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My company, Foley Mechanical, Inc. was invited to bid on a large commercial radiant project in a new healthcare facility being built in suburban Maryland, about 20 miles north of Washington, D.C.  We would be the subcontractor of the primary mechanical contractor.  After considering doing the work in house, the primary contractor decided it would Read more

My company, Foley Mechanical, Inc. was invited to bid on a large commercial radiant project in a new healthcare facility being built in suburban Maryland, about 20 miles north of Washington, D.C.  We would be the subcontractor of the primary mechanical contractor.  After considering doing the work in house, the primary contractor decided it would be quicker and easier to bring us in as radiant is our specialty.

We submitted a proposal and were awarded the contract.  As this was a commercial project, full documentation was required which included design, shop drawings, and submittals.  The radiant tubing manufacturer, Mr. PEX, was instrumental in working with me to put together the design and submittal package.  After several revisions, the design package was approved and materials were ordered.

Several coordination meetings were held on site to determine scheduling, installation techniques, installation sequence, coordination with the concrete sub and other trades, and manifold locations.

We installed radiant floor heat in two areas of the building:  the cafeteria, which is slab on grade, and the main entry mezzanine, which is concrete poured over steel decking.  It was imperative for system operation to specify the correct insulation.  We used 2” extruded polystyrene under the slab on grade zone.  The mezzanine zone will have spray foam insulation under the steel decking.

Scheduling was critical.  We had one day for rough-in on each zone.  We arrived on site at 6am for a mandatory safety meeting.  Full safety gear was required:  work boots, hard hats, safety vest, eye protection and ear protection.  The first step was mounting the manifolds.  Then we started laying the loops, 14-loops for the first zone and 10-loops for the second zone.

We invested in three Pex-Gun tie tools to increase speed and productivity over cable ties or squiggies.  One man lays out the tubing while two men follow behind tying the tubing to the rebar with the Pex-Guns.  The tubing installation follows a scaled tubing layout design provided by Mr. Pex.  Another man attaches the tubing to the manifolds.  This set-up makes quick work of tubing rough-in.  My crew really liked the flexibility of the Mr. Pex tubing and the simplicity and ease of installation of the Mr. Pex manifolds.

After the tubing rough-in was complete, the entire system was pressurized with air to 100 PSI.  It had to hold pressure for 24 hours before the concrete was poured.  This pressure test was observed and documented by the primary mechanical contractor, the GC and the owner’s agent/engineer.

The concrete slab was poured the next morning.  We had one of our techs on site to confirm the pressure test and observe the pour.  This was a pumped pour so we wanted to make sure the concrete was poured without damaging the tubing.  Pressure was monitored continuously during the pour.  A repair kit was on hand in case the tubing was cut or damaged.  Luckily, it was not needed.

Both slabs were poured without incident and are holding pressure.  We will return when the building is complete and the mechanical system is started.  We will flush and purge the radiant loops, coordinate the controls and motorized valves, and test & balance the radiant system.  We have 10-turn balance valves on the return mains.  In addition, the Mr. Pex manifolds allow for micro-balancing on each loop.

The building owner is looking forward to warm comfortable floors once the building is occupied.  By partnering with the mechanical contractor, we both came out ahead.  The job was done quicker and easier as we do radiant on a regular basis.  We could not have done it without the help and support of Mr. Pex.

Dan Foley is owner of Foley Mechanical, Lorton, Va.

From Devil’s Tower in the east to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park in the west, Wyoming is known for its natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor recreation. With six people per square mile, only Alaska is more sparsely populated. Wyomingites are accustomed to a unique set of challenges. Driving one hundred or more Read more

From Devil’s Tower in the east to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park in the west, Wyoming is known for its natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor recreation. With six people per square mile, only Alaska is more sparsely populated.

Wyomingites are accustomed to a unique set of challenges. Driving one hundred or more miles in a day is relatively commonplace. Daily temperature swings can easily exceed 40°F. Summer temps break 100°F, and golf ball-sized hail can materialize at any time. In the winter, the mercury is known to plunge well into the double digit sub-zero realm. And then there’s the wind…

Downtown Cody is full of bronze statues commemorating its wild heritage and the rich wildlife that surrounds – and sometimes enters – town.

