Staying Inside the Box

April 1, 2006
Staying within the rules, and serving our customers are only two sides to the box we must stay inside. The other two factors, or the other two sides of the box, are dealing with our competition, and making a profit.
All businesses have been urged to "think outside the box;" to think of creative ways to increase sales, refine processes, and improve their organizations. Contractors are no exception. However, in the HVAC industry some of the important drivers have to do with staying inside the rules.

Specifically, ASHRAE standards 90.1 and 62.1 establish very specific "rules" for mechanical systems employed in buildings. In addition, Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) is adding to the set of rules, and providing even more guidance for sustainable buildings. Since we cannot avoid the "rules" and run a successful and profitable business, the question becomes "how do we make the rules work for us ... and be profitable doing it?"

Building the Box
Rules and standards shouldn't be looked at as a burden. On the contrary, they are put in place to help us serve our customers better. As a service industry, keeping our customers satisfied is our main goal.

Staying within the rules, and serving our customers are only two sides to the box we must stay inside. The other two factors, or the other two sides of the box, are dealing with our competition, and making a profit.

It all seems very simple when you think about it. We want to serve our customers the best that we can, we want to do a better job than our competition, and we certainly want to make a profit. It's very easy to achieve these three objectives when we "put on the white hat" and follow the rules. From inside this box, it's also a lot easier to deal with other areas of concern, such as energy concerns, indoor air quality, and sustainability.

Energy Standards and IAQ
ASHRAE standard 90.1 addresses energy standards for commercial buildings. It was updated in 2004 and now uses Department of Energy weather zone map terminology. Standard 90.1 requires 50% efficient enthalpy recovery on all systems with 5000+ cfm and 70% outside air.

Following this standard allows more buildings to qualify under the Simplified Approach when energy recovery is applied to meet outdoor air requirements. But it is an evolving process, and there is work being done in the ASHRAE mechanical subcommittee to make this standard even more relevant.

Consumers are aware of these energy issues, and they are willing to pay for equipment that will save energy. They are also concerned with indoor air quality. Standard 62.1 addresses IAQ as it relates to commercial, institutional, industrial, and high-rise residential buildings. It defines the roles of, and minimum requirements for, mechanical and natural ventilation systems and the building envelope intended to provide acceptable indoor air quality.

Added to the growing concern for better energy efficiency and improved IAQ is building sustainability. The green building movement has been gaining momentum in this area since the U.S. Green Building Council was formed in 1993. They've developed a rating system for certifying "green buildings" with its LEED program.

The LEED ratings system offers credits for reaching minimum standards in six general areas. In order to be certified, a project must meet the prerequisites in all areas, and then achieve enough additional credits in any of the six areas.

We can gain a huge advantage in sustainability by positioning our companies to fully support LEED. This can be as simple as getting someone on staff that is LEED certified, or even joining the U.S. Green Building Council. The more we are involved, the more informed we become of the latest trends.

Rebuild Your Image
Energy, IAQ, and sustainability should be kept top of mind on almost every decision we make, because anything we do to alter the requirements in these areas can have a major impact on our business.

We're all trying to make money and, unfortunately, contractors have gotten a bad rap because some of them have tried to go outside of the box and push the envelop of the law — and value engineer different aspects of the job. Having someone on staff that is LEED certified is one way of curbing this practice, because now you have someone that works for you that is also looking over your shoulder to make sure you follow LEED standards.

Identifying the value-added portions of your building materials will build trust with your customers. Don't automatically assume that your customers don't know anything. They're smarter than we think; they recognize value and are more than willing to pay for it.

Using Rules to Your Advantage
Following these rules and standards can work to a contractor's advantage when it comes to all aspects of their business. It's easy to do if we fully understand the standards and why the system is designed as it is.

The benefit for our customers is improved IAQ, reduced energy consumption, and smaller equipment. Our profits increase because the customer is willing to pay for an increased build material and we have less call backs to the job. When you are more in tune with what's going on in the world, you increase your company's reputation.

By staying within the laws and codes, you're helping your engineers do the right thing, and you'll be the good guy, wearing the white hat while staying inside the box.


In order to keep your company up to date with all the latest codes and standards, and to let your voice be heard, consider joining ASHRAE. Membership in ASHRAE is open to anyone associated with the HVAC&R industry.

Membership allows access to state-oftheart HVAC&R technology and provides many opportunities to participate in the development of that technology. By taking part in the certification process, you can help create industry standards, and recommend procedures and guidelines.

For more information, visit

Drake Erbe is vice president, business development at AirXchange, Inc., and has more than 24 years of experience in the HVAC industry. He is a past chair of ARI's Heat Transfer Product Section and currently serves as chair of the ASHRAE Mechanical Subcommittee of SSPC 90.1. He can be reached via e-mail at drakeerbe@ or by calling 781/871-4816.