Washington — Industry contractors urged the U.S. House Small Business Committee to encourage water and energy conservation and green construction through tax incentives and legislation. The contractors, representing Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association and Air Conditioning Contractors of America, appeared before the Full Committee Hearing on “The Role of Green Technologies in Spurring Economic Growth” in mid-July.

“Due to increased demand and focus on water efficiency, the emerging water and energy conservation market has the potential to revitalize not only the plumbing industry, but also traditional construction and small businesses across the country at a time when most small business owners are suffering because of tough economic times,” Kevin Tindall, Tindall & Ranson Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, Princeton, N.J., and chairman of PHCC's Green Plumbing and Water Conservation Task Force told Congress.

Tindall noted that since 1950, the U.S. population has increased nearly 90%, but in that same period public demand for water increased 209%. Americans now use an average of 100 gallons of water per person each day. This increased demand has put additional stress on water supplies and distribution systems.

Tindall told the committee about several voluntary or private ventures that have been successful at saving water and energy without requiring taxes or regulation. He praised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program, a voluntary public-private partnership. He described efforts by the The Association of Contracting Plumbers of the City of New York and its Foundation to reduce water use, mostly through involvement with mandatory water metering. Tindall also described the formation of GreenPlumbersUSA, spearheaded by PHCC of California, and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters' green awareness training.

He said PHCC supports public policy that promotes efficient use of water in agriculture, municipalities, homes, businesses, factories, offices and institutions. PHCC also supports public policy that mandates the installation and use of water-conserving plumbing systems that are proven effective through sound science and an approval process that includes all parties in open discussion and decision-making.

“It is our suggestion that additional testing and analysis be performed to evaluate the compatibility of the existing water and sewer infrastructure,” Tindall said, voicing an ongoing concern of the association. “At this time there are concerns that America's existing infrastructure cannot handle the water efficient products being considered. Testing and analysis should be performed for both residential and commercial systems before mandates for high efficiency toilets or other ultra-low water consumption products are adopted.”

PHCC does, however, support the use of tax breaks and other incentives, such as customer rebates for all new residential, commercial, industrial and institutional construction and renovation using water conservation and water efficient products and systems installed by a qualified plumber. PHCC also supports efforts to fund and conduct comprehensive studies of all forms of water-conserving measures and research projects.

Ellis Guiles, director of sales and marketing, TAG Mechanical Systems Inc., Syracuse, N.Y., speaking for ACCA, noted, “What I hope to demonstrate today is that going ‘green’ with new HVACR equipment can have a positive impact on the bottom line for home owners, small businesses, and the overall economy.”

Guiles pointed out that the majority of residential and commercial HVAC equipment sold in the U.S. is manufactured and warehoused here and that installation and service jobs held by contractors can't be exported.

“The potential for America's small businesses and the HVACR contractors that service those small businesses, for job creation, economic growth, and environmental protection are limitless,” Guiles told Congress.

The potential for energy saving and job creation is great, Guiles said, because so much HVAC equipment is old. According to the 2005 Residential Energy Consumption Survey, he recounted, 39% of the residential central air conditioners and 60% of residential heating equipment were more than 10 years old. Since 1990, only 30% of commercial buildings have had their main heating equipment replaced, and only 37% have had their main cooling equipment replaced.

A 15-20% reduction in energy consumed by residential and commercial buildings, using available technology, is reasonable, he said, resulting in $28 billion in saved energy expenditures while creating jobs. Cost is the greatest hurdle, however, to these technologies for homeowners and small businesses.

ACCA has advocated for tax incentives to make higher efficiency equipment more attractive to residential and commercial clients.

Guiles asked the committee to back an extension of energy tax credits and accelerated depreciation for commercial building owners. He also asked for activation of the small business loan program and the Energy Star for Small Business Program, which were passed into law as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, but no money has ever been appropriated to run them.

ACCA supports training for local code officials in the form of H.R. 4471, the Community Building Code Administration Grant Act, which would award grants to qualified local building code enforcement departments to increase staffing, provide staff training, increase staff competence and professional qualifications.