Industry Blogs

Dain Hansen is vice president of Government Relations, The IAPMO Group. He lends his frequent perspective of Capitol Hill, and the plumbing industry. Here is an edited version of his update from July 30, 2021: Congressional Update. Finally, an Infrastructure Bill. The House passed an infrastructure bill Thursday that would direct more than $700 billion Read more

Dain Hansen is vice president of Government Relations, The IAPMO Group. He lends his frequent perspective of Capitol Hill, and the plumbing industry.

Here is an edited version of his update from July 30, 2021:

Congressional Update.

Finally, an Infrastructure Bill. The House passed an infrastructure bill Thursday that would direct more than $700 billion over five years for roads, railways, electric vehicles, and water, with Democrats set to use the policy to negotiate on a broader infrastructure package. The bill (H.R. 3684), passed in a largely party-line vote of 221-201, faced opposition from Republicans who criticized climate provisions and a lack of funding measures. The passage comes a week after a bipartisan group of senators and President Joe Biden agreed on a separate, nearly $1 trillion infrastructure framework that includes baseline spending.

But combining the proposals and coming to an agreement on how to pay for the legislation will be a heavy lift. Several authorizing committees in both chambers have jurisdiction over infrastructure, with different ideas for how to implement policy. Adding to the urgency is a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize surface transportation programs, regardless of whether a larger infrastructure deal is cut. DeFazio said the House bill and Senate bipartisan agreement are “within shouting distance” on spending levels, but that the Senate proposal is only a broad outline that lacks any detailed policy proposals.

The House measure includes historic levels of investment for drinking and wastewater infrastructure. The legislation would authorize $53 billion over the next decade for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, and $40 billion through fiscal 2026 for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-cost loan financing to communities for a range of water infrastructure projects. The Clean Water fund has not been reauthorized since 1988, though appropriators fund the critical program each year. The funds comprise the bulk of the water infrastructure investment in the bill. The bill also would include another $45 billion to fully replace lead service lines throughout the country. President Biden will have to use his clout to sell the bill to Democrats who don’t think it does enough on infrastructure and green energy.

After the Infrastructure Bill, the Budget Resolution. Many Democrats on Capitol Hill are more interested in a second package focused on climate change and social spending. The Senate will turn to a $3.5 trillion budget resolution once it passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Approving the budget resolution is a necessary first step in passing that large package of domestic spending and tax increases in the fall through the budget reconciliation process, which only requires a majority vote in the Senate (the process sidesteps the usual 60 vote procedural threshold for most legislation). Senate Democrats should be able to get all 50 of their members to support the resolution, though it is clear that some moderate Democrats like Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are unlikely to support the full $3.5 trillion of spending. Consequently, Democrats likely will need to lower the amount of spending in the bill. Even a smaller-scale bill will include a massive amount of spending that would be funded by significant increases in taxes on businesses and wealthier individuals. Votes in the Senate and House on this spending package (as on the bipartisan infrastructure package) will be close, and the possibility of a failed vote cannot be dismissed.

Unhappy Progressives. One dynamic that could tank these two bills is the increasing unhappiness of more progressive members of the Democratic caucus in both the House and Senate. They think the bipartisan infrastructure bill doesn’t do enough to support spending on green energy, and mass transit or to promote union work requirements. They also are unhappy with Senator Sinema’s opposition to a $3.5 trillion spending bill since many progressives saw that as a low water mark for spending. Even after the passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill earlier this year, progressives want to “go big” on domestic spending and thought that their new majorities in the House and Senate would pave the path forward to do so. It will be up to President Biden to calm this intra-party frustration and get the party behind these measures.

State and Local Update.

Legionnaires Cases Spike in Chicago. The Chicago Department of Public Health is investigating after 49 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in Chicago since July 1, resulting in 15 hospitalizations and two deaths.  This month’s case count represents a substantial increased compared to the last two years, with 16 total cases reported in 2020 and 13 in 2019, according to CDPH.  No common source has been identified.

A Drought So Dire That a Utah Town Pulled the Plug on Growth. Oakley, about an hour’s drive east of Salt Lake City, imposed a construction moratorium on new homes that would connect to the town’s water system. It is one of the first towns in the United States to purposely stall growth for want of water in a new era of megadroughts. But it could be a harbinger of things to come in a hotter, drier West. Groundwater and streams vital both to farmers and cities are drying up. Fires devour houses being built deeper into wild regions and forests. Extreme heat makes working outdoors more dangerous and life without air-conditioning potentially deadly.

