddy workmanship (which still happens anyway.)


I wanted to review these steps again, not to discourage anyone, but to enlighten those of you who are interested in starting up your own company.  Start by being legit.  I don’t condone the people out there doing side work while still working for someone else.  But that’s another topic.  If your state allows for high dollar HVAC work and there’s no insurance requirement or state bond obligation to protect the homeowner, should you burn their house down with sloppy, unvalidated workmanship, then more power to you.

Take the time to do it right from the start, no matter what state you’re in.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the next blog.

Don’t Miss our Video and the Series on This Topic:

  Starting My Own Business - Revisited 5 Years Later - Part 1: Contracting

Professionalism in the Workplace

professionalism in the workplace

Nine Essential Tips for Gaining Professionalism in the Workplace

Hi, this is Greg Fox from Fox Family Heating and Air.  One of my goals for this blog is to bring up-and-coming technicians, existing techs, and even aspiring business owners some insight into the more personal side of HVAC and other blue-collar service industries.  One of my long-time viewers, David Melendez, is an instructor in the HVAC field.  David asked me to discuss a topic that we both feel should be a no-brainer for any job.  Today I’m going to give you nine ways you can come across more professionally at your job, so you can hang on to it for many years.


The way you carry yourself, the way you speak to others, and the way you look each and every day shows your level of professionalism.  Look around; it’s the people around you that look sharp, seem confident, and have the trust of everyone around them who are the leaders in your workplace.  You don’t have to be in a management position to be considered a leader within your company, either.  Leaders will get promoted from within their company, or they’ll get poached from other companies who see their professionalism.

There are just too many blue-collar service technicians who are getting the job done but are leaving their customers and their bosses unsatisfied.

Here are nine ways to make yourself come across more professionally in today’s workplace:

1. Be the eager person you were when you got hired

A good way to gain professionalism is to try not to get complacent with your job.  People get hired because they make promises to the company that they’re going to do this, and are really looking forward to doing that.  Once they’re hired, the fizz on top of their soda runs out, and it seems like people start taking things for granted.  Stay interested in your job.  Looking forward in your career, you’re always showing your customers and your supervisors why they should keep choosing you for the job.

2. Be organized

Keeping your service or install van looking organized and clean is one of the best ways to come across more professionally.  Any supervisor is going to remember who has the dirties vans and who has the cleanest vans.  Those with clean, organized vans will be recognized by their peers, too.  They may see your van’s dashboard wiped down each week with Armor-All.  They may see that it’s washed once a week.  Having a place for everything in your van is definitely the way to go.  There are bins and toolboxes you can get to the store to do this.  It’s easier for people to take you more seriously when you have a clean, well-organized van too.

3. Work smarter, not harder

Having a clean van means you can find things easier, which makes you more efficient.  One of the best pieces of advice I can give you when working on the job site is to be efficient with your moves.  If you are going to your service area to start your job, bring something with you that you might need on a later step.  Also, if you’re going back to the truck to get a part, bring something back with you, that you’re not using anymore.

Installers and service techs could save a great deal of time if they would consolidate their steps.  Meaning if you know you’re going to need your recovery machine early on in your procedure, bring the other stuff you need, too, like an extension cord and the recovery tank.  If you have a free hand when walking back and forth to your service area, you’re probably not being as efficient as you could be.

 4. Admit when you are wrong

Nothing shows integrity more than holding yourself accountable for your actions.  No understanding company is going to fire you if you mess up something but are honest with them.  Dishonesty is probably the quickest way to get let go from your company, because if they can’t trust you, why are you even there?

5. Be on time for work and meetings

When the boss says we have a training session at 7 am on Wednesday, you should be inside that building or sitting in your van waiting to go in at least ten minutes before it starts.  I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but not being on time screams unprofessionalism on your behalf.  If you want to make your instructor or supervisor feel like they’re not important, just keep on being late.  You’ll soon have some other place to be that you can be late to.

6. Dress to impress

Those of us in the service industry may usually have jobs where we get dirty during the day.  Most companies know this and are more lenient with your dress as the day goes along.  You may have had to crawl through the attic to run a new electrical circuit.  You may have had to go under the house to reconnect a duct or repair a pipe.  I’m proud of my techs when I see them getting dirty as their workday goes along.  That means they’re working hard and going into places they should be going to do their job thoroughly.

Having said that, you’re always going to want to be your sharpest looking first thing in the morning.  Having your hair brushed, your boots on, with clean pants, and a clean shirt shows a lot of professionalism.  Always know that people are looking at you every day.  They’re forming an opinion of you whether you realize it or not.

7.  Be reliable

Professionals are reliable.  People know they can count on you to be there if you do it regularly.  On the worksite, being available for your coworkers will earn you a ton of respect.  If you can step in and help someone in a time of need, your peers and everyone else will know.

Always improving your skills by reading material, or getting more specialty tools to make your job easier will make you more reliable.  If you’re not showing your coworkers and company this, you may come across as not wanting to be there, not wanting to improve, not wanting to be counted on.

Professionals are stable.  If you’re the person on your team that surprises people with unwanted or outlandish acts, you will realize no one wants to work with you anymore.

8. Show Confidence

Those of you who are more confident at work will be more successful at work.  Confidence is all about knowing what you can do and doing it well.  It’s about being able to tell your boss, “Yeah, I can do that.”  To be able to take an assignment and do it well takes a lot of pressure off your supervisors.  Do that over and over, and you’ll be on your way up the ladder, too.

9. Speak up

People who are confident speak up more than others.  If something doesn’t make sense or come across clearly, confident people don’t shy away from saying something.  I’m not saying if a company’s policy doesn’t sound right, you should stand up and object in front of everyone in the room.  But you could calmly raise your hand and be called on, and respectfully say what you’re thinking.  I’ve always been that person.  It’s not rude.  And it’s not done to try to get a rise out everyone sitting in the room. It’s actually a leadership quality to play the devil’s advocate sometimes, so all sides are considered.


