TAG Mechanical Systems Inc.: Going Above and Beyond to Improve Building Performance

TAG Mechanical Systems Inc. (TAG) celebrates the company’s 25-year anniversary in 2013. For a quarter-century TAG has provided full-service heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) services in the Syracuse, N.Y., area. The firm is dedicated to the custom design, installation, upgrade and repair of technology that helps customers reduce energy expenses and also that allows homes and buildings alike to be more comfortable and energy efficient.

Founded in 1988 by Steve Tallman, president and CEO of TAG, and his business partner, George Galek, the company has grown from a small business to a multimillion-dollar organization with more than 80 employees and over 15,000 clients. TAG brought on a new partner, Ellis Guiles Jr., in 2009 to serve as co-owner and vice president following Galek’s retirement. Guiles began with the company in 2004 as director of sales and marketing.

“We’re very proud of our legacy in the region as a reliable provider of the very best expertise available in our industry,” says Guiles. “And we’re gratified to have a great team in place to offer our sophisticated platform of services, which has expanded beyond heating and cooling products and services to a full array of services designed to make homes and buildings healthier, safer and more efficient.”

TAG serves a seven-county area surrounding Syracuse and Onondaga County, including Manlius, Fayetteville, Cicero, Baldwinsville, Camillus and the neighboring area, and also ventures into several New England and Mid-Atlantic states. Along with increasing its geographic footprint, TAG has extended its target market over the last decade, beginning with air conditioning, furnaces, heat pumps, water heaters and air-quality equipment and diversifying from there.

“Over the last eight to nine years, we’ve expanded our services into renewable energy sources and also to building envelope components, such as insulation, windows and doors,” explains Guiles. “We’re doing more and more solar, geothermal and generator work, expanding into commercial and residential markets.”

Entering a Greener Market

In 2010 TAG created its Home Performance division to provide a full array of building science services. The company has also stumbled into the energy services market, which has proven to be a highly lucrative sector of activity benefiting TAG and its clients. When Guiles enrolled in a program to receive Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification, he realized the market’s potential.

Guiles shared this shifted perspective with others at TAG, and the team developed an interest in viewing homes and buildings as entire systems and diagnosing the root problems, rather than just completing the installation of HVAC technology as individual components.

What started as the first few employees learning about BPI and being accredited in LEED has grown into a movement to build comprehensive building science knowledge. TAG has made green solutions a priority under TAG’s Home Performance division, investing in employee training and devoting much more time and energy than most HVAC contractors typically do, according to Guiles. In 2010 the company was featured as Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA) Commercial Contractor of the Year for its innovative ideas.

Guiles explains the shift in the company’s ideology as follows: “A lot of us [contractors] like to think of ourselves as professional heating specialists, but the problem is that we’re working inside this living, breathing structure where systems and components influence each other.” Getting involved in LEED certification and green building science is part of a savvy business decision for TAG. “There’s a huge opportunity,” says Guiles.

Tallman managed the installation of the mechanical system at the first LEED-certified building in the Syracuse area, utilizing the company’s new services. “The energy-load calculating and the reports we provide are significant relationship building tools,” details Tallman.

The company now offers energy-auditing services and design-build services with energy analysis as a package deal. While TAG primarily operates as a mechanical contractor, partnered with the finest brands in total home comfort equipment, the company also offers its holistic building service expertise to homeowners. TAG can integrate HVAC and renewable energy technologies that improve health, safety and efficiency with building envelope components, such as energy-efficient windows, insulation and water heaters.

Shifting into energy-efficient designs and standards doesn’t happen overnight. Developing an understanding of environmentally sound HVAC involves taking the time to do testing and investigative work, ensuring the systems perform optimally. TAG has made these investments, allowing the company to stage complex, large-scale projects conceived and assembled from its 32,000-square-foot headquarters.

As a result of TAG’s know-how, the company acquired a large project at the Fort Drum Army Base in Fort Drum, N.Y. The Army was looking to expand the base, adding 1,500 residential units. TAG won the contract to install the HVAC systems and Energy Star rating certification of the new homes.

“That project was a perfect fit for us with our commitment to green engineering,” says Guiles. TAG ensured the project was Energy Star-rated, and continues to support Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes with its efforts to improve the housing stock built in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Extreme Design

Another major high point of the past decade for TAG was the work the company participated in with ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” show. The challenge: tear down a house and build a new fully functional one in just four days.

In August 2008 custom homebuilder Mahoney Design & Build (Mahoney) led a team of 100 craftsmen in the demolition and construction of two new buildings for the Hill family of Geneva, N.Y. TAG saw the makeover as a great opportunity to give back to its community and work with some of the industry’s top technology.

“We knew Mahoney from work we had done together at Fort Drum Army Base,” recalls Guiles. “They reached out to contractors who they knew had the resources to achieve a project of this nature. We provided 40 people and fully committed ourselves to the project.”

Once TAG was on board, the company solicited its best suppliers and partners to make contributions; a main provider being Daikin AC of Carrollton, Texas, which provided variable refrigerant volume systems (VRS). Daikin AC came through, which was impressive, because that was a pretty hefty contribution on the company's part, according to Guiles. “Daikin AC's technology is world class,” he adds.

TAG installed two Daikin AC 3-ton VRS heat pump systems in the 3,500-square-foot home, along with 2-ton indoor air handlers. The heat pumps are designed to provide 100 percent of the heating needs of the home.
In addition to providing the HVAC system for the home, TAG provided Energy Star rating services and made sure the home complied with LEED-certified guidelines. “The whole property, the home and the gym, are running at about 50 percent of the energy usage that would be used by just a typical new 3,500-square-foot home that meets this area's building codes,” explains Guiles.

Although the project was a significant opportunity that gave TAG national visibility, it was more about sharing the company’s success by giving back to a local family. The makeover also allowed TAG to showcase options that allow homes to run more efficiently. TAG Mechanical Systems Inc.'s goal is to go above and beyond being just an HVAC contractor, bringing important environmental technologies and practices to bear on work.