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Close-Up: Tom Shaw

Alpha Mechanical wants innovative clients who 'look at the big picture'

The sometimes intense heat of the Southern California summer should have building owners concerned about cooling their edifices efficiently and comfortably for their occupants.

Alpha Mechanical Service & Engineering touts its HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) systems and equipment as using the most advanced technology, leading to significant savings in operation costs for their clients.

"We are not here to just sell you something, but to show you how to run it right," said company Vice President Tom Shaw for the Turbocor/Energy Retrofit division.

The San Diego-based firm has been providing services to schools, banks, hotels and similar 24/7 operation buildings for four years.

Tom Shaw

Most of the staff and engineers have been in the business for more than 30 years. Shaw worked with notable companies such as Carrier Corp. and York International Shaw before moving to Alpha Mechanical.

Regarding the small firm's focus on personal customer service rather than just profit margin, Shaw said, "We can do just about any job but if we can't we will help steer you in the right direction. We want to make sure that your needs will be met."

For commercial businesses, Alpha Mechanical provides services including design, build, retrofit, replacement and repair of HVAC and plumbing systems; all plumbing-related improvements; upgrade of water and sewer improvements; thermostat and smoke detector installations; office tenant improvements; and fire sprinkler installations and certifications, to name just a few.

What stands Alpha Mechanical apart from competing companies is its extensive knowledge and application of energy retrofit for buildings using environmentally friendly technology such as Turbocor compressors -- an an oil free, compact and lightweight equipment using magnetic bearings, variable-speed centrifugal compression and digital electronic controls.

The benefits provide the highest energy efficiencies for water-cooled, evaporatively cooled and air-cooled HVACR applications, according to Shaw.

Staff constantly keeps updated on the new technology, attending seminars, reading industry articles and browsing the Web.

"The type of clients we look for are those that are willing to be innovative and look at the big picture," said Cathy Fillmore, with Alpha's energy retrofit division.

Most clientele hire Alpha Mechanical through word of mouth, and can read the company's own studies highlighted on www.turbocor.com, a Web site focusing on products, technology and applications regarding HVAC systems.

Clients have included Vista Court House, San Diego Police, the Sheriff's Crime Lab and County of San Diego. Replacing their air conditioning systems has saved the owners a combined millions of dollars a year.

The firm also worked on Symphony Towers in downtown San Diego using veriable frequency drives (VFDs), a specialized control air process.

After adjusting the frequency and controls on an existing system, special sensors are installed that can determine how much energy the building actually needs for both the AC and heating system.

"At night a building doesn't need to be at 100 percent. The sensors know that and will acclimate the temperatures correctly," explained Fillmore.

The sensor uses a kilowatt-ton ratio and calculates the size of the building to determine the best temperature climate.

Most clients have buildings that operate 24/7, and using this process makes a huge difference in energy cost, Fillmore said.

The system can be adjusted to appease the workers in a building, making it cooler in one particular office if an employee is too hot.

The VFDs can save up to 30 percent or 40 percent of energy -- potentially thousands of dollars a month in bills. The developer of Symphony Towers saved $125,000 a year.

Working in Southern California, where the temperature does not fluctuate too much, can be a bit frustrating for air condition service companies.

"Obviously you get more business when you are in an area where the temperature is more hot outside," Fillmore said. "But our first priority is helping people save energy. That is what is important to us."

One of Fillmore's responsibilities is to educate clients on establishing greener efficiencies.

Many building managers or owners have dealt with maintenance issues for many years and tend to lean on old technologies to make replacements and repairs, she explained.

Instead of just repairing a part that has broken down, the Alpha team must convince the client to change something they don't consider "broken."

Getting a client to agree on installing a new piece of equipment or application can be challenging, she added.

"If the technology is better, why not ... everybody wins," Fillmore said.

Yet with the subject of global warming and environmental issues in the news, some clients have been more open-minded than in the past, she said.

The company produces $10 million to $12 million a year in services, and expects that figure to continue to grow.

Alpha will be relocating to a new office site just down the road on Greencraig to accommodate more equipment and employees.

"But we don't want to grow where we can't provide personal service. I like knowing all the names of my customers," Shaw said.

The company is a member of San Diego's BOMA - Building Owners and Managers Association. For more information visit www.alphamechservices.com or call (858) 279-1300.


Kurland is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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