Technical info provided by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) can be a great tool for contractors and design-build firms - not just in design aspects, but also in the areas of service and maintenance. What do they need to make those more practical and user friendly? That’s what a newly formed Technical Group (TG3) is aiming to find out, starting by holding a forum at the 2008 ASHRAE Winter Meeting in New York.

Contractors can help guide ASHRAE on how to best serve contractors and design-build firms at the 2008 forum, “Missing the Bus: What is ASHRAE Not Doing for the Contractor?” It takes place Jan. 22, 12:15-1:15 p.m., at the Javits Convention Center.

This is an open session, said Jim Fields, chair of the TG and vice president of contracting firm Superior Mechanical Service, Greensboro, N.C. “show attendees don’t have to be registered for the ASHRAE meeting to attend,” he said.

“The purpose of this forum is to let people step up and make comments - ASHRAE should be doing this, ASHRAE should be doing that, so we can take that back to the task group for action.”

ASHRAE’s scholars may not reside in ivory towers, but they need to change that perception. Creating useful publications for contractors will help achieve that.


Right now the TG is trying to get its direction, hence the forum. Input could well result in new publications or special sessions tightly targeted for contractors, Fields said.

The group has representation from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), and “contractors from all across the country,” said Fields, “a good mix of big and small firms.”

“What we want to do is make what ASHRAE does more user friendly for contractors,” he said. “Right now it tends to have a heavy academic tint to it. We’d like to see their publications written in a more prescriptive way: instead of having a long equation written out, give them a step to take.”

The society’s energy standards, for instance, have to be complex enough to have the engineering guidance to make it work. “In order for people to use the standard, we write a users’ guide. I think we need to maybe look at the users’ guides, have contractors look at those and see if they are in a language that contractors can use.”

The main thing contractors could show ASHRAE, he continued, “is whether these standards and users’ guides are constructable. You’re hog-tied by the building you’ve got to work with.

“Out here in the workaday world, engineers and contractors are almost adversaries,” Fields said. “If they work together more on things like ASHRAE, they’ll bridge that gap more and see the need to work together. Contractors will see that engineers have something to offer, and vice versa.”

Being involved in ASHRAE also tends to give contractors more influence with other engineers, he added. “Contractors, if you’re involved in ASHRAE and you go to a consultant and make a recommendation, they listen to you more. They listen better when you make suggestions to their design.”

ASHRAE is trying to make itself more accessible to contractors, so that its guidelines and recommendations can actually be implemented on the jobsite, said contractor Jim Fields. “Right now it tends to have a heavy academic tint to it. We’d like to see their publications written in a more prescriptive way: instead of having a long equation written out, give them a step to take.”


According to Fields, ASHRAE official interest in contractor opinions goes back two or three years. “As soon as I got on the board of directors, they came up to me and said, ‘Jim, we need more contractors on board so contractors will use our publications in the real world. We need to form a task group on contractors.’ They put the request to Fields because he is a contractor.

“If you go out into the ASHRAE chapter level, there are lots of contractors,” he pointed out. At the national level, however, “we don’t have as many. To balance ASHRAE more, we needed to encourage them to get involved in developing some of the things created for them to use. We need to get people who actually do install HVAC systems to be involved in writing the guidelines. “We want the people who actually build things involved.”

The strategy has implications for incorporating big-picture goals, like sustainability. Without taking a practical approach, sustainability measures don’t have much chance of being pursued. The TG3 is looking for contractor input, in short, to make sure that their technical solutions are both feasible and applicable in the real world.

“Successful green buildings are the result of a team effort – owners, designers, contractors, and facility managers that work together to produce and maintain facilities that are energy efficient, have healthy environments, and provide comfort and safety to occupants, while minimizing the impact on natural resources.”

The group also will work with the society’s focus on system maintenance, but with an emphasis on selling the importance of maintenance to the building owner/occupant. “You can build these super-efficient buildings, but if you don’t maintain them for a couple of years, they’re not super efficient any more, Fields said.

System commissioning, recommissioning, and retrocommissioning also need to be recognized as “a very important part of a building,” he said. “We need measuring tools to accurately measure whether a building is performing as it’s designed to. We need to benchmark what its actual performance level is to see if it’s doing what the design promises.”

Nobody really questions the validity of commissioning. The big question on the practical level is, “Will the owner pay for it? It’s also training the people in operating it.”


Contractors are on the front line of dealing with customers, making them a natural link between the system designer and the end user. “And customers turn the system on and it doesn’t work, most times they’ll look to the contractor to fix it, not the engineer.” That’s one of many reasons that ASHRAE is recognizing the importance of contractor input.

“We just want more input from contractors, and hopefully be able to improve the services ASHRAE offers” Fields said. “We’re not on a membership drive by forming this Task Group.”

What do contractors gain by getting involved with the venerable society? In addition to a little more clout with their local engineers, there is a sense of doing something important in the world, and for future generations.

“I really love being an ASHRAE volunteer and doing ASHRAE stuff,” said Fields. “I don’t have many opportunities in my daily life to have a global impact or make the world cleaner. The ASHRAE volunteer work I do is some of the most personally rewarding work I do.”

HVAC contractors and design build firms interested in joining TG3 can e-mail for more information.

Publication date:01/21/2008