Knowledge, Knowledgeability, and Acknowledgement in HVAC Maintenance

Bovet, A., Fürst, M. F., & Loloum, T.

Knowledge, Knowledgeability, and Acknowledgement in HVAC Maintenance


Maintenance and its knowledges II
EASST/4S 2020 joint conference
European Association for the Study of Science and Technology
Praha, Czech Republic

The maintenance of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) infrastructure has become increasingly complex with the introduction of more sustainable energy sources, the integration of digital technologies, and organizational rearrangements that come with market liberalization and legal requirements (Ariztia et al. 2019). The continued upkeep of these infrastructures requires the successful coordination of many distinct forms of knowledge involved in different HVAC maintenance professions (e.g. heating/cooling technicians, operating engineers, installers, automation specialists, facility managers, etc.), and their articulation within the local specificities of service interventions (Wade et al. 2016). Finding and building such arrangements with a variety of actors results in multiple encounters where maintenance knowledge is at stake. Beyond the mere plurality of ‘skills’ or ‘know-how’, the paper addresses a selection of empirical cases that show how knowledgeability and acknowledgment are oriented to by HVAC professionals when they configure their daily maintenance work and its objects. Each encounter with a partner is an occasion to both display his/her own and check the other’s knowledgeability. This valuation process cannot be separated from acknowledgment issues: knowledge at work in HVAC maintenance gets diversely perceived and recognized, not only by the various professionals but also by lay partners (users, owners, customers), and according to a plurality of criteria (practical, financial, legal, environmental). Based on ethnographic inquiry (video-ethnography, shadowing, participant observation) with maintenance technicians from private HVAC companies and district heating networks, as well as semi-structured interviews with experts, trainers, managers, and engineers in Switzerland, this research reveals how the energy transition recasts the meanings and values attached to HVAC maintenance.