“Cannabis is bigger than Starbucks right now,” Sean McCarthy, general manager of Anden, a division of Research Products in Madison, Wisconsin, pointed out. And he’s not wrong.
Currently, 19 states have legalized recreational adult use of marijuana, and 38 states (and the District of Columbia) have legalized medical marijuana. This means that majority of Americans now have access to cannabis.
It’s expected to grow rapidly within the next 5-10 years. In 2020, the cannabis market was valued at $20.5 billion, and it is projected to reach $197.8 billion by 2028, according to Fortune Business Insights. This industry has only just begun to grow, and the need for knowledgeable HVAC technicians grows along with it.
As the cultivation industry expands, so does indoor agriculture. As growth continues, there will be a significant need for more grow facilities — which will need more growers, who will grow more flower that will need proper controls to flourish. Enter the HVAC contractor.
Every grow room has some piece of HVAC equipment within it. If that piece of HVAC equipment goes down, the crop is destroyed. And there are significant challenges to the HVAC side of indoor cultivation that only HVAC contractors can solve.
HVAC Takes Control
Indoor agriculture in the cannabis space is still fairly new to growers. Everything is being relearned and fine-tuned constantly to meet energy demands, ensure proper controls, and make that cash.
A key factor of controlling the environment — the most critical aspect to a grow facility — is controlling the humidity and temperature in a space. This makes the job of an HVAC contractor arguably the most important aspect of growing flower.
And luckily for growers, HVAC contractors happen to be experts in installing and controlling temperature and humidity.
“Crop yields, plant quality, and the grower’s profitability depend on tight control of grow room environments,” said Mike Hampton, senior manager, strategic programs – commercial at Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US (METUS). Plants are highly sensitive. So growers must maintain precise temperatures, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels for successful harvests.
GROW ROOM TECH: Trane's Tracer Ensemble Building Management System being used to monitor a grow facility. (Courtesy of Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US (METUS))
“The better the yield and the better their crop, the more money they make,” McCarthy said.
And thus, the more money HVAC contractors make. Growers will keep coming back for more when they have reliable contractors.
When cannabis got legal, one thing got overlooked, said Keith Coursin, president of Desert Aire. The government has the right to inspect a grow room, and if they see mold on one plant in one corner (resulting from incorrect integration of environmental controls), they’ll dispose of all the product in that room: millions of dollars’ worth.
Loss of crop translates to loss of cash. Consequently, capital cost is a key driver in this industry, so naturally, the industry is very kush — err, cash — driven.
Operating air conditioning equipment 24/7 in order to maintain proper growing conditions is expensive. Plus, soaring energy prices add to the hit on the grower’s bottom line.
Growing cannabis is a high energy consumption process, McCarthy said. The ability to save energy is certainly important, but it’s secondary to maintaining the proper environment for the plant.
Not having the proper controls directly affects the cash crop of the grower. Luckily for growers, HVAC contractors happen to be experts in installing and controlling temperature and humidity.
Senior manager, strategic programs
Commercial Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US
Grow Room Tech
Indoor agriculture is a 24/7 operation where growers and staff alike need the ability to monitor and make minute adjustments to maintain specific environmental parameters within grow rooms, Hampton said.
“Any discussion of controls for indoor agriculture ultimately turns toward remote control and integration with third-party, grow-specific platforms.” Weather concerns are limited, IPM is more manageable, and growers can use technology to maintain ideal temperatures and growing conditions year-round.
Fortunately, maintaining ideal temperatures is right up an HVAC contractor’s alley. Hampton sees customers using City Multi VRF systems. In addition to efficiency, VRF systems improve environmental controls by providing separate air handlers for each grow room.
“Instead of feeding back to a central air handler, independent VRF air handlers avoid cross contamination between grow rooms,” he said.
McCarthy said a more sophisticated grower will lean towards an automation system that ties in all the elements of their environment together. Whether this be lighting, CO2, water feed, humidity and temperature control, etc., the grower can access that data 24/7.
Call for HVAC Contractors
McCarthy pointed out that the cultivation community are not experts in HVAC. They’re experts in growing. So the contractors that embrace this market have a unique opportunity. There are short-term opportunities through the new construction phase — the building of facilities and installation of HVAC systems — and long-term opportunities if a contractor continues a relationship with the grower to make sure things continue to operate and run well.
If the system goes down, somebody who understands it and can get it back up and running is needed. This creates a huge opportunity for HVAC technicians in the cannabis space. More often than not, the head grower won’t have all the knowledge needed to ensure proper controls, Coursin said.
Hampton said, “Growers also consider system reliability, downtime, and maintenance costs. Given the environmental sensitivity of the crops, growers need their air conditioning systems to operate 24/7, even in severe temperatures.” This creates a heavy reliance on HVAC techs.
“The industry is at that exciting point where people have learned lessons over a wide range of it, whether it be cannabis or food products, of what they need as environmental and fertigation controls, lighting controls, to achieve the best results in their room,” said Coursin.
So more likely than not, a grower will want to work with a reliable HVAC contractor.
The biggest thing HVAC contractors need to learn about the cannabis space, McCarthy said, is that the environment they are creating is plant-centric. It isn’t about the comfort of the humans within it — it’s all about that budding flower.
HVAC contractors are in the position to address the grower’s biggest concern: growing. Without knowledgeable HVAC contractors, environmental controls are not met, flowers don’t flourish and money is lost. HVAC contractors can make both kush and cash grow.