Precision Air Balance Co. Inc. keeps people comfortable and cool
You may not be able to see it, but you can certainly feel it when the airflow isn’t quite right in a room. Maybe there are pockets of hot and cold. Maybe the air just feels stuffy. Precision Air Balance Co. Inc. (Precision) keeps occupants comfortable and makes sure heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems perform optimally and according to design specifications.
Headquartered in Anaheim, California, Precision is an independent professional testing and balancing agency certified by the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB) and the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB). The company serves commercial and industrial customers throughout Southern California and Las Vegas. “We work in just about any space—high-rise buildings, hotels, schools, hospitals, offices and government buildings like the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and the federal courthouse in Los Angeles,” says Karen Fox, President, CEO and CFO. In addition to its location in Anaheim, the company serves customers from offices in San Diego and Las Vegas.
Karen explains that a lot more goes into heating and cooling than simply installing an HVAC system. “A mechanical engineer typically develops specifications for how air should flow in the space based on the size and characteristics of the room or building. He or she specifies the cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air that should flow from each vent and the gallons per minute (GPM) for hydronic systems,” she says. “Our job is to conduct an independent analysis of whether the engineer’s design is actually what is happening.”
When readings differ from the design specifications, adjustments might include changing the size of ductwork, speeding up or slowing down a fan, reducing the size of a vent or searching for and removing a kink in a hose or ductwork. “In one case, someone was putting a coffee pot right under the thermostat. The system was sensing the heat and overcooling the space. Once we removed the coffee pot, everything was fine,” Karen says. “When we discover a problem, we work closely with the mechanical engineer, general contractor, facilities manager or building owner to troubleshoot the issue.”
Sometimes discrepancies can be a real head scratcher. “Not long ago we got a call about a cleanroom that was having trouble with its air pressure. It wasn’t happening all the time though, and the client was having trouble figuring it out,” she says. “We went out there and found that at the end of each day, one of the workers would hang his lab coat on a hook directly above a return grill. That minor blockage was enough to throw off the pressure in that room.”
Karen explains that air pressure in cleanrooms and operating rooms must be very carefully calibrated. “Normally, when you open a door, air from the outside will enter the room. However, with an operating room or cleanroom, that outside air could bring contaminants into the space. For these rooms, the air has to be specially pressurized so air from the space flows out when a door is opened. As a result, these systems are very sensitive to minor changes,” she says.
Once a job is complete, Precision issues a certified test and balance report that can be submitted for regulatory approval. Karen’s husband, Dennis, who is an NEBB-certified professional, reviews every report. “Before any report goes to the client, it goes before Dennis to make sure everything is correct,” Karen says. “What we submit is a true and accurate report of the performance of the HVAC system at that point in time.”
Staging Manpower in the Field
With a team of 35 employees, Precision takes on an average of 600 projects a year—from small jobs to large to very large jobs. The company is finishing up a $2 million project for Resorts World Las Vegas, a brand new 3,500-room hotel, casino and entertainment venue in Las Vegas.
“We were lucky enough to have provided air balancing services for the resort’s parking garage, so we already had our toe in the door when the building owner started looking for an air balance contractor for the hotel. Plus, we were on-site when the structure was just steel and had time to gain an understanding of the layout and do our homework before interviewing for the project,” Karen says.
Scheduling was a particular challenge, but Precision worked cooperatively with other subcontractors to optimize planning. “We coordinated very closely with the superintendents for the mechanical and controls contractors so we could know when parts of the job would be done and ready for us. That helped us stage our manpower so we could come in quickly to get the job done,” she says.
The team started the project in 2019 and at times has had up to seven technicians on the ground full time. “The resort opened in June of this year. There was a lot to be done toward the end, but we got the space balanced and ready to go,” Karen says. The company’s performance won rave reviews from the entire project team. “The MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) coordinator was so impressed she encouraged her team to hire us for additional projects.”
Other large projects include a $900,000 job for Palomar Medical Center Escondido in Escondido, California, one of the country’s largest hospital construction projects, and a project for the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center in Las Vegas.
