The nature of retrofits is that every project is unique, which means it's necessary to evaluate how energy is being used at the site.
As energy costs continue to increase, companies are reassessing their energy management capabilities and looking for ways to trim their operating expenses. As a result, sophisticated energy management systems (EMS) have become an attractive tool for companies wanting to reduce their energy consumption and maintenance costs and contractors who are looking to grow their businesses.

One of the best avenues for entering the controls business and expanding your HVAC capabilities is to focus on the many retrofit opportunities available today. In general, it’s much easier for contractors to “break into” the business by applying EMS and showing customers a significant return across the many installed facilities, rather than focusing solely on new construction.

Besides the sheer number of opportunities, retrofit projects are attractive because they typically have a shorter sales cycle than new store projects. In new store construction, there is significantly more time involved with construction and architecture firms.

You also must dedicate a significant amount of resources to working with manufacturers to ensure that the proper equipment ships with the appropriate controls. These factors often make it more conducive for contractors who are already well established in the controls business.

With the help of Bob Fair, owner of Key Engineering in Auburn, MA, we’ve put together a few tips for contractors embarking on their first retrofit project.


“Your choice of supplier will have a major impact on your entry into the controls business, and greatly influence your success and profitability time frame,” said Fair. “A good supplier, such as Computer Process Controls, will work closely with both contractors and end users to make sure everyone is satisfied throughout the retrofit process.”

Below are a few supplier details contractors need to pay particular attention to while considering the special needs of a retrofit project:

  • Investigate a potential supplier’s financial stability and ability to survive over the long term. There’s nothing worse than having your supplier go out of business and stick you with the liability of an installed equipment base and no supplier for replacement parts.

  • Suppliers should invest significant resources in ongoing product development. This will allow you to always offer leading-edge solutions.

  • Suppliers’ products should be flexible enough to adapt to any variation of the desired application, including type and/or number of equipment, phone or LAN remote access, multiple alarm destinations, etc.

  • Suppliers should provide round-the-clock support and comprehensive training you need to understand and apply their equipment to its fullest potential.

  • Suppliers need to have experience in your marketplace so that they understand your business and your customers’ demands.


    Understanding the equipment: The very nature of retrofits means that every project is unique. You must evaluate how energy is currently being used while dealing with a variety of older systems and equipment that is already installed. This requires that you have a clear understanding of your suppliers’ equipment, its capabilities, and how it can integrate with existing HVAC systems and equipment.

    “It’s very important that you have the training and expertise needed to walk into a unique project, assess the situation, and develop a feasible solution that will work within the existing situation and desired parameters,” said Fair.

    Performing system and building surveys: It cannot be stressed enough that every retrofit project is unique. For this reason, you must visit the site at the beginning of a project and perform a system and building survey.

    When conducting a survey, you need to evaluate the existing HVAC and lighting systems, the building design and function, and existing parameters or limitations. Then compare your results to the desired benefits or outcome of the retrofit. This will help you develop an overall design for the final installation.

    Although these surveys are sometimes time consuming, they often can be the deciding factor on whether or not the retrofit project is a success.

    Providing financial analysis: Once you have performed a system and building survey, the next step is to provide the customer with a financial analysis that shows potential cost savings of the new system. When performing the analysis, consider how the building is operated as well as current maintenance costs.

    Fair points out that performing a financial analysis may even lead to more business for you once your customer realizes the impact you can have on the building’s operations.

    “A major retailer provided a list of sites to retrofit. CPC and I did our own evaluation and came back with another 100 sites we thought would greatly benefit from a retrofit. After they saw the savings we could provide on those sites as well, the retailer added them to the original list of sites to retrofit.”

    Maintaining customer service: Your job is not over when the project is finished. Contractors usually work very closely with suppliers to continually provide feedback to customers. This helps them fine-tune their systems for optimal performance. For example, Web-based monitoring tools (such as CPC’s “Energy Pro-filer”) allow customers to monitor their energy consumption, conduct usage studies, and even negotiate alternate power rates with utilities.

    Keeping up on industry trends and developments: The EMS and controls market is continually developing. Therefore, it is very important for contractors to be aware of the latest trends and what new technologies are on the horizon.

    “Whether it’s new energy-efficient technologies, computerized and wireless equipment, or new integration and communication protocols, you need to be fully aware of the latest solutions that will help your customers conserve energy and lower their operating expenses,” said Fair.

    Lauck is marketing manager for Computer Process Controls (CPC), part of the Emerson Climate Technologies business group. CPC develops and markets electronic refrigeration and building environmental control systems. The company is headquartered at 1640 Airport Rd. N.W., Kennesaw, GA 30144; 770-425-2724.

    Publication date: 12/09/2002