Contracting Business had the opportunity to speak with Mark Kerney, president of Hill York Service Corp., a $20 million mechanical service company in South Florida. Kerney is incoming chairman of the Board of Managers for the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA).

Contracting Business: Are mold and potential contractor liability still major concerns for the mechanical service industry?

Mark Kerney: Fortunately, from a commercial perspective, the scare over mold seems to have died down a bit in standard office buildings. However, health care facilities are still a major concern.

Accepted scientific studies indicate that, if you're healthy, relatively small amounts of mold aren't going to greatly affect you. If you have allergies or you're imuno-compromised, however, mold could be a more serious health concern.

The liability issue is still important for contractors in all buildings. Although the litigation associated with health seems to have quieted, the subsequent product damage and remediation claims are alive and kicking.

As a result, we've taken several steps to help address the health and safety of our customers and ward off potential claims. One measure has been to partner with a team of IAQ attorneys, who serve as a resource in the event we're pulled into a liability situation. They also review our proposal forms and service agreements, which has led us to change some of the terminology.

For example, we're more specific in the wording of our service agreements. You need to specify the difference between taking care of mechanical equipment maintenance and hygiene. You don't want to just say that you'll "clean" coils. This could imply cleaning or sanitizing from a hygiene perspective.

There is a difference between cleaning for mechanical performance reasons and sanitizing for health reasons. The words "clean coils" can mean both.

At the same time, we partner with a firm called Enviro Team, which specializes in indoor air quality testing and assessment. They're the first ones we call if we suspect an issue with mold. We'll do a joint site visit to the building in question, and meet with the customer. We'll look at the building envelope together, look at the HVAC equipment, and any other factors that could be contributing to the problem, such as a roof leak. They will then assess the risk and suggest a course of action.

Bringing in additional expertise has been well-received by our customers. They know we're serious about their comfort and health, rather than just fumbling around trying to find a solution or cover anything up.

CB: What sectors do you see offering the greatest opportunities for service contractors?

MK: There are always opportunities for quality contractors with welltrained, dependable technicians. As the skilled technician shortage becomes critical, it will become increasingly clear to customers on which contractors they can rely. This means good contractors with good technicians will be in greater demand because they provide better value and ensure that the system is fixed right the first time. In terms of a specific niche, the health care industry appears to be in an ongoing building mode, with hospitals, ACLF's (adult congregate living facilities), and nursing homes continuing to be built. As a result, there will be a tremendous need for IAQsavvy contractors.

CB: What training and education should contractors be seeking to keep up with this growing need?

MK: The education of both management and technicians is essential. The MSCA, in conjunction with MCAA, has a plethora of educational opportunities for it's members. We have everything from service manager training to customer service training for technicians. In the IAQ arena, the MSCA has put together a microbiological management plan for our members. Other viable options include the indoor environmentalist certification programs from the Indoor Air Quality Association Inc. (IAQA) and the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA). Get certified and then train your field force.

Mark Kerney can be reached at 954/ 525-4200 or at mkerney@hillyork.com. The Mechanical Service Contractors of America is holding its annual conference October 17-20, in Santa Ana Pueblo, NM. For more information, visit www.mcaa.org.