20 Questions with Ken Lang, Owner of KW Lang Mechanical, Solon, Ohio
Originally published: 04.01.09 by Terry Tanker
Terry Tanker met with Ken Lang, owner of KW Lang Mechanical in Solon, Ohio. The two discussed the best boating route to Florida, Langs path to management, and what it means to sell green in this industry.
1. You are an avid boater, what kind of boat do you own?
I have a 55 Searay Express.
2. How did you first become interested?
When I was a kid I use to go down to the Gordon Park marina and just sit on the docks. I have loved the water and boats all my life.
3. Do you have any Fish-Tales?
No I don’t really fish much, I like to get onboard and cruise.
4. What was your most interesting voyage?
By far the most interesting trip was taking the boat from Cleveland to Florida. We went through the Welland Canal in Port Colburn, to Oswego NY and to the Hudson River, past the Statue of Liberty out to the Atlantic Ocean and to Atlantic City to Delaware and down the Chesapeake to Norfolk then to Beaufort and then back out into the Atlantic all the way to Jupiter, Fla.
The relaxation. This business sometimes can kill you, but when I get on a boat, it all goes away.
6. How did you get started in HVACR?
I went to AC&R school in the Navy. Afterward, I worked for Shaker Air Conditioning as a service man. Because of the Navy training I advanced rapidly through the company and was responsible for many of the large projects we were doing around the country.
7. How did you get involved in management?
Shaker AC had several offices, one of them was in Denver. Two of those projects got the company into financial trouble, and the company went under. Four of us, including the former owner, formed a partnership and started a new company named Shaker Mechanical; subsequently two of us bought the other two partners out of the business.
8. What type of work did the company concentrate on?
It was mostly mechanical contracting and hvac service, and we were a union shop. We had problems retaining service men because the steel mills were so busy so we formed a new non-union company called Havsco, and I sold my interest in Shaker Mechanical. I sold it to Blue Dot in 1998, and at the time Havsco was doing a volume of $15 million.
9. You should be retired on your boat in the Caribbean – what happened?
I took a year off – it was the worst year of my life I hated it — I was so bored. That’s why I started KW Lang Mechanical.
10. You’re a local company but your Web site lists a number of projects out of state, CT,MI, and VA to mention a few. Why go out of state?
As a design build contracting firm, we’ve established long-lasting relationships and friendships with several developers. When they have a project, no matter where it is, we typically are part of the team.
11. Your firm did the mechanical work on the Homeland Security Office how did you become involved in that project and what was different about it?
We have a good relationship with Duke Construction and they wanted to make sure the mechanical aspect of the project was “green” and as energy efficient as possible and we specialize in this area of work. What was really different was undergoing a CIA security check and analysis – but obviously we passed.
12. How did you become involved with green building projects?
We’ve actually been doing green projects for years, but the term “green” hadn’t been invented yet. Back in the 70s we were early adopters of VAV units, as well as VVT. Our firm has simply evolved with the thinking, technology and products that offer significant advantages to owners and customers.
13. On your Web site you talk about state of the art green comfort systems – what are they?
It’s a commercial application using variable refrigerant, and it’s just as green as geothermal, but much less expensive. We did a project for the nuns at Marymount Congressional Home. They had saved for years so they could turn their building into a showcase for going green. When they finally sent out for bids they needed twice as much money for the total project. The biggest problem on the mechanical side was the size and cost of the well field they needed for the geothermal system. We showed them a variable refrigerant as an alternative system. It worked perfectly and fit their green requirements because of how energy efficient it is, and they love it.
14. What about residential applications?
We have a separate division, Stovicek-hvac, that handles residential. The manufacturers have made good progress with more energy efficient equipment, and I think we’ll see more in the coming years. I’m really pushing for variable refrigerant flow condensing units in residential equipment. It makes a lot of sense.
15. Why haven’t U. S. manufacturers introduced it yet?
It’s expensive. Europe has it because they had to combat the astronomical cost of electricity.
16. What is the premium to turn a regular hvacr job into a “green project”?
I’ve actually been tracking it. The premium has been roughly 30% per ton for most of the jobs we’ve been involved with. The payback is in reduced energy consumption and increased comfort. As far as energy consumption, the premium payback can take three years and less.
17. What is the most important growth sector for your company the next three years?
Variable refrigerant. In my opinion it is the up and coming thing, and it meets everyone’s requirement for something green.
18. Speaking of refrigerants, is the changeover to R410A significant for your company?
No it’s not. As an industry, we’ve known the phase out date has been approaching for a long time. As contractors we’ve been well informed and well aware.
19. What advice would you give other contracting companies trying to sell green projects?
Selling green is all about engineering energy efficient solutions and customer comfort. If they are focused on that then they are probably already selling green. Green is simply a marketing term for what we all should be doing in the first place.
20. So, when does the boat go in the water?
May 1st. Thanks for reminding me I have to get that scheduled.
Terry has over 23 years of experience in the advertising and publishing industries. He began his career with a business-to-business advertising agency. Prior to forming Hutchinson Tanker Ltd. and HVACR Business in January 2006, he spent 20 years with large national publishing and media firm where he was the publisher of several titles in the mechanical systems marketplace.
In addition to his experience in advertising and publishing, Terry has worked closely with numerous industry-related associations over the years including AHRI, AMCA, and ABMA. He has also served on the Board of Directors for the American Boiler Manufactures Association (ABMA) and as chairman, for both the Associates Committee and the Marketing Communications Committee of ABMA.
Articles by Terry Tanker
Ken Blanchard, author of "The One Minute Manager"
The Partnership Rules
Erik Bryan, Owner of Precision Air and Heating
The Best of 20 Questions (2011-2014)
Tim Sanders, CEO of Net Minds