Tasked to provide suitable environments for a new set of occupants, HVAC contractors face the indoor grow market as it increases demand for professional installations designed specifically to nurture plants. States continue to legalize cannabis for medicinal and recreational use, and with these new laws, there is an expected uptick in demand for contractors who can design quality and temperate climates suited to specific plants. Not confined to cannabis, however, the indoor grow market includes other applications such as hydroponics, vertical farming, and local urban agriculture. These sectors and others reveal a new client for HVAC contractors — the farmer.
With a new occupant and a new client clearly defined, those contractors interested in entering the indoor grow market have a distinct opportunity to break into this expanding sector.
SPREADING THE WORD
Getting involved in the indoor grow market is not as simple as a clever marketing campaign. In fact, the public knowledge of indoor growing was initially tied closely to cannabis and the seedy connotations that the controversial crop propagated. Contractors who took on this new occupant and client were often found by word-of-mouth.
The Cooling Co. is a Las Vegas heating and cooling contractor that has been in business since 2011. Four years ago, trusted clients of the firm came to the company looking for solutions in this space.
“We were able to help design a complex and advanced indoor heating and cooling system that allowed them to produce the top product in the industry,” said Wellington Santana, CEO of The Cooling Co. “We are the experts in maximizing indoor temperature control. This has helped our clients maximize their return and produce quality cannabis in highly controlled environments.”
Along with their cannabis customers, The Cooling Co. is also working with hydroponic customers. These installations differ from a standard residential or commercial installation, however, and according to Santana, contractors looking to enter this market can only do so successfully with knowledge, experience, and integrity.
“It is important that you actually understand the project and the implications of what the HVAC system can do, both positively and negatively in these types of environments,” he said. “We help ensure air quality is the best possible by controlling humidity, odors, and airborne particles and bacteria. Each part of the project is carefully considered and calculated for optimal performance.”
Humidity control is one of the top considerations in a grow facility installation. Whether the project covers 2,000 or 50,000 square feet, there is a lot of moisture to balance.
“If you had a room for example, where the grower was irrigating with 100 gallons of water every day, you can estimate that somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of that water is then going to get transferred into the air as water vapor through the plant,” explained Nadia Sabeh, owner, and founder of Dr. Greenhouse Inc.
“The hardest thing for the HVAC industry and community to really wrap their heads around is all this moisture. How do we control such a large volume of water vapor in these spaces that tend to be very well insulated and tightly sealed?”
Sabeh started her company a little over two years ago, after earning advanced degrees in agricultural engineering and spending 10 years as a mechanical engineer.
It was then that she decided to combine her passions of engineering and agriculture into a company and Dr. Greenhouse Inc. was born. Based in Sacramento, California, Sabeh and her team work as an HVAC design and consulting firm for the indoor grow and agricultural markets.
FOUR IDEAS TO GET CONTRACTORS STARTED
When advising others looking to become indoor grow market contractors, Sabeh offered some detailed advice to get contractors started.
1. Differentiate Yourself
According to Sabeh, many farmers and growers felt they got stuck with the B and C team contractors because of the early stigma from the cannabis market.
“All these growers are really looking for people who are part of the team,” she said. “Someone who listens, who is interested in what they're doing, who pays attention, who wants to find creative solutions, and who wants to help them manage these challenges. The passion for food, or growing plants or truly being interested in the industry will show to potential customers, because you're going to be more dedicated than your predecessor or other people who are just doing this because it is another revenue stream.”
2. Find the Right Equipment
Warning that old rules of thumb won’t work in the indoor growing space when it comes to capacity, Sabeh suggested that the equipment choices include both a humidity control sensor in addition to a temperature sensor. She also recommends that the systems have a source of heat recovery.
“If we actually size the equipment for dehumidification, we drop the temperature of the air really low to go below dew point,” she explained. “We don't want to redeliver 40°F air to the production room that you might be trying to control to 75° or 80°. Plants aren't going to like 40° temperatures, and so we want to be able to reheat that air.”
3. Understand the Stakes
When the systems or equipment fail in the indoor grow market, plants die and a grower’s livelihood is damaged or destroyed.
Admittedly there aren’t a lot of standards for HVAC performance in these environments, but the stakes are high, according to Sabeh.
“These plants die if the HVAC system goes down or needs major service,” she said. “Because these stakes are so high, growers are looking for people who are dedicated to giving them a really good solution and equipment.”
4. Attend Workshops and Events
The nascent market is still developing ways to educate HVAC contractors for the indoor grow environment, but the opportunities are multiplying.
Not only does Sabeh offer HVAC specific workshops every six months on plants in the indoor environment, but she also said that attending industry events and expos can help acquaint contractors with manufacturers, equipment, and solutions for the grow market.
Examples include the upcoming 7th Annual Indoor Ag-Con, May 22-24 in Las Vegas; Cannabis Science Conference East, April 8-10 in Baltimore; Cannabis Conference, April 1-3 in Las Vegas; and MJBizCon, June 12-14 in New Orleans.
Sabeh said that even though a contractor might not be interested in the cannabis grow market, the information and equipment found can often be transferred to another sector of the indoor grow market.
Publication date: 4/22/2019