While summer monsoon rains have brought some recent relief to the Southwest, 99.9 percent of Utah is locked in severe drought conditions and reservoirs are less than half full. Yet cheap housing is even scarcer than water in much of Utah, whose population swelled by 18 percent from 2010 to 2020, making it the fastest-growing state. Oakley is planning to spend as much as $2 million drilling a water well 2,000 feet deep to reach what officials hope is an untapped aquifer. But 30 miles north of Oakley, near the Echo Reservoir—28% full and dropping—is the town of Henefer, where new building has been halted for three years. Right now, Henefer is trying to tap into new sources to provide water for landscaping and outdoor use—and save its precious drinking water. Cities across the West worry that cutting off development to conserve water will only worsen an affordability crisis that stretches from Colorado to California.

Water now looms over many debates about building. Water authorities in Marin County, Calif., which is contending with the lowest rainfall in 140 years, are considering whether to stop allowing new water hookups to homes. Developers in a dry stretch of desert sprawl between Phoenix and Tucson must prove they have access to 100 years’ of water to get approvals to build new homes. But extensive groundwater pumping—mostly for agriculture—has left the area with little water for future development. “Water will be and should be—as it relates to our arid Southwest—the limiting factor on growth,” said Spencer Kamps, the vice president of legislative affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona. “If you can’t secure water supply, obviously development shouldn’t happen.” 

Santa Clara, California Unveils Aggressive New Water Conservation Plan. Last month, the Santa Clara Valley Water District declared a drought emergency, urging cities and customers to cut water usage by 15 percent. The city of Santa Clara’s plan gets specific. The conservation plan limits landscape watering to three days a week with an elaborate system based on even and odd numbered addresses. It also bans washing driveways, sidewalks, porches and parking lots with water. Additionally, people are prohibited from washing their cars or boats unless their hose has an automatic shutoff valve. It also requires restaurants to only serve water to customers who request it. “When the water comes out just to warm up for your shower, we’re actually pouring that water into a bucket and using that to water our plants,” said homeowner Denise Gonzales.

Experts Tell New Mexico Lawmakers Swift Action Needed to Address Dwindling Water Supply. As of this week, about half of New Mexico was in extreme or exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. It was worse a month ago, before recent rains brought some relief. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has convened both a drought task force and climate change task force to look for ways to mitigate the problem over the next five years. Noting the state’s reliance on water compacts with other states to get and give water, Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said: “This is about economics. In the end, water will be about money.”

If there is one thing we humans have done almost universally over the past year, it is become more familiar with our living spaces. In that time, people’s attitudes have evolved, and the industry is taking note. The following are some key HVAC trends that highlight what topics are on consumers’ minds—and what manufacturers are Read more

If there is one thing we humans have done almost universally over the past year, it is become more familiar with our living spaces.

In that time, people’s attitudes have evolved, and the industry is taking note. The following are some key HVAC trends that highlight what topics are on consumers’ minds—and what manufacturers are paying attention to.

With Control Comes Power…Literally

Connectivity is one of the watchwords of our time and there are two areas of connectivity that are becoming more important than ever. One is on the consumer side, the other on the contractor side—they both provide greater user interaction and allow for more efficiency in time and energy.

Consumer Connectivity: consumers want more control with their living space. Virtually every day more online tools have become accessible to support this demand. Many manufacturers have recently launched apps to enable users to remotely control their thermostat and provide the diverse settings desired to create the ideal temperature. Early on, the intent was to let the consumer have total and instant control when it came to temperature—when they left their house for the day, they could shut off the heating or air and have it turn back on minutes before they return home. During Covid an interesting thing happened as people spent more time at home… their heating and air bills went up. Consumers quickly learned a key principle about energy efficiency, particularly in the summer or winter months. Instead of using extreme temperature settings, in an effort to be more efficient, they could actually manage their temperature and cost far better by keeping the temperature set at a constant rate. If they leave it at 72 degrees, it will fluctuate between 71 to 73 degrees. This takes less energy to cool the space within that parameter than it does to quickly lower the temperature from 90 to 72 degrees. Another significant efficiency lesson learned is an appliance such as a refrigerator cannot function optimally when the external room temperature reaches temperatures in the 80’s or 90’s. It takes a considerably higher amount of energy for proper heat exchange to keep those perishables cold and the ice cream frozen.

Consumers now want more nuanced control so they can optimize the temperature for specific times of the day and specific activities such as eating dinner, entertaining and sleeping. They have become enlightened to how much more advantageous it is to them to maintain not just temperature for comfort, but for electrical efficiency.

