Market for Sustainable Strategies Gets Stronger
It didn’t take long for the word “green” to make New Year’s lists of stale words and phrases. However, the market for truly green and sustainable strategies is strong and getting stronger. Leaders among mechanical contractors can help their clients by becoming leaders in energy management, green building, and sustainable practices.
Some have started doing just that. Coincidentally, they are using strategies for maintaining and operating mechanical systems that have been around for a long time. Before the green hit the fan, those practices were called “doing things right” - making sure systems weren’t fighting each other, that temperatures were set appropriately, and that thorough maintenance was performed. Other practices rest more on the cutting edge of things.
MAINTENANCE REVOLUTIONEd Sokol is manager of New Business Development for Grodsky Service Inc. serving central and western Massachusetts and Connecticut. He points out that the company’s green maintenance strategies “focus on a number of mechanical system concerns: eliminating energy waste, addressing areas within HVAC systems that affect building air quality, building comfort improvements, and much more. Unfortunately, the savings and other benefits from these and other green-strategy goals oftentimes go unnoticed.
“Going green in a building offers value,” he said. “Since mechanical systems account for most of a building’s energy consumption, it’s not uncommon to find that the energy savings alone will sometimes pay for most, or even all, of the cost difference between a basic maintenance program and a green maintenance investment. Other green benefits add even more value. For example, better building comfort provides a means for customers to improve their bottom line by way of a more productive workforce. Plus, a healthier HVAC system may also result in less absenteeism and perhaps even reduced corporate health care costs.
“Our green programs budget the time needed to address small problems before they lead to bigger, more expensive ones,” he said. “This same proactive approach will drastically reduce the need for unplanned emergency repairs and extend equipment lifecycle time, which defers capital replacement costs.” Grodsky Service specializes in planned and predictive maintenance to achieve these goals.
“When you highlight the layers and layers of cost savings and benefits that are affected by the green movement, it all fits,” he said. “It’s an approach that we’ve taken for many years, only now people are calling it green. However, today’s green awareness can be very important to future business development and sales for mechanical service providers as well as their customers. Companies in just about every industry imaginable are finding that some clients want to do business with vendors and suppliers that share their own corporate commitment to the environment. This may involve documentation that outlines what measures are being taken to be green. For businesses targeting a good corporate image from their local communities, green maintenance also offers a great opportunity for positive media news. It’s a simple press release away.”
One challenge to going green is the upfront capital expense it takes to replace HVAC systems. “When we visit a facility for the first time and discover the equipment is suffering from deferred maintenance, we leave the prospective customer with recommendations to address whatever problems they are experiencing,” Sokol said. “Our recommendations may include equipment replacement, or as an alternative, cost-effective enhancements and remedial solutions for existing systems. We also include proactive maintenance options because, even if the equipment is replaced but not maintained properly, in a short time the building owner and manager will be right back to having the same old problems and concerns.”
THE BIG-PICTURE GUYThe contractor’s presentations to decision makers focus on showing the benefits of value-added maintenance. Finding that key decision maker in each building is a commitment in itself. “If we start too low on the corporate chain of command, we may be wasting our time,” he said.
“We’re raising awareness of how we can help to reduce operating costs in all of the many cost centers that are affected by HVAC systems. If this type of proposal is received by someone who has an interest in only a few of those cost centers, it is possible that they may not see the big picture.”
The contractor searches for contacts at a level not just responsible for the upfront maintenance budget. “We are looking to present our proposal to the big-picture guy,” Sokol said. “This may be the owner, a delegated VP of finance, purchasing manager, or perhaps a facility or operations manager in some cases. Every company is different.
“The top decision makers are interested in what is best overall for their company,” he said. “A good number of these decision makers have always been accepting of it, but even more so today. We’ve experienced continuous growth for many years by delivering proactive, value-added services which are now being labeled as green.”
He also stressed the importance of having qualified technicians on the job, technicians who take pride and ownership in their work. “Having MSCA [Mechanical Service Contractors of America] STAR-certified technicians with good people skills is also a big part of our success and will continue to be our direction in the future,” Sokol said.
ENERGY ANALYSISGrodsky Service “interviews a prospective customer to find out what problems they are experiencing as a first step to see what we can do to turn the ship around,” Sokol said. Part of this entails using computer-based analysis tools to monitor and analyze the performance of a building’s HVAC system.
“We measure building hot spots and cold spots, temperature swings and trends, fresh air intake, when equipment starts and stops, and why. We make our prospective customers aware that we have the technology and experience needed to reduce their operating costs, and at the same time improve the comfort control of their building.”
The company provides a baseline building performance analysis that pinpoints specific problems typical to many buildings. “Building performance analysis is not a cure,” said Sokol. “It’s simply a tool we use to map out concerns and improvement opportunities within a facility. This enables us to address those concerns quickly and accurately propose the right solutions.”
