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Steve Saunders, CEO of Tempo Mechanical, TexEnergy, and U.S. Ecological, has 28 years experience working to improve the energy efficiency, environmental, and comfort performance of new and existing buildings.
From an HVACR contractor’s perspective, Steve Saunders may be recognized as the messiah of the green movement. While Saunders, CEO of Tempo Mechanical, TexEnergy, and U.S. Ecologic, stands at the intersection of green, energy efficiency, and HVAC, he’s truly directing traffic on behalf of planet Earth.

It All Started in Frisco

In 2001, the city of Frisco, Texas, mandated that all new construction homes must meet EPA Energy Star standards. As the leader of Tempo Mechanical, headquartered 30 miles away in Irving, Texas, Saunders scratched his head and began researching Energy Star requirements, and what he needed to do to meet the new mandate.

“We quickly learned what an energy rater was, who prescribes the rating, and where they were offering the courses,” said Saunders. “The courses were held during the summer months, and we were pretty busy, but the team knew this was something we couldn’t afford to pass up.”

In June 2001, the state of Texas adopted its first mandatory statewide energy code. The code, based largely on the 2000 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), was the first statewide sanction of its kind, nationwide.

“Once Texas moved forward with its energy code, we already had a leg up on the changes, because we employed energy raters,” he said. “Through our acquired knowledge, we were able to explain these changes to customers, and share how this could be a positive thing for them moving forward.”

In 2005, Tempo Mechanical began working with Energy Star version 2.0. Around that time, Saunders formed a partnership with a local homebuilder’s association to write Green Built Texas, an awareness and educational program for builders and remodelers. Green Built has since evolved into one of the largest green programs in the nation.

“The program includes single-family, multifamily, and existing-home elements,” he said. “The more we learned, the more we got pulled into this green movement. We eventually acknowledged that this green thing was maybe more than a mega-trend. Maybe this green thing is here to stay.”

Perfecting the Plan

Many people recognize that the cost of electricity is rising, that the country’s power grid is insecure, and that a secure stream of energy is lacking. Saunders believes these factors, and others, are the main drivers behind the budding green revolution. To battle these issues, Saunders crafted a specialized energy audit process, which helps his technicians discover energy quandaries, and allows them to offer specific solutions.

“Approximately eight years ago we instituted a comprehensive energy audit. The audit includes a complete and thorough inspection, a test of all the ducts, an energy model analysis, comparison of current utility bills to forecasted bills, recommended changes, and more,” said Saunders. “We’ve profited from this as the average replacement sale was about $11,000; the comprehensive audit sale average is $22,000. In the last 18 months, we’ve had three single-family comprehensive audits that turned into sales in excess of $88,000.”

While Saunders boasts great success, he said the audit process does offer various challenges. “They’re really hard to do, and I don’t want people to think otherwise,” he said. “They’re time consuming and unbelievably overhead intensive, with slow sales cycles and low conversion rates. But, every time I feel it’s time we go in a different direction, we’re landing a large job that makes it all worth it.”

Tempo Mechanical prescribes distinct green regulations, which helps the company remain a strong environmental steward. “We don’t think R-22 is good for the consumer, so we simply don’t offer it,” he said. “It may save money in the short-term; however, we feel it is a difficult product that is terrible for the environment. We encourage the use of R-410A, which we believe is a much better solution.”

Saunders said if a consumer is seeking a low-efficiency air conditioner, they’re going to have to look elsewhere. “We don’t have a 13 SEER unit in our books,” he said. “We sell mostly 16 SEER units, along with a number of control systems, dampers, enhanced filtration systems, various IAQ products, and more.”

According to Saunders, the green movement is well upon us and now is the time for action. “Green building is not a fad. It isn’t going away. It will be here for the foreseeable future. Those of us interested in business survival will participate in this movement, those that aren’t getting involved, the train is just about to run on by, or, if you’re really unfortunate, it may just run you right over.”

Green Means Go

While getting involved in the green industry may seem like a daunting task at first, Saunders suggests contractors just go for it.

“Start it; do something,” he said. “You can always sell high-efficiency equipment, offer better controls, install tighter duct systems, and suggest smarter designs.”

Saunders said it is important for the greenest of green companies to team with an experienced organization or an industry partner.

“There are lots of organizations that can help teach the basics. ACCA, BPI, RESNET, the Comfort Institute, NCI, and others,” he said. “Go to the seminars, attend the conferences, and spend the time, because it really is all about education.”

Saunders, a three-time National Residential HVAC Contractor of the Year, past winner of The NEWS’ “Best Contractor to Work For,” a two-time recipient of the EPA Energy Star Partner of the Year, a RESNET Provider and Trainer, LEED for Homes Provider, and LEED Green Rater, said he is always learning something new, and advises aspiring contractors to stay focused on upcoming trends and news.

“I read three hours every day and yet I still can’t keep up with all the changes this industry is enduring,” he said. “I push everyone all the time to read, to study, because it is what we have to do to continue to intelligently advise our clients. They’re paying us to make their lives easier, more affordable, and more comfortable, and it’s our job to deliver.”

Sidebar: Greenbuild Presentation

At this year’s Greenbuild conference, Steve Saunders will present a course on implementation: “Builder/Rater/Inspector: Best Practices for Compliance and Administration in Green Homebuilding Programs.” The session will be held at 2 p.m. on Nov. 13. The session will dive into the important collaborations and best practices that builders, third-party raters, and code officials need in order to achieve the greener home outcomes increasingly required in codes and green homebuilding programs. As green homebuilding programs become increasingly popular across the country and even become required by law in some communities, what does the residential building community need in order to maintain a competitive edge and stay ahead of the regulatory curve?

Publication date: 11/12/2012