The latest “money-maker” for HVACR contractors may come from testing and remediation of mold and other indoor allergens. But is it worth the time, effort, and expense to become an indoor air quality (IAQ) expert, especially in testing for and remediation of mold?
The News’ Contractor Consultants were questioned regarding this subject — and the results varied. Here are the specific questions our panel of experts digested:
TESTING AND REMEDIATIONJim Hussey (Marina Mechanical, San Leandro, CA) replied that his company has employed, for the past six years, a full-time registered environmental assessor, who is responsible for managing the quality of the indoor air his company provides clients.
“In the past, his work was focused on managing ventilation in manufacturing and maintenance facilities and controlling mold and bacteria in medical facilities,” said Hussey. “Today, he is responding to the hysteria that is beginning to develop over exposure to mold.”
Larry Taylor (Air Rite Air Conditioning, Fort Worth, TX) said his company has been involved in this issue “since we began running loads on homes in the late 80s and finding the oversized systems.
“In the early 90s, we started doing infiltration testing and finding the thermal bypasses in homes that were adding to the oversizing of equipment and the poor air quality,” said Taylor. “In the mid- to late 90s, we started doing duct sealing and envelope sealing as related to indoor air quality, along with the duct cleaning business and the UV lights, etc. In 2000, we purchased the areoseal program and began sealing duct systems tighter than anyone thought possible and continued to find oversized systems and poor installations.
“Since the rise of the mold issues, we made the decision not to get into the remediation side of the business. Rather, we make it possible for the customer to get the testing done through us and then make the decision as to what next steps are needed, if any.”
Todd Morgan (CES Mechanical Services Inc., Altamonte Springs, FL) said his firm relied heavily on outside IAQ environmental firms five years ago, but that has since changed.
“Today we handle most of this work in-house, with the exception of lab testing,” he said “We have developed our in-house capabilities by investing heavily in continuing education in IAQ through seminars, conferences, trade associations, and networking with industry experts.
“We have also invested significantly in testing equipment such as Air-O-Cell cassette samplers, Anderson samplers, CO2 monitors, robotic video cameras, etc.”
After talking with her service manager and general manager, Mary Marble (J.A. Marble Co., Dearborn, MI) decided that mold testing and remediation was “an industry unto itself.
“We are not sure what training, licensing, etc., it would involve,” she said. “We feel there is a market for it, but it would require an investment of someone’s time, training, own sales force, and service techs. We stress selling maintenance contracts that maintain systems and improve IAQ; however, we do not bring up the mold work.”
Jeff Somers (Monsen Engineering Co., Fairfield, NJ) said his firm did a training session with techs and management two months ago.
“We brought in a company that we contract to do our duct cleaning and heavy coil cleaning,” said Somers. “We are approaching this cautiously and are looking at the systems for signs of mold contamination. When we spot something, we call in Industrial Power Cleaning to survey the job and propose how to remove the mold from the system. We then quote the customer on the service.”
WORKING WITH A THIRD PARTYJeff Stewart (Quality Air Conditioning, Las Vegas, NV) believes it will take a much more qualified technician and/or salesperson to handle the mold issue, especially with the litigation challenges.
“I presume it will be those companies who will partner up with a laboratory facility and have the microbiologist and doctors as consultants that will make this happen,” said Stewart. “I also see some manufacturers of specialty items like UV lights helping us with testing procedures. They can be a wealth of information. Anything less has the potential of being a total disaster for our industry. We may find we have too many know-it-alls and not enough experts.
“Mold has such serious health ramifications, most HVAC companies, even the best of us, wouldn’t be totally qualified to deal with it alone.”
Roger Grochmal (Atlas Air/ClimateCare, Mississauga, ON) said his contracting company does not do mold remediation on its own at this stage.
“We work with a couple of testing consultants who can pinpoint mold and other IAQ problems and then we can follow up,” he said. “We will advise homeowners to try to solve mold source issues, such as wet basements, as a primary strategy, and then perform mechanical retrofits, such as ventilation and dehumidification, to get the relative humidity below 50%. We may then also use ultraviolet to ensure any spores are cleaned up.”
NICHE OR PROFIT CENTER?Steve Miles (Jerry Kelly Heating & Cooling, St. Charles, MO) believes mold remediation and testing is a niche business.
“Because of the litigation factor, I don’t want to make promises unless I’m positive of the outcome,” he said.
“I do see the current awareness as an opportunity to educate the consumer about what can and can’t be done and the maintenance required to keep the air they breathe as clean as possible.”
Scott Getzschman (Getzschman Heating & Air Conditioning, Fremont, NE) believes this is definitely an opportunity, “but you have to be credible or this can also come back to bite you.
“You have to be able to identify all the sources for mold growth, because you could solve it in the HVAC system,” he offered.
Meanwhile, in the eyes of Ann Kahn (Kahn Mechanical, Dallas, TX), this could be a new profit center for the contractor, but only “with the training, skills, and determination to make it one.”
Added Morgan, “I see IAQ testing and analysis as a potential niche for the commercial design-build-maintain HVAC contractor that is willing and committed to make the investment.”
Taylor cautioned that this is not a good niche for all contractors. “I think that any contractor who enters into this market must be willing to get outside of the box and be willing to invest several thousands of dollars for the equipment and knowledge needed,” he said.
Hussey agreed, saying, “We do not consider testing a new niche or market, but are aware that concern over mold has made it easier to demonstrate the value of replacing or upgrading air distribution systems. Some might view indoor air quality and mold remediation as new markets. We look at them as areas of added value that differentiates us from our competition.
“As the comfort side of our business becomes more commoditized, I believe the future for all HVAC contractors lies with our ability to demonstrate added value in other ways.”
Sidebar: Three New ConsultantsThe News is proud to introduce three new members to its Contractor Consultants panel: Larry Taylor, Jim Hussey, and Todd Morgan.
— John R. Hall
Publication date: 06/24/2002