A Day’s Work: HVAC-R technician

Chris Uphoff of Forest Air Heating & Cooling. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

When it comes to the type of air we want to breathe, what could be better than cool forest air? That was the thought behind Chris Uphoff naming the New Paltz-based business he owns and operates “Forest Air Heating & Cooling.”

The work involves the repair and installation of heating, air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, along with a bit of plumbing that comes into the picture sometimes, as well. Uphoff works with residential and commercial clients, dividing his time about 50/50 between service calls and scheduled maintenance visits all over the Hudson Valley.

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He was trained in his trade through the United Association of Unions. The five-year apprenticeship training program involved going out on jobs every day with professionals then attending classes each night that reinforced the hands-on learning.

After completing his training, Uphoff worked through Local 21 for the next decade as a New York State-licensed journeyman, or journey worker, as he prefers to call it. The designation denotes a trained professional able to carry out the trade without supervision. Along the way, he gained experience with a wide range of HVAC-R systems and obtained his UA Star Master certification for excellence in residential and commercial service, which signifies mastery of the trade.

Two years ago, Uphoff decided to go into business for himself. He sat down with New Paltz Times recently to talk about what a day’s work involves for an HVAC-R technician.

Is there a typical day?

Yes. For the most part, I’m on the road on a daily basis going from customer to customer. I take service calls, go to businesses and customer’s homes to work on their equipment, troubleshoot problems and issues they’re having and make repairs. People call and want me getting out there as quickly as I can to figure out what the problem is. I also schedule appointments for boiler and furnace cleanings, air conditioner maintenance, things like that. It could also be about installations, too, installing a ductless split (a unit that provides heating and cooling in one) or a boiler, furnace or air conditioner.

Are there any changes you’ve seen in the business over the years?

No, the technology hasn’t really changed that much since I’ve been in the field. The newest thing that has really taken off is inverter technology; instead of the motor coming on instantaneously like blower motors that use a lot of electricity, the inverter ramps it up gradually. It’s more effective and more efficient, more of a green technology.

What is the most difficult part of the job?

The hours are long and the work can be grueling; sometimes I have to be out in the freezing cold or snow, or on the roofs of malls in blistering heat. Or I’m down in boiler rooms where there’s no light and I’m hitting my head or tripping over things or it’s wet… it’s hard work, mentally and physically. It can be stressful trying to figure out what is going on with a piece of equipment, whether it’s mechanical or electronic, and the whole troubleshooting process can be time-consuming and frustrating.

What is the most difficult thing about running your own business?

Anyone can start a business. I try to do the right things, but what I never saw coming was how difficult it is to get customers. There’s a lot of competition in the area, so that can be a real struggle.

Is there anything about this work that people would be surprised to learn?

I think people tend to underestimate heating and air conditioning technicians. If people don’t realize how much is involved, between troubleshooting and the electronics, they may not realize how intelligent a good heating and air conditioning technician is.

How did you get into this line of work?

I’m very mechanically inclined, so because of that and my ability to figure things out, I kind of fell into this field. But I think it does satisfy a need in me to work with my hands and figure things out, and be physical. It just happens to be something that I’m very good at. I do work independently, but I also enjoy working as a part of a team, if it happens to be a big project where I have helpers. It’s nice to be able to work as part of a team to accomplish a bigger job.

What would you be doing for a living if not this?

I love the outdoors, always have, so probably something adventurous and exciting outdoors. The other thing I always thought I would enjoy doing is teaching. Not necessarily in a school, but maybe taking people into the outdoors and teaching them about that.

What do you do on your time off?

I rock climb, mountain bike and do a lot of hiking and camping. I grew up in Milton, but spent most of my time in New Paltz because of all of that here.

What advice would you give someone contemplating going into your field? 

Be prepared. Know that you want to do it, if you want to do it. It is rewarding, but it’s a tough field to be in.

Why should someone hire you?

The reason I decided to start the business was because when I was working for other companies, I couldn’t give the customers the care they deserve and the attention to detail. A lot of the big companies have overhead; vans, equipment, people… that all costs a lot of money, so they have to pass that on to their customers. And it’s all about money; get to this customer, get it done fast, and you can’t take the time to do things the right way. My union instilled in me to do it the right way the first time, and then you go to work and it winds up being the opposite. What I bring to my business, is I want to offer customers my knowledge and skills at a very reasonable price. I’m trustworthy, I’m committed, I’m a good guy! I want to do the right thing. If I come to your house to clean the boiler, I do all the proper steps. You take pride in your work. That’s why I do it.

Contact Chris Uphoff of Forest Air Heating & Cooling at (845) 406-0939 or forestairhvac@gmail.com