Fire life safety inspections, services means success for contractor

Indiana’s Mechanical Test and Balance has earned $200k since start of 2010

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The economy in recent years has been less than desirable, to say the least, and sheet metal contractors are still seeking ways to supplement their profit to create a more stable environment for their businesses.

Fire life safety is an emerging market with a growing demand. Dampers confine fire and smoke to one floor or section of a commercial building, keeping the rest of the building free of smoke, contaminants and particulate matter. The proper maintenance and inspection of these dampers could mean the difference between life and death. After an introduction to fire life safety at the 2008 Annual TABB Conference in Southern California, Jim Larsen, president and owner of Mechanical Test and Balance in Crown Point, Ind., was motivated to bring the service to his company.

After laying the groundwork, and earning his ICB/TABB Fire Life Safety Level I and Level II Technicians certifications, Larsen brought the service on at Mechanical Test and Balance. To start, project managers visited hospitals and schools, and fire life safety information was placed in the company’s newsletter to educate clients old and new on the value of fire life safety.

Every new client – from architects and engineers to building owners – was introduced to the information via a short presentation and packet containing available services.

“That was the key,” Larsen said. “It’s in the best interest of their employees and anyone who comes into the building. It’s fire life safety. It’s a no brainer.”

Mechanical Test and Balance’s first fire life safety client was a hospital in northwest Indiana. Once the company was off and running with the project, they could use the project as a model to show other clients what was possible. A hospital can lead to steady work for multiple employees at a time, because inspection and maintenance takes place in one section of a building at a time. Every damper is inspected and documented with any problems reported back to the client, and instead of hiring out, the company can perform any repairs, as well.

Offering inspection and repair services together is a large benefit and makes the company a one-stop shop for clients. If a hospital can count on a company for detailed documentation that helps them easily pass their safety inspections, the company has a client for life, Larsen said.

“Because of the size of a hospital, by the time you get through the building, it’s almost time to start over,” he added. “Ninety percent of the time the client asks us to come back and make modifications. We do all the repair work.”

In nearly two years, Mechanical Test and Balance is at a comfortable place, largely due to the introduction of fire life safety and Larsen’s forward thinking.

“We don’t have to look for work,” Larsen said. “Our reputation is set on honesty. We give them complete documentation. That’s very important. It’s been very good to us. It keeps us busy during the winter months. For the most part, one good job leads to another, but all my project managers know, if there is an engineer or building owner who doesn’t know what testing and balancing is … we go in and explain.”

Mechanical Test and Balance currently has one branch with 15 employees in Bolingbrook, Ill., in addition to the headquarters in Indiana. But companies don’t have to be of comparable size to make fire life safety work for them, Larsen said.

Since the beginning of 2010, Mechanical Test and Balance has earned $200,000 in business due to fire life safety inspections, maintenance and repairs.

“If smaller companies don’t have a fire life safety component, they’re missing a huge opportunity. For some of these smaller guys with one- to two-man shops, $100,000 a year is a big deal. That’s 1,000 man hours. That keeps a guy busy for half a year,” Larsen said.

Mechanical Test and Balance, Inc., headquartered in Crown Point, Ind., provides services including HVAC system commissioning, total system analysis, air and hydronic testing and balancing, pressure testing of ductwork, sound measurement and analysis, and fire and life safety inspections to clients, from hospitals and schools to high-rise, commercial and industrial buildings.

Since 1995, the company has been committed to providing excellent customer service along with a wide range of services to meet the public’s needs today and in the future.  Mechanical Test and Balance remains at the forefront of its industry through continued education and the employment of trained, certified sheet metal workers and pipe fitters.  The company is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited and is a member of the United States Green Building Council, Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau; Indiana Society for Healthcare Engineering, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association, and the National Fire Protection Association. For more information please call 219-746-1126 or visit www.mechanicaltestandbalance.com.

For more information on emerging market opportunities in the sheet metal and air conditioning industry, contact the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) at www.nemionline.org or call 703-739-7100.

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