Contractor Connectivity: Today’s products are all manufactured with materials and technology that have improved performance, but parts still wear out, regular maintenance is needed, and repairs are still required. Enhanced connectivity gives new layers of precision to this process. For instance, if something quits or is functioning outside of recommended parameters within a smart HVAC system, it will trigger an automated response to the homeowner with a specific error code. When they call the contractor, the contractor can look up that error code on their app and see what it is specifically referring to. That way, if the compressor needs to be replaced, the contractor can check their inventory and make sure the exact compressor and associated parts are in the truck before they arrive at the customer’s home. This ensures that the service situation is resolved very efficiently. Customers feel taken care of and the contractor can quickly be on their way. Overall, both consumer and contractor are able to exercise far greater control over managing their needs.

Breakneck Speed of Innovation

The Internet of Things has been called the next industrial revolution—and for good reason. Having everything connected changes how we interact with our environment. The challenge is that change is coming much faster than many consumers are comfortable with. Since HVAC systems are all about comfort, manufacturers need to make sure their customers, who have long used an analog system are not intimidated with a complicated digital interface.

For example, a manufacturer brand found that older people who were used to a traditional thermostat were complaining about their experience with an upgraded system. They didn’t like the new touchscreen because there were no “real buttons” to push and too many options. The manufacturer went back to the drawing board and designed a new interface. Today their customers have two options, a slick, flat touch screen or an interface that is just as technologically advanced but includes some very user-friendly buttons that can actually be pushed. Following the trend of aligning the human factors and usability of the technology with the consumer’s level of comfort with the technology has paid off. The push-button option has become by far the most popular option with those over 55.

Everything Electric

In the wake of “heat domes” and hurricanes, the run from fossil fuels is happening faster than ever. The trend for electrification is as hot as the asphalt outside. In the Northeast, cities are placing a moratorium on gas where no new gas projects are allowed, and no new gas lines can be installed in cities for the heating of homes and buildings (only small gas lines for cooking).

One HVAC solution in particular is receiving a massive amount of attention these days. Heat pumps. There are many reasons for this, they are eco-friendly, require no fossil fuels such as heating oil or gas, like a boiler or furnace would use to make heat and they are very effective at both heating and cooling a space. On top of that, they use a small amount of electricity that in many cases can be offset with solar panels. Recent advancements in heat pump technology have overcome one of the greatest stumbling blocks to this option. They used to be limited in how far north products could be installed because of cold winters. Today, new systems can make heat in temperatures as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit. Now energy-efficient heat pumps can be installed from Mexico to Northern Canada and everything in between.

Another hot item in the electrical area of heating and cooling is an exceptional alternative to traditional HVAC systems, ductless mini splits. These products focus on heating and cooling individual rooms by utilizing a combination of efficient technologies to achieve high SEER ratings while reducing electricity usage. These systems are used throughout Europe and elsewhere in the world and are now seeing a surge in the U.S. Part of the reason for the rapid adoption of mini splits is due to the military’s use of the technology in the middle east for the past 20 years. People saw how effective and efficient these solutions were in handling the extreme hot and cold temperatures found in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East. As they came back, they began to install them in their own homes.

Guest Blog by Melvin Harris

Melvin Harris is a 22-year veteran in the HVAC industry. He serves as the Director of Residential Sales with Bosch Thermotechnology.

 

Wireless network technology is continuing to evolve, and members of the transportation industry who have come to rely on 3G networks for telematics in their connected vehicles have to consider how they’re going to keep up, lest they get left behind. Driven by ever-growing demands for more and faster data, major network providers are working Read more

Wireless network technology is continuing to evolve, and members of the transportation industry who have come to rely on 3G networks for telematics in their connected vehicles have to consider how they’re going to keep up, lest they get left behind.

Driven by ever-growing demands for more and faster data, major network providers are working ceaselessly on their respective rollouts of the fifth generation of mobile network capabilities, known as 5G, promising greatly reduced latency along with incredible speed and the ability to transmit large amounts of data in much reduced time. At the same time, the 3G networks are being phased out, with most networks set to go offline next year. Current 3G hardware is incompatible with the newer networks, and fleets that don’t upgrade in time will find themselves in the dark before long.

3G’s Clock is Ticking

Fortunately for fleet owners, there is still time to make the transition. Of the biggest providers, only AT&T is currently set to sunset 3G early next year – in February – with both Sprint and Verizon planning their shutdowns for December 2022.

Those dates come with a caveat, however: depending on the region, existing 3G infrastructure isn’t guaranteed to last until the sunset date, as regular maintenance may be dropped in favor of implementing hotly demanded 4G and 5G infrastructure instead.