Mechanical contractors in the Cowboy State have evolved to take all of this in stride.  There aren’t but a dozen or two commercial outfits in Wyoming; one or two in each community – maybe.

“As the name implies, we serve the Bighorn Basin, which is essentially the territory between the Bighorn and Absaroka mountain ranges,” said Will Poindexter, VP at Basin Mechanical in Cody, WY. The company is known for its quality work in the commercial and industrial spaces. “We’ll go as far as the Colorado or Idaho border when needed.”

Basin Mechanical VP Will Poindexter. Basin Mechanical is a commercial Plumbing, heating and cooling contractor based out of Cody, Wyoming.

“Schools and hospitals are big markets for us,” he continued. “There are a number of general contractors who call on us when they’re working on educational or medical facilities anywhere in the state. We also deal with water treatment and other municipal facilities quite frequently.”

Even the kitchen sink

Basin Mechanical’s company logo – a pack mule loaded with everything from golf clubs to drafting equipment ­– is humorous by design, yet symbolic of how a commercial contractor in Wyoming needs to travel.

“The mule is a throwback to 40 years ago when the company’s founder, Gordon Allison, moved to Cody with everything he owned, mules and all, to start the company and to forge a new life,” explained Poindexter. “But in a way, it resembles how we travel to jobsites across the state. Supply houses are few and far between, and depending when and where a job takes place, it’s entirely possible that roads could be shut down.  Everything we could possibly need must be on the truck.”

Given the many miles between supply houses and jobsites, Basin Mechanical travels to jobs with a semi-truck containing everything they may need on the project, which is a can’t miss on the highways with the company’s unique pack mule logo.

So Basin regularly travels with a tractor trailer. In other places, that might seem like overkill for a medium-sized company tackling medium-sized projects, but not in Wyoming.

“Distances and volatile weather might be unique to the western states,” said Poindexter.  “But we battle some of the same challenges that contractors everywhere deal with, especially the workforce shortage. Finding enough skilled manpower can be really tough. With about 10,000 people in all, Cody isn’t home to a huge workforce.

Curbing labor

One of Basin’s answers to the workforce challenge is working smarter, not harder.

“Labor is always an issue, so we’re constantly looking for products or systems that will minimize our time in the field. From press fittings to design software, if we can take hours off a job while simultaneously increasing the quality of our product, we want to learn more about it.”

David Ellis, Jobsite Supervisor (L) and Ryan Meier, Apprentice assemble the Watts LavEx in preparation for installation.

One of the most recent solutions Basin has implemented comes from the use of Watts LavEx lavatory carriers. Schools in particular generally feature large restrooms with multiple sinks. It takes quite a bit of time to individually hang each lavatory and ensure each sink is at an identical height.

“The LavEx carriers are available for applications from one to four sinks,” said Poindexter. “With this system, we can rapidly install multiple sinks on a single, rock solid structure.”

Watts LavEx

Designed for use through a block wall, LavEx carriers are ideal for prefabrication or on-site construction. Both the height of the carriers and the length of the support arms are quickly adjustable.

“It took us 15 minutes to completely assemble the four-sink LavEx carrier the first time we used one,” said Basin Jobsite Supervisor, David Ellis. “The height of the track that carries the support arms gets measured on either side of the unit, and that’s it; all the sinks will be perfectly level at the same height.”

Ryan Meier, Apprentice (L) and David Ellis, Jobsite Supervisor assemble the Watts LavEx in preparation for installation.

“The units are designed for block wall applications, but could easily be used through a 2-by-six wall because they’re free-standing,” he continued. “Everything about the system is heavy duty, so we can assemble them in our shop, place them in the truck, and make minor adjustments in the field.”