If you carry yourself well, communicate well, look sharp, and are reliable, you’re going to go far in any company, even if it’s your own.  These are the people who are considered leaders wherever they go.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you next time.

Is Doing Side Work Illegal? Why Doing Side Work is a Bad Idea

is doing side work illegal?

Is it okay to do side work if I’m employed by someone in that field already? Let’s talk about what side work is, if it’s illegal, and when it might be okay to do it.


In California, it’s illegal to perform your normal blue-collar construction jobs on the side.  This means jobs like plumbing, electrical, HVAC, carpentry, windows, roofing, and other handyman type jobs.  Performing those on the side is illegal if you’re collecting more than $500.  If you were looking for the answer to whether or not that side work is illegal, it is.

Building a Reputation

Just like so many other people who entered the trades, I thrived on any knowledge I could gain in my field to be as good as I could be.  I was just appreciative of having a job I could dependably go to and have work on a steady basis.  All I wanted to do was earn the respect of my peers and be considered someone customers would ask for, and managers would send to the tough jobs.

As people settle into their jobs though, they become complacent.  They start getting itchy and looking for more.  “I can do this!  I can change out that part on this air conditioner for less money than the company I work for and make way more than my hourly pay for doing it.”

What is Side Work?

Here’s what side work is.  Once, I was on a residential call and quoted the customer $275 for a part that only cost about $25 online.  They asked me if they bought the part, would I come back out after hours and install it for $100.

I’ve always been one who considers right and wrong.  I not only let the customer know I wouldn’t do it, but I let my boss know, so he could either address it with the customer himself or just leave it alone and chalk it up to knowing that there are people out there who will always try to get the cheapest deal.

It’s funny because that person knows it’s wrong to ask me to do the side work.  If he didn’t, do you think he’d call my boss up and ask him if it was okay for me to come back out after hours and install the part he found online for cheaper?  Probably not.

Thinking Ethically

Entering a world of doing side work on your own while you save enough to start your own business cuts your own throat, to an extent. It’s like tradesmen who knowingly buy stolen tools to use on their job site instead of going to the store or going online and paying legitimate prices for legitimate tools.  If you do this, don’t get angry when you start your own company someday and discover lowballers are undercutting your prices now that you have more expenses than they do.

Contractors have substantially more expenses than technicians who wait until they get off work to come back and do a job the customer didn’t want to pay for when they were on the clock.  A person doing this kind of side work, whether legitimately or not, has the same risks as a real contractor… not getting paid, fire, injury, lawsuit, warranty, etc.


Contractors have many bills.  We have to carry general liability insurance.  My company has a $1,000,000 policy we must pay each month.  Before starting as a licensed contractor, I had to write the state license board a check for $15,000 for a bond.  Although we’re a small-to-mid-sized HVAC company, our monthly bills, including paying employees, top out in the tens of thousands of dollars. This is why we charge the prices we do.

Follow me for a second.   A very experienced contractor who sends their guys out into the field, on average, bills out their service techs for less than 50% of the actual time they’re on the clock.  The rest includes rent, payroll, administrative costs, attorneys, drive time, stocking up the warehouse, paperwork, weekly training sessions, running for parts, return visits that aren’t even charged to the customer, and a myriad of other expenses.

Consider the $30,000 service van you’re driving around in that’s only going to last five years and maybe be worth $5000 when the company goes to trade it in for your next van. It’s shocking if you think about how much it costs to roll a van to a service call or an installation.  There are even business owners themselves who don’t entirely understand that cost.

Common Decency

But getting back to it, I’m not saying doing a little work for family and close friends isn’t right, because no one is going to turn down family. Everyone’s got someone they know who can do the work; a buddy who’s a mechanic, an aunt who’s a seamstress, an uncle who’s a roofer. That’s not a person running some underground business. That’s just common decency.

I’ve gone over to my next-door neighbor’s house when I worked for someone else and replaced a bad capacitor on their AC.  Was that wrong?  Some would say yes, but as a contractor myself, I would say no. But there’s always going to be some line you shouldn’t cross.

But I will say this.  If you’re going to do side work, don’t use my tools, my parts, my equipment, my van, or my name and reputation.

Technically, if there’s any legal requirement to be a ‘contractor’ in your area and you don’t meet those requirements, there’s no legal requirement that a customer pays you for your work, even if you’ve completed it to their satisfaction.

Crossing the Line

Even if you have a contract signed by both parties, you’ll lose any legal attempt to collect. Take the customer to court? The court will simply deny your claim, as the courts can’t rule on an illegal act.  And operating without any of the required licenses, insurance, bonds, registration, etc. is also an illegal act.

That’s the line you’re crossing when you decide to take on that side work.

I know I’m not going to change the minds of the masses of side-jobbers out there.  Many think lowballing their bosses for one reason or another is okay. I’m all for healthy competition and real contractors keeping each other in check with pricing.

Weighing the Odds

Good contractors don’t suffer from a lack of work because of all the people doing side work. It’s simply the principle.  Contractors have worked for years building up their business.  Years spent finding employable technicians who can be insured and who carry out their duties safely, precisely, and professionally.

My point is to think about what you’re doing before you take on that side job.  Is it worth your job if you’re caught and fired?  Probably not.  Is it worth doing a little bit of side work while you’re waiting for your state license to process?  Or while you’re building savings to even get started?  Probably not.

Your Turn

Let me know what you think about his topic in the comments below.  Do you think it’s harmless, or are you not willing to cross that line to keep things legit?

Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the next blog post.