For almost 16 years, Coleman Creek Construction has been taking care of all your construction and remodeling needs. In a 2013 interview we featured the ambitious restoration projects being done by Coleman Creek in Ashland’s Railroad District. In today’s interview we will learn about the ductless mini-split heating, cooling, and ventilation (HVAC) branch of Coleman Creek Construction. And while several HVAC contractors currently offer mini-split installations in the Valley, Coleman Creek Construction offers a truly one-stop shop. Why should you have to hire an electrician, drywaller, and painter after you’ve already hired an HVAC contractor to take your project to the finish line? Coleman Creek handles all phases in-house.
What is a mini-split system? This energy-efficient ductless system allows independent heating and cooling of specific rooms or areas. Each room gets its own thermostat, allowing you to heat or cool a room only when it’s occupied, saving energy and money. And it does this without any bulky, dirty, and inefficient ductwork. Highly popular across Europe, Asia and South America, ductless mini-split systems are steadily gaining popularity here at home because they have many benefits over a standard ducted system.
So, what are the benefits? From using less energy resources, to lowering utility bills, to offering a cleaner air quality in your home, the ductless mini-split system outperforms conventional forced air systems in many ways. We visited with Coleman Creek Construction owner Michael Hodgin to learn more.
Hi Michael, thanks and congratulations on the great work you have been doing!
Thank you. It’s hard to believe I’ll be entering my 17th year in business this March. It’s fun to drive around town with my kids and point out all the homes I’ve worked on. Since we spoke last in 2013 we’ve been busier than ever. As the building recession lifted, we knew that many builders had gone out of business and that homeowners had deferred their projects. As work picked up, we anticipated changes and realized we needed to grow in a disciplined manner. We added a production manager, two lead carpenters and a few apprentices. The team has really come together in the field to maintain the high level of detail Coleman Creek strives to deliver.
What have been some of the key focuses of Coleman Creek?
For one, our administrative team has been working diligently to establish strong organizational systems and procedures, trying to create a sense of predictability for our clients. We’ve wanted to take better advantage of technological advancements and to that end, have incorporated new software that has become critical to be able to be efficient in our work. We’ve found that there are several small builders who have been referring us to projects that are too big for them. We’ve also built a reputation with some of the more established companies that are contracting longer-term projects, and they have been referring us as well. With our administrative systems in place we are able to handle full house renovations, as well as smaller projects that we can fit in around our bigger projects. Our second focus has been adding the mini-split division of our company.
Your work over the past 16 years has given you extensive experience in not only design but design for investment purposes. Please say more.
Yes, we are approached with a concept for work and are asked to set expectations as to what the work will cost. Given that there are hundreds of variables that can multiply exponentially with changes to a job scope, many builders see it as a futile exercise to think about the overall investment in a disciplined manner upfront. Because we’ve been working with estimating software and paying close attention to overall costs for years, I am in a better position to be a part of the design experience and to make sure that what is designed will fit with what the client is comfortable investing. Likewise, when someone brings us a project that is already designed, we can apply the same metrics to analyze the project in short order and be able to offer input on how to meet the client’s needs in both job scope and investment amount before the project has started. Most of our clients prefer this, while some like the flexibility of making decisions as they go. Either way, we have the systems in place to communicate and manage expectations.
Obviously, the experience of having to work with HVAC subcontractors is a part of being a General Contractor. What were some of the experiences that led you to believe that it would be better if Coleman Creek took on their own HVAC?
About 10 years ago, while building a 7-unit condo association in Ashland with a mindset for being green and very energy-efficient, I installed my first mini-split system. During the research for the units, I had to scratch my head and wonder why central air heating systems were still the norm. For years, every time I requested an HVAC company to meet with a client for a mini-split consultation, the HVAC contractor would inevitably try to sell the client on a central air system. Over the years I used several different companies with varying degrees of success. I was never quite satisfied that the installers were passionate about these systems, and it seemed as though they were installing them only as a sideline to central air systems. About 3 years ago, I met and worked with a gentleman who really believed in these systems, and he started a business dedicated to only installing mini-splits. I did one installation with him and thought that the experience was night and day. Unfortunately for me, he was offered a full-time position with an energy conservation firm and I was back to square one. That experience is what led me to offer this service in-house.
Many homeowners who move to Ashland are choosing the mini-split system based on the savings it can provide. Is that true?