Mike Dillett, CEO of Dillett Mechanical Service Inc., Waukesha, Wis., is using energy analysis to grow his company’s full-service HVAC work. “Our specialty is working with our customers in the repair, maintenance, and design of their commercial and industrial HVAC systems, along with their process cooling systems,” he said. Most customers have facilities of less than 100,000 square feet.
When it comes to energy conservation work, “we’re probably in the area of 20 percent,” said Dillett. “It’s definitely a growth area.” Providing an energy analysis is “really a differentiator for a contractor such as ourselves” - a $10 million company. “It fits very well into what our needs are, getting our arms around energy consumption.”
The company uses audit services from AirAdvice, Portland, Ore., “to identify where they’re [the customers] using energy; their building reports assist us. Once we’re able to determine where their energy is being consumed, we can put prices to that, as well as where the payback is.” Being able to quantify the work is “something that’s very much needed in our industry.”
Dillett explained, “Sometimes we’ll do an energy audit for a long-term customer at no charge. And sometimes where we’re trying to grow our customer base, we will offer it as a credit,” for X amount of dollars at the assessment, with the report absorbed as a credit of energy conservation methods.
“It certainly is helping,” Dillett said. “I think it’s a differentiator with our competition. The reports that we’re able to provide are very professional looking, they provide great information and open up doors for us. We’re picking up numerous new accounts.”
This absolutely has a green focus. “I think customers are very interested in energy, but they’re equally interested in doing the right things for the environment,” Dillett said. “They definitely benefit one another.”
Like Grodsky Service, Dillett mainly approaches owner-occupied buildings. Providing important information to this decision maker is critical. “Where you’re maybe getting opportunities for service or preventive maintenance, but where you’re also getting opportunities to do energy-saving work, you’re typically dealing with a higher level. We seem to have gone up a couple of levels in management.”
The analyses provide increased opportunities not only for PMs, but also for equipment repairs. Reports include thermographic images of bearings, checking to see how clean the coils are, making sure electricals are functioning properly, and “which equipment they might be better off replacing than repairing,” Dillett said. “We seem to be able to identify problems, where the contractor right now might not be identifying them - sheaves that are worn, coils that are dirty. These things all cost energy.”
GREEN PANACHEWith the continuing push towards sustainability, “In some markets if a building is not perceived as green, it has a huge disadvantage.” AirAdvice, for instance, is based in the Pacific Northwest. “As we talk to property management out here, we’ve found that if you have a building that can’t be promoted as green, good luck. It’s certainly true in the office segment and public segment.
“There are huge opportunities for contractors that can position themselves,” Kensok said.
AirAdvice offers a suite of hardware and software applications that help contractors build a business around energy services, and market energy services alongside mechanical services. The software-only application, designed around benchmarking energy performance of the building, helps customers answer very basic questions. It offers a process for collecting utility bill information and square footage.
“We’ve automated a link back to the Energy Star program,” Kensok said. “We then generate a report based on a single building (rated against other buildings around the country), or for portfolio buildings - like 50 banks around the country.” The system “ranks and stacks those buildings against each other.”
The next step is to provide an onsite assessment to reduce energy bills in those analyzed buildings. “The whole process could be considered a first cousin to a retro- or recommissioning process,” Kensok said. “We’ve reduced the onsite time. It would probably stop short, because commissioning involves a very intensive paperwork and planning process. We don’t get into that level of detail.
“We position this as a cost-effective way for contractors to help their customers - automate more labor-intensive tasks of data collection, analysis, and reporting.”
The Building Advice Application involves hardware. The contractor physically places some monitoring equipment: hardware developed to measure certain parameters with automated data collection. These include temperature, rh, CO2, and light levels connected to specific pieces of equipment. “The data comes back to us, but the contractor is in control of that process,” Kensok said. Automated engineering calculations sort out how the building is using energy, and highlight specific energy-conservation opportunities.
The implementation proposal is “the bread and butter from the contractor’s perspective,” he said. Should the customer upgrade or retrofit? “Certainly we’re all really pushing for the contractor to make money, and the building owner to recognize energy savings.”
A verification module is described as an ongoing watchdog of how that building performs. “It taps into main meters of the building, transferring data back to us,” Kensok said. It analyzes usage patterns. “Ideally, they would install that prior to implementation to establish baseline. After it’s installed, they see benefits of new equipment, enforcing the value of a retrofit. “In an ongoing basis, it becomes an integral part of their surveillance. Contractors can go back to the building owner and say, ‘Hey, something changed, and we need to fix that.’ It’s a value-added service that the contractor can offer.”
It all provides more information to the owner or even the tenant, and builds a stronger relationship between the contractor and his true customers.
For more information, visit www.airadvice.com and www.grodsky.com.
Publication date: 02/09/2009