Trusted source

“We tend to be a little hesitant while implementing new technologies we find, only because we need to be sure that the quality and support is there before we’ll install it in a customer’s facility,” said Poindexter. “But the lav carriers come from a brand whose commercial products we use all the time. We get great results with Watts components.  A lot of our jobs feature Watts trench drains, mixing valves, and pressure reducing valves. It’s all readily available at our wholesalers, too.

Winter in northwest Wyoming always slows the pace of work to a degree, but ongoing Basin projects include a new manufacturing facility downtown, a wastewater treatment plant, and in nearby Thermopolis, a new rehab center.

Poindexter and Ron Couture, Estimator and Project Manager, are busy bidding projects for 2020 and beyond.

There’s a new school in Sheridan currently in the design phase, the Wild Sheep Foundation is building a new visitor center in Dubois, two new pharmacies are planned in Powell and Worland, and Powell Valley Healthcare is soon adding a new emergency room.

Known as both the Heart of the West and the Rodeo Capital of the World, Cody, WY, is full of old western flair and museums of every kind.

“We do everything as though our reputation depends on it, because it does,” concluded Poindexter. “Though the country’s wide open, the communities are small, so everything we do is noticed, and noted. Our reputation for quality work means everything in our part of the country.”

Plenty of room, and work, to grow.  With the right resources in place, and solid work ethic, Basin Mechanical’s got a recipe to get the jobs done properly.

Minneapolis — The National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s Issues held their annual meeting during the end of the Tradeswomen Build Nations 2019 Conference in Minneapolis October 4-6. On Monday, October 7th, members of the Taskforce gathered at local union offices for the annual meeting. Attendance totaled 55 attendees from nine trades and 14 states. The group consisted Read more

Tradeswomen Build Nations 2019 Conference, National Taskforce on Tradeswomen's Issues, women in the trades

Tradeswomen Build Nations 2019 Conference in Minneapolis featured a banner parade.

Minneapolis — The National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s Issues held their annual meeting during the end of the Tradeswomen Build Nations 2019 Conference in Minneapolis October 4-6. On Monday, October 7th, members of the Taskforce gathered at local union offices for the annual meeting. Attendance totaled 55 attendees from nine trades and 14 states. The group consisted of tradeswomen, union/apprenticeship staff members, researchers/academics, attorneys and other tradeswomen advocates. Comprised of four committees— policy, communications, action and research—the members met with their respective committees to review yearly accomplishments and set goals for 2020.

Tradeswomen Build Nations 2019 Conference, National Taskforce on Tradeswomen's Issues, women in the trades

The group consisted of tradeswomen, union/apprenticeship staff members, researchers/academics, attorneys and other tradeswomen advocates.

