Summer cooling demands take their toll on large commercial hvac systems and residential central systems alike. They also take a heavy toll on air conditioning contractors and service techs as they try to handle all of their customers’ needs.

Contractors can give their customers immediate relief, and lower the strain on staff, by providing temporary cooling.

This can range from offering window unit cooling for homeowners buying a new central a/c system, to specially designed portable units used to cool people, equipment, and processes in mainly commercial-industrial applications.

Installing window units as a temporary cooling measure can meet the customer's needs and even out the workload for technicians.

Residential Ingenuity

Dave Yates is the president of F.W. Behler Inc., an hvac contractor with a 100-year history in York, PA. Among its many mechanical offerings (hydronics, radiant floor systems, and plumbing), the company installs central cooling systems — and offers temporary cooling in the form of window units for central system customers.

This not only meets the customer’s immediate cooling needs, it also prevents them from calling the contractor’s competitors to try to get faster service.

The company’s collection of window units was not so much an investment as it was making use of a resource. According to Yates, “Our portable a/c units consist of window units (all 110-V models) that we’ve collected either from customers for whom we’ve installed central air or ones that were dropped off here for repair and never picked up.”

The company no longer repairs window units. “We’ve found that people will purchase new replacement units rather than pay for repairs,” said Yates. However, “It didn’t take long for us to accumulate a bunch of window units and we ended up having to absorb the costs to recover the refrigerant and oil, not to mention bench-testing time and handling.

“As a result, I found we had several repaired units that were ultimately destined for demolition and disposal. I had already kept a 1-ton unit from our pre-central air days which had seen less than two years’ use.

“It was a no-brainer to come up with the idea of keeping and using these for temp service.”

The window units are not held for specific customers, such as the elderly or people with medical conditions. However, “We have enough models here to accommodate needs for the elderly or infirm. We also keep several of the ceramic cube heaters in stock to be used for emergency heat during the winter months.

“In the event we would find ourselves short and have a customer with health concerns, we would either retrieve one of the units in the field or simply purchase one to fulfill their needs.”

The contractor doesn’t advertise its window unit offering. However, “I’m certain word of mouth — which is what we rely upon for the most part — leads to increased business,” said Yates.

The company’s techs aren’t even required to service these “window shakers.” As Yates says, “A little noise or rattle is a good thing, as it makes the customer that much more appreciative of how quiet central air can be.”

Easing Tech Burnout

The company’s techs appreciate the fact that installing the window units as a temporary cooling measure keeps the pressure from building up on them. “It saves us from being worked to death during spells of hot weather like we’re currently seeing,” said Yates. “Units are failing at a rate beyond our capacity to keep up and overtime has kicked in, in an attempt to keep up with demand.

“Customers, both current and new customers, who want new a/c installed, can be put off for a few days by loaning out these portable units.”

It also prevents some customers from going to the contractor’s competitors. One customer, for example, wanted a bid for high-efficiency propane-gas-fired furnace with split a/c or a straight replacement of an 18-year-old heat pump, “which we sent him almost a month ago,” said Yates. His heat pump died while Behler was swamped with active accounts.

“Without a loaner, we would have lost this sale to some other contractor. The window unit gives us the luxury of borrowed time.

“When you stop to consider the profits generated from just one job of this magnitude,” said Yates, “that would more than offset the costs of a new, 12,000-Btu window unit. Our phones are ringing off the hook.”

More often, though, when people talk about portable cooling systems, they’re talking about units like those supplied by Spot Coolers Inc., Boca Raton, FL. The floor units are supplied for mainly commercial-institutional-industrial applications, although they can also be used in residential applications where central a/c or window units are not practical or desirable.

Like Behler’s use of window units, portable spot coolers prevent customer discomfort and/or inconvenience when the main a/c system is down for either scheduled or unplanned service. They give contractors the luxury of time and help prevent tech burnout. And, in the case of Spot Coolers’ units, they are sized, delivered, and picked up from the jobsite.

Bigger Applications

Garth Tagge of Spot Coolers said the company’s portable units go up to 5 tons of capacity; multiple units can be used when more capacity is needed. They can be installed anywhere from plant floors to high-rise buildings.

Tagge said this “air conditioning on wheels” has three categories of use:

1. Cooling people;

2. Cooling equipment (computers, phone system rooms); and

3. Cooling processes.

For equipment cooling, many computer/equipment rooms are put into closets or occupied space, Tagge pointed out. Those rooms and their hvac systems often weren’t designed to contain such heat-generating equipment; spot cooling becomes necessary after hours and during building system shutdown or downtime. It also can be used to provide permanent cooling in lieu of a dedicated air conditioning system.

When used during the service of dedicated air conditioning, “Spot coolers can be rented and brought in to keep things cool,” said Tagge. “If a contractor is replacing a 20-ton system, we can bring in a number of spot coolers.

“The building owner often gives the contractor the responsibility to provide temporary cooling for equipment and computer rooms as part of the overall job or service process,” added Tagge. “If you’re replacing a system or there’s some other shutdown, we’ll deliver it, install it, and in many cases, pick it up.” He compared it to a general contractor renting a backhoe for a specific job, then returning it. “They rent for the duration of time they need it.”

He said the company’s coolers are well maintained. “Contractors can also count on us to size the job, and figuring the logistics of placing the unit.”

Tagge referred to his company as “somewhat of a strategic vendor for contractors.”

People-cooling applications crop up during system failure or shutdown for commercial-institutional applications, including offices, businesses, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, etc.

There is very little time involved for the contractor, other than placing the call and coordinating with the customer. “We physically take the product to you,” Tagge said.

When the call comes in to Spot Coolers’ 24-hr, toll-free phone line, information for sizing is taken over the phone from the caller (usually the contractor who works on the system, but sometimes building maintenance or facility personnel). If it is impossible to figure out the appropriate unit size on the phone, “a guy is still dispatched with a variety of spot coolers,” said Tagge. The temporary cooling measure helps cool the space and its occupants or equipment quickly.

In industrial settings, portable coolers provide cooling to workstations as needed and can be moved around. In facilities like manufacturing plants, with their tall ceiling heights, spot coolers become more economical for cooling people than large tonnage systems that must cool the entire cubic volume of space, said Tagge. “The taller the ceiling, the higher the cubic volume,” he explained.

There is a wide variety of spot coolers on the market. (See related story, page 14.) By taking advantage of what they have to offer, contractors can help their customers more quickly and give themselves the luxury of time.

Spot Coolers has outlets in more than 20 major metropolitan areas. For more information, call 800-367-8675, or visit (website).

Publication date: 07/16/01