Toward the end of his talk, Channing Starke of Ambler, Pa.-based Air-Vent Duct Cleaning encouraged his audience to enter the energy-management arena
"There is an increased awareness in energy waste," said Starke during his March 8 session. "Since you folks are already there, you can do this. Why us? We are equipped with vacuums, sprayers, pressure washers and experience. This is part of IAQ. This is one of the reasons we got into ducts to begin with."
Each speaker at the National Air Duct Cleaners Association's 17th annual convention, held March 5-8 at the Hyatt Regency, made similar pleas. It's one of the reasons the association selected "Think big!" as its convention motto. The presenters' overall message was this: You may be in duct cleaning, but you can do so much more.
"If you just think outside the box, there are so many opportunities," Starke said. "By adding services, you can only strengthen your customer relationship."
Robert Hinderliter of Fort Worth, Texas' Delco Cleaning Systems, was adamant about putting power washing in contractors' repertoires at his March 6 discussion, "Power Washing Equipment and Applications." He called it "a natural add-on" to NADCA members' present customer base for both commercial and residential services.
"Normally this expansion included surface concrete cleaning, wood-deck cleaning, exterior building restoration, kitchen-exhaust cleaning, house washing and vehicle fleet washing," said Hinderliter. "With this in mind, we would like to offer some things for consideration as you plan to expand your existing business or start a new one."
Under pressureIn his opinion, evaporate and condenser coils can be cleaned efficiently with a pressure washer, provided extreme care is taken, along with attention to detail. There are several chemicals for cleaning coils, but he noted that for more soiled coils, pressure washing is required.
"Care must be taken so the spray is applied parallel to the fins with a wide spray angle nozzle. Depending upon the operator, pressures from 200 to 3,000 psi (pounds per square inch) may be used," he said, adding that with the higher pressures, more care must be taken. "The operator needs to vary the distance appropriate to the strength of coil fins so that no damage results."
While in the power-washing field, one could offer kitchen-grease exhaust cleaning, too, noting that "there are more millionaires in the kitchen-grease exhaust cleaning business than any other area of power washing."
"The main reason being that restaurants are required to have periodic cleaning by regulatory agencies and insurance companies," he said. "It is the only large market of the power-washing business that is regulatory driven."
During his talk, Hinderliter gave tips on choosing the correct pressure washer, warning attendees to stay away from home-improvement stores like Lowe's and Home Depot. He said typical consumer units are designed for a 100-hour life, with 20 hours of annual use. Typical commercial/industrial washers are designed for several thousand hours of use.
Typical start-up cost ranges from $200 for a consumer-grade electric pressure washer to less than $10,000 for a commercial, trailer-mounted, hot high-pressure washer with accessories, he said.
Joining the war on drugsIt will take more than a power washer to clean a house or apartment that's been used to make the drug methamphetamine.
Thomas Boecher should know. The vice president of DeLisle Associates Ltd. in Portage, Mich., said the company has been hired several times to clean western Michigan labs shut down by police and drug enforcement officials. It pays well, he said, but may not be for everybody.
Boecher gave a 90-minute report on the explosion of underground methamphetamine labs across the United States. The certified hazardous materials manager pointed out everything you always wanted - and maybe didn't want - to know regarding the dangerous manmade drug and the destruction caused by the labs used to make or "cook" the drug.
Methamphetamine, commonly called "meth" and sometimes "ice," is a derivative of the stimulant amphetamine, often called "speed" by those who use it without a prescription. Users, who may smoke, snort or ingest the drug, feel a powerful high that may last up to 12 hours.
According to the U.S. government's Office of National Drug Control Policy, about 12 million Americans over age 12 report using meth at some time in their lives. The highest use is seen on the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, with the drug making its way east.
According to drug experts, meth is comparatively easy to make from over-the-counter medications and other readily available legal substances. This has led to the growth of meth labs, many of them located in houses, apartments and basements. Making the drug produces a substantial amount of chemical waste, which contractors such as Boecher are being called in to remove.
Opportunity... or problem?Because some NADCA members are already involved in cleaning mold and other pollutants, Boecher said that this might be another opportunity, though he warned that one should tread carefully. He said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration awards contracts to various "cleanup" contractors across the country.
Boecher said his company, which has been providing asbestos removal and other industrial hygiene services for many years, stepped into this new area due mainly to the proliferation of meth labs in and around the Kalamazoo, Mich., area. He said what started in California and the West Coast is now moving and spreading across the Midwest.
"It will hit the East Coast sooner than we'd all like it to," he predicted.
The decontamination issues are what make the business most volatile. According to Boecher, there are just too many questions and not enough answers to assist businesses or homeowners in conducting safe and effective cleanups.
A few states Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Missouri, California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Tennessee have guidelines regarding cleanup work at such drug labs, but that does not necessarily mean these guidelines are foolproof, he cautioned.