  • Action — In 2019, the Action Committee of the TWTF supported the NABTU agenda by educating tradeswomen on multiple federal regulation proposals that would damage workplace protections for workers (like the “IRAP proposal” that would allow corporations to set their own training standards without regard for apprentice and workplace safety), as well as recruited tradeswomen to make comments against proposed Title IX changes (harmful to women and girls) and identified tradeswomen to give testimony on the Department of Labor’s Nursing in the Workplace forum.At the 2019 Trades Women Build Nations Conference, the Action Committee put on a workshop titled, “Tradeswomen Advocacy 101″ for 100+ participants and collaborated with Oregon Tradeswomen, Chicago Women in Trades, and IBEW Locals 110 and 292 to organize an ACTION STATION booth and Solidarity Poster-making mini-workshop, led by rank and file tradeswomen from the region.”For 2020, we have set an ambitious agenda to keep up with critical issues facing tradeswomen today: provide education on maternity leave policies (by trade and state); recruit individual and organizational support and endorsements of the TWTF Policy Platform; engage with the Lean-In Women in Trades movement, and center our trans and nonbinary tradesiblings’ worker issues within the TWTF organization and beyond. In addition, with the Presidential election a month after the 2020 TBN Conference, happening in Washington, DC, we will ensure that tradeswomen’s issues (and workers’ issues at large) are addressed on Capitol Hill, by organizing workers to participate during the conference week in any opportunities in DC that might arise during that critical time in American politics.”
  • Communications — Chaired by Danae Pouliot, as one of the newer committees, past accomplishments of the year include: creating the committee, updates to the website and a document of resources for tradeswomen that was made available online. A co-chair, Allie Perez, was appointed at the annual meeting. Goals for 2020 include: creating an approval process for communications, build brand awareness by providing regular posts and re-implementing Tradeswomen Tuesdays, a social media movement to draw attention to and humanize tradeswomen.
  • Research — The Research group within the TWTF organized approximately 2 years ago. This group brings together individuals engaged in research which is relevant to women in the building construction trades. Members work to build coalitions and encourage and promote research which supports tradeswomen’s quality of life. The current chairs of the group are Khadeeja Gibson (tradesperson representative) and Ariane Hegewisch (researcher, Institute for Women’s policy research).In 2019, for the second consecutive year at WBN, members of the Research Group put together a panel of applied researchers to discuss their work as it relates to women in the building trades. Panel participants included: Heidi Wagner, Program Coordinator in Construction Engineering and Management, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (moderator); Molly Martin, retiree, IBEW Local 6; Brigid O’Farrell, Independent Labor Educator; Maura Kelly, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Portland State University; Tiffany Thompson, Construction Career Pathways Program Manager, Portland Metro; and Emily Seifert, Researcher in Wearable Technology, University of Minnesota.Topics were diverse and included collecting tradeswomen’s oral histories; assessing a new mentoring program for Seattle tradeswomen; conducting and promoting the Regional Construction Workforce Market Study; and improving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for tradeswomen.The Research group also participated in the caucus sessions at the conference with a researcher and advocate meet-up where discussion of current needs in tradeswomen research and opportunities for collaborations were highlighted.
  • Policy — In 2019, the TWTF Policy Committee advocated at all levels for public policy that benefits and supports women in apprenticeships and the trades.  The Committee supported TWTF to finalize and promulgate the TWTF Policy Platform.  TWTF members advanced multiple initiatives to promote tradeswomen and safe and harassment-free worksites at the local and state level including successes in California, Boston, and New York City. The Committee also supported union-led policies in gender related issues such as family leave, anti-harassment and anti-bullying campaigns and supported the submission of comments on the proposed IRAP regulations and the proposed OFCCP religious priority change to Executive Order 11246.During the 2019 Tradeswomen Build Nations Conference, the Committee presented a policy advocacy workshop attended by over 140 tradeswomen and the annual Policy Forum on Tradeswomen Health and Safety. In 2020, the Committee will provide the skills and tools to empower tradeswomen to engage within their union and advocate for policies at the state and national levels on issues such as child care access, paid leave and sexual harassment; promote tradeswomen in leadership and those aspiring to leadership; and expand our network of allies.
    Finally, the Committee will develop educational programs on issues relevant to tradeswomen, including the apprenticeship Equal Employment regulation 29 CFR 30, prevailing wage laws, project labor agreements, compliance strategies, and enforcement of existing non-discrimination and equal employment opportunity requirements.

National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s Issues

Connie Ashbrook – Co Chair

connie.ashbrook@outlook.com

tradeswomentaskforce.org

While achieving Net-Zero for one building is somewhat practical, the developer of Whisper Valley here decided that the entire 2,000-acre community with some 7,200 homes would be Net-Zero Ready.  All structures will be ground source geothermal and solar equipped to meet the Net-Zero energy – carbon neutral – standard adopted by the City of Austin’s Read more

While achieving Net-Zero for one building is somewhat practical, the developer of Whisper Valley here decided that the entire 2,000-acre community with some 7,200 homes would be Net-Zero Ready.  All structures will be ground source geothermal and solar equipped to meet the Net-Zero energy – carbon neutral – standard adopted by the City of Austin’s Municipal Building Code.  The $2 billion development that also includes apartments, several million square feet of commercial space, schools and other buildings, will be the largest zero‐energy capable housing community in the nation.  The key component for getting to Net-Zero is the geothermal, or geoexchange, cooling and heating system and its underground distribution piping system.

