Frederick R. Barnard, an advertising executive, coined the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” And how right he was. If Barnard knew, back in 1921, the power of this statement, and, today, with the ease of one’s cellphone, he would probably revise his phrase and offer, “A picture or video is priceless in communication.”

Today, cellphones go beyond simply capturing an HVAC system’s existing conditions and illustrating field reports. Cellphones have the capabilities to video an HVAC “walk-around,” reinforcing the 21st century YouTube blog phrase, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a million.”

Think about it. Why spend time writing down your construction site observations that can take up a half a page of explanation when, with the snap of a cellphone picture or the push of a cellphone video button, the results speak for themselves? More important than the actual picture or video is the fact that they remove any written discussion as to what was seen. Pictures and videos replace subjective interpretation with reality.

Photos and videos are essential to the individual presenting the conditions to someone, e.g., a building committee member who is not familiar with HVAC installations. In this case, words cannot always clarify the equipment of system installation. As an individual who spent years as an HVAC draftsperson, when I was drafting a section through a boiler room, I would sketch in a 6-foot person standing next to the boiler because building owner reviewers often knew the size of their boiler at home but had no visual sense of size for the 500 BHP (boiler horsepower) equipment in my boiler room section. With a 6-foot person (holding a wrench) standing next to an 8-foot-diameter boiler, the reviewers would quickly realize the size of the equipment in the room.

A friend of mine has said to me many times, “When explaining your design engineering proposal, you start by painting the picture.” Photographs and videos easily achieve that, helping engineers to “paint the picture.” Building owners and owner representatives can often be skeptical of estimates printed in a very professional binder. With this in mind, prior to me presenting a preliminary design-build (D-B) proposed scope-of-work to my client, a “history major” responsible for a $2.5 million HVAC infrastructure project, I hired a videographer to record the estimating session. With the D-B conceptual estimate video of the actual estimating brainstorming, the owner’s team could see, hear, and appreciate the sincere effort being made by the experts in their D-B field. While the estimate was 15-minutes long, it only took less than five minutes to paint the picture.

In the past, documenting existing conditions, e.g., a cooling coil in an equipment room, was a great way of showing “what’s wrong with this picture” to sell the point that the coil was piped backwards. Now, through the power of cellphone cameras, photograph and video opportunities are endless, cost-effective, and worthwhile methods of communication in the building industry.