"Due to the uniqueness of the contaminants found in clandestine labs and the variables involved in the extent of remediation, this is a hot topic among industry professionals," said Boecher. "Industry guidelines and state standards indicate if a cleanup criterion cannot be achieved for either air or surface contamination, then the building component should be removed from the area."
Making - often called "cooking" - or using methamphetamine often results in a wholly contaminated HVAC system, Boecher said. Most state guidance programs start with "airing out" structures that previously contained meth labs. After that, the next step is getting rid of the visibly chemically contaminated (etched or stained) sinks, bathtubs and toilets that are too difficult to clean. It also means disposing of the absorbent materials in the home, such as carpeting.
It can be hard to determine if the dwelling can ever be made livable, Boecher said.
"Studies are inconclusive regarding permeation rates of chemicals into different building components," he said. "That's why there are liability issues. A toxicological review is the only true gauge to determine if occupants can be susceptible to levels remaining.
"That's the best you can do," he said.
Tips on cleaning coilsWhen it comes to cleaning the contamination on air-conditioning coils, however, the prognosis is much better.
Tom Yacobellis of Ductbusters in Dunedin, Fla., gave a review of the NADCA's coil-cleaning guideline, considered a compliance guide for the association's 2006 edition of "Assessment, Cleaning and Restoration of HVAC Systems," often referred to as "ACR 2006."
"As we learn more about indoor air quality problems, their prevention, and solutions, we have identified several common problem areas," said Yacobellis in his March 8 session. "One of these is cooling coils."
According to Yacobellis, it is generally accepted that some form of mechanical scrubbing is effective in removing a thin layer of pollutants from a surface. However, he maintained that no matter how creative coil-cleaner manufacturers are in formulating foam-producing techniques, which expands and helps push soil from between fins, "we fall short of aggressive, direct mechanical action."
"Thus," he concluded, "much of any established biofilm remains undisturbed after cleaning."
Some of the techniques that are designed to help resolve this issue include applying heat, designed to enhance the chemical action.
Hot spots"As a rule, the hotter your cleaning mixture is, the more effective it will be," he said.
Other options to correct the problem include applying water pressure, providing a thorough rinsing, or removing the coil to a cleanup area. Yacobellis also noted there are a number of coil-cleaner choices available for a technician, but this might not be a good thing. He thought some understanding of cleaning technology would lead a tech to a more informed choice.
"The more we learn about indoor air quality, the more we become convinced that a proper coil hygiene strategy is vital to any maintenance program," he said.
In addition to coil cleaning, Yacobellis discussed the proposed standard language for coil reconditioning, which has been placed in "ACR 2006."
"Evaporative-coil reconditioning involves both coil inspections and coil cleaning," he said. "An inspection always begins the coil-reconditioning process. The substances on the evaporative coil help determine the initial selection of the cleaning protocol."
According to Yacobellis, evaporative-coil reconditioning will use two types of cleaning methods. Both types require usage of HEPA-filtered negative-air machines when exhausting within a facility. HEPA filters are recommended, but not required, when machines are externally exhausted, he said.
"The evaporative coil must be physically isolated from the duct system during the cleaning process to ensure disrupted particulate does not migrate to or redeposit on unintended areas," he said.
Sidebar 1: Safety Award winners announced at conventionThe National Air Duct Cleaners Association announced its 2005 Safety Award and Outstanding Safety Award winners at a March 7 banquet.
Companies must submit copies of their Occupational Safety and Health Administration's workplace-injury records. Companies with few cases of work-related illnesses and injuries are recognized.
The Outstanding Safety Award winners were:Chemiclene Inc., Linden, N.J.
Cochrane Ventilation Inc., Wilmington, Mass.
Delta Industrial Services Inc., Cleveland
Duct & Vent Cleaning of America Inc., Springfield, Mass.
Ductworks Inc., Wheat Ridge, Colo.
Dusty Ducts Inc., Forest, Va.
EMS Ice Inc., Chesapeake, Va.
Kleen Air Service Corp., Chicago
Larry Pearson, Bradenton, Fla.
Mavo Systems Inc., Fridley, Minn.
Midwest Environmental Solutions Inc., St. Peters, Md.
Power Vac America, Houston
Sani-Vac Service Inc., Warren, Mich.
Service-Tech Corp., Cleveland
Surface Maintenance Systems, Medway, Mass.
Vac Systems Industries, Burnsville, Minn.
The Safety Award winners were:
AAA Heating and Cooling Inc., Portland, Ore.
Air Conveyance Treatment Services, St. Louis
Air Quality Specialists Inc., Glendale, Ariz.
Bristol Environmental Inc., Bristol, Pa.
Clean Air Systems Inc., Holland, Ohio
Clean Air Systems of Louisiana Inc., Stonewall, La.
Comfort Systems USA/Accurate Air Systems, Houston
Duct-Clean Corp., Stratford, Conn.
