Contractors Walk a Green Mile

Feb. 1, 2009
HVAC Contractors are finding that before they can convince their customers to buy more efficient HVAC, they must first adopt a greener way of life themselves.

In Part I of this series, we focused on some of the HVAC industry's leading manufacturers, and how they're contributing to the green movement. (See CB, Dec. 2008, p. 38;, keywords ‘Green Giants’)

Part II of this series focused on the efforts of HVAC distributors and how they handle refrigeration management. We found that the distributor offers contractors guidance in how to handle and manage refrigeration properly. (See CB, Jan. 2009, p. 38;, keywords ‘Refrigerant Reclamation’)

Part III of the Green Giants series focuses on the green efforts of HVAC contractors. This is the third article in a year-long series that will showcase how HVAC industry professionals at all levels are making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint.

HVAC contractors have realized that in order to talk the talk, they must first walk the walk in their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. They've made great efforts to start at home first, whether it's their own homes or in their businesses.

Such is the case with Benson Green, president and majority owner of Benson's Heating and Air Conditioning , Tallahassee, FL. “I'm Benson Green and I want you to be green too.” That's the slogan Green's company has been using for over a year to promote the greener way of life. He says the simplest thing that anyone can do is recycling. His company recycles all of their uniforms, duct materials, bottles, glass, paper, cardboard, air conditioning units, refrigerant, metal, and copper.

Even though the building that houses his company is only 10 years old, Green found the need to take a closer look at everything they were using. In their sheet metal shop they replaced three wall-mounted fans with one larger fan that circulated more air and that had a variable frequency drive. “We saw a significant drop in our utility bill just because of the simple things we did,” Green explains.

Lead By Example

Steve Saunders, CEO of Tempo Mechanical, Irving, TX and Contracting's 2003 Residential Contractor of the Year, started his green efforts in the workplace as well. He conducted an indoor air quality (IAQ) study in their facility and found that they had a bad particulate count. He removed the gas-powered forklifts that the company had been using and started using electric fork lifts. Saunders also had a lighting audit of their workspace performed, and had the building re-lamped with high efficiency light bulbs.

“Just by changing the light bulbs, we use less energy, they provide better light, and we save money on utility bills.” Saunders states.

Saunders then took his green initiative to the road. He switched to diesel vehicles to obtain better gas mileage, lower emissions, and higher durability. He also had Teletrak GPS Systems installed in all vehicles, to reduce unneeded trips and mileage.

The folks at Tempo Mechanical practice what they preach by performing the same maintenance on their facility that they'd recommend to their customers. “We perform regular maintenance of our own HVAC system, do regular filter changes, use programmable thermostats and use damper systems,” Saunders explains.

Tempo Mechanical has been a strong proponent of using R-410A refrigerant and has been selling it for half a decade. Sanders recalls, “The very first R-410A job we did was at my house.”

Like Saunders, Benson Green's company has been selling R-410A systems for a long time -10 years in fact. He says R-410A systems have been the top seller for the past four years. Green explains, “We sold 90% R-410A last year and 85% the year before.” He says that having an educated customer base makes this an easy sell because they understand the benefits of R-410A.

From a commercial perspective, Josh Kahn, vice president of Kahn Mechanical, Dallas, TX is also bringing his green efforts home to the workplace. “What we're doing from the retrofit side,” Kahn explains, “is recycling as much material that we're pulling from buildings as we can.” They recycle all of the steel, copper, and aluminum that they recover, and they reuse any equipment that's in good shape. They also separate any material that can be reused and donate it to non-profit organizations. (Kahn Mechanical was Contracting's 2008 Commercial Contractor of the Year.)

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Community Service Can be Green, Too

Tempo Mechanical is a LEED® for Homes Provider. Saunders says “That means we have people in the energy rating business who can perform inspections on homes.”

LEED for Homes Providers have three primary roles:

  1. Marketing LEED to builders

  2. Providing green home rating support services to builders

  3. Training, coordinating, and overseeing LEED qualified inspectors and builder support staff.

Tempo Mechanical can do this because of its Texas Energy Solutions and U.S. Ecologic divisions. First, the Texas Energy Solutions division is broken into two businesses: The residential new construction business that does energy rating and green ratings for new homes and apartment buildings. The Energy Audit business, performs energy evaluations of existing homes.

Second, the U.S. Ecologic division which also has two parts. One performs green analysis and verification for new homes and buildings; the other does green analysis for existing homes and buildings.

Tempo Mechanical Services, along with its Texas Energy Solutions, and the skilled team at Kahn Mechanical, have been aiding the construction team for Habitat for Humanity in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Kahn says this team has a long-time relationship with Habitat and has improved the building envelope and mechanical efficiency of several hundred Habitat homes. Texas Energy Solutions ensures that each home obtains an Energy Star rating as well as qualifying for additional energy and green incentive programs.

The team also aids in cutting down waste material during home construction through Tempo Mechanical Services innovative pre-construction planning, which mirrors the planning efforts of the local Habitat for Humanity affiliates. All partners strive to minimize field waste and also try to purchase materials locally. The team is also committed to disposing and recycling locally. “Part of this initiative is simply the good economics of material cost and logistics.” Kahn explains. “To the extent that our environment is improved, we all win.”

The Habitat operational model is helpful for sustainable communities, as the purchasers of Habitat homes become the glue that helps make the neighborhoods sustainable. The ownership aspect and the sweat equity required to participate gives residents a huge stake in keeping the neighborhood healthy.

Keeping homes and neighborhoods healthy is also a mission for Benson Green. He feels part of his responsibility is met through good communication, which he does by sending out newsletters twice per year.

“The newsletter gives tips of what customers can do in their homes to make their everyday lives more green,” Green explains. He says that they've recently joined The Comfort Institute, and is looking forward to the help that it will provide in educating customers.

Reaping the Benefits

Contractors are finding that their green initiatives aren't going unnoticed by their customers. “I believe our customers are the best anywhere for the simple fact that they're educated and they care deeply about their community and their world.” Green explains, “Whether we groomed them or they groomed us; I hope it's a balance.”

Green notes that one of the best ways they acquire customers is by referrals. “Even though our sales are up over budget, I've spent less on my marketing because of the referrals. Our new customer numbers are up too.”

Steve Saunders is finding that the same is true of his business. “We're out there in a competitive business and we have no marketing and no advertising and our phones are ringing off the hook. We're in the same extraordinarily difficult business environment that everyone else is in, but because of our several year efforts on energy efficiency and being green, we have more opportunities than most. If we're smart and capitalize on those opportunities, we'll be one of the survivors.”