Dennis Laughlin (left) of Arzel Zoning Technology discusses some of his company's products with Ralph Preffer of Filter Service and Installation of Cheswick, Pa.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - "Imagining the Future" was the theme for the National Air Duct Cleaners Association's 12th annual convention. And according to many of the duct cleaners in attendance, the future of the industry is bright.

While not as large as some of the other industry trade shows, the February 7-10 gathering at Walt Disney World's Coronado Springs Resort still attracted more than 400 people from around the world who are committed to duct cleaning and concerned about indoor air quality (IAQ).

Show officials said the meeting and exposition was a huge success. IAQ and duct-cleaning product companies displayed their latest products in almost 70 booths. Some displays were so large, they had to be held outside.

"It was great," said NADCA Executive Director Shaine McMahon. "The exhibitors seemed very happy. They were extremely pleased with the amount of traffic."

Helping to increase the number of exhibit hall visitors was the reintroduction of the free "Exhibit Hall Only" pass, McMahon said. This pass allowed a visitor to browse the exhibit hall without paying the fees to attend the seminars, meetings or other events. "We generated about 150 extra people just by way of that pass," she said.

Several exhibitors had been in Atlanta a few weeks earlier for the AHR Expo. However, many NADCA exhibitors said they preferred this show, because unlike the AHR Expo, which covers all facets of the hvac industry, here they know almost every NADCA attendee is going to be interested in their products. "I've been overwhelmed," said Video-Aire/Enviro-Mold IAQ Services president Bob Allen of business at his company's booth. He said duct-cleaning services will soon be a must-have add on service for hvac cleaners and contractors.

Jeff Whittemore, president of ZipWall LLC of Cambridge, Mass., demonstrates how easy ZipWall's plastic dust barrier can be assembled.

Looking ahead

The convention was officially kicked off by corporate strategist Michael Fortino, president and founder of The Fortino Group, who delivered the keynote address, "Markets, Machines and Milestones of this Millenium." Fortino is a well-known public speaker who has been featured in Time and Newsweek. His speech focused on the present and future trends that would impact every business from fast food to duct cleaning. Innovation should be encouraged, he said.

During the high energy, hour-long presentation, Fortino told NADCA members he had a lot of respect for their profession. He cautioned against what he called "charbroiled thinking" - a reference to the fast food industry where employees are expected to do things the same way all the time.

While that might be fine for making burgers, Fortino said, it doesn't work for an industry like duct cleaning, where technology and the relative young age of the business mean change will be fast and frequent.

He compared the marketing of many products - even duct cleaning services - to the painting of a picture, and the better picture you create in the mind of your prospect, the more success you'll have.

Show organizers also held a number of educational programs and meetings to teach NADCA members about the latest developments in the IAQ and duct cleaning fields. Some sessions, such as "Profit Opportunity with Emerging Technology in Hvac Hygiene," were business-oriented, while "Indoor Air Quality Maintenance and Bio-Remediation Protocols" and similar topics were more technical.

W & W Manufacturing representative Edward Wilson shows how to use the company's Mini Dyna Probe brushes.

Future of IAQ

A highlight of the annual meeting was an interactive panel discussion on "The Future of IAQ." NADCA President John Srofe moderated the meeting with Holly Bailey, president of the Indoor Air Quality Association; former NADCA President Charlie Cochrane; Hal Levin of the Building Ecology Research Group; Dr. Richard Shaughnessy of the University of Tulsa (Oklahoma) - Indoor Air Quality Program; Bert Locke Jr., director of property management for the PM Realty Group and attorney Don Gibson from the law firm of Gray, Harris and Robinson.

Bailey told the group that the public is becoming more aware of IAQ problems and with the median age of the U.S. population rising, more adults will be spending the bulk of their time indoors. She said one of the biggest challenges in the next five years for the industry will continue to be educating the public and getting scientific research on duct cleaning to support field-based findings.

Levin said that while interest continues to rise in countries such as Japan and much of Europe, Latin America and other developing nations are starting to take notice of IAQ issues. He also said the trend toward "green," or more environmentally-friendly building practices will boost IAQ awareness.

Attendees were encouraged to participate in the discussion. "The panelists were very knowledgeable and eager to answer questions," said Terry Bray from Air-Vent Duct Cleaning Inc. of Ambler, Pa. "They raised some very important issues on a topic that should be of interest to everyone involved in this business."

Bob Allen, owner of Fort Worth, Texas-based Video-Aire/Enviro-Mold IAQ Services said his mold remediation training seminars are very popular.

A look at mold

Another well-attended seminar was "Hvac Mold Remediation: Tools and Techniques," presented by Melinda Wood Allen from Video-Aire/Enviro-Mold IAQ Services of Fort Worth, Texas. Allen explained how to visually identify certain types of mold and bacteria and what symptoms to look for in occupants who may be suffering from mold-related sick building syndrome. She explained the importance of not causing a panic among the public and protecting employees from contamination dangers.

NADCA officials used the annual meeting to present a final draft of NADCA's new industry standard for the "Assessment, Cleaning and Restoration of Hvac Systems," ACR 2000. Pending member approval, it is scheduled to replace NADCA Standard PC-01 within the next few months. Some of the topics now covered in the standard include: frequency of inspections for hvac systems, items to evaluate during each inspection, definitions of acceptable cleaning methods and biological contamination.

It is expected the new NADCA standard will also now address the growing use of fiberglass duct and the special handling it requires. The new standard also eliminates many of the tables some NADCA members found confusing.

Also being released for final review was NADCA's new marketing video. The video was designed to sell commercial clients on the benefits of regular hvac cleaning, explain the proper methods of cleaning and the importance of hiring a NADCA-certified shop to perform the work.

At every annual meeting, NADCA offers members the chance to take the Air Systems Cleaning Specialist (ASCS) certification exam. NADCA requires that all certified shops have at least one ASCS-designated person on staff. Most member companies have two or more. This year, approximately 100 technicians took the exam.

Plans are already under way for the 2002 meeting, scheduled to be held Feb. 25-28 at the Rio Suites in Las Vegas. One change NADCA officials would like to make is extending the hours the exhibit hall is open. "The one criticism was that there were not enough (exhibit hall) hours," McMahon said.

But most attendees expressed sentiments similar to those of Dale Cardwell, a duct cleaning technician with Home Heating of Fargo, N.D. This was his third NADCA convention. He said the 2001 show was "by far" the best one yet. "The convention is great. You get a lot of information," Cardwell said. "A lot of this information you won't pick up in the newspaper."