Area51hvac: Don't be misled by the name

July 18, 2000
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When you visit www.area51 hvac.com, you are greeted by the following message.

Area 51 hvac will strive to:

Provide an area for hvac and heat transfer professionals who seek to thrust forward, expanding the boundaries of their careers and broadening the industry frontier, by elevating knowledge and understanding to a higher plane through free exchange of questions, ideas, results from experimentation and the school of hard knocks, based upon freedom of speech without censorship.

In other words, talk to other hvac people about your work and share information. That’s it in a nutshell. It’s a gathering place for previously shy people to interact with other previously shy people.

The moniker “Area51” refers to a secret government base in Nevada where extraterrestrials were allegedly housed and studied. Let’s read on before making a connection between aliens and hvac.

“When we started Area51, we were looking for a place to be around other people, to catch the fever,” said David Rothacker, one of the original founders of the popular site.

Popular is not an exaggeration. “Since we went online on March 15, we’ve had more than 120,000 hits and 1,000 posts,” Rothacker said.

Rothacker and two coworkers, Tom Steiger and Steve Merker, came up with the idea for this Web site after hanging around Dan Holohan’s “Wall” for a while. They liked interacting with other hvac professionals and The Wall was a perfect place for website surfers and “technical gurus” like Steiger and Merker to hang their hats.

But starting their own Web site came as a direct result of the Wall tumbling down.

“Dan had to shut his board down because of some malicious poster,” Rothacker said. “The guy was supposedly linking porno sights to the Wall and making disparaging remarks about other people.

“We felt there would be a need to open up a board to replace the Wall while Dan cleaned it up.”

Once the Wall was up and running again, Area51hvac stayed around and continues to gain strength. But where did that name come from?

“Tom ran his business out of his garage and he had a lot of high-tech stuff laying around,” Rothacker explained. “One day a neighbor came by and said ‘[Expletive], this looks like Area 51.’ We decided to use the name.”

The three men, coworkers for an hvac contractor, hope to expand their website and eventually offer paid advertising to support it.

“We are not making any money off of the site,” Rothacker said. “But we are a company and we have invested a lot of money in the site.”

Rothacker adds that Area51 is useful both to the company he works for and for manufacturers who monitor the site. He cited Tom Gordon of Burnham Boiler Co. He said Gordon monitors the site and answers questions from other posters.

Rothacker said that talking on a Web site is a way to break down the communication barrier and another way to learn about the trade, which he feels strongly akin to. He believes that the wealth of resource material in the printed world and cyberspace forums can be very useful for contractors.

“If someone were to implement 90% of what they read, they could be successful.”

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