BROOKLYN - In the jungle of office skyscrapers, hotel and retail mega-buildings, and giant multi-family housing units dotting the New York City skyline, there are lesser-known and less-recognizable residential buildings - a niche market that attracts some of the top design-build mechanical contractors in the region.

This high-end residential market is a niche that appeals to Stanley Berger and his company, Arista Air Conditioning Corp. of Long Island City. Arista is a 56-year-old company that employs 140 workers. "We do more service than anyone else in New York City but less installation than a lot of people," Berger noted.

Berger, the owner and CEO of Arista and the new president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America Inc. (MCAA) talked with The News about one of his newest projects - a private residence in the Mill Basin neighborhood in Brooklyn - and trumpeted the merits of design-build and the systems involved.

Five of the eight City Multi units of the Mill Basin home will help to control both the heating and cooling for the 15,000-square-foot waterfront building.

The Residence

The project is a $1 million HVAC system in a 15,000-square-foot waterfront home. Berger called it "one of the most expensive houses in Brooklyn."

Utilizing a new City Multi system from Mitsubishi Electric, Arista has installed eight condensing units and 23 air handlers totaling 40 tons of cooling for the three-story building. The building also utilizes a complete radiant floor heating system and snowmelt system for the 4,000-square-foot driveway.

"It is a variable-speed heating and cooling system using Freonâ„¢ - sort of a chiller without water," stated Berger.

"We can actually connect up to 15 different air handlers to one condensing unit. In this project we have about five on each unit. One air handler can be putting out heat from the rooftop unit while another air handler can be putting out cooling from that same unit. That is what is unique about this system."

Berger said the project did not start out as a design-build venture. His company was hired to install the specified mechanical equipment. But a snag or two developed along the way.

"It originally went out to bid as a completely different project," he said. "The whole air conditioning side was different. We came in and gave the owner a design-build option for this unique air conditioning and heating combination.

"The engineers were not aware of this latest development in technology," he said, referring to the City Multi system. "The original plan was for 11 split systems. We physically did not have the room for the 11 condensing units or the height available for the 11 hanging air handlers. We couldn't even get the air handlers up through the bar joists. We had to find places in closets for the air handlers, which was a very big challenge."

Berger said he spent a tremendous amount of energy convincing the owner that this was the system to use in this application. "I believe we are doing the right thing by him," he said.

With the owner's approval, Berger made some significant changes. "Instead of 11 zones of cooling, we wound up with 22 zones of cooling, zoned by unit and not by any damper arrangement," he noted. "It became a design-build project through our value engineering - adding value to existing designs."

The radiant flooring is the base heat, which will bring the temperature up to 68 degrees F and then the heating and cooling system will regulate the temperature above that point. There is a complete direct digital control (DDC) system built in, too.

"We are also doing humidification," Berger added. "We have installed two copper-plate boilers to serve 15 zones of radiant heat, provide domestic hot water, and supply heat for pool heat exchangers and a snow melt system."

He said one of the unique features of the building is the abundant presence of glass, which posed some design challenges. "We have tremendous heat loads with skylights and greenhouses - glass all around the building," he said. "In the summer there is a 15-ton heat load during the day and a 3-ton heat load at night. This variable-volume system is able to handle the varying loads."

The Beauty Of Design-Build

Berger said that he drew on his experience from a restaurant design-build project, which included seven condensing units in the City Multi system. "We are now designing several systems like this, including commercial and residential projects," he said.

"We do high-end residential in New York City and we are very conscious of our customers' demands. They want it quiet, they want it cool, they want it heated, and they don't want to see anything. We see this as a great application with new technology in this area, and we are aggressively pursuing it. Twenty to 25 percent of our business is in this market."

Berger said it is an interesting and rewarding niche to be in. "I like the creativity of design-build," he said. "I am the spark that starts these projects going - the imagination."

Not only does design-build get the creative juices flowing, it gets the cash flowing - through service work. Doing custom projects such as the Mill Basin home can put his company in the position to get a lot of service contracts and a lot of future business, said Berger. Arista has 3,000 service accounts.

"Our goal is to take on the service contracts for this work," Berger said. "I recently did a design-build project that turned into $6 million in mechanical work. A high percentage of our work turns into service contracts."

Berger is proud of opportunities that design-build has brought to his company. He said Arista usually does 20 to 30 residential projects a year. "We are not your typical mechanical contractor - more of a boutique house, if such a term exists," he said. "Getting away from that killer plan-and-spec mode that everyone else is in is very important.

"It is tough to get into design-build. It is very time-consuming, and most people don't have the patience for it. You think you are done and then you are back there 20 times. You are never done - but that's OK. Building relationships is important; getting repeat business is important."

Publication date: 02/21/2005