Brad Kuhlmann, the owner of Midwest Duct Cleaning Services in Shawnee Mission, Kan., talked about refurbishing air handlers March 9.


SAN DIEGO - Some might say it’s time for the National Air Duct Cleaners Association to change its name.

A quick look at the agenda for its March 7-10 annual meeting showed the group’s members are involved in a lot more than just cleaning ductwork: air-handler refurbishment, killing germs with ultraviolet light and coating HVAC systems.

Such a broad-based view of members’ role in the HVAC industry is where NADCA has been heading during the last two decades, Bill Lundquist, the association’s president, noted in a 2007 column in DucTales, the association’s magazine.

“When NADCA was formed in 1989, the organization represented a small group of individuals focused on promoting source removal as the only legitimate approach to cleaning ductwork,” he wrote. “Since then, HVAC cleaning companies of all sizes have begun to take notice of the industry’s many opportunities for expansion. As consumer awareness has grown, ‘duct cleaning’ companies have developed into full-service HVAC inspection, maintenance and restoration businesses.

Something more

“The fundamental question is: ‘Are you a duct cleaner or do you see your profession, your industry and your business as more than that?’” Lundquist asked. “As I think about these questions and speak with NADCA members, more often than not I hear that our members see themselves as more than duct cleaners. More and more NADCA members are learning how to better meet the needs of their clients, while generating new revenue streams in the process.

“Looking ahead, business owners with the foresight, fortitude and focus necessary for bold growth will have a wealth of opportunities to pursue.”

And those opportunities were on display at the group’s San Diego convention. More than 400 members from around the world came to the sunny oceanfront city for the event.

Proving that NADCA members are involved in much more than just cleaning out ducts was Jeremy Stamkos’ March 8 talk: “Developing a Million Dollar HVAC Cleaning Business.”

Stamkos heads Enviroair, a ventilation hygiene service company in Australia, with offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Darw and Brisbane. Stamkos took over the company from his father in 2001 and Enviroair has more than doubled in size since.

He said it takes passion, dedication, persistence, skills and ability to move from the local market to becoming the dominating player in a country. The latter is his company’s goal for 2010. He wants to be a big global company by 2015.

Goals

“You have to have short-term goals and meet each,” Stamkos said. “You have to increase market share in sales, brand recognition, skills and knowledge, and capabilities.”

He said the best ways to achieve brand recognition is advertising, joining industry associations and writing articles for trade publications.

He added that you can’t build a quality business without employing quality people. In his opinion, one can attract quality people by offering a career in a company that has a promising future, offers “decent” salaries - “It’s not a glamorous job,” he added - and opportunities for promotion.

Building a business also means getting rid of workers who are holding you back.

“Having a bad staff member is like cancer,” Stamkos said. “Cut it out before it spreads.”

Speakers Brad Kuhlmann and Ken Summers supplied separate technical sessions. Kuhlmann, owner of Midwest Duct Cleaning Services from Shawnee Mission, Kan., discussed “Tips and Techniques: Air Handler Refurbishment.”

Summers, a 12-year veteran of Comfort Institute, zeroed in on “Duct Leakage: The IAQ Connection.”

Both sessions took place March 9.

Virginia Ferris and Bill Bradford of Ductmate talk with a National Air Duct Cleaners Association convention attendee.

Quality Control

Kuhlmann is a firm believer that quality control and proper documentation are the best ways to demonstrate professionalism. Through multiple pictures, he showed his audience the fine art of drain-pan refurbishment along with insulation removal and replacement.

“Containment of surrounding areas is critical prior to the start of any cleaning to prevent damage to other system components and/or cross contamination of debris,” said Kuhlmann, pointing out that this includes protecting the coils from where cross braces will be coated, and blocking off the return duct so no odors or particulates are drawn through the system and into occupied areas.

“You must employ general worksite containment strategies to address zoning off the work site, protecting the surrounding area and establishing a chain of command,” he said. “Workers and general safety must be considered and all precautions taken to ensure all involved are aware of all the safety parameters.”

In regard to drain pan preparation, Kuhlmann encouraged members to remove all loose debris from the pan, vacuum out standing water in the pan, and where rust and debris has significant accumulation, “You must remove all ‘layers’ in a ‘gross clean’ prior to a final or detail clean,” he said.

