At a Glance
Commercial and high-end-residential HVAC system design and installation
The Nashville Tennessean reported in July 2011 that the state’s largest solar farm had been constructed as a “learning lab” for its private energy-company sponsor. Meanwhile, Tennessee ranks third in the nation in solar-panel manufacturing, and a $1.2 billion Clarksville plant will begin production of polysilicon, a solar-panel component, in 2012.
This is in Tennessee, where the storied Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) produces inexpensive hydroelectric, coal, and nuclear energy, a regional legacy dating back to the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s. Energy costs remain inexpensive, fulfilling the original Depression-era goals of the TVA, but no matter where the power comes from, Nashville-based Interstate AC Service LLC, a heating, ventilation, and HVAC company, is constantly ensuring its customers use less of it through high-efficiency products and systems.
“Efficiency is the driver of many projects,” vice president Roger Eldridge says. “But many of our commercial customers get pressure from their customers to go green.” Eldridge adds that future energy-cost projections are part of what his firm brings to its customers, both residential and commercial. Plants, schools, office buildings, and other commercial buildings that install new or replacement HVAC systems valued at $200,000 to $500,000 make up about 75 percent of Interstate AC’s business, the rest coming from folks in higher-end residences. With what still are the “lowest utility rates in the US,” Eldridge says, “60 percent of customers purchase 13 SEER [seasonal energy-effieciency ratio] equipment, and the other 40 percent buy in the 14–20 SEER range.” SEER is established by the US Department of Energy, and 13 is the lowest allowed in new equipment.
Top 5 Considerations in Choosing an HVAC System
1. Identifying general objectives helps building owners know their exact goals and hot buttons.
2. It’s good to distinguish applications and understand the type of building and how it will be used. A structure such as a church will need a quiet system, a factory less so.
3. One must assess financial outlays relative to the intangible benefits of going green.
4. It’s important to clarify time frames and to understand how long an owner or tenant plans to be associated with a facility. An ROI calculation is critical.
5. The more flexibility required of the building the more the system must be able to adapt to fluctuating occupancy and varied uses.
Geothermal systems are a popular buy for local customers, whether in commercial or residential applications, and Eldridge even has one in his own home. “It is probably the most efficient system on the market today,” says Swaney Powers, who, with Tony Anderson, Eddie Hutton, Alan Sielbeck, and Eldridge, purchased Interstate AC in 2004. The firm has installed geothermal systems in schools, churches, large residences, and the LEED-certified Tennessee Association of Realtors building, which doubled its building size while keeping energy costs the same through geothermal wells installed under the parking lot.
The strengths of Interstate AC’s business are two-fold: people and technology. “Our success relies on repeat business,” sales manager and partner Tony Anderson says. “When a customer calls with a problem, we try to keep them as happy as possible.” The company’s nearly two-dozen-strong service-and-maintenance truck fleet is operated by select service people, which Anderson considers the core of Interstate AC’s business. “It’s important for us to recruit and retain hardworking and smart people,” he says.
The technological innovations in the HVAC industry evolve at a dizzying pace, even outside the solar, wind, and geothermal spheres. Newer energy-management controls (EMS and BAS) enable managers of multiple buildings to control overall power usage from a single computer, and several kinds of higher-efficiency systems (those in the 14–20 SEER range) include variable refrigerant systems, which are good for schools and other buildings where individual rooms need to be independently controlled. One customer, the Piedmont Natural Gas Company, uses a chilled-water and hot-water boiler device with a variable air-volume system in its LEED Gold facility. Another customer, the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, employs both variable-refrigerant and geothermal systems in its LEED-certified office building.
The energy generated by the TVA has and will continue to generate power for much of the middle Tennessee region. And companies such as Interstate AC are ensuring that power continues to be used as economically as possible—through the use of high-efficiency systems, comprehensive customer care, and innovative technology. The company is helping spread the message that conservation always counts, even when supply is high. ABQ