"The portable heating and air conditioning market has been around but was never seen as a viable option until a few companies started marketing the concept, and it has taken off in the past 10 to 15 years," said Russ Hiroto, president of Atlas Sales and Rentals (www.atlassales.com).
"Now it is used for both temporary and permanent installations in many applications including computer rooms, manufacturing, hospitals, planned maintenance shutdowns, and more. It is a niche market in the sense that portable systems cannot replace rooftop and/or central systems, but the numerous uses have expanded the markets."
In fact, if you want to stay ahead in the marketing advantage curve, Hiroto encouraged contractors to join the ever-growing ranks of believers in portable A/C and heating.
"Distributors like ourselves can provide contractors with complete access to rental inventory, as well as units for purchase. This will enable them to respond quickly to their customers' immediate and long-term needs," he said. "Our products can provide a competitive advantage over other contractors who do not offer the same service and will create good PR and goodwill since they will provide a solution to their customer's problem.
"Providing portable air conditioning to a customer while waiting for parts and/or service goes a long way towards keeping customers happy," he continued. "Portable heating and air conditioning does not compete with a contractor's business. Instead, it provides other alternatives to central and permanent systems and will enhance the services available - as well as add to the bottom line."
Dennis Haller agreed.
"There is a growing number of contractors who are using portable cooling and heating as a means to better serve their customers' needs and to augment their own customer service levels," said the vice president of sales and marketing for Aggreko (www.aggreko.com). "However, many mechanical contractors are just beginning to realize how much using portable equipment can benefit their customers, and the potential for mechanical contractors in this market is significant."
ApplicationsThose who sell or rent portable A/C and heating equipment are more than happy to provide samples of how their products can fill the gap.
Nick Sickmen of Carrier Rental Systems (www.hvacportablesystems.com) discussed a large high school application. This particular school was planning a summer renovation of its air handlers and chilled-water piping system. Rather than leave the interior section of the school without temperature and humidity control for several weeks, the school's maintenance staff decided to use a temporary system during the renovation.
The size of the project and the configuration of the school presented several challenges, however. The first challenge involved identifying an electrical source for the temporary system. The school feared that their existing power would not be sufficient and using portable generators would increase the overall cost of the project. The second challenge involved controlling moisture levels in the building in order to eliminate the potential for mold and other bacterial growth throughout the facility.
"After reviewing the jobsite with the school's contractor and maintenance staff, it was determined that humidity control could be maintained by placing Carrier Rental Systems' high-static air conditioners around the building's perimeter," explained Sickmen. "In addition, this approach would permit the school to utilize the building's available power.
"By using the school's existing power, the school district saved thousands of dollars in generator equipment and diesel fuel. The consistent temperature control over the entire campus used 20 percent fewer tons of temporary cooling than the school's original plan."
"Our portable InstaCool spot coolers enabled a large shopping mall to keep its data center cool while the contractor performed repairs to the mall's chiller system," he said. "And, we also recently placed one of our 30-ton portable air conditioners on the roof of a nursing home to keep residents cool while the contractor performed emergency repairs on the facility's chillers."
In January, an Ohio housing complex turned to portable heating after thieves stole the doors and copper tubing from the complex's boiler rooms during a power outage.
"After the tubing was removed, water flooded the boiler rooms," said Haller. "While the boilers were being repaired, Aggreko provided electric heaters to feed warm air directly into the air systems of the buildings."
Some of the more common uses for portable A/C or heating units include:
"While equipment rooms represent the largest single application for portables, there are many hundreds more applications for which they are used," said Garth Tagge, vice president of sales for Spot Coolers (www.spot-coolers.com). "Most of these applications are brought about by a temporary requirement, even though some may be recurring."
His examples included:
"The options are there," said Tagge.
Help For ContractorsSickmen said he understands why some contractors might shy away from suggesting the use of portable A/C or heat to their respective customers.
"For many contractors, their comfort level is with the permanent systems that they work on," he said. "They are usually busy working on the permanent equipment."
It's why businesses like Sickmen's exist. "Many contractors prefer that we design, set up, and tear down the temporary equipment," he said.
"Most rely on our experience with the temporary equipment and trust us to design the most economical solution for them. We have several contractors that see temporary equipment as another service they can offer their customers. They may have us size, set up, and tear down, but they serve as the project manager and as liaison."
It is a win-win situation for all parties, insisted Rod Beever.
"One such potential market is with the property management companies," explained the vice president of sales and marketing, United CoolAir Corp. (www.unitedcoolair.com). "If these companies know that XYZ company can help them in a pinch, it may also open the door for other service work, maintenance contracts, etc."
Because companies need to have contingency plans in place, identifying the needs up front and knowing what is required can help should an emergency occur. And if the contractor is part of this process, he would be perceived to be an asset for the company, said Beever. "Preplanning always helps smooth out things. Price becomes less of an objection."
