Employees at DeHart Plumbing, Heating and Air got a chance to show the world that the contractor stands behind its energy-conserving promises by installing high-efficiency, well-designed and -constructed systems in the company’s new, 20,000-square-foot facility.

To the rest of us, it would seem that California building owners would probably lead the country in wanting to do the green thing. It might be a relief to know that these consumers are just as heavily influenced by energy savings as the rest of us - and, unfortunately, just as strongly swayed by first costs. Rod DeHart is the owner-president of DeHart Plumbing, Heating and Air Inc. The 70 percent commercial, 30 percent residential HVAC and refrigeration contracting company is just starting to feel increased consumer interest in green technologies, over and above the requirements of California’s Title 24 regulations.

The $10 million, 62-year-old company employs 65-70 people. In 2006, the company built a state-of-the-art, 20,000-square-foot facility with high-efficiency HVAC and zoning systems that allow the company to demonstrate its advanced design expertise to customers.

“Other than going all high-end efficiency with the HVAC systems, we went over and above by installing economizers and a zoning system throughout the whole building,” said DeHart. “We went the extra mile as far as efficiency goes; that’s a part of our culture, but we also do a lot of design-build work.” Showing the company’s own system is part of its own customer education.


“Getting customers to understand is the hardest part,” said John Hardin, project manager, DeHart. The contractor frequently educates its customers on Title 24 and ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) guidelines.

“In the design-build phase, they’re constantly looking at the bottom dollar,” he said, instead of looking at long-term operational costs. Commercial applications range from 6,000-square-foot chilled warehouses, down to individual Starbucks outlets. “Our greatest success is where we can show a payback,” said DeHart.

Of those customers interested in conservation first, “We’ve got a lot of people looking at green building design and LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design], where the bottom dollar is,” said Hardin. Upfront cost is still the main concern without those carrots, but more sophisticated, environmentally sound designs sometimes offer a payback of just three to five years, he said.

First cost is definitely the main consideration on nonowner-occupied buildings. “That’s when they want the cheapest thing that they can get.”

“In a tenant situation, the tenant is responsible for utility costs,” DeHart said. Whether or not the owner wants to offer lower-cost operation depends on what sort of relationship the owner wants to establish with the tenant: for those that want to nurture a long-term relationship with the tenant, say 10 years or more; or for owners with empty spaces they need to fill, less-costly operation is more attractive.

“We have to take it on a project-by-project basis,” said DeHart.

Correct installation of rooftop systems, like this one performed by the crew of DeHart Plumbing, Heating and Air for a Napa Valley business, affect IAQ as well as efficiency.


To a certain level, homeowners have greater awareness of energy efficiency since they have had more general education on the ratings of the “box” - the SEER - and more awareness of refrigerants.

“We’re still challenged showing them a return on investment,” said DeHart, when it comes to presenting HVAC as a larger system, which is affected by the distribution and the house as a part of the system. “More and more, especially here in California [due to Title 24], they’re certainly understanding more about the ductwork.”

“Probably conservation, the energy costs, and comfort are all important to customers,” he said. “The balance between heat, efficiency, and comfort is probably equal.” Done correctly, they certainly complement each other, so a customer looking to reduce energy costs with a completely energy-efficient system is highly likely to benefit with optimum comfort.

Do commercial customers take a similar interest in conservation, beyond the requirement of the law? “Not very many do,” said Hardin. “The bottom dollar just rules everything.” Every so often, however, a project comes in where the commercial owner really wants to do things right.

“We just completed a design on an air pollution control district that has gone totally LEED and ASHRAE compliant, for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District in Bakersfield,” said DeHart. “They decided that since they were the air pollution control facility, they should do their part as well.”

The equipment going in includes Bryant rooftop packaged or split systems up to 20 tons and Penn fans, “which allow the client the ability to zone without getting into a full-blown VAV [variable air volume] system,” he said. In addition, “If one system goes down, it doesn’t shut the whole building down.”

Conservation is starting to factor largely into the contractor’s work, beyond the customers’ desire to decrease energy costs. “We’re headed there right now,” said DeHart. “We hear more and more people talking about it. We’re heavily involved with ASHRAE, and we want to be in the forefront with it.”

Publication date:04/21/2008