The hvac business is an interesting, challenging, and ever-changing industry. It can also offer individuals the opportunity to make a difference in designing, building, operating, and maintaining space comfort. For me, it is a chance to routinely question the processes we use in this business.

Recently, I got this idea to "out-task" IAQ reporting. I'm sure I'm not the first to think about this. It just seems like a natural progression from out-tasking preventive maintenance work orders via website, far away from the building receiving these work orders.

A Niche Is Born

To pursue my new venture, I needed to network the property managers and facility management organizations to build my case that this is a really useful benefit to many a building owner. Just think of how many fewer IAQ complaints a property manager would receive if she were proactive with this IAQ agent watching out for the building occupants.

True, this could have a negative impact on law firms who handle IAQ cases, but then again, these firms could put a "positive spin" on endorsing the IAQ agent as a way to reduce the client's insurance claims. Heck, everyone wins with this approach, and I can make lots of money as the IAQ agent!

So here is my business strategy: furnish, install, monitor, and report on IAQ conditions in a building. It is based on a concoction of computer technology, on-call engineers and hygienists, weather reporting, and e-mail.

Beginning with furnishing and installing, I'd use this "black box" with lots of cabling to IAQ sniffers that would be the means by which space comfort was being monitored.

At the end of each month, I would have our website post the equivalent to a "weather report," only it would be an IAQ report. This simple bar chart would document the facility's multiport sniffer system trending that showed how well the building stayed within the guidelines of good IAQ.

Should a sensor indicate a problem, I would receive an e-mail notifying me to check out the problem. At this point, I would have the on-call engineer and/or hygienist review the hvac record drawings and bas to resolve the problem. The building manager would also be notified so that he could tour the area for other possible IAQ culprits.

Finding Clients

Having documented my business strategy in great detail, I set out to network with potential applicants for my idea.

First, I started with a couple of outsource firms who provided me with some interesting feedback. Each indicated that they are in a very competitive business where contracts are won and lost on pennies per sq ft.

In addition, these contracts may run for a year or multiple years, and then the bidding process may begin again. During the year, it is the O&M staff's responsibility to keep operating costs to a minimum while efficiently responding to space comfort complaints. Should they introduce an additional cost to the building owner, it would not necessarily be well received.

In addition, the idea of being proactive and publicizing IAQ on a website could have a negative impact on operating costs, causing a need to invest in building systems. For example, hvac equipment may need to be rebalanced or, worse yet, replaced to get the system up to a level where the building owner could show the space comfort is within acceptable IAQ range. One alternative to this action plan is to do nothing and hope no one complains.

Next, I checked with a couple of facility managers who had IAQ capabilities within their bas. Their response wasn't much different from the outsource firms. Tracking IAQ can carry significant liability if you proactively become aware of inadequate ventilation and do nothing about it because corrective measures are not in this year's budget.

A Safer Alternative

In completing my business plan research and finding that IAQ is a risky business to be dabbling in, I have decided a safer business to venture into is the IAQ sand filter business. I know sand is a very good medium to use to clean water systems, so why not air systems?

My new concept is to sell these handy, 2- by 2- by 2-ft boxes of sand that will allow each person within a building to stick her head into when an IAQ problem occurs. When you are not using your IAQ sand filter for space comfort protection, you can use it to extinguish your cigarette butt! ES