“Green” may be a buzzword, but it can be a way of life — and doing business.

Sheet Metal Workers Local 10 in White Bear Lake, Minn., and Local 20 in Indianapolis are two examples of union-funded ductwork fabrication training centers that are not only incorporating green HVAC initiatives into their work, but they are teaching future sheet metal workers how to incorporate it into their industry.

Energy efficiency in Indiana’s five training centers began with the Indianapolis school, which sunk its energy bills by sinking four coil cribs in a nearby pond to use water as a geothermal energy source to heat and cool the training center. Since fall 2012, four coils have been placed in the pond. This summer, the three remaining heating and cooling systems will be replaced when coils are buried in the earth, which stays at around 55°F, using another form of green energy.

 In both cases, instead of using air to either cool coils or pull heat out of the air, the systems are using the water or ground temperature to do the work, said Tim Myres, training director at Local 20 in Indianapolis.

“Our utility bills have dropped significantly,” Myres said.

Lower costs

Compared with the last two years, April’s electric bill was 25 percent less, and the natural gas bill has been reduced to nearly nothing, he said. All the hot water in the building is produced by geothermal systems as well.

“As utility prices go up, people are looking for a way to heat and cool their facilities,” Myres added. “In Indiana, there has been increased interest in geothermal. People’s utility bills are high, no matter what time of the year it is. Here, it’s 100 degrees in the summer and minus 10 degrees in the winter.”

The renovation to the center’s heating and cooling system provided training opportunities for the apprentices, who are working for contractors that try to meet consumer demand to help lower utility bills with green HVAC.

“Everything we’ve installed, we’ve installed as a teaching module,” Myres said. “As we teach geothermal theory, or installation or service, they can practice on the training center’s systems. We’ve had a lot of requests in the last year or so for green energy training from members and contractors. And there is a big push on service training in Local 20. This goes hand-in-hand with that, also.”

At Local 10 in Minnesota, the membership encourages and entices apprentices and journeyman-level students to study for and pass the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green-associate exam with a reimbursement and bonus program. The training center will reimburse the apprentice or journeymen the $250 exam fee and — if they pass — a $150 bonus. To date, 20 members have earned the credential from the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees the LEED program.


Apprentices who achieve the credential also are credited with 40 bonus school hours to use as a substitute for any of their regular school time. Studying for the exam takes at least 40 hours, so giving those hours back when they pass adds flexibility the apprentices appreciate, said Buck Paulsrud, training director for Local 10.

“You have to know the material and be pretty well-rounded,” Paulsrud said. “In today’s construction world, the white hats, the ones who manage the jobsite — an awful lot of those people are LEED-credentialed, and we’re driving that level of expertise to the boots on the ground. If we use the wrong products, or if we park on a part of the site that can’t be disturbed, that loses (LEED) points for the project that can’t be regained. Anybody on the site can screw up these points. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Employers seek apprentices and journeymen who are LEED-certified to offer the expertise to encourage owners to hire them for HVAC construction projects, school officials say.

“The individuals who have earned their credential have gained new employment or bettered themselves with their employer. The people who get this tend to do very well,” Paulsrud said. “The first apprentice who earned this was unemployed. After he earned the credential, he got hired right away. The employer reached down past all the other out-of-work apprentices in front of him and grabbed him because they wanted this expertise in the field.”

Recent green HVAC projects in Minnesota include the future Minnesota Vikings football stadium and the recently completed Target Field and TCF Bank stadium.

“Even projects that aren’t LEED-certified are still built to LEED standards,” Paulsrud added. “Utility bills are always a concern in regards to a business’ bottom line. Some entities are choosing to follow all the rules to getting a greener building but don’t necessarily go for the certification.”

 This article and its images were supplied by the International Training Institute.