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FEATURE STORY: Small Town Entrepreneur has Big Potential

Tuesday, October 3, 2017
CLEAR LAKE, S.D. – Every great invention begins as a means to solve a problem. Simple, every day gadgets like windshield wipers, to complex, yet easy-to-use smartphones—manufacturers around the world make products that simplify our lives.

Daniel Gates would agree that that’s how his story goes, too. Gates, a South Dakota businessman and owner of Gates Heating & Air Conditioning in Clear Lake, SD, says his invention started when he was out on a service call one day.

“I was servicing a furnace and needed to access an evaporator coil, which sits in a small box on top of a furnace unit,” Gates recalled. “The coil heats and cools the air that flows through a home or business. Unfortunately, in order to inspect the coil, it required taking large sections of the unit apart. Not only is that complicated, it’s also very time consuming and can be costly. And when time is money, our customers, and our technicians alike, don’t really like wasting valuable time. I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.’”

Gates went home that day and began sketching a prototype that would allow technicians easy access to the evaporator coil without dismantling the entire plenum and evaporative coil. What Gates came up with was a simple, yet innovative metal frame placed underneath the coil and on top of the furnace. The frame has four access holes, one on each side of the frame, making it easy to feed a camera into the coil for inspection. The access holes will also help facilitate taking temperature readings, static pressure readings, carbon monoxide readings, and checking the top of the heat exchanger.

“The CheckEZ Inspection Frame has a low profile, adding only about 1.75 inches to the total height of furnace,” Gates explained. “Once the frame is installed, service calls that once took hours may now only take a few minutes, saving technicians time and homeowners money.”

Gates patented the CheckEZ a year and a half later and today, is selling and marketing his product to distributors and HVAC repair companies throughout the nation.

“Right now, the CheckEZ is an after-market product, and can easily be installed during a furnace or AC change out or new installation. But the potential for growth, I think, comes with new HVAC installations,” Gates said. “Four million new HVAC units are sold across the nation each year, so the potential for my market to grow exponentially is exciting to think about.”

And those kinds of numbers mean Gates would quickly grow out of his one-man shop. He currently contracts with a Hutterite colony near Clear Lake that helps cut the raw material into the desired size and shape for each of his frames.

“Obviously growing to that kind of capacity is probably a ways down the road, but that would be huge for the people I work with. That means more jobs across production and more jobs means more opportunity,” Gates said.

For now, Gates says he’s focused on getting in front of local distributors and keeping the bulk of his business based in South Dakota.

“The colony cuts my frames, I buy my boxes from Watertown Box Corporation—minus the actual raw material, I’m South Dakota-based, and that’s the way I hope to keep it,” Gates said.

For more information about the CheckEZ Inspection Frame, go to


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Members of the media requesting more information should contact Natalie Likness at or (605) 773-GOED (4633).