Faced with uncertainty, fleet owners would be wise to get ahead of this technological leap. This is especially true for fleets that are using electronic logging devices (ELD). No fleets are more at risk of being negatively impacted by this change than those mandated to use ELDs. If these fleets fall offline, the systems will no longer be accurately tracking hours of service, and the drivers will be non-compliant, introducing a risk of those vehicles being pulled from service. To make this jump correctly, companies must carefully craft an internet of things (IoT) strategy that accounts for these newer, high-speed networks. Doing so will require implementation planning, cost analysis and training, giving all the more reason to act quickly.

The Benefits of Modern Hardware

Newer technology introduces greater functionality that will undoubtedly come in handy in the regular operation of a fleet. Even going from one step from 3G to 4G, the improvement will be immediately noticeable. Further futureproofing for 5G will ensure fleet owners stay at the forefront of technology for decades to come, all while enjoying the smoothest experience possible as the new networks roll out. The perks of being on a cutting-edge network are myriad, but highlights include:

  • Faster speed and a wider network mean more reliable connections, particularly in areas where the wireless network is congested.
  • Improved latency allows for sending a large mass of data such as alerts and events, including data-heavy content such as video.
  • Communications between connected vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure is far more reliable and operate in close to real-time on high-speed connections providing instant information from the fleet and drivers.
  • Massive amounts of data can be fed into AI-enabled telematics systems, turning real-time data into actionable safety, efficiency and compliance gains.

The key takeaway is that moving to new hardware isn’t a needless burden, but a net gain for a fleet’s drivers, customers and bottom line. Owners who get ahead now will avoid challenges down the line and reap the benefits above in the meantime.

The Road Ahead

Adopting 4G and 5G capable hardware is both an exciting opportunity and a growing requirement as older networks sunset, but the biggest reason for fleet owners to get started sooner is to make sure they have time to do it right. In the coming months, owners will want to take the following steps:

  • Determine how many devices are still on the 3G network, and how many need to be migrated.
  • Understand what kind of lifecycle to expect from new telematics equipment.
  • Research modern telematics speed- and data-focused features made possible by new hardware, including AI and machine learning options, and consider how they can improve the fleet’s operation.
  • Discuss the upgrade with the fleet’s telematics provider and learn about modern telematics and future facing solutions.
  • Discover whether or not the telematics provider is charging their current customers for this type of upgrade, this can give you a glimpse into how they will handle related future tech refreshes.
  • Ensure the new hardware is properly certified and has a pathway to helping companies with their regulatory requirements such as ELD or other regional specific programs
  • Schedule the necessary vehicle downtime to make the upgrade with the minimum possible impact on downtime.
  • Once everything is in place, implement a migration plan well ahead of your wireless network provider’s 3G sunset period.

These steps will take time, and fleet owners will want to feel confident in every step of the process. As such, waiting until the last minute to get started on the transition is ill-advised. Moving up from 3G isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. However, those owners who do put in the effort will avoid having to worry about their telematic systems potentially going out on them, crippling their essential dataflow for safety, compliance and business efficiency.

Now is the time to check with your telematics provider about the imminent 3G sunsetting or find a new vendor who can handle the inevitable upgrade.

Guest Blog By Andrew Rossington

Andrew Rossington joined Teletrac Navman in February 2016, working first as Vice President of Transtech (Division) before becoming Vice President, Transport Solutions in February 2018 then onto becoming Chief Product Officer in October 2020. In this role, Andrew is responsible for all transport industry solutions, including product development, go to market, team development and financial responsibilities. Since joining the business, he has overseen year-on-year growth in the transport vertical across the Australia/New Zealand region of Teletrac Navman. Prior to this, Andrew was the Chief Executive Officer for Transtech, which was acquired by Teletrac Navman. He has spent the last 20 years focused on transport industry solutions and has extensive experience managing software development teams and implementing key business systems for some of Australia’s largest transport operators and software companies, including Toll, ComTech and Dimensions Data. He is passionate about the transport industry and using technology to enable successful business outcomes.

Growing a business can often seem like it’s a stop-and-start process. You might see a little growth every year, but not as much as you would like. Is there a way to grow a construction business quickly? While it mightn’t be quick, there is a right way and wrong way to go about it, with Read more

Growing a business can often seem like it’s a stop-and-start process. You might see a little growth every year, but not as much as you would like. Is there a way to grow a construction business quickly?

While it mightn’t be quick, there is a right way and wrong way to go about it, with growth being steady over time. You’ll have to put in the effort, although that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

As entrepreneur Dave Conklin attests, there are a few things every business owner should keep in mind, even those in construction.

