Publisher’s Note: We LOVE sharing interesting case studies in C&R! In this article, David Hart shares his knowledge from years of experience in HVAC and duct cleaning, and as an inventor and innovator in the cleaning and restoration industry. We are sharing this story with you in multiple formats! You can read the case study below, and also dive deeper in the how-tos of the work itself, plus selling and marketing these services, in the podcast! Enjoy!
After 30 years in the industry, 25 years of business ownership and 15 years of equipment engineering and design, I’ve seen and handled just about every situation imaginable when it comes to HVAC cleaning and restoration. Homes, commercial buildings, fire and mold remediation, meth and crime scene restoration- I’ve performed all these services, authored articles on some and written the guidelines for others (the most recent of which was the guidelines for the HVAC portion of fentanyl remediation for the Microbial Warrior Academy).
I love when a large, unique and/or challenging job comes along, so when I was asked in January of 2020 to clean and treat the HVAC system in a tribal casino on the California Coast, I enthusiastically accepted. Having cleaned and restored ducts in hospitals, stores, warehouses, sky-rises and prisons, I was no stranger to the big stuff, but a casino just sounded extra cool.
All forced air systems have a lot more commonalities than differences, they’re made up of three main parts. There’s return ducting (where the ambient air re-enters the HVAC system), air handler(s) (where the air is either heated or cooled) and supply ducting (the largest part of the system, a network of ducting that distributes the heated or cooled air into the different areas of the structure). The difference is mostly in the size of the systems. Since we use the modern positive air method of duct cleaning, we’re able to use the exact same equipment on huge commercial buildings with massive duct runs that we do to clean the HVAC system in small homes.
The reason the positive air method (we use the RamAir system) is so adaptable, is because we use the airflow generated by the HVAC’s air handler, as opposed to the negative air method which is limited to whatever amount of airflow the machine (portable or truck) provides. The only equipment we need to bring to the job site is an air compressor, air hoses, agitation accessories (blasting balls and whips) and a HEPA vacuum. The amount of airflow generated by the air handler is always the perfect amount for the particular duct system to which it’s attached. In the case of homes, this is a couple/few thousand CFM; in the case of large commercial buildings, it can be as much as 50,000 CFM. I mention this, because it’s one of the secrets to our huge success with commercial HVAC cleaning. We can do a better job of cleaning more ducts in less time, and we’re able to tackle way bigger jobs than can be done by our competitors using the older, more limited negative air method.
Since cleaning the HVAC at the Cher-Ae Heights Casino on the California Coast in 2020, we’ve performed duct cleaning at seven casinos along the Pacific Coast, the most recent of which was The Mill Casino in Coos Bay, Oregon.
Walking onto The Mill Casino’s 65,000 square foot gaming floor and looking up, you see an impressive network of 4 foot diameter duct runs spanning hundreds of feet across the 30 foot high ceiling. It’s as much a work of art as it is functional. The aesthetic appeal of the ducts, however, is only on the outside. Hidden inside the ducts was a buildup of dust and cigarette smoke that had accumulated over the course of 28 years. Restoring the network of ducting to a clean condition would certainly improve the air quality of the casino. And, since the pandemic, most of the tribal casinos have opted to move forward with a no smoking policy, so it’s the perfect time to rid the HVAC of all that nasty buildup. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
Most maintenance departments for buildings with high ceilings have their own scissor lifts, which they let us use, saving us the cost and hassle of having to rent. Like I mentioned earlier, the three parts of a forced air system are return ducting, air handler(s) and supply ducts. Most large commercial buildings like the casino have air handlers on the rooftop, called RTUs (rooftop units). We typically address the ducts first, then concentrate on the RTUs.
Since these runs are so long and large in diameter, we seal off several of the openings on a single run, which allow us to clean 100 foot sections at a time. This cuts down on the number of points from which we introduce our agitation tools, making better use of our time, and it dramatically improves the rate of airflow within the duct, which increases the efficiency of our cleaning. Using an air compressor powered whip, we agitate the duct walls. The airborne debris is picked up by the 50,000 CFM flow of air generated by the air handler and is directed toward our HEPA vacuums. Watching all the dust and debris storming onto the clear polycarbonate collection plate just before entering the vacuum is always a sight to behold. It still gets me excited, and it shows the customer (in this case the facilities director) the substantial amount of dust and debris we’re removing. Working our way across the gaming floor, we’re able to methodically knock out the return and supply duct portion of the job with relative ease.
The air handler portion can be either the hardest or easiest part of the job, depending on factors such as environment (coastal RTUs, for example, tend to be quite corroded) and how well they’ve been maintained by the facility. In the casinos we’ve done, the range has varied from little more than changing the filters to a complete suiting up in PPE and getting into them with brushes and cleaning them by hand (the 50,000 CFM RTUs are the size of a railroad car).
Feedback from the facilities directors after an HVAC cleaning include “we’ve noticed a substantial difference in the air quality and overall cleanliness of the casino following the HVAC cleaning” and “our accounting department reports that we’re saving thousands of dollars a month in cooling costs since having the HVAC cleaned.”
Both rewarding and fun, we’ve enjoyed each of the casino jobs we’ve done, and look forward to more.
Anybody looking to get into HVAC cleaning on any level, whether it be homes, commercial, disaster remediation, forensic restoration or any combination of, I strongly recommend looking into HVAC cleaning. It’s the biggest bang-for-your-buck I know, is an undersaturated market with plenty of demand, and the financial reward is exceptional.
I’ve found that marketing for commercial HVAC cleaning produces the best results by targeting commercial property management companies.Creating a relationship with management companies can generate a steady flow of work. We also target specific building types, such as medical facilities, transportation, etc., catering the advertisements to each specific industry.
The best way I’ve found to reach these companies is by purchasing a contact list from a data resale company. There are some scam companies out there that sell fake contact information, so you want to be careful. I’ve personally had really good results working with Alesco Data.
The lists you purchase should include company names, physical addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, in addition to company size, number of employees, and other pertinent information. One thing I really like about Alesco, is that they also include the name of the person in charge of building management at each location.
We’ve had the best results from combining email blast with postcard mailing. For email advertising, you’ll need a platform through which to blast your digital advertisements. For this, I prefer 1point Interactive, as they provide straightforward, easy to navigate templates and their pricing is quite reasonable. We alternate between email blasting and postcards, occasionally throwing in a round of phone calls.
Upon completion of each cleaning, it’s a great idea to ask for a testimonial, they go a long way when incorporated into your advertising.
To anybody interested, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. After 30 years in the industry my passion has developed into helping others along the path of this rewarding, highly lucrative service offering.