Contractors debate maximizing green opportunities, education

BONITA SPRINGS, FLA. Get involved with your local U.S. Green Building Council chapter, urged Russ Borst, vice president - service, Hurst Mechanical, Belmont, Mich. Better yet, take over the Existing Buildings section of the local chapter, he said, such as lining up the speakers. Major customers come to the USGBC meetings so contractors can network and line up business. Borst was part of a roundtable

BONITA SPRINGS, FLA. — Get involved with your local U.S. Green Building Council chapter, urged Russ Borst, vice president - service, Hurst Mechanical, Belmont, Mich. Better yet, take over the Existing Buildings section of the local chapter, he said, such as lining up the speakers. Major customers come to the USGBC meetings so contractors can network and line up business.

Borst was part of a roundtable discussion on maximizing green opportunities at the recent Mechanical Service Contractors Association convention here.

Chuck Albers, owner of Albers Mechanical Co., St. Paul, Minn., said his firm has done a couple retrofits and equipment change-outs, but he's still trying to figure out what the opportunities are, what kind of equipment to install and what financing is available.

Wayne Turchetta, vice president, HMC Service Co., Louisville, Ky., noted that a lot of the financing is American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, performance contracting, tax credits and utility rebates, rather than commercial bank lending.

Borst pointed out that a lot of green work has nothing to do with big LEED projects. For example, he said, a retro-commissioning job on a commercial building might discover that a space used to be a laboratory that's now office space, but it is still running on 100% outside air.

Contractors can sell equipment on life cycle costs, such as variable frequency drives, where the cost can be offset with rebates and incentives.

“Those are things that are differentiators,” Borst said.

Mike Klingler, vice president, Farber Corp., Columbus, Ohio, said he was bidding a heat recovery ventilator for a four-story building to bring it back into compliance with ASHRAE Standard 62 ventilation requirements. Klingler also said he's installed a lot of high efficiency motors for pumps.

Klingler said that now that he's just finished re-piping a building, he's going to sell them low-flush fixtures. That will require educating the building engineer that he has to change the fixtures, not just the flushometers, to get them to flush correctly.

A big challenge is education for sales people, service technicians and energy auditors. The United Association is running a Green Awareness Training class for technicians, noted Richard Carillo, United Association Local 525, Las Vegas.

Steve Allen, director of the sustainable technologies department for the United Association, said the UA will start an energy auditing class in January at the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D. It's a comprehensive 20 week class and, as modules are developed, they will become available around the country in smaller segments. Allen thinks that auditors should have their own classification within the UA, since they won't be handling refrigerant or soldering. They will, however, need to know blower door testing, thermography and combustion analysis. The union ran a 40-hour class on energy auditing at its annual school in Ann Arbor, Mich., but that was for workers with a lot of experience.

ASHRAE recognizes three levels of energy auditing, Borst explained. Level 1 is a walk-through looking for “low-hanging fruit.” The contractor would look at the building envelope, HVAC systems, and lighting, and ask for the utility bills to make sure the building is paying the correct rates. Level 3 involves extensive computer modeling of every mechanical and electrical system in the building.

Mike Star, an engineer at Lane Associates Inc., Island Park, N.Y., noted that sales people need a lot of green training too so that they're comfortable presenting options to customers. Borst noted that an MSCA sales class this coming April will include green topics.

Klingler recounted one job where he ended up being a subcontractor to the chiller supplier, which was too far down the food chain for him. Star recommended partnering with other contractors, especially electrical contractors, or even, Borst suggested, a landscape irrigation contractor.

There are plenty of sales opportunities for contractors in the green aftermarket. Turchetta explained that there's a difference between commissioning, re-commissioning and retro-commissioning. New buildings are commissioned. An existing building that has been commissioned can be re-commissioned to make sure it's still running properly. A building that was never commissioned to begin with can be retro-commissioned.

Many of the fixes can be easy. Borst said he saved one building 33% because it was improperly pressurized. That saved the owner so much money that Borst now presses customers to roll half of any energy savings back into energy-saving measures. He also performs Energy Star benchmarking.

TAGS: Green