Year in Review: Green Economy Offers 'New Deal' for Contractors
December 21, 2009
Discussions of the economic recovery often include talks of a so-called green economy. According to Wikipedia, this includes “green energy generation based on renewable energy to substitute for fossil fuels and energy conservation for efficient energy use.” Many see it as a kind of New Deal.
While the original New Deal resulted in projects like the building of the Hoover Dam, which became a major source of energy and development in parts of the American West, today’s “green deal” offers opportunities to save energy on an even greater magnitude.
The definition truly seems to point straight toward the HVAC industry. The technologies needed to usher this economy in are already here, ready for contractors to apply for their customers.
“This green economy includes the production, distribution, and consumption of specific goods and services society needs to thrive, in such a way that energy efficiency and innovation are encouraged and the environment is not adversely affected,” said Barb Dolim, executive director of the Mechanical Service Contractors Association (MSCA). “These activities need to be accomplished by workers who are prepared and nurtured in seeking and perpetuating a sustainable world.”
Dolim herself calls it “a kind of green New Deal, with federal subsidies for work aimed at reduced energy use and sustainable environments.”
“Achieving a green economy is a complex, multifaceted issue that has broad implications for our country,” said Tom Huntington, president and chief executive officer, WaterFurnace Renewable Energy Inc., Fort Wayne, Ind. “When U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu visited WaterFurnace in June, he framed the issue in terms of reducing energy dependence, increasing national security, reducing carbon emissions and, importantly, reducing homeowner energy costs to free up dollars that can be injected back into the economy.”
SHADES OF GREENGreen doesn’t need to be extreme. The industry can take action using more common, familiar technologies. Perhaps the most important action is to make sure systems are installed optimally.
Contractor Fred Kobie of Kobie Cooling, Fort Myers, Fla., warned against rushing in without proper education. “I believe the incentives to use these higher-efficiency products often lead to a contractor using the wrong replacement unit for the house it’s being installed in. There are many issues to contend with, not the least of which is microbial contamination and premature failure because of a bad duct system.”
The solution is to provide a total system, not just the box. “If you offer great utility incentives for ultra-high-SEER products, and tax credits along with manufacturer’s incentives, it should be required to prove that the house and duct system also match,” Kobie said.
Green doesn’t just mean the ultra high efficiency either, Kobie said. “If you can make it better, clean up a mess, recycle something that you normally wouldn’t, take the extra time to remove all the refrigerant and mercury, and maybe even break down the old unit even further - you are being green,” he said. “Have your crews separate their trash. Sure it’s a pain in the butt, but I just had a granddaughter, and I want the earth and water to be clean for her, too.”
Gordon Wuthrich, Trane vice president marketing for residential systems, also pointed to “things that we’re already doing today, tax incentives, and the promotion of energy-efficient equipment to lower our carbon footprint. It translates to the consumer in terms of lower energy bills, and is driven by the utilities and the need to reduce our carbon footprint. It all goes back to the issue of sustainability.”
Like Kobie, he appreciates recycling. “The outdoor condensing unit has steel, aluminum, and copper; all are fully recyclable. When contractors replace the condensing unit, they can take the old one to the salvage guy, who then strips it down and recycles it.” The manufacturer’s Spinefin outdoor coils are pure aluminum, he pointed out, so at the end of their life, they require less energy to recycle. “There’s no need to separate different metals.”
Training is essential in order to delve into green, echoed Huntington. “One of the most important issues for contractors is staying current on all the financial incentives - federal, state, local, and utility-sponsored - so they can help the homeowner see the best course of action.”
GREEN TECHNOLOGIESTechnologies that support sustainability run the gamut from applying existing technologies optimally, to getting involved in higher-tech offerings.
“I think the quickly immerging green economy will have a significant and profitable impact on our industry - if we do not leave it to others to present the opportunities to our clients,” said Russ Donnici, CEM, REA; Mechanical Air Service Inc.
“The application of green technologies should not be that far out of the box for HVAC contractors if we incorporate it into our existing offerings: we should be thinking about fuel cells, microcogeneration, and other alternative energy technologies,” Donnici said. “I think progressive HVAC contractors with in-house engineering and the required skill sets can make these offerings part of a package of services and increase their profit margins.”
“We continue to investigate many new technologies,” said Gary Clark, senior VP of marketing, Goodman Manufacturing. “Our main focus today, is on the refinement of technologies that are typical today. As with our Smart coil; we’ve reduced the tubing diameter, which lessens the refrigerant charge and the height of the unit, so we’re using less refrigerant and material in the transition. It’s a refinement of a current technology that is very positive for the environment.”
Naturally, there will be growth into newer, more sophisticated technologies. “As energy efficiency gains importance, contractors are going to be asked to develop strategies that maximize a building’s energy efficiency,” said Sean McGuire, Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) director of Industry Programs. This could mean mixed-mode ventilation systems, radiant heating and cooling, or using renewable energy systems onsite to power HVAC systems.
Digital technology is the backbone behind many advanced energy-saving systems. “Devices that measure temperature and air quality digitally … have changed our ability to be responsive to customers in just the past couple of years,” said Dolim.
