Every industry has people who have had a great impact on it — whether it is from the invention of technology or processes, or from sales and/or marketing techniques. These are people who, because of their experience, knowledge, position in that industry, and relationship to others impact its development. They make a difference in the industry’s direction, and ultimately it’s future. The Performance-Based segment of the HVAC Industry is no different.
These influential people are not only members of the Performance-Based Contracting™ community, but they work to help others be more successful. In fact, by their actions, they contribute to the High-Performance HVAC Industry’s growth and acceptance throughout the greater HVAC industry and among consumers as well.
How did they make our list? Over the years, members of the NCI team have traveled the country, visiting and working with many contracting firms, manufacturers, distributors, and utilities, as well as the various trade associations. They worked together on ways to evolve away from just selling equipment, to one that takes the time to understand that a system is much more than a set of boxes.
They met people who believe in the tenets of testing duct systems, equipment, even the overall building itself. They measure airflow, temperature, and more, then calculate their impact on delivered comfort and energy efficiency.
The following four top “influencers” of this industry are just the beginning. We plan on featuring influencers twice each year.
Time or era in which they served was not considered — we looked at what they have done or are doing and the impact of those efforts on the industry.
If there is someone you think should be added, let us know who they are and why they are influencers. Send me your “nomination” via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, without further ado, here are the first four influencers who have had a direct impact on the High-Performance HVAC Industry.
David Debien, Central City Air Conditioning, Houston, TX
Born in Port Clinton, OH, Debien’s entire life was that of a “tinkerer.” He founded Central City Air Conditioning in 1986 and quickly made a name for himself as a problem solver, eventually landing a radio show where he was dubbed Houston’s “air conditioning guru.” This is the platform on which he began his life’s work of trying to solve indoor humidity problems throughout greater Houston.
As a tinkerer, Debien loved to measure everything. He was a strong proponent of accuracy and of not guessing. At every opportunity, he discussed his ideas about customized installations and the amazing results achieved from his proprietary designed evaporator coil with an adjustable expansion valve.
Over the years he manufactured his own coils, used stainless steel drain pans custom-built for his systems, and continued looking for and adding many unique features to his designs and installations. He was a true visionary in the air conditioning industry.
David took his knowledge and passion to homeowners, building inspectors, and industry peers by teaching classes at local colleges and other venues. He presented at conventions and seminars nationwide. He authored articles on humidity control in several industry trade publications and even taught in local community colleges.
He championed humidity control using the entire HVAC system instead of just a humidifier/dehumidifier product and was always looking for better ways to accomplish that.
David Debien lost his lifelong battle with diabetes in 2006.
To honor his dedication to performance and his memory, National Comfort Institute created the David Debien Technical Excellence Award. It is given every year to an individual who demonstrates having strong technical skills, especially in airside and combustion testing.
Like Debien himself, this person regularly performs diagnostic testing on service/installation projects. The recipient is a constant learner – always seeking to improve their knowledge – and participates in sharing that knowledge by teaching others in his company.
Tom Turner, Austin Energy, Austin, TX
In the High-Performance HVAC universe, getting the word out about the importance of measuring and proving system performance is something that requires traction from more than just HVAC contractors.
Manufacturers, distributors, and utility companies also have roles to play.
One such entity, municipal utility Austin Energy of Austin, TX literally took the Performance-Based Contracting™ methods to heart, embracing them in their efforts to train the HVAC contractors in their service area, to test, measure, and diagnose both mechanical equipment and duct systems.
As the Environmental Program Coordinator for Field Services for Austin Energy, Tom Turner was key to helping the utility to understand the importance of this approach so it could achieve the energy efficiency goals it was tasked with. He was part of a leadership team that brought about the creation of a “Duct Diagnostics” program which taught contractors blower door and duct blower testing.
In a profile story interview with this magazine, Turner said, “More than diagnosing leaky ducts and homes, the program established the fact that old homes needed duct improvements to address comfort, performance, and to prolong HVAC equipment life.”
This was unheard of for most other utilities at the time.
From teaching and requiring their contractor participants to “test in and test out” on every job, the utility can truly validate energy savings – a huge benefit for consumers as well as the utility itself.
Turner’s contributions helped to set a gold standard for utilities and contractors alike when it comes to testing, measuring, diagnosing, resolving comfort issues, and delivering results that consumers want and need.