Portable A/C and heating can be important in disaster relief, too. "Should a disaster occur, there is always a need for temporary offices or housing or relief command centers," explained Beever.
"If the local agencies know a contractor can help when needed, it can go a long way for business and PR."
In Haller's estimation, in the heat of the moment, sometimes contractors forget rental as an option for their customers or don't understand the urgency a customer may have to get back in service.
"Offering only a solution to fix the problem and making your customer wait antagonizes the relationship between the contractor and his customer. Giving the customer a choice to utilize temporary equipment can alleviate some of this tension."
Admittedly, the cost of portable A/C and heating equipment can be steep. The initial cost and capital outlay are just two reasons contractors might shy away from this business sector. These are poor excuses, though, in Beever's estimation.
"Most contractors have a difficult time selling the higher-end product lines and would also have a problem selling or proposing rental equipment," he said.
Could it be considered a niche market? "Yes and no," said Beever. "It is a niche, but only from the standpoint that very few contractors have figured out how to make it work for them and how to propose it and sell the customers on it. The â€˜no' side of the response is that almost all contractors that do service repair work should be looking at this service as a benefit to their customers. I also feel that as a marketing tool, it should help to land more new clients."
"It continues to become a valuable problem solver for contractors, particularly when no other quick or easy solution presents itself," Tagge said. "Often, contractors are called out in response to an A/C unit failure. A certain percentage of these calls require either part or complete unit replacement. If certain parts or units are not readily available, no other alternatives present the opportunity to provide cool air instantly like portable A/C. That instant availability is what makes the market viable."
Sidebar: Ten Helpful Hints Regarding Portable EquipmentWhen examining the possibility of purchasing or renting portable air conditioning or heating equipment, take the following into account:
1. Most facilities are not ready for temporary equipment. Watch for taps in cooling tower or chilled-water piping and/or power disconnects for the temporary equipment, warned Nick Sickmen of Carrier Rental Systems (www.hvacportablesystems.com).
2. Know building-specific information, including pressures, electrical loads, and type of structure.
3. Remember that temporary HVAC equipment is not a commodity. "If temporary equipment is needed, there is already stress and pressure on the end user and contractor," said Sickmen.
"It is important that the rental company has done the necessary work behind the scenes," he noted, including the designing and sizing of appropriate equipment, testing the equipment, and keeping the equipment in top running condition.
4. Get the rental company involved in the beginning and keep it involved throughout the project. "A reliable company knows its equipment inside-out and has experience with many different types of projects. It is this experience that can make or break a project," said Sickmen.
5. Most portable units are used for commercial applications, but a growing number of smaller residential models have come onto the market in the last two to three years.
"The difference is how the customer plans to use the units," said Russ Hiroto, president of Atlas Sales and Rentals (www.atlassales.com). "The more expensive, durable commercial units are sold by distributors, while the less expensive residential, light-duty units are sold in retail outlets."
6. Whoever installs the equipment must understand the equipment. "This is important, from how to install the flex duct to how the return air gets to the unit," explained Rod Beever, vice president of sales and marketing, United CoolAir Corp. (www.unitedcoolair.com).
"The quality of the power supply, whether from a land source or from a generator, is also critically important." He added, "There would be nothing worse than being in the middle of a disaster and creating more of a disaster."
7. The application can sometimes dictate which equipment gets used. "For example," said Beever, "if the units will be cooling a computer room, the units need to include hot gas bypass. If the units need to operate with low ambient temperature entering the condensing section, then a flooded condenser for low-ambient operation needs to be incorporated."
8. Get equipment that can provide both cooling and heating. "This means having only one unit in stock, not two," said Beever. "And this eliminates having to have propane on the site. A single unit can take care of those situations where heating is required in the morning, cooling in the afternoon, and heating again in the evening."
9. The rental of portable air equipment when a dedicated computer A/C unit fails or requires service and must be shut down are custom applications. "Rental terms can run one day or longer, depending on the nature of the downtime," explained Garth Tagge, vice president of sales for Spot Coolers (www.spot-coolers.com). "Portables can be dispatched to the site within hours, set up and operational in minutes, and removed just as quickly once the dedicated A/C is brought on line."
10. Portable air conditioners when purchased and set up as permanent cooling systems do not require any part of the system to be permanently attached to the building or structure. "They also have relatively low installation costs," said Tagge. "As such, landlord and tenant do not consider them leasehold improvements and they are typically retained and moved when the tenant relocates.
"Permanent use of portables as the dedicated cooling system is often specified when lease terms are short or when the installation costs of a â€˜fixed system' would exceed the customers' budget."
- Mark Skaer
Publication date: 07/11/2005