Part of the technological evolution is the ability to take an old, inefficient system, bring it back into shape, and document it. “There is an area that we are just delving into, that we see as perhaps the biggest opportunity in the marketplace,” said Matthew D. Todd, P.E.; LEED AP, CPMP, Entek Corp., Vancouver, Wash. This is retro-commissioning, and it can play a critical role in sustainability, Todd said, because “existing commercial buildings consume more energy in this country than all of our transportation uses combined.”
Contractor Ron Brasel, president, Control Services Inc., Omaha, Neb., sees a lot of opportunities on the controls side.
“We are able to bring owners a lot of those things that are a part of the green requirements - setback, monitoring of electrical usage, light sensors, or utilizing natural light as the sun rotates around the building. We’re able to do things like operating mechanical shades that follow the direction of the sun. All those processes have been around since building automation systems and direct digital control have been out in the marketplace. As the green movement builds momentum, we’re very well-positioned.”
He pointed out the need for continuous measurement in order to sustain a system’s efficiency. “You have to continually monitor and adjust those programs based upon how a building reacts over time, to maximize the amount of money that you save.”
Proposals that include carbon-reduction projections get more attention, Donnici said, from both residential and commercial clients. “We are currently presenting offers with some green energy technologies, such as solar integration with radiant heating.”
TRAINING IS CRITICALTechnologies are growing exponentially, but education may need to catch up in order for sustainability to be fully realized. “Our challenge as an industry is to embrace a continuous-improvement program,” said Dolim. “We need to be sensitive to the lightening-fast changes in our industry and be conscious of continuously refining our expertise in advance of this increasing sophistication.”
“On the surface, technologies like geothermal heat pumps make it easier for the contractor to make a retail sale, but the contractor needs to instill consumer confidence in this type of solution,” said Huntington.
“The ability to instill consumer confidence is derived from training, education, and certification. Contractors must be able to make their case in a credible way, and their technicians must re-enforce that credibility on the job during installation and, of course, service and repair calls,” he said. “Certification is the key.”
Contractors with thorough training need to follow through by actually offering higher-efficiency systems. “In many cases, contractors don’t offer consumers the most efficient products available,” said Clark. “They might surprise themselves with the number of consumers interested in buying if they were to offer a higher-efficiency product.”
Dealers can also distinguish themselves with a proper installation that takes the entire system into consideration. Airflow, duct sealing, and refrigerant charge are the three main components that give people the efficiency they paid for. “In the sustainability conversation, it’s making sure the efficiency of the equipment is what the homeowner paid for,” Clark said. Regulatory bodies have been indicating that there might be requirements to meet these criteria, he said, to qualify for rebates and refunds, and also for the signoff on a new house.
Associations are stepping up to help their members. MSCA, with its MSCA Star program, for example, has established quality-based attainment levels. These highly qualified service contractors are then eligible to apply for an even more rigorous program that is more specifically aimed at environmental stewardship, MSCA Green Star,” said Dolim. “We have 22 Green Star contractors taking the lead in our industry,” said Dolim.
The association also has been offering LEED Webinars and preparation classes. “Our Utility Bill Analysis, Energy Audits and Retro-Commissioning Seminar and Guide for mechanical service contractors is also very popular,” she said. Green Awareness Training (jointly developed by HVAC Excellence, Ferris State, and the United Association) “is designed to enhance awareness of fundamental and emerging green technologies.”
It helps company employees understand new terminology, equipment, technologies, and concepts associated with green. And an HVAC mobile green classroom travels around the country, providing information about the latest green technologies being used in mechanical service and construction.
WHEN?The green economy is already evolving, though there is plenty of room to grow. “As the U.S. economy gains traction, the financial incentives will be even more attractive to homeowners making decisions about their HVAC systems,” said Huntington. “In the future, the concept of green economy will be woven into the fabric of our industry; seamless and inseparable.”
“There has been a steady increase in the average efficiency ratings of products being sold, over the past 20 years,” said Clark. Incentives will continue to accelerate it.”
“I think it’s all around us today,” stated Wuthrich. “This industry is already at the heart of sustainability. We need to take credit for it. We are in the final stretches of converting to R-410A, and we will be required, through legislation and regulation, to move to very-low-GWP [global warming potential] refrigerants.”
“Mechanical service contractors have the advantage of having already embraced sustainability because, intrinsically, that’s the impetus for service and maintenance,” said MSCA board of managers chairman Jeff McCoy (vice president, Mechanical Inc., Freeport, Ill.).
“There is not much of a paradigm shift in our industry in this regard; we are usually the first to recognize the importance of encouraging lasting and efficient systems by taking a long view of the life of equipment and resources needed to squeeze out the last bit of usefulness.”
Mandated efficiency standards have already started in many areas, said Woody Woodall, director of Project Development, W.E. Bowers, Beltsville, Md. “If you are a contractor that has positioned yourself to take advantage of this movement by educating your team and setting up the services and procedures, you will be ahead of most other contractors.
“The great thing about this is that public sentiment keeps going in the direction of the green movement,” Woodall said. “We need to be able to provide what the people want and need, and what is crucial for the environment.”
“It can mean more opportunity, work, and profit as long as we stick with it, utilizing our resources and training,” said Kobie.
Our legacy could be bigger than the Hoover Dam.
Publication date: 12/21/2009