by Valerie Stakes, managing editor
When it comes to HVAC system design and installation, there’s very little that contractor Jeff Laski and his team haven’t encountered.
Owner of S&M Heating Sales in Southfield, MI, this more- than-25-year veteran in the HVAC industry serves on numerous SMACNA (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association) service and residential committees and task forces and was on the association’s Board of Directors from 1995-2001.
Averaging around $7 million per year with 40 employees, Laski’s versatile company handles a wide variety of projects in commercial new construction, residential and multifamily new construction, and service and replacement.
In fact, it’s not unusual for a technician to replace a large chiller in the morning and then do a humidifier changeout in a home in the afternoon.
One of S&M’s prime niches is designing and installing the mechanical systems for many large, upscale new homes. However, there’s an area that Laski says can always pose a challenge: kitchens.
“As soon as we receive the set of plans, we begin designing the home’s system,” Laski says. “However, the design of the kitchen and equipment are often chosen months later.”
Naturally, not having a full picture of the heating and cooling requirements hinders accurately sizing the system and the ductwork. Further complicating the design is the type of kitchen appliances customers frequently request, which can rival what’s found in commercial kitchens.
“In our restaurant work, we have the luxury of using commercial compensating hoods to bring outside air down into hood, rather than pulling in make-up air from inside the restaurant,” he says.
For residential applications, however, Laski has to resort to other means.
“For their elaborate kitchens, homeownwers frequently choose stoves with range hoods that vary from 1,000 to 1,500 cfm. If the exhaust is running 24 hr./day, you’re sucking three tons of cooling right out the hood,” Laski explains.
Not only does this affect the heating and cooling loads, but proper air distribution and quality are also compromised.
“When the kitchen is frequently used, and homeowners run that huge exhaust hood to eliminate smells, you create a negative pressure,” he says. “You have to supply that air back, and almost double the make-up air. Otherwise, the system is starved, causing it to grab air from less than desirable places such as the chimney or basement.”
He adds, “Furthermore, with these new homes being so tight, achieving proper ventilation is even more difficult. You must have the rightHVAC equipment.”
Great Relationships, Great Design
So, how does S&M Heating Sales tackle these high-end residential projects? According to Laski, it’s critical to work closely with the customer and builder.
“We’re very fortunate to have a great relationship with our builder, who brings us in to meet with the homeowners long before the kitchen is planned,” he says.
Laski asks detailed questions about their comfort needs and concerns and how they anticipate using their kitchen, and what kitchen equipment they’ll likely choose.
“Typically, customers don’t realize how the kitchen can impact HVAC performance. Therefore, we try to uncover how often they cook or entertain because it helps us choose the best equipment for their needs.”
Laski also explains all their HVAC equipment options and the difference between them.
“If the homeowners eat out frequently or prepare elaborate dinners just a few times year, such as during the holidays, we might suggest using single-stage comfort equipment,” he says.
However, if the owners cook and entertain frequently, and that exhaust hood is in constant use, Laski definitely recommends going with two-stage heating and cooling.
“We explain how installing an oversized, single-stage system to compensate for their kitchen isn’t a solution because it wouldn’t be comfortable or energy efficient,” he adds. “Two-stage allows for this variance in loads.”
At times, customers are a bit surprised by the upfront costs for two-stage versus one-stage equipment.
“While homeowners don’t have a problem spending thousands of dollars for an elaborate kitchen, they don’t always want to spend the money on the functional part of the home, such as the HVAC equipment,” Laski says. “We try to show them why comfort is equally important as aesthetics, and how we can provide that.”
Life After Installation
Once the mechanical equipment is installed, Laski and his team performs a start-up to ensure it’s working properly and test each register for proper airflow.
The S&M team then have a follow-up meeting with the customers once they’ve moved into to the house.
“We meet with the owners after they’ve been living there for a while and have had a chance to determine if they’re comfortable in every part of the home,” he says. “From there, we can make necessary adjustments, as well as go over any questions on how the system works.”
Laski stresses how working with the customer from the very beginning cements the relationship, which leads to service agreements, replacement sales, and referrals. Just goes to show that with contracting excellence, style and substance can happily coexist.