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Extreme Dedication Trumps Extreme Makeover

July 1, 2009
To say the least, TAG Mechanical handled the challenge of an ABC-TV Extreme Makeover project, while adding some helpful touches to the HVAC system: extreme quality and energy efficiency.

The term “extreme” has come to be applied to everything from golf balls to chewing gum. There are extreme sports, extreme cars, extreme pizza — even extreme pumpkin carving.

But none of those match the extreme pressure of tearing down a house and building a new, fully functioning one in just four days. That was the challenge TAG Mechanical Systems, Inc., Syracuse NY, became involved in when the team from ABC TV's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came to town. TAG Mechanical handled the challenge extremely well, and added its own extreme touches to the HVAC system: extreme quality and energy efficiency.

“This was your typical new construction project,” says Ellis Guiles, P.E., vice president, TAG Mechanical, “except that we did the entire project in less than four days.”

During the week of August 24, 2008, customer homebuilder Mahoney Design & Build, Canastota, NY, led a team of over 100 craftsmen in the demolition and construction of two new buildings for the Hill family of Geneva, NY.

Tim Hill had been an aspiring boxer until a broken back suffered on a construction site ended that dream. Not one to curse fate, Hill devoted himself to social work and became a counselor for area high schoolers. He eventually started the Geneva Boxing Team, teaching the Sweet Science free of charge to children and young adults, many who came from broken or impoverished homes.

While Hill's home itself wasn't “broken,” it was 150 years old and in need of some serious work. And at 1,500 sq.ft., it was small for Hill, his wife, Michelle, their three children, and Aleem Whitfield, a young boxing hopeful who Tim and Michelle had been awarded custody of.

In stepped the team from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, approaching Mahoney Design & Build with the idea of having a new home and an on-site boxing gym constructed for the Hills. Mahoney Design & Build said yes, then set about finding the partners to make the project a reality.

“We knew Mahoney from work we had done together at Fort Drum Army Base,” Guiles says. “They basically reached out to contractors who they knew had the resources available to pull off a project of this nature. We threw 40 people at this, and there aren't many contracting firms around the area who can do that.”

Once TAG Mechanical was on board, Guiles solicited his best suppliers and partners to contribute. His first stop call was to Daikin AC (Americas), Carrollton, TX.

The Team is Assembled

“This was a great opportunity for us to give something back to the community, and we also saw it as an opportunity for us to work with some of the more exotic systems that are coming out, such as Daikin's variable refrigerant volume system,” Guiles says. “We've installed some in commercial buildings and think the technology is great, but it can be difficult to get residential customers to bite on it because it's a premium product, and nobody wants to be the first to try something new. Fortunately, Daikin came through, and we were impressed, because that was a pretty hefty contribution on their part.”

Once word got out that the project was underway in Central New York state, other manufacturers, and TAG's local distributor, stepped up and offered products and services, Guiles adds. “Daikin Americas donated the equipment, and Modular Comfort Systems — the Central New York manufacturer's representative — donated technicians and staff to assist with start-up and installation of the systems,” he says.

Meeting Zoning Challenges

The 3,500 sq.ft. home has five bedrooms. TAG installed two Daikin 3-ton VRS heat pump systems. Each outdoor condensing unit is matched with two, 2-ton indoor air handlers. The first and second floors are divided into two zones each.

The system can modulate from 20% to 100% of its design capacity. The variable refrigerant heat pumps are designed to provide 100% of the heating needs of the home down to an outdoor temperature of 0F. Each air handler is equipped with an auxiliary electric heater. The heaters are controlled by outdoor air thermostats that disable the outdoor condensing unit and turn on the electric heat when the temperature outdoors is below 0F.

TAG also consulted on the gym's comfort system, and had, as Guiles puts it, “some influence” in having the building insulated with spray foam, and in convincing a local firm to donate and install a 3 kW solar photo voltaic system on the roof.

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Additional insulation also helped address the challenge presented by the home's very open first floor plan.

“The builder gets a lot of input from the network about how they'd like the Extreme Makeover home to look on television,” Guiles says. “That means the first floors on these homes tend to have tremendously open floorplans, which means no place for wall-stack ductwork. That really limits your ability to keep your ductwork inside the envelope.”

The TAG team took care of the issue by splitting the VRS systems between the first floor and the second floor, and by asking the insulation contractor to spray foam the second floor roof deck. “This allowed us to put our equipment and ductwork into the attic, and yet still be able to keep it inside the envelope,” Guiles says.

In addition to providing the HVAC System for this home, TAG Mechanical Systems provided the Energy Star rating services and assisted with working to have the home comply with the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) for Homes rating system. While not submitted for certification in the LEED for Homes program, the home would have achieved a gold level rating if the paperwork had been submitted, according to Guiles.

Great Efficiency is Achieved

“The whole property, the home and the gym, are running at about 50% of the energy usage that would be used by just a typical new 3,500 sq.ft home that meets this area's codes,” Guiles says.

Overall, TAG Mechanical was left with a lot of tired people and a lot of good feelings from working on the Extreme Makeover project, which aired on ABC November 9, 2008, and again on May 24, 2009 (the video is archived on at

Although this project represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on a project with national visibility, Guiles says the company participates in charity events quite often.

“We like to give back to the community, it's a part of who and what we are at TAG, and we do something every year at some level to participate in local charity events,” Guiles says. “It's part of what any good company needs to do, to keep raising the bar and in the process saying to clients or potential clients, ‘Wouldn't you like to be involved with a company like ours?’”

From a contractor's perspective, Guiles says if such an opportunity presents itself in your community, jump on it. While it's only worth so much from a marketing standpoint — there's a flurry of local media interest during the project, and when it airs — the real value comes from positive experience of teamwork.

“It's truly a very positive experience, to work with that many people on a team that's all pulling together,” Guiles says. “Most of us become accustomed to the day-to-day haggling at a construction site. There wasn't any of that here. There was a lot of camaraderie, a lot of people just wanting to pitch in and do whatever it took to get the job done.”

It's with extreme pride that presents TAG Mechanical with its first Quality Home Comfort Award, for extreme dedication in the face of extreme pressure.


  • 2 Daikin VRS systems
  • 2 Daikin indoor air handlers
  • Tutco electric heaters
  • Hart and Cooley grilles, registers and diffusers.