Turning his presentation to the art of insulation replacement, the contractor noted that assessing the area is important as a first step in the cleaning process when dealing with fiberglass insulation products like duct liner and duct board.

“You need to understand that fiberglass is porous and dirt, microbial contaminants, smoke odor and moisture can be embedded in the matrix of the liner,” he said. “You are only capable of cleaning the surface.”

Kuhlmann proceeded to show “before” and “after” pictures of insulation liner removal projects. This included an image showing what happens when contractors do not properly clean the surface of an old liner prior to installing a new one.

“It’s a bad day,” he said.

A ‘loop'

For Ken Summers’ IAQ presentation, he encouraged members to always look at the entire HVAC system. While duct leakage may be responsible for some air-quality issues, fixing the leaks may not always solve the issue entirely.

“A duct system should be a closed loop,” he said, before turning to the content of a consumer education booklet from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. “Duct testing is strongly recommended when a new heating and/or air-conditioning unit is being installed. If the existing duct system is leaky and inefficient before the new unit is installed, it will still be leaky and inefficient after the new unit is installed - unless the ducts are tested and sealed by a qualified contractor.

“It does not make sense to install a new, energy-efficient heating and/or air-conditioning unit unless the duct system is also energy efficient.”

To find leaks, Summers encouraged contractors to use a smoke “puffer.” Like Kuhlmann before him, Summers showed many images to show how the tool can be used to spot duct leaks, as well as other leaks in a house.

And just because the ducts have been cleaned, this may not really solve a home’s dust issues. Summers said attic air can contain insulation fibers, pesticide powders, insects and rodent droppings, which, if not addressed, can be spread throughout a duct system. Using filters can solve some issues, too, but “even the best filter can only capture what’s in the airstream,” he said. Oftentimes, he noted, the dust settles onto furniture before getting into the return.

To keep mold and mildew issues at a minimum, Summers stressed keeping a home’s relative humidity under 50 percent. For people allergic to dust mites, he said relative humidity needs to be lower than 45 percent. And don’t rely on a home air conditioner to control summer humidity.

IAQ problems are increasing, which means possible business opportunities for NADCA members, he said. He noted that 20 percent of the population suffers from respiratory allergies, while the number of people with asthma is increasing.

“Cleaning ducts might just be the start for providing answers, but you have to look at the entire home system,” he concluded.

Holly Bailey of Building Environment Consultants spoke March 10 about the importance of filtration in keeping ducts and living spaces clean.

Filtered or unfiltered?

Filtration is also important. That was the message presented by Holly Bailey of Building Environment Consultants Inc., a licensed professional engineer, author and former president of the Indoor Air Quality Association. She hosted “Optimizing IAQ Through Comprehensive Filtration” March 10.

She started her presentation asking NADCA members to consider why they are cleaning ducts. Typically, she said, the answer is to remove construction debris, industrial contaminants, microscopic germs or other general pollutants.

And that should alleviate many occupants’ complaints about the building’s air. However, the reality is oftentimes after a duct cleaning, the number of respiratory complaints from workers, homeowners and other occupants actually goes up.

The culprit, she said, is the act of duct cleaning increases the number of particulates in the air, at least temporarily. Moving ceiling tiles and furniture, running hoses and cutting into the ductwork can all stir up contaminants that were previously stable.

This combined with the harsh chemicals often used to clean office and living spaces and you have a potentially big IAQ problem she said.

Better filtration and air cleaning is the solution, Bailey said.

“You can actually leave the air cleaner than when you walked into it to do the duct cleaning” by using filters and equipment that “scrubs” the air, she said.

She covered some of the types of filters available and their effectiveness on common household substances such as cornstarch, coffee filter “soot,” mold and pollen. Many of these items, as well as even more harmful ones such as formaldehyde, are often encountered in sizes smaller than what’s visible to the human eye, although their odors may linger.

Combining multistage, HEPA or high-efficiency particulate air filters with media designed to absorb odors can end many of these problems - and mean more work and money for NADCA members, she added.

Activated carbon, installed as a second-stage filter, can help with odors and pollutants such as onions, tobacco smoke, cleaning compounds and organic chemicals. Reducing other pollutants and irritants requires specialized filters, but it can be done.

However, don’t think filtration will cure all IAQ problems, she stressed.

“Filtration can help minimize what’s going on, but it’s not going to be an end-all cure,” Bailey said.