He says, “whether they are in the Austin market or elsewhere, “HVAC contractors need to keep up with advances in technology and best practices. It’s more important than ever to embrace innovation and methodology.”
Rob Falke, National Comfort Institute, Sheffield Lake, OH
Rob Falke is one of the two founders of the National Comfort Institute in the early 1990s. Rob leads the technical training and curriculum development teams of the company, which is driven by his and CEO Dominick Guarino’s vision that HVAC system performance can and should be measured, tested, and diagnosed under live operating conditions in the field.
He has always found himself looking at the world through technical lenses and sees the vital importance of service and installation technicians – when properly trained – to consumer safety, comfort, and efficient energy use.
In fact, he helped to not only found NCI, but also a division of NCI now known as the National Balancing Council (NBC).
NBC established and maintains stringent standards that must be met by those seeking to qualify for certification in testing, adjusting, and balancing commercial air and hydronic HVAC systems on projects of all sizes and scopes.
Rob always felt that the duct system was the key to overall comfort and energy savings and over the years he gathered enough data – proof if you will – that he was right.
His passion is to use that knowledge to help contractors actually deliver what they promise to their customers. That is why he is most noted for his understanding of the importance of proper airflow distribution for delivering comfort in any building.
In his early days, he was often called the “Air Doctor” by his friends. Today many just know him as “Doc” Falke. His contributions to Performance-Based Contracting™ are many, including the focus on air delivery, air balancing, and diagnostic testing.
To date, the curriculum and classes he oversees and teaches have reached more than 25,000 HVAC professionals over the years. This small army renovates, balances, and improves live performance of hundreds of thousands of HVAC systems a year and is revolutionizing the way HVAC systems are tested and rated for performance.
He has published hundreds of articles, technical procedures, and reports during his career serving the air conditioning and heating industry.
Furthermore, Rob has been instrumental in the development of ASHRAE Standard 221P, a “Test Method to Field-Measure and Score the Cooling and Heating Performance of an Installed Unitary HVAC System.”
In essence, this standard will raise the bar for the entire HVAC Industry by holding it accountable at the field level. This is a first, and Rob “Doc” Falke is at the heart of it.
Don Langston, Aire Rite Air Conditioning
When it comes to customer satisfaction, Don Langston says that performance matters more than promises. Langston, President and CEO of Aire Rite Air Conditioning & Refrigeration, Huntington Beach, CA, explains that “through total system diagnostics, customers see their system in a new light and understand the value of the services provided.”
Aire Rite is a $23 million commercial HVAC firm that focuses on the HVAC, restaurant, and food service industries.
Langston says, “A performance-based approach teaches customers about their HVAC systems in simple terms, identifies real performance issues, and differentiates contractors from competitors. This approach proves to be a great lead generator and profit center for our HVAC business.”
But that was never enough. He takes his successes and works to translate them to the rest of the HVAC Industry through his trade association and industry activities. Don is widely known within the trades and has been very involved in shaping policy and government regulations in California.
From a Performance-Based Contracting™ industry standpoint, Don has put his money where his mouth is. Besides keeping his team trained and certified in the high-performance method, he founded a non-profit educational foundation called, “Human Works,” to help train others in his area as well as helping the California Public Utility Commission develop their own performance-based training programs.
He is a speaker and has spent a lot of time educating his commercial customers through their trade associations on the importance of knowing the numbers when it comes to HVAC system and building performance. He shows them how this approach will save them energy dollars and improve productivity and comfort at the same time.
He says, “energy costs are more controllable today than ever before.”
Among the customer group conferences, he speaks at are the Building Owners and Managers Association, the Restaurant Facilities Managers Association and more.
In addition, Don Langston has been heavily involved working on emerging technology projects with funding from DOE, the State of California, and state utilities. It is on such projects that he became more acquainted with Dominick and Rob and the NCI team.
This enabled him to see tremendous sums of money being squandered, especially on the energy efficiency side. In California, he found himself working against the concept of “deemed” energy savings because it is based on calculations where, as he says, “the math just didn’t add up.”
“The biggest opportunity for improving energy efficiency in any existing building is fixing the ductwork. Most return ducts are undersized. Most supply ducts are jacked up – especially in older buildings that have been remodeled.”
Which is why he has been very involved in the development of ASHRAE Standard 221, and why he supports training that teaches contractors how to do this kind of work.
For these reasons and more, High-Performance HVAC Today magazine recognizes Don Langston as a key contractor influencer in the Performance-Based Contracting Industry.