Each of the 237 homes in Phase I is equipped with a REHAU RAUGEO™ PEXa double U-bend  pipe loop and a ground source heat pump.  A total of 313,000 linear feet (95,400 m) of the pipe was used.  All builders in Whisper Valley are required to hook up to EcoSmart’s GeoGrid, a five-mile loop of underground distribution piping that links each home to a geoexchange network, engineered by b2E Consulting Engineers.  This geothermal system is predicted to reduce heating/cooling energy costs for homeowners by up to 65 percent as compared with conventional air-source heat pumps.  EcoSmart Solution LLC is a subsidiary of Taurus Investment Holdings, developer and owner of the site.

Each of the 237 homes in Phase I of this net-zero-energy capable community is equipped with a REHAU RAUGEOTM double U-bend vertical ground loop.

“This project is a great example of the use of plastic tubing for geoexchange loops, and all the benefits that ground source systems deliver,” explained Lance MacNevin, P.Eng, director of engineering for the Building and Construction Division of the Plastics Pipe Institute, Inc. (PPI).  “The PEX piping material is tough and durable and will provide decades of reliable service.  Plus, the REHAU double U-bends increase the output of each borehole by up to 30 percent compared to single U-bends.  This reduced the required depth of each borehole, as well as the number of boreholes required.  And, naturally,  cut drilling costs and the number of days spent drilling on the Whisper Valley jobsite.”  PPI is the major North American trade association representing all segments of the plastic pipe industry.

Whisper Valley will consist of seven separate villages with a fire department station and two schools for its nearly 30,000 residents.

Homes and buildings are located next to access roads and on top of the integrated geothermal district loop that will significantly reduce energy costs for homeowners.  Those lots are sold to homebuilders with specifications for sustainable construction including hooking up to the loop.  The end result will be highly energy efficient Net-Zero Ready homes with very low energy costs.

To use the earth’s relatively constant temperature (45 to 75°F in this location) for heating and cooling, the design incorporates boreholes up to 335 feet (102 m) deep drilled on each lot, into which the REHAU pipe loops were inserted.  Boreholes were grouted after pipe insertion.  As with all geothermal systems, fluid circulates through the pipes,  exchanging heat to and from the earth for cooling or heating operation, respectively.  

Nearly 322,000 feet of REHAU RAUGEO PEXa pipe was used to produce the 237 double U-bends, which were inserted into each borehole. The crosslinked polyethylene (PEXa) pipe is specifically designed for geothermal applications.

Each PEX vertical pipe loop connects to a system of horizontal pipes.  This larger integrated ‘geo loop’ is augmented by two 250-ton cooling towers for meeting peak cooling loads during periods of high ambient temperatures.

It is estimated that homeowners will pay a monthly service fee of $60 for access to the system.

“This project shows how PEX pipe in a geoexchange application can help in the reduction of the overall carbon footprint by minimizing the energy required to heat and cool homes,” MacNevin continued.  “The developer providing the geoexchange network and requiring builders to connect to it, is game changing.  It removes the primary barrier that prevents more widespread adoption of geo-exchange systems.  Whisper Valley is a successful business model that, we understand, Taurus plans to take nationwide.  I’m sure other developers will duplicate it, especially as more municipalities set Net-Zero targets.  Not only is this project a unique application for PEX pipe, it is also at the forefront of community geothermal technology.”

The pre-formed double U-bends are up to 335 ft in length and consist of RAUGEO PEXa pipe bent in a tight 180-degree radius and cast in a fiberglass-reinforced polyester resin eliminating the need for any fittings or joints in the borehole.

Whisper Valley was named the 2019 PPI Project of the Year for the association’s Building and Construction Division.

To further support the geothermal market, PPI has established the Geothermal Steering Committee within the Building and Construction Division.  MacNevin stated, “PPI and our members promote the adoption of geothermal technologies to help reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling buildings, saving owners money.  Other benefits of ground source systems are better reliability and building resiliency, with no exposed outdoor components.  Also, water-to-water heat pumps are a perfect match for hydronic heating and cooling distribution systems, which are comfortable and efficient technologies for use in both residential and high-performance commercial construction.

