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FOCUS - HVAC & Plumbing - HVAC business heats up

image Sam Kelly, President, New Balance A/C, Houston, TX

HOUSTON - What is the state of HVAC right now in Houston? I think it’s quietly optimistic. As much as we try not to be, we’re tied to the temperature swings. When it’s really cold in the winters or hot in the summers, we’re busy. We try to promote maintenance and all of those things year-round, and every year is a challenge.




    I’ve noticed with the economy from 2008-09 to now, it’s gotten better every year. With the political uncertainty that was going on before the election and now the post-election issues that are going on, I think it’s causing some people to hesitate. We’re going to need air conditioning no matter what happens, but I think it’s keeping people from reaching into their wallets for $10,000 systems that they’ve wanted to do the last two summers.  We’re just now getting people to move on that type of stuff where they have been putting it off for two years.
    I’m a firm believer in global warming and greenhouse gas. Some people are pushing that as not being real, and unfortunately, it’s very real. In our case, we’re better off because if it does get warmer in more days of the year, we will be more in demand. I’d rather not be busy for that reason.

With Houston being so big and busy have you seen a number of outside contractors coming in to the area?
    I’m not for sure about that in our field. There are 100,000 to 150,000 people moving into Houston each year. I think a lot of people are transferring people here, big corporations and stuff. I don’t think there is a lot of outside competition coming in and taking our work from us.

Do you have any big problems going on in the industry right now?
     I think the big issue for everyone right now is finding qualified help or young people willing to learn this trade. When we get them, we really embrace them. We pay for their training and give them as much as we can.
    I think the future is going to need hands-on people. The Internet and computers can only do so much for us. They’re not going to install things for us. They’re just going to design it. It’s going to take people with skills to make this happen.

Do you feel like there is enough training out there but it is not be utilized?

    I think there’s a problem with the school structure.  As far as junior high, and then in high school, they’re pushing them into college. I know my peers from the last generation went to the trade fairs and school fairs to try and get students interested.
    The counselors, themselves, were pushing them out and not letting them talk to the kids. There was this idea that if you don’t go to college, you’ll lose out in the end. It’s so unfair because it’s untrue and there are so many people that are not capable to go to college. We need people in trades.

Do you see any changes coming in the industry as far as materials, technology or equipment?

    It’s changing dramatically and really fast. It is all going to “smart” homes and computers. Everything has a motherboard on it, and they talk to each other. You can access it from your phone or computer.
    The other thing is the disparity between the U.S. and the rest of the world on what type of equipment we have. In the rest of the world, 97 percent of it uses mini-splits, like Frederick or Mitsubishi. That is what you see in Europe and Asia. Only about five percent of people in the U.S. are using mini-splits but it is growing by around 33 percent each year.

How has R-22 being phased out affected the industry?
    It is causing a big stir because most companies are charging over $100 a pound for it right now. It’s going to be completely phased out in 2018, so they are going to sell off the stock that they have now. It’s quadrupled the price in the last three years. They’re having some replacement Freon, but when you change your outside condenser to the new refrigerant, you have to change the system. Instead of having to change a condenser for $2,000, they have to do a system for $10,000. That’s the change that we have to deal with.

Have there been any costs increases on your side?
    Not really. It has stayed the same with the economy. Equipment prices usually go up 2-3 percent a year. That has been going on at least a decade. The biggest spike is the Freon and precious metals.
What are some of the rewards of the industry?

    It is the job satisfaction of making somebody comfortable or saving them money on their electric bill. It’s just something that we can do for someone that many people cannot.
    The real reward is having second and third generation customers. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years, and I’m able to take care of their needs.

What are the keys to being successful?

    I read the other day “The only thing that needs to be in place is that you have to love the thing you do. If you don’t love what you do, you won’t be able to deal with the ups and downs that make you successful.” If you love what you do, everything else follows.

What can you tell me about your company?

    We focus, primarily, on residential retrofit change outs. We do service, maintenance and replacing people’s air conditioning units. We do some new construction but not too often. We do 30 percent commercial service, maintenance and changing equipment in, mainly, the Greater Houston area.–cs

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Chris Schoonover chris@constructionnews.net