It's Not Easy Being Green
Hardly a day goes by when a press release doesn’t arrive touting some “green” new product. Toilets, faucets, boilers, furnaces, pumps and every other device that consumes energy or water have some conservation aspect. Manufacturer claims of greenness usually have some justification, but just as with computers, the hardware is useless without the equivalence of software guiding its actions.
Such as, with all due respect to fixture manufacturers, ultra-efficient flushes are pointless if the toilet leaks. The most fuel-efficient boilers are not at all efficient if the piping is skewed or the controls wired improperly. Maximum efficiency from any equipment is obtained only with proper installation and maintenance. This means you contractors and your technicians are the real keys to painting our world green.
Green plumbing and heating constitutes one of the greatest opportunities for this industry since plumbing moved indoors, IMO. The Green Mechanical Council (www.greenmech.org) estimates there are 150 million inefficient mechanical systems in the United States. Apart from normal maintenance and fixes, that’s 150 million repair or replacement jobs with a payback that can be measured in real dollars via energy or water savings. Plenty of business is out there waiting for you to capitalize on it.
Yet, it’s not just about business. People in our industry at all levels show a keen interest in sustainable building as a way to conserve precious resources and diminish greenhouse gases. An anecdote from April’s Wetstock ’08 networking festival sticks in my mind as emblematic of the green movement in our industry.
Organizer Dan Holohan set up 20 tables with cards identifying different topics for discussion. Most of the tables were largely ignored as participants preferred to hob-knob informally around exhibitor booths. Two exceptions to this rule stood out - one table devoted to solar topics, another to Larry Weingarten’s “House on Hummingbird Hill,” an ultra-green residence built by the Weingartens that enables them to live entirely off the electrical grid and with minuscule fuel bills. Those two tables were packed throughout the day.
These signs and many others point to a surge of green interest and idealism that has taken hold in our industry. Many PHC contractors are able, willing and downright anxious to lend their talents toward creating a better world. If they can make a little money doing it, so much the better.
Alas, as Kermit the Frog told us in his poignant song, it’s not easy being green. It requires knowledge of advanced technologies and construction techniques. It is nourished by wisdom in defining good, better, best alternatives for the conservation of resources, and for culling the hype from the genuine in all things green.
A recent development represents a notable advance towards the greening of our industry. In April, the United Association launched a new Green Awareness Certification for its members. It comes from a two-day course titled: “Green Mechanical Systems, Awareness of Fundamental and Emerging Green Technologies,” which covers topics such as energy efficiency, energy management, alternative energy, HVAC systems, solar systems and plumbing.
HVAC Excellence and Ferris State University in Michigan developed the course. Both are founding members of GreenMech, which was formed in January 2007 and at last count has grown to 74 members, including PHC contractors, manufacturers, distributors and various industry trade groups and institutions. Pay a visit to its Web site and you’ll find a blue chip roster of PHC companies involved.
The Green Awareness Certification is a joint effort between the UA, HVAC Excellence, GreenMech and Ferris State’s College of Technology. The certification examinations are administered for the UA by the National Inspection Testing and Certification Corp. (NITC) in coordination with HVAC Excellence. NITC is an accredited certification body by ANSI to the ISO/IEC 17024 conformity standard.
Although this program is aimed specifically at union plumbers and pipefitters, the other organizations involved are nonpartisan, and our industry’s green movement is a phenomenon relevant to union and nonunion participants alike. Certification seems an idea whose time has come if the green concept is to move beyond a state of mind into the realm of measurable professional competence.
There is an abundance of educational resources available from organizations such as GreenMech, HVAC Excellence and the U.S. Green Building Council (www.usgbc.org). Start clicking on some of the Web sites mentioned here and begin going green in a meaningful way.