Very much. Retirees who move here often have extra bedrooms for family visits that are largely unused the rest of the year; the mini-split system doesn’t require them to heat or cool those areas unnecessarily, which saves on utility costs. Mini-splits are also great for multi-generational households. A lot of older adults find themselves more comfortable in warmer spaces than their younger family members. Mini-splits allow them to heat their own space to their comfort while other family members can heat their quarters to their own preferences. Retirees and younger families alike are moving to Ashland seeking an improved quality of life. Investing in a mini-split system not only makes their home more comfortable, it also lowers their overall monthly utility bill. For even more savings, homeowners can take advantage of the City of Ashland’s financial incentives to upgrade from electric heating to a ductless system, and the units may also qualify users for Oregon tax credits.
So as I understand it, you guys have already been actively installing mini-split systems, and as a part of this interview reaching everyone in Ashland, you are making the big announcement that this will officially be offered as its own service from Coleman Creek Construction.
Yes, it took a year after the idea was hatched to make it happen, but I established a relationship with a local distributer and sent two crew members to Washington to do the training. Over a six-month period, they did their studies – one spent time working with the design software and estimation pricing and the other passed the test to handle Freon. We started 2 years ago installing systems only on jobs that we were already doing remodels on. Last year, through word-of-mouth we installed for a few other General Contractors, and then did several retrofit installations directly for homeowners. Now that we feel confident in what we are doing, we’re happy to offer this service to the public at large.
Michael, can you please tell us more exactly what a mini-split system is and how it works?
A mini-split system does not have any ductwork. Instead, a slim, low profile condensing unit located outside the house conveys hot or cold energy through small copper tubing to each indoor ‘head’ in the home. These heads can be wall-mounted units, or they can be recessed into the ceiling for a non-obtrusive look. And because this indoor head conditions only the air in the room in which it’s located, there is very little energy wasted travelling through ductwork and heating rooms that aren’t even being used. A mini-split system is capable of connecting up to 8 of these indoor units to a single outdoor unit, allowing a homeowner to have a truly multi-zoned heating and cooling system that saves energy and money.
Do you think that ducted heat pumps are basically an antiquated technology?
I do. While the equipment of a ducted system has become quite a bit more efficient over the years, the overall principle is definitely antiquated. The ducted concept is that you create a plenum where air is “handled” – heated or cooled seasonally. This air is then blown through the entire house through ducts that have a minimal amount of insulation. These ducts run through unconditioned space, such as under the house or the attic. That means as air travels through the ducts, the air cools (or heats in the summer) before it enters the house, so even the market’s most efficient outdoor compressor results in lost efficiency by the time the air reaches the living space. In addition, the flexible ducts, which are ribbed, become the perfect place for allergens like dust, dander, and animal hair to collect. Add moisture condensation from unconditioned space to that and you have the perfect conditions for mold spores to grow. Not ideal for any living space, and nearly unlivable for people who suffer from allergies or asthma.
Can a mini-split system be installed anytime… or should it be during a remodel or new construction?
A remodel is a perfect time to install a mini-split because we can incorporate it into the job scope at minimal extra expense. Also, bulky air handlers and ducts can be removed, resulting in extra useable square footage. In new construction we can consult during design to optimize the system and plan for the most efficient and visually-appealing installation. Doing a retrofit can be more of a challenge, but this is where our knowledge of home construction comes into play. We can use our expertise to design a system that works best for the home in its current condition, and we have the capacity to take care of the whole process from beginning to end, including dealing with drywall repair, touch up painting, and so on. Not every local installer is able to provide that kind of one-stop service.
This sounds like a great addition to your company. How can interested readers learn more about if a mini-split system would be best for them?
Check out our website. We’ve just published a new section that’s all about our mini-split installation service. You can also call (541) 482-2299 to set up an initial consultation.
Last but not least, what are some of your continued goals for 2016?
In addition to educating the community on the benefits of mini-split systems, our goals for 2016 actually remain consistent with our goals every year: we want to continue to work with homeowners to help them maximize the investment of improving their home. Whether someone is looking to do a complete renovation, build a new home or an addition, convert a garage, or even a smaller project like a bathroom or kitchen remodel, we are here to help. Also, while we are a full service design-build firm, our production team has grown into our systems and procedures so nicely that we are finding it necessary to develop relationships with other designers and architects. Right now our production team is building faster than we can design! We also anticipate that, with the increased workflow from offering mini-split installations, we will soon need to hire another Lead Carpenter/Project Supervisor and are now looking for the right fit to join the team.
Coleman Creek Construction
695 Washington St, Ashland
Check out their website here