TORRANCE, Calif. - George Rusher has been known as a pioneer for a long time.

In his youth, Rusher helped his small Montana high school football team win its first state championship. In 1935, he rode his 1929 Harley Davidson motorcycle from Montana to Southern California, where he set up his HVAC contracting firm. Rusher has owned and operated the business for more than 58 years.

Even though he is 90 years old now, Rusher still reports to 19626 Normandie Ave. every workday. His son, David, is vice president and can't get over his father's work ethic: "He's here every day."

While 75 percent of Rusher Air Conditioning is considered design-build work, the remaining 25 percent can be categorized as service. David and his father agree that this may be the most important part of the business. "It means taking care of the customer," explained David. "It means just being on top of the customer and his needs.

"It means following up. It means making sure the job is complete, that the pricing is fair."

Geothermal Service, Too

"Of that 25 percent, I'd say half of our service is through maintenance agreements," said David. "You have to offer and supply maintenance agreements to be in this industry. It's a must for contractors."

Being innovative is another must in the son's eyes. Like father, like son - but it was actually the father who continued his pioneering spirit by becoming one of the first contractors in Southern California to use geo-thermal technology to cool and heat local homes. Two years ago, Rusher Air Conditioning began designing and installing the systems in area homes.

There are more geothermal systems in Northern California than in Southern California, said David. "It's catching on in some places in Southern [California]."

Wayne Lund, a sales manager for Rusher Air, described geothermal as "the latest and most-advanced technology in the heating and air conditioning industry.

"By using the ground, we can cool and heat a home very efficiently," he said. "And the best thing about it is that there is no visible outdoor equipment. Everything is buried underground."

David Rusher likes the fact that there are fewer parts used in this system. Fewer parts can mean fewer breakdowns. Just like every other HVAC offering, the company has a service and maintenance agreement available for every geothermal system it installs.

Currently, Rusher Air is involved in three large residential applications. With some celebrities and "people of notoriety" living in the area in rather large homes, there is enough physical space to put in geothermal.

"Geothermal is the next step," said Lund. "In a normal home air conditioning system, the house is cooled by removing indoor heat through refrigerant lines to outdoor equipment. The outdoor equipment rejects the heat to the outdoor air.

"In Geoexchange, the heat is carried out of the home by water in underground tubes," he explained. "The water in the tubes gives up its heat to the surrounding earth. The result is a quiet, efficient, and extremely environmentally friendly system that can save owners up to 20 percent on their energy bills."

From right: Rusher Air Conditioning founder George Rusher; son David (holding great-grandson Kalani); and grandson Scott. In the background is a 200-foot hole-drilling rig.

Natural Progression

In David's estimation, geothermal was a natural progression for the company. "It just evolved," he said. "We do a lot of radiant heating and [geothermal] blends itself well into radiant heating."

Innovation and new technology have been hallmarks of the family business, which includes not only George and David Rusher, but also grandson Scott.

"Rusher Air Conditioning has long been known as an innovator in the heating and air conditioning industry," said local mechanical engineer Jon De Cuir.

"George began specializing in hydronic radiant heating systems in the 1940s and 50s, and now the company is well known as an expert source for this type of heating system that is still being in-stalled today."

In the 1970s, when David joined the business, he expanded the company into the commercial market. He also implemented state-of-the-art computer technology that tied into HVAC systems.

As soon as Scott came along in the 1990s, he expanded the service department and interfaced the latest computer technology to air conditioning systems and all other facets of the business. Now a computer can help keep the company's clients comfortable year-round by sensing a client's every HVAC need. A system can notify homeowners when there is a problem, take corrective action on its own, and even call a service technician.

More Benefits

Another benefit of geothermal technology is that the heating-cooling system can be used to meet the user's domestic hot water needs. The geothermal equipment can be temporarily redirected to produce hot water for a home. The hot water is stored in a large tank to ensure that there is enough hot water for everyone in the home.

All of the geothermal projects under construction by Rusher Air are located in environmentally sensitive areas where outdoor noise and vent emissions are of major concern. Because these geothermal systems have no outdoor equipment exposed to the elements, they are especially advantageous in these types of areas, explained David.

In addition, owners greatly benefit from having all of the equipment indoors and not subjected to the local salt air. Ocean air tends to corrode air conditioning equipment in a short period, to the point where it may lose up to 50 percent of its life cycle due to the environment, explained David.

Although geothermal systems can have higher installation costs, recent studies show encouraging payback periods, especially for large developments such as schools. As time goes on, the installation costs of geothermal systems should become more competitive with traditional systems, while their environmentally friendly characteristics will only improve, said David.

"Supplying strong service is the key," he concluded.

Publication date: 09/27/2004