MEMPHIS — Soefker Services LLC had a problem. Its parent company, W.A. Soefker & Son, had been in the general construction business since 1944. In 1990 it started Soefker Services LLC as a dedicated services company. The service division has since grown to the point it now does $10 million annually. With 34 service trucks and about 40 employees (depending on the season and work volume), the company covers western Tennessee, northern Mississippi and eastern Arkansas.
And so it faced a challenge common to many successful companies: how to continue growing? For LEED AP and General Manager Steve Harvey, the answer was to offer energy services to his clients. Harvey had attended a series of educational webinars sponsored by the Mechanical Service Contractors of America in 2009 that convinced him energy services was the next logical offering for the company.
At that time, however, industry-standard engineering practices would have taken too long to implement and trained engineers were too expensive to hire. Jump ahead to 2010, and Harvey discovered (and convinced the company to purchase) the BuildingAdvice Energy Services program, a package of software and sensors that can do the data collection and number crunching of a team of engineers.
“The BuildingAdvice was a good fit,” Harvey said, “and a good way to differentiate ourselves from the competition.”
Three technologically astute solutions
The test case came in July of 2010. A financial services company and a long-time Soefker Services client found themselves in a dispute with the owner of their building, a 150,000-sq.ft. office complex in downtown Memphis. The owner wanted to remodel the third floor data center — existing equipment was over 20-years-old and cooling to the area was inadequate.
The new computer center would require more robust, round-the-clock cooling, and the owner was hoping that the system possessed sufficient HVAC capacity to handle the additional load. If it did, the owner could avoid a costly capital investment. The new data center project called for 40 tons of additional cooling.
After evaluating the building’s two HVAC systems (one for standard business hours, and a second, less powerful system for cooling floors 12 and 14 on nights and weekends), Harvey wondered if surplus chilled water could be re-routed from the secondary system to cool the new data center.
The tenant — who occupied 10 floors of the building including the 12th and 14th floors — doubted that capacity existed, and didn’t want its own data center jeopardized. As a financial services company with its own trading floor, computer power for record keeping, data analysis and most importantly automated stock trading was absolutely essential.
“Our largest, strongest suit in the service sector is computer rooms,” Harvey explained. “So this particular job we had to prove we had chilled water available to [supply] six of the new Liebert CRVs.”
The Soefker Services team installed a series of wireless monitors on two floors that measured the temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, lighting and other relevant factors.
“We tied in external temperature sensors to tell us where the chilled water was and when it was entering and leaving so we could verify what tonnage we were using,” Harvey said.
The sensors were in place about two weeks collecting data. The only problem during that phase of the project was that the stock traders were afraid the sensors were listening devices recording them and hid them all.
“We had to go back and find them!” Harvey said.
After the readings were all plotted out, Harvey discovered that of the 90 tons of cooling available from the rooftop chillers, the two trading floors needed only 20 tons to maintain adequate temperature, humidity and CO2 levels, leaving ample capacity to reroute 40 tons to the new data center.
In fact, with so much additional capacity, Soefker now has a proposal to make use of another 30 tons of capacity.
Harvey speculates that the additional capacity was simply there in the original chillers, and that a reduction from two trading floors to one in 2008 may have freed up additional capacity.
But after proving the capacity was there, now came the difficult work of redirecting the chilled water from the 14th floor down to the 3rd. Soefker had to upsize the piping, from 2-in. to 4-in., and then core drill all the way down through the building.
“In one [floor] we found an electrical conduit when we were drilling,” Harvey said. “That was the only major mishap. Also, we did some valving so that, worst come to worst, the main chillers in the building could be valved automatically into the computer room. Everything is redundant of course, but if for some reason everything failed we could switch over and use the building’s main chilled water system and keep the computer room up.”
The study took place in July of 2010, with approval for the work in August. Soefker began the job in January of 2011 and finished in a little more than a month. Project cost landed at $900,000.
Eight months later, both building owner and building tenant are happy with the results, and the work itself has been a feather in Soefker Service’s cap.
“It’s been a showcase around here,” Harvey said. “It’s helped us a lot because [the CRVs] are the latest and greatest that Liebert has to offer. We’ve taken several customers out to see it and actually sold several jobs off it.”
As for the software, the company now uses it regularly for building assessments. Soefker offers a complementary energy benchmark report to 10 of its service contracts per month. After completing just three of these reports, three clients have purchased an energy savings audit that allows Soefker to uncover capital retrofit projects with estimated returns on investment.
“In a couple of schools we’ve exposed a plethora of problems,” Harvey said. “There’s this particular private school that we’ve worked with, and it’s almost non-stop, the cycle. We’ll [audit] a section, they’ll approve the work, then we’ll do another section.”
For all the additional work the program has brought in, Harvey still sees it as just another tool in his toolbox.
“It’s actually designed to be a sales tool,” Harvey said. “But I guess just my being an old technician makes me think of it as a diagnostic tool. I use it more for that — but it’s really helping sales a lot.”