One job took Precision on an interesting adventure ride. “We did the air balancing for an adventure ride at a major theme park in Anaheim,” Karen says. While a normal HVAC system pushes heat and cooling from a flat wall or floor, air vents on the ride were hidden in rocks and trees and on other uneven surfaces. “It was challenging working with atypical grills, however, this theme park is always a fun place to work.”
A $200,000 project for the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles had Precision’s technicians working in unique and varied spaces. The 290,000-square-foot museum not only includes small rooms and studios but large exhibit halls and vast open spaces. “This is by no means a traditional square or rectangular building,” Karen notes. “There are a lot of open spaces, a large glass dome and part of the building on the first floor is enclosed by concrete. Air flow has to be consistent throughout that entire space, regardless of how different each room is.”
"We’ve invested in the latest technology and instrumentation, and all our techs have computers on-site so they can send reports from the field to our office. We even have the capability to turn around reports the same day if that’s what the client needs.” Karen Fox, President, CEO and CFO, Precision Air Balance Co. Inc.
Getting the Job Done
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought with it challenges and delays in projects, the company recently reached over $5 million in revenue. “That was a milestone for us,” Karen says.
She credits Precision’s hardworking employees who are always willing to go the extra mile. “We recently had a tight deadline at Temecula Valley Hospital in Temecula, California,” Karen says. “The general contractor called and asked if we had the manpower to test and balance an entire floor of the hospital over the weekend. Two of our guys traveled in from Las Vegas and worked with three of our technicians from California on that project.”
At California State University Long Beach, Precision was called in to certify a new residence hall. “They needed to finish up a new dorm so the kids could get back to school. The guys worked all day Saturday and Sunday to get the job done,” Karen says.
“We have great employees,” she adds. “Everyone works together and pitches in—from the boots on the ground at the job site to the people in the office answering calls, estimating jobs and scheduling work. They’ve got true team spirit.”
Karen says the company’s team atmosphere stems from the couple’s sports experience. “Dennis and I coached youth softball for 15 years. The concept of teamwork is pretty well ingrained.”
According to Karen, all technicians are either NEBB- or TABB-certified, and some of them carry dual certifications. “We’ve invested in the latest technology and instrumentation, and all our techs have computers on-site so they can send reports from the field to our office,” she says. “We even have the capability to turn around reports the same day if that’s what the client needs.”
The company secures quite a few projects based on referrals and word-of-mouth, Karen says. “Potential clients hear that we do quality work, consistently and at a fair price.”
Looking to the Next Generation
With a head for business, Karen spent her early years in purchasing at FEDCO, a membership department store, working her way up from checkout clerk to housewares buyer. After that, she moved on to join a general contracting firm. Meanwhile, Dennis worked his way up in the HVAC industry. “He’d started doing test and balance work during his years as a sheet metal apprentice. He enjoyed the work, and we began talking about opening our own company,” Karen says. With a 3-year-old at home, starting a new business was a risk for the young couple. “We decided that if you can’t gamble on yourself, who can you gamble on? The worst-case scenario would be that we’d have to go to work for someone else,” she says.
That was back in 1987. The business began to quickly grow, and the couple never looked back. Today, two of their three children have joined the family-owned business. “Kelli started working with us during her senior year in high school, and Brittany went to San Diego State University and worked for other people before joining the company as a Project Coordinator,” Karen says. Kelli serves as Precision’s Accounting Manager and her husband, Steve, is a Superintendent, managing schedules and field activities. “As Dennis and I move closer to retirement, we’re looking at our children to eventually take over the business,” she says.
With the recent retirement of several long-term employees, the owners also look to the next generation of technicians. “We just had three employees retire—one had been with us for 32 years and the other two for more than 25 years,” Karen says. “At Precision, we feel it’s important to not only invest in the continuing education of our current employees, but also to train the next generation. That’s why we’re a certified trainer with our local chapter of the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.
“I am so thankful for our people and projects,” says Karen. “Every person who has worked for us over the years has contributed to where we are today.” That’s precisely why Karen and Dennis feel abundantly grateful for their company and their team.