Lead, Don’t Manage

Nobody likes a micromanager. Instead, employees want to be led, and that’s just as true for your contractors. If you’re a good leader, then you’ll inspire your team to do a good job. Part of doing this involves leading by example.

You’ll also need to provide constructive criticism alongside some positive reinforcement. These will make sure that your employees are happy and productive. In turn, that’ll lead to a better service for your clients.

Instead of managing your employees, you can then focus on other areas.

Be Selective With Your Projects

If you’re just starting a construction business, you might be tempted to take any project you can get your hands on. While the logic behind that is understandable, it mightn’t be the best approach.

Instead, you’ll need to look at whether or not these projects are profitable. Though you might be fine earning minimal profit at the beginning, there should still be a profit. If your workload is increasing, your profit should increase accordingly.

There’s also the fact that taking on unprofitable projects takes time away from those that could make you money.

Lean Into Your Strengths

Many construction companies try to be all-rounders. That’s led to the market being quite competitive. One way to stand out, however, is by playing to your strength and specializing in certain areas.

Though this could mean getting specific certifications, it will reap dividends in the long term. In time, you could become one of the more highly-rated companies in a specific area. That could include LEED certifications, among others.

Doing good work with each of these specialized projects will also increase your business further.

Make Sure To Network

Networking is one thing that many construction company owners forget about. However, it could be beneficial in a few notable ways. Alongside being a way to build brand awareness, you could find new vendors and other suppliers.

That could mean lower costs, with the savings going back into your company. Being active in your local community could also be beneficial, as this also helps to generate goodwill for your business.

Wrapping Up

If you’re growing a construction company, there’s quite a lot to keep in mind. Having the right contractors and employees, however, goes much farther than you might think. Though you’ll be overseeing them, they play a significant role in the quality that you deliver to clients.

Once you’ve that done, you’re free to concentrate on other parts of your business. A strong and steady approach can often be best, especially when it comes to building a company.

Diversity is a word thrown around quite a bit lately. But, what does it mean? Diversity is “the practice of including and involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.” The definition is clear. However, many wonder why diversity is imperative, particularly in a workplace Read more

Diversity is a word thrown around quite a bit lately. But, what does it mean? Diversity is “the practice of including and involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.” The definition is clear. However, many wonder why diversity is imperative, particularly in a workplace.

Well, like their customers, workplaces should be diverse. Diversity in the workplace provides diverse insight on customer wants and needs. It also increases productivity by providing an increase in employee morale and involvement within the business. A diverse workforce also allows for diverse opinions on the products and services that the workplace offers.

How to incorporate diversity into the workplace:

  • Policies should reflect diversity and inclusion – Diversity should be worked into the fabric of the organization’s policies and procedures. This indicates a commitment to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the organization.
  • Offer diversity and inclusion training regularly – This is not a one-and-done concept. Training should be offered by top-tier professionals in their fields. Training should be provided at no additional cost to the employees and should occur regularly.
  • Marketing and communications should depict a diverse workforce – If your workforce sees themselves in your brand, they are more likely to commit to and promote that brand. It also sends a message to customers that diversity is paramount to the organization and decision makers.
  • Offer mentorship, women’s groups, committees, taskforces, and boards within your organization – These groups, with the support of the organization, offer employees the opportunity to relate to others with similar experiences and work together for the betterment of the organization and society. This is particularly important in construction skilled trades where women are underrepresented. Providing these groups are a great way for employees to connect and prosper.
  • Work with leadership and management – It starts at the top. If the leadership and management do not see the value and necessity of diversity, it will not work. Employees must see and believe that their leadership understands diversity and inclusion.
  • Encourage an environment of safety and communication – If employees fear retaliation for their opinions, they will stop offering them. Creating an atmosphere that welcomes all forms of constructive feedback allows employees to feel like an integral part of the business and its success.
  • Constantly evaluate and revise your methods – The work is never done. Creating a plan and then forgetting about it does not serve the employees or the business. The plan should be constantly scrutinized and improved based off feedback from employees and leadership.

Diversity is here to stay. Denying diversity in the workplace creates a stagnation that will likely not survive our ever-evolving world. Employees and customers have acknowledged repeatedly their appreciation for diversity in the workplace and the world.

Guest Blogger – Allie Perez founded Texas Women in Trades in 2013, an organization working to bring more women, minorities, and young people to the trades. She also serves as the VP of Marketing and Operations at George Plumbing Co. in San Antonio and on the National Taskforce for Tradeswomen as the Communications Committee Co-Chair. A graduate of New York University, Allie has contributed to trade periodicals for more than seven years. To contact her directly, texaswomenintrades@gmail.com.