“The USGBC's LEED program is a great success,” Dan Chiles, vice president of sales and marketing for Watts Radiant told us at this year's ISH North America, Sept. 28-30, in Chicago. “But it looks at things from an architectural and builder perspective. When it gets to the mechanical room, it really offers no advice.”
Chiles is speaking of the U.S. Green Building Council, a leading nonprofit organization with 6,400 member organizations banded together to encourage sustainable construction methods for the building industry. Its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating SystemÔ offers recognized benchmarks for designing, constructing and operating green buildings.
LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing five key areas:
- Sustainable site development.
- Water savings.
- Energy efficiency.
- Material selection.
- Indoor air quality.
Building projects earn points in these areas and achieve a silver, gold or platinum rating by the USGBC, depending on the total of these points.
Chiles and another notable hydronics insider helped dream up the new trade group. Chiles will serve as chairman of the board. Tom Meyer, who runs Precision Hydronics Corp., a consulting firm that specializes in hydronic design and training, will be the executive director. While these two are well-known to the radiant industry, Meyer says radiant heat “is just a small sliver” and the group's effort will embrace significantly more than just heating.
Rounding out the other officers are Vice Chairman Jerry Weiss, The ESCO Institute, which offers online training and certification for HVAC techs, and Secretary/Treasurer Walter Jann, Legend Valve & Fitting Co.
Although general membership will be open to manufacturers, wholesalers and reps, Meyer says the primary focus will always be on the contractor or, as he puts it, “the guy in the truck.” As the fledgling organization's web site (www.greenmech.org) says: “Everyone talks a good game about national energy independence, but the proof is in the mechanical room. That is where our struggle for a greener future will be won or lost.”
The primary membership benefit for contractors will be education on green products and the processes by which they work in conjunction with all a building's mechanical systems.
“A variable speed pump should be more efficient than a single speed pump,” Meyer explains. “But if that variable speed pump is not installed and maintained properly, it could be more wasteful than the single speed pump.”
Since many green products are, in fact, more expensive, Meyer adds that the concept of “life cycle costing” may be a contractor's first mandatory lesson. At least for pumps, Meyer says Grundfos will allow the group to “de-commercialize” its own training on the subject.
“The more contractors understand about green products,” Meyer adds, “the more they will understand that many of these items cost less in the long run.”
Meyer plans to make most of the education available online. “Lots of contractors can't go places,” he said. “And if the only way to attend a seminar is to travel, it's usually only the bosses who attend. We want the guy in the truck, the guy who's really doing the work.”
Besides education, the GMC will work with the USGBC to establish green practices and with ASHRAE to help specifiers select equipment based on objective standards of performance.
“We're contractors not competitors” Meyer said about his group's potential membership. “ASHRAE is for engineers and the USGBC is for architects and builders. In fact, the USGBC is like an uncle to us.” Meyer is also well-suited to work with ASHRAE since he is currently the engineering group's senior liaison with the USGBC.
Somewhere within these three groups, Meyer believes, is an opportunity to “popularize” green mechanical systems.
“LEED can seem all very theoretical, which is good to some, but not the guy in the truck,” he explains. “ASHRAE 90.1 addresses everything you need to know about air quality. But a contractor will never read the document itself.”
When we talked with Chiles and Meyer, they were deliberating on what to charge for a general membership. “Once you join the group, we want to include everything else - training, reports, whatever - free of any other charges. Obviously, we have to price it right to make it affordable to contractors and allow us to run the show.”
The group has been open to founding members at $7,000 and charter members at $2,500 to help get the organization up and running.
Once the general membership fees are finalized Meyer says recruiting contractors to join will not be a difficult task. “Open the door and watch out,” he adds. “I'd be in that door, too. This is the right place for the right people.”