DuctMedic, Lincoln, Neb.
Doc's Super Vac LLC, Fort Collins, Colo.
EnviroBate Metro, Minneapolis
Guardian Power Cleaning Inc., Manalapan, N.J.
Hughes Environmental, Louisville, Ky.
ICI LLC, Dumfries, Va.
Indoor Air Specialists, Tallahassee, Fla.
Indoor Technologies Inc., Fairmont, Minn.
LCS Kleen-Aire Inc., Springfield, Mo.
Lumas Air Inc., Los Angeles
McAfee Heating and Air Conditioning Co., Kettering, Ohio
Mighty Air Ducts, Oakwood Village, Calif.
National Catastrophe Restoration Inc., Wichita, Kan.
Phoenix Industrial Cleaning Inc., Bellwood, Ill.
Professional Abatement & Remediation Technologies, St. Louis
Professional Duct Cleaners of Michigan LLC, Howell, Mich.
R. Carter & Associates, Prichard, Ala.
Richard's Hood & Duct Cleaning Service, Jeffersonville, Ind.
Service-Tech Corp., Clearwater, Fla.
Strategic Filtration Inc., Houston
Trinity Environmental Specialists Inc., Roseville, Minn.
Ventcorp, Novi, Mich.
Ventilation Power Cleaning, Seattle
Weather Engineers Inc., Jacksonville, Fla.
Sidebar 2: Duct cleaners need Web sites, convention speaker saysThe Internet: it's so 1996. By now, everybody - or at least every business - has a Web site, right?
By Michael McConnell
Not exactly, according to Ray Bert of MarketOne Communications, the company that recently overhauled NADCA's Web site, www.nadca.com.
Bert, the company's communications director, gave members a presentation on "Online Marketing: Landing More Business With a Web site" March 8.
According to his estimates, a little less than half of NADCA's 900 member companies currently have Web sites. Those that don't are missing out on a great and relatively inexpensive marketing opportunity, he said. They give a company exposure and add credibility and professionalism.
"Marketing via a Web site gives you a way to reach a lot of people," Bert said. It's the only way some customers look for products and services.
"Kids coming out of college don't know what it's like to not quickly log on, type in a few keywords and find what they're looking for," he said.
In some cases, Bert added, a Web site is even more important than signs and other advertising methods, because sometimes companies can actually complete sales online, without anyone having to talk to an employee.
For duct-cleaning companies that have yet to venture onto the Net, Bert said they should start by choosing a Web address - often called a "domain name."
Not Simple"It's not always as easy as you think," he said. "A lot of the domain names are already gone." Some were bought by companies years ago; others are being hoarded by speculators who hope to sell the names to the highest bidder.
Bert suggested keeping the Web address relatively short. Shorter, uncomplicated addresses are easier to remember. Make sure it makes sense for your company.
After you have secured a domain name, the next step is to create the site. This will determine what visitors see when they find it on the Internet. Unless you have a creative person on staff well versed in Web design, he suggested hiring an outside firm.
"Design is a very subjective thing," Bert said, adding that companies should audition different agencies.
If you're not sure what to put on your site, look at other duct cleaners' Web sites, as well as your office, he said.
"In your office, even if you don't know where to start, you probably have all the info (you need) already there."
At a minimum, the site should tell visitors about the company, what it does and how it stands out from the competition. This essential information should be on the first page, or "home" page of the site, he added.
And while the proliferation of high-speed, low-cost Internet services has meant that more people today can enjoy flashy, highly visual content than they could when most Web connections were over phone lines, Bert cautions not to overdo it.
"In many cases, less really is more," he said. "Some people never get past the home page." Make sure the essential contact information is there.
"Try to ask yourself, ‘What do (Web site visitors) need the most?' It's not an easy thing at all - to be concise, to give the right information."
Also know that many of the major Internet search engines, such as Google.com and Yahoo, rely on words to find Web sites, Bert added. So a Web address that has "duct cleaning" featured on many of its pages might elicit better results, meaning more people will find and visit your site, instead of the billions of other Web pages.
"Google notices and cares if you have ‘duct cleaning' in a bigger font on your Web site," he said.
Another tip: Linking your Web site to other sites, such as NADCA.com, also improves search engine results.
For example, NADCA's Web site, which the Washington, D.C.-based MarketOne redesigned and is mentioned on many other Web sites, gets hundreds of thousands of visitors a month, Bert said.
After you've got a Web address and the site designed, you'll likely need a company to "host" the Web site, which means to keep it online. Some sites go down due to "hackers" - people who vandalize sites - as well as other technical problems.
However, there's a big difference in the quality of such Web-hosting firms, Bert said. Some will offer to maintain the site for as little as $10 a month. But such low-cost service may mean that your site gets less traffic than one that's kept up-to-date. Bert advised against skimping on Web-hosting services.
"The Internet is going to be the dominant media for some time to come," he said.