“It is also important to note that the U.S. Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 reinstated the tax credit for fuel cells, small wind, and geothermal heat pumps.  Signed into law in February 2018, it provides a 30 percent federal tax credit for geothermal, which, in some states, also qualifies for a state rebate.”

The PPI Geothermal Steering Committee’s activities include supporting industry efforts to update geothermal standards and codes, such as ANSI/CSA/IGSHPA C448, IAPMO’s UMC and USHGC, and ICC’s IMC and IRC; working closely with IGSHPA, GEO and other related organizations; publishing documents about the use of plastic piping systems for geothermal applications; and serving as a technical resource for geothermal system designers, with regards to plastic piping technologies.  PPI also is a sponsor of the DOE’s Solar Decathlon – Design Challenge,  a design competition focused on zero-energy ready construction.

Whisper Valley has received wide recognition including being named the 2019 Sustainable Community of the Year by Green Builder Media and receiving a Merit Award in the Best Innovative Energy Design category in the 2018 Gold Nugget Awards presented by PCBC.

Whisper Valley’s “amenities center” includes a modern fitness facility and an outdoor swimming pool that can absorb energy from the GeoGrid as needed.

According to Phil Schoen, president of Geo Enterprise Inc., (Tulsa, Okla.) that installed the system, “Whisper Valley’s district GeoGrid is already performing 20 to 30 percent better than projected. The system will gain efficiencies as it expands and the team works to wring out every possible Btu.”

Additional information can be found at the PPI website: www.plasticpipe.org.

Bob Clark, College of DuPage (COD) Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) program chair, has spent the last six years transforming the community college’s HVACR program and its interactive learning lab, built from within. GLEN ELLYN, IL—When you sit down with Bob Clark about training and education, he will not hold back about any Read more

Bob Clark, College of DuPage (COD) Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) program chair, has spent the last six years transforming the community college’s HVACR program and its interactive learning lab, built from within.

GLEN ELLYN, IL—When you sit down with Bob Clark about training and education, he will not hold back about any aspect of his program, and his direction on post-secondary education. Clark started at the school with a nearly “empty” space and a vision. “In order to create an unmatched lab, you have to orchestrate a vision that people can believe in for your program. When you establish that vision with your industry partners and your instructors, now you have a vision that is ‘bigger than yourself.’” So Clark, his instructors and his students built an interactive classroom and lab environment that is changing HVACR education.

Bob Clark, College of DuPage (COD) Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) program chair, College of DuPage HVACR program, HVAC post-secondary education, hydronics, trade schools, trades

The first time I visited with Bob Clark in 2017, he gave me a birds-eye view of the HVACR lab.

The HVACR lab was built from within—all of the teachers oversaw the lab being built by the students. “We built our own lab and we built our own central plant. The central plant project is going to be one of the most defining features of our lab. It is sized and designed so that we have exhibit a well-designed system, but we also have the ability to duress on every part of the system. We wanted a system that could demonstrate what happens in a building on a good day, a bad day and under extreme conditions. We have the capability to demonstrate primary/secondary, primary/variable or constant flow systems, which can flow in both direct and reverse return. Our lab concepts can experience multiple scenarios for critical systems that can not normally be studied. It’s not like any other system,” says Clark.

Bob Clark, College of DuPage (COD) Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) program chair, College of DuPage HVACR program, HVAC post-secondary education, hydronics, trade schools, trades

On the floor in the lab, Clark shows that while in the lab, one can experience multiple scenarios for critical systems that can not normally be studied.

This isn’t about me, says Clark, it’s about, “how we help this community and our industries succeed at growing their organizations with the right people?” It’s by building the greatest technicians that the program can yield. For example, “Our hydronic classes go through design, friction loss, and they also have to understand engineering concepts. There are very few programs teaching hydronics. You have to teach from a systems thinking mindset and get students to think within very complex systems. We have hands-on classes, not PowerPoints and some donuts for our classes.”

