AUSTIN, TX — A whole new carrot is dangling in front of hvacr contractors, with the promise of millions of dollars in new business — that is, if you believe the prognostications of Melinda Ballard, president of the Policyholders of America.

She is more familiar to many people as the Dripping Springs, TX, homeowner who recently won a $32 million judgment against Farmers Insurance. Ballard sued Farmers for bad faith and fraud, which she claimed resulted in toxic black mold (stachybotrys chartarum) “overtaking” her home.

Ballard said her daughter suffered severe health problems resulting from exposure to the mold. But she added that her family’s suffering and subsequent litigation could be good news for businesses that specialize in indoor air quality (IAQ) testing and mold cleanup/remediation.


Ballard was one of the keynote speakers at the recent Healthy Indoor Environments (HIE) 2002 Conference held in Austin. She offered some reasons why she felt hvacr contractors could benefit from this new “health crisis.”

“Contractors who put emphasis on indoor air quality will be ahead of the pack,” she said. “Whether their specialty is service or installation of newer technology systems, contractors will benefit because this demand for clean, safe air is consumer driven.”

Ballard feels that homeowners will become more conscious of properly maintained systems, giving contractors an added incentive to sell preventive maintenance programs, too. But the problem right now is that contractors aren’t aware of the educational and training opportunities that are available to them.

“Unfortunately, the hvacr people that need training the most don’t go to continuing education,” she said. “I can say the same thing about people in the testing and remediation business, too.” Therefore, “There is a huge competitive advantage for contractors who want to get into testing and remediation.”

Ballard said that while some contractors may jump in without proper training, the smart ones will take the proper steps. “It’s like dangling money in front of these people,” she said. “But they shouldn’t grab the money unless they know what they are doing.

“If it takes 40 hours a year to generate $40 million in business, is it worth the extra $1 million per hour the training can generate?”

Ballard is aware that the settlement sums in liability cases are enough to scare some people away from the testing and remediation business. “Contractors will be involved in litigation if they do it wrong,” she said. “No one can expect to get it right 100% of the time. That’s why training is so important. Education doesn’t stop the day you get your license to do business.”

For more information on Policyholders of America, visit (website).

Look for more reports on the HEI Conference in future issues of The News.

Publication date: 05/27/2002