Warren Mohrfeld (left) and Wayne Alford, maintenance chief at Fairfield Inn, Tallahassee, confer on settings of the new pool dehumidification unit.

William Spicer (left), maintenance supervisor at the Leon Regional Juvenile Detention Center, and Warren Mohrfeld of Superior Mechanical discuss the maintenance requirements of a 100% outside air dehumidification unit.
TALLAHASSEE, FL — Four years ago, Superior Mechanical had limited experience or contact with dehumidifiers, but today this type of installation and service work is its quickest growing category.

With commercial dehumidification already accounting for a 5% share of Superior’s annual $2 million in sales, vice president Warren Mohrfeld said he expects that the company’s newest specialty niche will aggressively command a 25% or 30% share of sales in the next few years.

“We think our new dehumidification specialty is going to snowball into something great for our company in the next five years,” predicted Mohrfeld. “Dehumid-ification and its importance to indoor air quality is going to evolve into a market opportunity similar to what happened with duct cleaning, air filtration, and air quality the last 10 years.”

Mohrfeld’s optimism is based on several factors:

  • Few contractors are familiar with dehumidification, let alone specialize in it.

  • The lack of competition has given this Tallahassee, FL-based mechanical contractor a head start implementing a strategic training and marketing program to dominate the Northern Florida commercial dehumidification market.

  • And with new codes such as ASHRAE 62-1989 requiring up to 20 cfm/person of outside air for commercial buildings, Florida’s notorious year-round humidity is transforming commercial dehumidification from just an indoor swimming pool specialty item to a mandatory component of makeup equipment.

    A Chance Encounter

    It was a chance encounter that led Superior, a specialist in commercial air conditioning that offers clients full engineering, construction, and service capabilities, to dehumidification in 1996. The 19-year-old firm had won a plan-and-spec bid to install hvac systems for a new Marriott Residence Inn that included dehumidification for a 2,000-sq-ft indoor pool. A Dectron Internationale Dry-O-Tron® DS-40 was specified, but Superior’s previous inexperience with dehumidification hurried Mohrfeld into a research mode.

    While many contractors mistakenly treat a dehumidification system like air conditioning, Mohrfeld and his service department’s research found several differences after scouring the operating manual.

    “Dehumidification requires more care with coil airflows and velocities when compared to air conditioning; therefore, turning vanes, longer radiuses on bends, and other ductwork fabrication factors affecting airflow to the unit are critical,” Mohrfeld pointed out. “An evaporator coil that isn’t loaded properly won’t dehumidify to its full capacity.”

    Besides airflow, there are also significant differences in components, control logic, operating temperatures, and operational modes, according to Mohrfeld. Dehumidifiers have deeper evaporator coils with cooler leaving air temperatures, which require different refrigerant charges and operating pressures. Some dehumidifiers include a hot gas reheat coil and may also recycle heat into a swimming pool, for example.

    Mohrfeld found a few other surprises that the Marriott project’s mechanical specifications failed to indicate, such as Superior’s responsibility of supplying and piping a secondary pool water circulator pump. Mohrfeld discovered that not all dehumidifiers heat pool water, but this particular model performs the double duty of dehumidifying and then recovering energy from the refrigeration process to efficiently heat the pool water.

    Soon after this successful installation, Mohrfeld got a request to start-up two 100% makeup air dehumidifiers used in conjunction with rooftop air conditioners at Griffin Elementary School in Tallahassee.

    “After the school job, we started thinking that maybe there was an hvac market void in both dehumidification service and installation that nobody was addressing,” said Mohrfeld. “Plus, we saw a trend emerging not only in schools, but office buildings, hotels, and other public buildings as a result of the new mandatory outdoor air codes.

    “It appeared that more consulting engineers were going to efficiently use makeup air dehumidifiers to precondition the exorbitant relative humidity we have down here, rather than wastefully oversizing the air conditioning equipment to accomplish the same task.”

    Training Service Techs

    The road to developing dehumidification into a new niche for the company began with in-house training. Mohrfeld photocopied operating manuals for pool dehumidifiers and makeup air dehumidifiers and began holding training sessions for his service department.

    Next, he put an operating manual in all five of Superior’s five service vans.

    Since Superior regularly sends its service techs to schools held by Trane, Carrier, Liebert, and other hvac manufacturers, last April Mohrfeld didn’t hesitate to send four employees to a new, one-year-old training school Dectron opened at its Atlanta, GA facility. The school covers topics ranging from humidity control and refrigeration to state-of-the-art dehumidifier and coil design. It also offers hands-on dehumidifier servicing with demonstrator units on-site in the environmentally controlled classroom.

    “Our original intention was to target only Dectron business, but since their training school’s curriculum was so thorough, I feel the staff can now understand and service other dehumidifier brands as well,” said Mohrfeld.

    “We’re big fans of sending our techs to schools,” Mohrfeld added. “What’s nice about the schools is the fact you get literature and books” — a school manual now replaces the in-house manual Superior originally put on its service trucks — “that are much better than the literature you get when buying a unit.

    “We’ve also found that when your service techs are factory trained, that manufacturer will tend to recommend your company because they’re more comfortable with your established level of expertise.”

    James Hogan, a Dectron instructor, said other mechanical contractors are attending the school in hopes of developing more business as well. “Superior Mechanical is growing a business [in Florida] where humidity is problematic, but the opportunities that contractors have in other geographical areas are equally viable, including Canada — particularly in indoor pool facilities, which are more common in the north.”

    The required tools of dehumidification service, such as a micron gauge, moisture-evacuation pump, and pressure gauges, are no different than what’s needed for conventional air conditioning.

    Promoting The Niche

    Word of Superior’s dehumidification niche is spreading quickly through architect and consulting engineer circles in Florida. However, Mohrfeld said he isn’t going to settle for word-of-mouth promotion. Superior’s sales staff plans direct mailing promotions to the hundreds of northern Florida hotels with indoor swimming pools and/or spas.

    More dehumidification service work should also come as a result of next year’s Yellow Pages display ad listing, which will include Superior’s Dectron factory authorization.

    Membership in the Tallahassee Builder’s Association also is helping Superior make contacts with luxury homebuilders who occasionally build indoor residential pools. Existing residential indoor pool owners will be solicited for retrofit and annual dehumidification service checks.

    Building owners with makeup air dehumidifiers that Superior didn’t install, will be getting a sales call and an introductory discount on first-time service, Mohrfield said. Because he suspects many dehumidifiers have been installed by uncertified contractors, the sales calls might result in extensive ductwork retrofits as well as fine-tuning work for underperforming units.

    “Word is spreading fast that Superior knows how to design, build, install, and service a dehumidification system,” Mohrfeld said.

    Publication date: 12/18/2000