NASHVILLE, Tenn. - If duct cleaners want to grow their business, it’s all about alliances.

That was the bottom line from two sessions at the National Air Duct Cleaners Association’s annual meeting, held March 4-8 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort.

Ductmate Industries Inc. showed off a lot of its duct doors, connectors and other supplies at NADCA’s trade show.

Interaction

Tratt said it was important that duct cleaners know and understand the interaction between an HVAC system and the building’s exterior, “as this directly affects the health, safety, durability, comfort and energy efficiency of the building.”

“Understanding their relationship helps us improve building performance,” he said. “And improving building performance is a proven business opportunity.”

Tratt went into detail as to why many buildings “suck” today.

“Believe it or not, your building probably does indeed ‘suck,’ ” he said. “High-rise, low-rise, office or residential, it makes no difference,” he said. “The truth is that just about every building does it.”

It matters because buildings that suffer from uncontrolled airflow, or sucking, cost more money to heat and cool, are drafty and uncomfortable, have poor indoor air quality, and “generate more occupant complaints than buildings where air leakage is properly controlled,” he said.

“Yes, it actually sucks in air at the bottom and lets it out the top and sides,” said Tratt. “This phenomenon is called stack, or chimney, effect and is the cause of many of the everyday problems which occupants complain about to building owners and managers.”

Stack effect is usually accompanied by two others, wind and ventilation, which change pressure and can cause uncontrolled airflow.

“None of this could take place without leaks, cracks, gaps and holes in the shell or envelope of your building,” said Tratt. “If you don’t believe it, try sucking through a straw with your finger over the end.”

'Envelopes'

Tight envelopes are the best solutions to stack effect and wind pressure. If air cannot leave the top of a building, it will not enter the bottom, he said.

“The mechanical system should not be used to try to overcome problems caused by poor envelope design and construction,” he said. “Pressurizing buildings in the attempt to counterattack stack effect wastes energy.”

Tratt said specialty contractors control air leakage by sealing gaps, cracks and holes with appropriate materials and systems. Their aim is to repair or create an air barrier. According to Tratt, the priorities for sealing to prevent stack effect are: the top and bottom, the shafts and finally the outer shell.

“The common solution is to use ventilation to improve comfort conditions,” he said. “Such strategies do not improve energy efficiency and do not prevent moisture damage. Upgrading the air tightness of a building, however, can always improve comfort, increase energy savings, and extend building durability at the same time.”

Tratt explained several examples of how fixing air leakage in buildings saved the respective building owners money in energy bills, plus improved the air quality for tenants.

“Remember that all buildings are systems,” he said. “Working with building envelope specialists could be your next big business opportunity.”

Meyer Machine & Equipment of Antioch, Ill., was showing the Ranger, the company’s newest, most powerful portable, gas-powered vacuum. J. Merk (right) explains the vacuum’s features to attendees.

Opportunities

Since the majority of restoration contractors are independent, Richardson said each could use the services of a professional, qualified duct cleaner.

“In some cases, these companies are equipped to address air-system issues themselves,” he said. “Of those that do their own IAQ work, more often than not, they are not NADCA certified, though some are. Your NADCA certification makes you a viable candidate to become a trusted business partner.”

Richardson explained what these respective companies do. When it comes to smoke damage, he said source removal - or, duct cleaning - is the most cost-effective process to restore a soot-saturated air system. However, that doesn’t work with insulated ducts.

“If you have insulated air ducts and the insulation gets wet or moldy, it cannot be effectively cleaned and should be removed and replaced,” said Richardson.

In addition to professionalism and certification, NADCA members can bring competitive pricing, he added.

“Can you offer a 20 percent discount to a restoration contractor and still make a profit? I think you can,” said Richardson. “Restoration contractors will likely show your air system cleaning as a subcontracted service, with an overhead and profit markup (of 20 percent). In exchange for all of their air system services, would you be willing and able to provide a 20 percent discount? Again, I think it makes sense.”

To produce even more opportunities, Vermeulen encouraged members to join his Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification and become certified in other aspects of restoration, including carpet cleaning. IICRC currently is approaching 50,000 certified workers.

Coil cleaning, human behavior explained at the show

It may not be surprising that coil restoration was one of the technical topics discussed in length at NADCA’s annual meeting.

After all, coil cleaning was added to the association’s trademark assessment, cleaning and restoration standard two years ago. However, this aspect of HVAC system cleaning, apparently, still poses a challenge to many technicians.

Rather than overlook the issue, NADCA President Bill Lundquist stepped in March 7 to provide practical field knowledge for attendees, covering the equipment, tools, and techniques necessary to effective coil cleaning. His “Tips and Techniques for Coil Restoration” course was even put on a CD-ROM, so attendees could bring it home and use it as a learning tool at their respective business.

What may have surprised most attendees was the topic from keynote speaker Bob Davis of Wilson Learning Worldwide, who zeroed in on the in’s and out’s of human behavior - very different from performing pressure drops and temperature differential tests. In his talk, “Teamwork! Communicating Without Driving People Crazy!”, Davis noted the importance to knowing the four “social styles” of humans and developing an appreciation for the value each style brings to a business.

Stan Richardson from ServPro of Birmingham, Ala., and Cary Vermeulen, president of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, encouraged the nearly 450 NADCA members to build their business by linking up with water-, mold- and smoke-damage restoration contractors. Another option was offered by Steve Tratt of Canham Building Envelope Specialists, who asked members to look into working with building-envelope contractors.

“You can work with a building-envelope specialist to deliver greater benefit for building owners, property managers and homeowners,” said Tratt. “You can help solve previously insoluble problems, increase revenues, and retain customers. It’s a perfect opportunity for you to up-sell.”