“Your mind is the only thing that separates you from every other technician out there—the most important tool you have is your brain. This field is about your mind.”

When you look at HVAC programs nationally, Clark bets the average age in post-secondary education—community colleges for HVAC programs—is 30 years old. “Most technical eduction funding is channeling into automotive, manufacturing and welding programs across the United States. Most high school counselors, career advisors and parents do not know how challenging, how complex, and how much the HVACR industry pays. The skilled workforce in America is losing its ranks and I do not believe that education understands or cares about its decline. It is sad that they will start to get it only when their homes are cold in the winter and their refrigerators stop working. It is a sad day in education when we care more about guiding children toward psychology, than towards meaningful, good paying, plentiful, and rewarding careers in the skilled workforce. This reminds me of how Rome fell: skilled workforce ceased to be a priority.”

Bob Clark, College of DuPage (COD) Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) program chair, College of DuPage HVACR program, HVAC post-secondary education, hydronics, trade schools, trades

The “hands-on” lab is important for later work in the field (such as working with these wall-hung boilers.)

According to Clark, the industry is lacking accountability in education systems. “How are skilled workforce programs being supported across the country?  The people that want to pursue skilled trades do not even know about the programs that exist because counselors and advisors are not instructed to communicate all of the opportunities available in the public school systems. Students that attend community colleges are trying to change their lives while working a full-time job.

“Do you want to be bucket boy or do you want to pay attention in here and get yourself a career because your mind is the only thing that separates you from every other technician out there—the most important tool you have is your brain. This field is about your mind,” says Clark.

Clark says he’s tried multiple ways to see how you can use theory to communicate into the technical and “it’s impossible until they get down in the lab and experience failure and success.”

Bob Clark, College of DuPage (COD) Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) program chair, College of DuPage HVACR program, HVAC post-secondary education, hydronics, trade schools, trades

In the lab, students will learn to hold the wrench the right way, back up the pipe wrench correctly, how to screw stuff together, experience special aptitude and understand system dynamics, among other things.

The program is teaching them mastery because HVACR is filled with a multitude of skills and the lab has been built to simulate multiple areas. “I do this because HVACR is a field that you can study the rest of your life and still never get it. Students need to learn to hold the wrench the right way, back up the pipe wrench correctly, how to screw stuff together, experience special aptitude, understand system dynamics, and if they don’t experience it, they won’t get it. It always makes me smile when I see a light come in a student because I know that their education is finally beginning,” says Clark.

Bob Clark, College of DuPage (COD) Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) program chair, College of DuPage HVACR program, HVAC post-secondary education, hydronics, trade schools, trades

While the learning lab is the “jewel” of the program, classroom learning is just as important, taking technical theory and applying in into the lab downstairs.

The difference between here and anywhere else, says Clark, is that the program has four to five classes in the lab running Monday through Thursday night.  Their classes have a capacity of 16 students, “It’s packed. I won’t go above 15-16 because anyone that teaches an HVACR class with 25 people and thinks they are going to run a respectable lab with integrity is basically a moron. This is a highly technical field with a lot of equipment that can kill you. People that think that they can PowerPoint HVACR into a student’s mind are lazy and delusional. Running an effective lab is ten times harder than delivering the presentation of your life.”

Bob Clark, College of DuPage (COD) Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) program chair, College of DuPage HVACR program, HVAC post-secondary education, hydronics, trade schools, trades

When Clark arrived at the school nearly six years ago, the space that the lab currently occupies was for the most part empty. The students built the lab and all of the piping was installed during the transformation phase.

Clark also says that holding accountability over his adjuncts is critical. “That’s why we have the best instructors. Our instructors know the importance of the lab environment,” says Clark. “The second you don’t understand that, you are violating the integrity of the whole program.”

You can hear the passion in his voice. He is proud of his work and his ability to mold people into working HVAC technicians. And the lab is his oyster. “At the end of the day, our students build our labs. And nobody will ever take that shit away from us. That was the concept: How do you make a statement to the industry? This is it,” says Clark.